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Daniel Clair and Kyrie Bristle shine in “Leap of Faith” – Croswell Opera House, review July 16, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Croswell Opera House, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Daniel Clair, playing a conniving traveling tent-show preacher, and Kyrie Bristle as a small-town sheriff are the reasons to see this shiny musical theater adaptation of “Leap of Faith” which opened last night at the Croswell Opera House. Your enjoyment will be enhanced if you like bible-belt hokum and are a fan of the film from which it is adapted. But…well… I’ll get to that momentarily…

Directed by Michael Yuen, the cast is strong, including the stellar Clair and Bristle, and also a fine performance by Anthony Isom in the role of sham-exposer which features soaring vocals and acting chops indeed. Also very good is Sarah Nowak as the preacher’s sister, whose sincerity shines through in one of the shows nicest most underplayed scenes, willing to take the blame when things go south fast. Cooper Adams is a fine young boy in the tear-jerker part (you can see what’s coming a mile away). The entire ensemble has plenty to do in multiple large musical numbers — even if they do all sound (and pretty much look) the same. Still there is no denying how good this ensemble is, and how much work has gone into making these three tent-revivals move on stage. From a blocking point of view, I thought the staging was somewhat flat, and most often played in two, rarely moving down toward the audience.

I saw “Leap of Faith” on Broadway and had the same reaction I had here — there is nothing wrong with this show. There also isn’t anything that makes it great. The show is bland and there isn’t much you can do about it. Most of the (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater) songs feel like they are cut from other shows (and many likely were from “Sister Act” which Menken had written shortly before). The mini-dramas do not have enough sizzle to them to make things truly spark — and the “big moment” toward the end of the show is a direct rip-off from The Music Man. But it all clearly works, as the audience members around me were tearing up in the requisite places and were moved to a standing ovation, so it clearly connects to many. Although its Broadway run was very short, it did garner Tony nominations across the board, including a nomination for Best Musical, although you might wonder why after seeing it. I am probably not this show’s primary target market.

And now the but…Daniel Clair owns this show from the moment he appears. You’ll remember him as Huey Calhoun in last summer’s production of Memphis. Here he gets to expand his singing chops and wow, he presents a masterclass in musical theatrics. Its a shame that Cercone and Leight’s script lets him down (as it did the equally fine Raul Esparza on Broadway). His ability to sell a song be it a ballad or a rollicking spiritual-laced rock song is stellar. Throw in the equally vocally gifted Kyrie Bristle, and it is no surprise that their scenes alone and together are what make this musical truly slick.

Doug Miller’s set design is beautiful, and its cleanly lit by Tiff Crutchfield. Costumes, props and other technical values are up to Croswell’s usual best. Dave Rains musical direction is excellent — and his large orchestra sounds terrific. The sound design by Joe Gozdowski balances the (loud) orchestra with stage sound with a good mix.

Recommended.

Leap of Faith continues at Croswell Opera House through July 24th.Croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW for tickets.

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AACT’s “Little Shop” is Big Entertainment (Review) June 6, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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You, yeah you…you think you’ve seen enough Little Shop of Horror productions that you don’t need to see one more? Well. yeah, you really do. Because you’ve never seen Little Shop like this before.

Credit director Brodie H. Brockie who has conceived a production that looks great as it moves from Black and White to full color as the plant comes to life and takes over the stage — costumes subtly at first add greens and browns…and eventually not so subtly add red and other colors that burst into life, particularly in the second act. And credit his technical crew with the chops to make it all happen — from Cami Ross & Scott Fussey’s set design, to Kelly Fraser Greunke’s costume design, Thom Johnson’s lighting design, and Matthew Stewarts sound design. Credit also the fine plant designed by Dave Hettmer (with puppeteering by Rob Roy, and assuredly voiced by Jared Hoffert).  Finally, credit to music director Laura Swierzbin and her ten-member band (even though there were some tuning issues at Thursday’s premier, and at times some sound balance issues, though these resolved as the evening progressed). Her vocal work with the large ensemble is very good. How great it is to hear this fun score played by a full orchestra, and not reduced down as it has been in local professional productions lately.

Then there is the excellent Dan Clair as Seymour Krelborn. He is the light of all that happens in most of the scenes, and he is able to convey humor, pathos, pathetic-ness, and charm (sometimes all at the same time). There are some great scenes here between him and the plant, and with the very strong Amanda Burch (Audrey). There’s a remarkable stage image in the second act, when Clair stands inches away from the closed mouth of the now-grown plant, in which his facial expressions mark everything that is both good and morally wrong about the entire affair.

Mark Bernstein turns in a very good performance as Mushnik, and Matthew Kurzyniec nearly brings down the house with his hysterical Orin Scrivello (“DDS”)…his scene with Clair in the dentist’s office is the acting zenith of this production, and the two of them play off (and at times on top of) each other with delightful consequence. Also very good is the trio of urchins (a vocally very strong Jennifer Burks, Linzi Bokor, and Lottie Prenevost.)

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Michael Joseph, Krinn Hess (in an oh-my-God-awesome one-off random bit that had be laughing for minutes after the scene), Chris Grimm, Alexandria Watson, Mark Alan, Austin Terris, Lindsey Burch, Kate Appold, Linda Lee Austin, Angel Elowsky, Tina Mayer, and Gianna Zampardo).  The ensemble is strong and well-utilized, at times differently from past productions of the show, and it works well.

And what makes this entire production doubly delightful is that, as civic theater, it matches (and in some instances bests) local professional productions of Little Shop from the past few seasons. One can’t help but admire the work, dedication, and energy that has gone into this production, where not a single actor is paid in anything but sweat-labor and their love of musical theater.

If I have one quibble — its the sloppy ending of the show — after what has been a tightly-focused production, the finale (Don’t Feed the Plants”) here seems to fizzle a bit, and lose its focus. While the stage bursts with color, the eye isn’t quite sure where to look, and it ends with a firecracker, not a burst of fireworks.

SO — the be all and end all…get yourself out to Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors — you have 4 more chances this weekend to see this very differently conceived piece — the horror here is toned down, though the language remains intact…if you’re worried about taking the kids, it’s appropriate for 13 and up, with perhaps a warning that if you hear the kids repeat some of those words on the drive home, their is some soap waiting for them. Otherwise, there isn’t anything particularly scary, or too over-the-edge in this production. Rate it PG-13, pack the SUV up, and head to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater for a highly entertaining musical.

Also, arrive early enough to catch the pre-show “movie previews” of next year’s A2CT season…its a hilarious take-off on sci-fi movies of the 50’s, and you might especially look for that “Space President” scene….

Continues through June 8th, tickets at 734-971-2228, at the door, or online at a2ct.org