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Spring Awakening at Dexter Community Players January 21, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
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DCP is currently presenting Spring Awakening, the 2006 Steven Sater/Duncan Sheik alt-rock musical that won a slew of Tony awards and was recently revived to acclaim.

This production breaks with traditional staging and as such is somewhat hard to review since the convention of having the singers/performers always on stage with the band entering scenes as needed and singing backup throughout is somewhat different here — that changes the alt-rock-concert approach to more one of a standard book musical and I’m not sure that works. There are also specific themes of  disconnection, dissimulation, unconnectedness and misunderstanding that are incorrectly addressed here. I won’t go into that – there are 110 years of doctoral dissertations written on Wedekinds original source material play.

DCP has assembled an excellent cast of singers in a reduced-size cast that for the most part works well. They are consistently overwhelmed by the orchestra throughout, whether that is solos or ensemble numbers, sound here is problematic throughout. Mics dropped in and out during the first half but seemed better in the second half. A general note: crank your vocalists up absolutely as loudly as possible without getting feedback. No need to sound natural in this setting, just crank out the sound because this show is about the lyrics and when you can’t make them out, well…

There’s a great performance by Laura Chodoroff as Wendla — she is a young performer that I have always loved directing, and I have always hoped there would be an appropriate larger part for her, and this is it. Her acting is spot on, and her vocal work here is terrific. Also great is Chris Joseph as Moritz. He delivers powerhouse vocals and an angst-ridden character that you feel for as the drama progresses. Matt Wallace has a good voice but seemed totally uncommitted as Melchior and had little chemistry with Wendla. His later scenes were better when they were more self-centered…albeit his mic was working by that point too.

Costumes by Kristi Kuick look great. Lighting cues were frequently missed and sometimes missing altogether on the wide stage. Brian Rose’s musical direction is terrific and his band sounds fantastic, if far too loud for the space.

Spring Awakening continues through January 29th at Copland Auditorium in Dexter Michigan. http://www.dextercommunityplayers.org for tickets.



Very strong cast in Dexter’s Hilarious “Avenue Q” (Review) January 16, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals, Uncategorized.
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There is a very strong cast in Dexter Community Player’s Avenue Q, now running at the Copeland Auditorium in Dexter, Michigan. Ok, I thought, I’ve now seen so many productions of this show, what could another add to the canon? Well, it is a strong, hilarious cast that makes this production soar.

Under the fast-paced direction of Jason Smith and the excellent musical directorship of Jonathan Sills, the production barrels along with it’s outrageous songs (and lyrics), and it’s foul-mouthed over-sexed puppets (this is absolutely NOT a show for kids, no matter how cute those puppets might be).

N. Leo Snow is superb as Princeton, and Jamie Lynn Buechele a knock-out as Kate Monster. Her “Fine Fine Line” is simply sublime as it ends Act I on a bittersweet note. There’s a big big heart beating inside Avenue Q (one of the reasons it won Best Musical over Wicked), and this cast finds that quickly and isn’t afraid to share it throughout. But the entire cast is terrific — witness Erik Olsen’s excellent Nicky, Jared Hoffert’s over-the-top Trekkie Monster, and Katrina Chizek’s Lucy the Slut.

Rounding out the great cast are: Chris Bryant as Brian, Stacey Smith as his wife Christmas Eve and Keshia Daisy Oliver as Gary Coleman (like Sesame Street, they are the three non-puppet “people” that live in the neighborhood); Antonio Argiero as closeted Rod; Mary Rumman as school teacher Mrs Thistletwat; and the other characters (Bad Idea Bears, singing boxes, Ricky, etc): Amanda Burch, Neil Clennan, and Eric Redfern.

Sills’ 6-piece combo band sounds great. The set by David Chapman is Avenue Q pretty. The costumes by Kristi Kuick look sharp. And then there are those amazing puppets.

What didn’t click? Well, sound design is in a word awful. Mics drop in and out consistently (most noticeably on Erik Olsen). Cues are missed throughout so that actors starting speaking offstage are unheard, then come blaring on. There were multiple feedback problems on opening night. Tires squealed instead of a phone ringing. Ironically, the phone rang when a toilet flush is supposed to be heard. The actors cleverly covered those mistakes, but they mar an otherwise excellent production. Also missing on opening night were projections, which I am assured will be there for future shows. I’m hopeful they’ll iron out these problems as the run continues this week and next.

But don’t let that scare you off — this cast is great; and in that small intimate house you can hear (most) of it without the mics. Its a hilarious evening of entertainment that you should not miss.

Highly Recommended.

Avenue Q continues through January 24th at DCP — tickets at dextercommunityplayers.org



“Evil Dead the Musical” is a hilarious 2nd year hit at DCP in Dexter…(Mini Review) October 27, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Evil Dead, the Musical, makes a triumphant return to the Copeland Auditorium in Dexter Michigan by way of Dexter Community Players, who stage the show for a second year in a row — and it is tighter, better performed, and funnier all-around with three-times the blood quotient.

Based on several of the Evil Dead movies, the musical has been a cult hit since it first made the rounds of the Canadian fringe festivals, then onto Toronto, NYC and now taking over the world…(There’s another version playing in Downtown Detroit for the second year in a row as well).

But Dexter’s is something special — its a community show coming together to stage something you would never expect in this otherwise smaller town — one of the strongest overall productions of the show outside of Toronto you are likely to see — complete with original stage effects and other surprises. For extra fun, wear white, and sit in the first 4 rows (called the Splatter Zone) and get drenched in gooey, icky, red-sugar-syrupy blood for two hours — and there is three times the gooey-goodness as last year. Wear a white tux; or a wedding dress; or purchase a white t-shirt at DCP.

I couldn’t get out to see the show last weekend, so this review comes with only a couple performances left…see dextercommunityplayers.org for tickets. And leave the young ones at home — this is R-rated stuff.

Don’t worry about the scares — they are all for fun and absolutely none of them actually make you jump; but they will make you laugh as curses fly, blood and guts splatter the cast and audience; guns shoot; trees dance; and everyone sounds great. Thanks to director Jason Smith for making it all work; Jonathan Sills for some great vocal work and band (which also includes Philip Eversden and Tim VanRiper), and the entire DCP cast and crew for a rollicking good time.

Kudos to cast Peter Crist, Stacey Smith, Corrina Gauss, Chris Bryant, Ann Hernandez, Katie Selby, Neil Clennan, Zak Stratton, Lawrence Bryk, and Nicole Roth.

GO SEE IT. Expect scene changes you can drive a truck through (can’t help it, costume/makeup changes are a bitch); schlocky perfectly timed performances (its what you expect with cheap horror right?) and a really fun evening out in Dexter. For you Ann Arbor folks, that’s a 10-minute drive west of town.

By the way, if you are not familiar with Dexter Community Players work, their shows often give the other local companies (civic or professional) a run for their money in the musical department; witness not only their current Evil Dead, but recent productions of Annie, The Wedding Singer, Curtains and others. Go check them out.

“The Wedding Singer” – Dexter Community Players….or, how to make a community theater production look like a million bucks… July 27, 2011

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
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I’ve just completed directing and choreographing a weekend run of THE WEDDING SINGER, the musical, for Dexter Community Players in Dexter, MI. Not to toot my own horn, but the single most heard comment in the audience (besides what a fun show) was how professional the show looked and sounded. This is not a review. This is a blog entry about what goes into directing a show that looks and sounds as professional as you can make it.

1. Make sure you have great leads — in this case, Andrew Buckshaw (Robbie Hart) is a musical theater student, sure to be a future Broadway performer. Katherine Kujala (Julia Sullivan) is a recent graduate of University of Michigan’s Opera program, already an established performer. Almost all of the supporting cast are or were musical theater, or vocal performance majors.

2. Keep the set simple, fast to move, and streamlined. In community theater, unless you have a half million dollar budget, you can’t even come close to approximating the multi-million dollar Broadway sets. So you do elements of them: you make sure that they fly and move quickly; and you make sure that the show doesn’t stop to wait for set changes.  Use fades, not blackouts. Stack sets that fly behind each other. Have more than one person on flyrails so things can move at the same time. Enlist cast members in helping with set changes. Keep it moving.

3. Get the best orchestra and sound designer you can get. We had an 11-piece orchestra under the direction of John Tartaglia that was composed of a mix of music professionals and the very best students we could find. Nothing says “amateur theater” like a bad orchestra. So make sure that it is not. The orchestra was the single most expensive aspect of this entire production. It also sounded like a professional pit orchestra. You get what you pay for. Our sound designer (Patrick Schrock) is an expert in blending vocal sound on stage with rock music in the pit. If you can’t hear every word, you don’t have a show.

4. Simplify choreography. Make sure that you give the ensemble steps that they can perform — your show is as good as it’s weakest link. Your choreography can be brilliant, but if only a few cast members can perform it, you have nothing. Keep the steps simple, repetitive, and throw in some fun steps that they enjoy doing and will take the time to learn. In this case, I rewrote large portions of choreography before even teaching the steps.

5. Light it. Make sure you have a terrific lighting designer. Kent Sprague is a lighting design major at Wooster College in Ohio. Not only does he have an eye for good, focused lighting, but he has a playful sense of color and design. In a show where lighting substitutes for sets, at times, you better make sure that lighting looks fantastic.

6. Make sure you have the details right. If the show calls for a mirror ball, make sure you have a mirror ball. If water needs to cascade onto a cast member, make sure you have an effect that works on stage, and “reads” in the house. If a dumpster is your most important set piece, you better make sure that dumpster looks like a dumpster. If your leads need matching jackets, make sure they have matching jackets.

7. Expect to spend more money than you originally budgeted. Nothing comes in under budget. Ever. Build in a slush fund, or make sure that your design team has deeper pockets than your budget allows.

8. Surround yourself with the best staff you can get — from designers to techies, make sure you have the best people you can find to fill each important role. Have regular production team meetings. Even with the best intentions, expect some miscommunications and work together to resolve difficulties. Have a great producer (Francyn Chomic). Stay in communication with the Board.

9. Stay calm and enthused. Not every rehearsal is going to run as smoothly as you like. There will be plenty of drama that arises offstage. These are actors and “theater people” — expect it!…Stay calm, easy going, and confident.

10. Remember that this is community theater. People expect it to look and sound like community theater, based on their past experiences. When they see something that looks and sounds professional instead, you’ll stun them. In this case, the production really fell into the category of “pre-professional”, given the quality and experience of the staff and most of the tech crew. Pat yourself on the back for a job well-done, and hope the next production at the theater will maintain the same high caliber. Create a new benchmark with each show, and keep the quality up.