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It’s baa-aack…Forever Plaid at the Dio (Review 2014)…and its delicious August 1, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Last summer, The Dio made a big opening splash with its production of Forever Plaid…well, its back this summer in a spiffed-up production featuring those lovable dead guys, The Plaids…and its as delicious as ever.


Returning from last summer are Steve DeBruyne (Frankie a.k.a. Francis) and Thomas Mate (Smudge a.k.a. Smudge). Joining them are Cody Musteffe (Sparky) and Jared Schneider (Jinx). Since most of the production is intact from last summer, you can read that review here:


This year’s version features a particularly tight harmony quartet, and their balance is superb. DeBruyne returns to top form, and Mate repeats his pitch-perfect performance from last summer. Musteffe is a strong performer, and Schneider has a nice surprise in store for you a bit down the road in the show.

Costumes are spiced-up since last summer (Norma Polk) and there is some new lighting – including a nice touch at the finale that will leave you smiling (Matthew Tomich). Director Steve Debruyne and Choreographer Cara Manor have added a few additional humorous touches since we last saw these Plaids, and some had me outright howling with laughter.

But rest assured — the oversized toilet plungers are still there, as are Topo Gigio and those straw hats.

Oh, and Chef Jarod’s chicken and Waldorf Salad are to die for — as are his sugar-butter cookies for dessert. Don’t forget to tip your waiter.

FOREVER PLAID continues at the Dio, 135 E Min St, Pinckney, MI through September 7th. Tickets at 517-672-6009 or online at http://www.diotheatre.com

Very Highly Recommended.

“The Dixie Swim Club” at The Dio is sparkling fun (Review) June 7, 2014

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The Dixie Swim Club, by Jones Hope Wooten is the current terrific offering at The Dio in Pinckney.  What, you say? You’ve never heard of Jones Hope Wooten?  Well, Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten are only one of the most produced play-writing teams in America today — and not only that, they are apparently nice people too, as they called Steve DeBruyne and Matthew Tomich at The Dio to wish them luck on their opening this week.

Let me preface this by saying, I love sitcoms — and the best current sitcom is not on TV, it’s at The Dio. And its no wonder, since the playwriting team has prolific television writing credits, including Wooten’s long-running The Golden Girls, and The Five Mrs. Buchanans. It comes as no surprise then that The Dixie Swim Club plays as a mash-up of Steel Magnolias, Designing Women, and The Golden Girls.

Five best friends from college (they were on the swim team) meet up every year at a cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks for a not-specificed period of time each summer (it appears to be about 22 minutes per visit – not unlike the actual minutes of a half-hour sitcom). Each of the 4 scenes contains real laugh-out-loud moments, larger-than-life yet still relatable characters, and a “mini-drama”. Its a little like watching four episodes of your favorite tv show back to back. And its a very good tv show at that.

Steve DeBruyne directs a very assured five-women ensemble cast. Sonja Marquis is the “controlling one”; Amy Morrisey is the “carreer-driven one”; Sarah Burcon is the “flirty one”; Laura Mandernack is the “super-ego one”; and Brenda Lane is the “poor but funny one”.  Think Dorothy, Rose, Blanch, and Sophia….with Julia Sugarbaker mixed in as a special guest star.

All five of the women are terrific in their roles, and the ensemble work here sparkles. Its impossible to point out anyone without mentioning all five — and their interactions feel real, comfortable, and plausible (sort of, in a sitcom sort of way). Its not hard to predict who will end up where 28 years down the road — and there is a bit of pathos thrown in for the final scene that solidifies the “Steel Magnolias” angle…but its a sparkling confection that goes down easily and knows its target market well (women over 40) but which is assessable to husbands, friends, and youngsters as well. Give it a slight PG-rating, though only just for some frank sexual talk.

The show is highly entertaining, and it is no wonder that it has been sweeping the country, produced nation-wide at regional, community, and dinner theaters. It goes down remarkably well after Chef Jarod’s delicious Chicken and Beef Kabobs. Quite frankly, I thought it was all-around terrific (both comedy and kabobs!)

Among many favorite moments, mine occurred during a discussion of none of the ladies getting any younger over the years and Mandernack’s assuring explanation of Noah living to the ripe old age of 950…and of course, “nobody lives to be 950…anymore…”

The Dixie Swim Club continues through July 6th at The Dio, 177 E Main Street, Pinckney, MI 48169. 517-672-6009 — tickets also at http://www.diotheatre.com

Directed by Steve DeBruyne, Lighting, Sound, Stage Management and Set Design by Matthew Tomich, Costumes, Hair, and Makeup Design by Thalia Schramm, Props by Eileen Obradovich, Meal by Chef Jarod.


Country fun at The Dio (“Country Roads”) Review April 5, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
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There’s a lot of country fun to be found in Leslie Jo Hood’s “Country Roads” which opened at The Dio in Pinckney last night. Let me preface this by saying that this is not a true musical comedy — its a musical entertainment following a typically delicious dinner at the venue.

Here’s my advice: ignore the clunky “book” that sort-of holds the show together — it’s basically a jukebox musical comprised of some great country hits, and some Minnie Pearl and Rodley Brasfield thrown in to boot. The book has something to do with waiting a long time to get your big break (and when it comes, “You Can Go to the End of Your Chain and Bark,” its rather anti-climatic.) It thuds along and serves as the mechanism to tie the songs together, not always successfully.

Instead, go for the music:  Aynsley Martindale and Tim Brayman head up a generally strong ensemble cast that sing their way through songs by some of Country’s best — with a bit of bluegrass and Gospel thrown in for good measure. Aynsley in particular, gets some great songs to perform over the course of the evening, and she’s a joy to listen to.

There are also some strong vocals by Steve DeBruyne (including a great “leg kick” you’ll have to wait for)…Liz Jaffe…Thomas Mate…Emily Rogers…and Thalia Shramm (who I believe in the book is supposed to be the ingenue (?) but that storyline sort of disappears by her next song). The other ensemble members range from terrific to pitchy — Lydia Adams, Franklin Burns, Jared Schneider. Never mind, they follow in rapid succession (particularly in the less-talk and more-singing second act) and if you don’t like one of the songs, another one comes along a few minutes later —  songs range the gamut from Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” to Garth Brook’s “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and everything in between.  Some of the songs would be served better with a verse and chorus, rather than the entire song.

The three-piece band under the direction of Brian Buckner sounds great – and their instrumentals in between songs and during scene changes are ear-catching.

Special kudos to Liz Jaffe’s Minnie Pearl — a total hoot — including an audience singalong where at last night’s performance, this reviewer got a chance to sing “baa baa” during “Old McDonald Had a Farm”…

The evening runs long (the show starts immediately after everyone has finished dinner, so our performance started a bit late and ended a bit late) and there are some judicious cuts that can (and should) be made for future productions of this show (I would start by combining all the “Grand Old Opry” flashback stuff in Act I into one 5 minute medley rather than distinct songs, and moving the Patriotic Medley to the finale) — but consider this another “workshop” for “Country Roads” and go have a hand-clapping foot-tapping time…and as usual, enjoy Chef Jarod’s terrific meal beforehand.

“Country Roads” continues through May 11th at The Dio. Tickets at http://www.diotheatre.com or (517)672-6009 – 177 E Main Street, Pinckney, MI  48169