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Enthralling and Delightful “Daddy Long Legs” at the Dio Theatre (Review) April 6, 2018

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The Dio Theatre opened the Michigan premier of the 2015 Off-Broadway musical “Daddy Long Legs” last night and it is delightful and gorgeous, and you can expect to see it all over the local theatre awards later this year.

Beautifully performed by Emily Hadick and Alexander Benoit, with lovely orchestrations under the capable direction of Brian Rose, the musical, based on the early 1900’s book by Jean Webster,  tells the story of “the oldest orphan in the John Gier Home” who unexpectedly gets a full-ride to college by a trustee of the orphanage — under the stipulation that she write him letters about her experiences but that he will not write back. Under the impression that he is an octogenarian and possibly bald, she does just that for four years, unaware that he is the rich handsome stranger that has come into her life through a classmate. ultimately leading to love. Daddy Long Legs refers to her nickname for the trustee, as all she glimpsed before he left was a tall, thin man. 

The story is rich and fulfilling (much like Mark Vukelic’s delicious meal pre-show). Emily Hadick, already having made a name for herself as the lovely Johanna and spunky Hope in Encore’s Sweeney Todd and Anything Goes, is exquisite in every scene and every song. The Dio’s new sound system makes every word important and intelligible, and she invests heart and soul in her role as Jerusha, the orphan student. She can play innocent, and she can play coy, sometimes at the same time, but its all underscored by an intelligence that the audience quickly falls for, and later roots for when things take a turn.

Similarly, Alexander Benoit, with his smooth tenor voice and his good looks makes for a terrific Jervis and his facial expressions give away much of the underlying drama and turmoil, as he wrestles with his own unexpected feelings for Jerusha. He is able to find the comedy in the scenes, and is sometimes left on his own while she sings about her experiences – but you never for a moment, lose the fact that he is absorbed in her letters as his love for her grows.

By the time they meet, the audience is enthralled with both of them – and I don’t think it gives away too much to say that by the time the musical reaches its romantic conclusion that the audience has been charmed and excited going along for this ride.

One of the remarkable things about this very modern musical is that it never loses its early 1900’s look and feel – and the music never turns to pop. It’s a classic musical-theater type score and you might find yourself going to iTunes afterwards to download the cast album. With Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon and a book by John Caird based on Webster’s novel, you can’t go wrong with a pre-show listen either. Filled with lovely ballads and tuneful songs, I have found myself listening to this musical over and over for many months. I was thrilled to finally see it with its book and storyline on stage.

Everything looks beautiful on Matt Tomich’s V-shaped set which he also lights with stunning colors. Direction by Steve DeBruyne is fluid and makes great use of the angle of the design. He brings out strong emotional ties between Hadick and Benoit, and a scene played atop a hillside is particularly stirring. He is assistant directed by Anne Bauman. Costumes by Norma Polk are beautiful, as are the lovely props assembled by Eileen Obradovich.

You should stop reading this right now, go to diotheatre.com on your computer, and order tickets now because you won’t see a more delightful musical this spring – and it makes for a terrific date-night or family outing.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Daddy Long Legs continues at the Dio Theatre, Pinckney MI through May 20th. Reservations online at diotheatre.com or 517-672-6009.

The Dio’s “Forever Plaid” Serves Up a Tasty Summer Confection (review) June 18, 2017

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Guest Review by Wendy Wright

As sweet as an ice cream sundae, with tight harmonies as dense as a pound cake, the wonderful performances in the Dio’s production of FOREVER PLAID serve as the cherry on top. Walking in to the show all I knew was that it was a review of songs from the era before rock and roll. Little did I know there is a hilarious and enjoyable story attached as well. A quartet of male “teen angels” are brought back to earth after having been taken too soon, so that they can fulfill their dream of performing one last show.

One by one, each character reveals himself and is given a moment in the spotlight.  And one by one, I fell in love with every one of them.  James Fischer as Sparky is a master of comic timing, newcomer Angel Velasco’s Jinx is the picture of delightful innocence, Matthew Wallace as Smudge is a loveable goofball, while holding them all together, almost like a big brother, is Steve DeBruyne’s Franky.

DeBruyne’s direction made the evening seamless and I may have noticed some succulent touches that could have only come from the warped imagination of Assistant Director Dan Morrison. The tightly choreographed moves by Bryana Hall look like they are right out of any real-life 60’s boy-group and the actors carry it off very well. Norma Polk’s costume design looks snappy, and Matthew Tomich does super work with the sound, lighting and projections.  Eileen Obradovich’s prop design works particularly well in the Ed Sullivan sequence. Mix in two musicians (Brian Rose on piano who also has done very good work as Musical Director, and  Leer Sobie on bass) and you have a refreshing milkshake blended to perfection.

There is a reason the Dio returns to this show time after time and you would never know that this incarnation was a last-minute replacement for a different show. The food by chef Jarod was wonderful as always (the fried chicken alone is worth the price of admission). All in all, this is the perfect escape from the summer heat.

FOREVER PLAID continues at the Dio, 135 E Main St, Pinckney, MI through July 23rd. Tickets at 517-672-6009 or online at http://www.diotheatre.com

Very Highest Recommendation

Holiday cheer-filled “Home for the Holidays” – Dio (review) November 26, 2016

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The Dio Theatre has a holiday-cheer filled reprise of its own “Home For the Holidays” in store for this season. It looks and sound terrific and everything zips along fast and efficiently. Only a Scrooge wouldn’t have fun at this Christmas delight. 

During a Christmas Eve performance, diva Portia (Molly Cunningham) refuses to go on stage when she finds husband Eric (Matthew Pecek) won’t be home from the Army for the Holidays. Forget the story, its just an excuse for some lovely holiday pop standards, Cunningham sounds remarkable on “Where Are You Christmas” and Pecek soars on “I’ll be Home for Christmas”.  The show resembles one of those old 60’s or 70’s tv-scripted holiday specials with just enough plot to lead to laughs, while firmly focusing on the holiday cheer and music.

The ensemble cast this year is tight, sings and moves well, and has fun making their way through 23 Christmas songs. In addition to those already mentioned, they include Jim Moll, Anne Bauman, Steve DeBruyne, Sarah Brown, Natalie Rose Sevick, Angela Dill, Elizabeth Jaffe, Jared Schneider, Derek Ridge, Brittany Chapa, Alexis Benson, Gavin Burwell, and Adam DeGregorio.

Director Steve DeBruyne has sped things up a bit, and designer Matthew Tomich added extra sparkle to the entire affair. Brian Rose and his orchestra sound great, and he has done excellent work with the show’s vocals. Michele Marzejon’s choreography looks great as do Norma Polk’s beautiful costumes and Eileen Obradovich’s props. The dinner is holiday-fare and deliciously prepared by Chef Jarod.

Sarah Brown, Natalie Rose Sevick, and Angela Dill do some terrific work as the “Franklin Sisters” — “Jing a Ling” and “Jingle Bells” have never sounded this terrific. Jared Schneider’s tap-infused “Here Comes Santa Claus” alone is worth the admission — but add a terrific dinner, a holiday-cheer filled show that is filled to the brim with Christmas spirit, and a little magic, and you have a delightful night at the theater again this holiday season.

Highly Recommended.

Home for the Holidays continues through December 31st. 177 E Main St, Pinckney, MI 48169 — Tickets: (517) 672-6009 or http://www.diotheatre.com

Stirring, tight, intimate “Cabaret” at The Dio (review) September 23, 2016

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Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret has always been a musical theater masterwork. You are in for a stirring and tightly produced production at The Dio. In this intimate setting, the show feels particularly touching.

Steve DeBruyne directs and plays a terrific Emcee and he keeps the energy high and always on the move. There is clever use of minimal furniture and Matt Tomich’s set and lighting design is great. There’s a particularly creative use of the set during the production’s excellent final moments (the production uses the revival version of the show). Michelle Marzejon provides top notch choreography — this show moves. Norma Polk’s costume design looks fantastic as does Christopher Kamm’s hair and makeup. Brian Rose’s musical direction and 5-piece band are terrific.

Liz Jaffe acts and sings a particularly strong Sally Bowles and Peter Crist is perfectly marvelous as Cliff Bradshaw.  Jared Schneider is excellent as Ernst. Dale Dobson and Olive Hayden-Moore simply sizzle in the roles of Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider. Natalie Rose Sevick is a dynamic Fraulein Kost and doubles as a Kit Kat Girl. The entire supporting cast works as a tight ensemble and are all strong singer dancer actors.

If you’ve seen Cabaret before you’ll be truly surprised by what performing this show in a small intimate setting does for the piece. If you have never seen Cabaret you will be surprised by what a musical can say about the human need for connection even as your world is falling apart. Leave your kids at home, but don’t hesitate a moment to get your tickets before they are all gone.

Highest Recommendation.

Cabaret continues at The Dio through October 30th. 177 E Main Street, Pinckney MI (517) 672-6009 or http://www.diotheatre.com


Come “Home For the Holidays” – The Dio – review November 29, 2014

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Its Baaa-ck!……


Home for the Holidays, the original Christmas musical written by Steve DeBruyne and Matthew Tomich and featuring a solid cast of 13 returns for its third holiday season at the Dio, the second in its permanent home in Pinckney.

I’ve reviewed the show before, so you can check that out with a quick search here. This year’s incarnation has a few minor touchups, yet retains the loving goofiness of a theatre troup performing a holiday-eve show while it’s diva leading lady decides not to perform because her soldier husband can’t get home for Christmas (with strong singing performances by Thalia Schramm and Peter Crist); it’s leading male is grumpy and grouchy for reasons explained later in the proceedings (Steve DeBruyne, winning as always), and it’s supporting male lead has visible nerves and shakes (a terrific Jared Schneider). Draaaama unfolds, and magic takes place thanks to Santa, and well, that’s enough.

Forget the story — its the framing device for a delightful holiday-music filled show with singing, dancing, humor, and a Santa-approved ending. Even the hilarious “Christmas Star” would agree — right, Elizabeth Jaffe?   Filled with songs ranging the gamut from The Polar Express’s “Believe” to more traditional fare (“I’ll be Home for Christmas”), the pop-rock-country flavor keeps everything moving along under the musical direction of Beth Wondolowski and her three-piece combo, which also includes Leer Sobie and Mary Elizabeth Dee.

The cast also includes Cara Manor, Jim Moll, Mary Jo Del Vero, Anne Bauman, Kristin Reeves, Sarah Brown, Ayla Eichenhofer, and at alternating performances Dominc Ignagni and Gavin Burwell. And for the price of admission, you also get a delicious hearty dinner, prepared by Chef Jarod. You can’t go wrong with an evening at the Dio during the holidays — but book early — this has become an annual holiday treat for families and companies alike during the season.

Directed by Steve DeBruyne, Choreographed by Michelle Marzejon, Lighting, Sound, and Set Design by Matthew Tomich, Costume Design by Norma Polk, Props by Eileen Obradovich.

Home for the Holidays continues through December 31st at the Dio – 177 E Main St, Pinckney, MI Tickets at diotheatre.com or 517-672-6009