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This “Chicago” will Blow You Away – Downriver Actors Guild (Review) January 22, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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Downriver Actors Guild is on a roll — now comes Kander and Ebb’s great musical Chicago, a rollicking good time in a spectacular production directed by Denny Connors and Choreographed by Betsy Genrich, with Musical Direction by Melanie Aue. This is not-to-be-missed musical theater brought to you by way of our friends in Wyandotte.

Both Paige Wisniewski and Spencer Genrich are remarkable in their roles of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly respectively. They sing, dance, crack jokes, and entertain in number after number and still have energy to spare for the synchronized fosse-esque “Hot Honey Rag” finale. Note that this production uses the revisal script still currently running on Broadway and on tour. Brava.

Leo McMaster is a dashing Billy Flynn and Lucinda Chavez is a hilarious Mama Morton. But wait, there’s a super-surprise in store for you later when Samuel Xavier lets loose in “Mr. Cellophane” as Amos Hart. His performance is downright amazing. Welcome home, Sam.

The entire ensemble is super-charged, and the choreography and vocal work is excellent. There are no mis-steps here, and the show simply sounds and looks spectacular. Credit also Joel Bias for the terrific lighting and sound. Costumes by Debbie Aue and Rebecca McKinney look spot-on, and the on-stage band couldn’t be better under the direction of David Waggoner.

Everything moves at lighting pace – and Connors and Genrich understand how to keep it all moving. This is entertainment, originally billed as a “new musical vaudeville” in 1975. Updated for audiences used to faster pace and higher thrills, the revisal ramps up the dance, the jokes, and the flash. But all the familiar songs are there — “All that Jazz”, “Nowadays”, “Give Em the Old Razzle Dazzle” — And dazzle us they do.

This is a production that you simply should not miss. Tickets, probably sparse at this point, are available online at downriveractorsguild.net – don’t hesitate. Chicago runs through January 29th at The Theatre on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle Avenue, Wyandotte.

Very Highest Recommendation

Avenue A Capella Auditions January 16, 2017

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Caught up in the acapella craze yet? Well if you are a vocalist and you like acapella music, here’s your chance! Wyandotte’s Downriver Actors Guild has a terrific group now going on its second season called Avenue A Capella and they are holding replacement auditions on February 12th beginning at 6:00 pm. The group recently presented a very professional full-concert production in November and also contributed to DAG’s holiday show in December.

While a-capella music groups have been around through the ages (singing without instrumental accompaniment), their recent popularity has been buoyed by the movies Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, the Broadway musical In Transit, and frequent use of a-capella sequences on Glee.

To audition, send an email to melaniemdspartans@gmail.com — she’ll set up an appointment time for you. Join the fun, learn some new vocal skills, or use yours to contribute to a great group of singers. I had the pleasure of attending their concert back in November and had a blast. While still a young group, they already had the sound of a much more experienced ensemble. Give credit to musical director Melanie Aue and her experience singing a-capella at Michigan State University, a skill which is readily apparent in her work with Avenue A Capella.


Bonnie & Clyde is a hit at Downriver Actors Guild (review) October 19, 2016

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Reviewed by Patricia Mazzola.

Downriver Actors Guild has a true hit with Bonnie & Clyde A New Musical, performing at the intimate Catherine A. Daly Theatre on the Avenue in Wyandotte, MI, now through October 29th, 2016. Director Ron Baumanis, keeps the audience completely engaged with his expert staging, whether during a tender moment or a suspenseful shoot-out.

With book by Ivan Menchell, this thoroughly researched story of unfettered love during the desperate times of the 1930s takes the audience deep into the main characters’ hearts and minds more than the contrived Hollywood film with which we are all so familiar. The story centers on Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker who meet and decide to turn their backs on trying to do the right thing. They become notorious outlaws, seeking fame and fortune, as they rob and steal their way across the southern United States. The contemporary country and gospel score by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black, perfectly expresses all the emotions of fear, love, compassion and glee these characters experience as they stumble through life during the Depression.

Though there were a few technical glitches the evening I went, the ensemble, led by the very talented Kimberly Elliott as Bonnie and Daniel Hazlett as Clyde, grew nicely into their parts as the show progressed. Nick Brown as the Minister showered us with spiritual joy during the Gospel (I’d go to any service he would lead), yet also showed genuine heartfelt love for the downtrodden when appropriate. Love-struck Ted Hinton doesn’t get the girl but Kevin Kaminski plays him so well and sings so beautifully, maybe he should have. Other standout performances were Elaina Primeau (keep an eye out for this little gem) as Young Bonnie, and the trio of salon ladies who also doubled in other parts, played by Amanda Aue, Paige Wisniewski and Ashley Gatesy. You will swoon and laugh and maybe even cry a bit. There is also a special feature in the second act that will surprise you.

This was the first time I had seen anything by the Downriver Actors Guild. I went with no idea of what to expect and I left wanting more. I will be back! You won’t have to hold a gun to my back.

Bonnie & Clyde continues at DAG through October 29th. DownriverActorsGuild.net for tickets.

“Camelot” at Downriver Actors Guild is solid classic musical theater (review) May 14, 2016

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If you love the Lerner and Loewe musical “Camelot”, you can’t go wrong with the solid lovely production currently running at Downriver Actors Guild. Directed by Peter Sonnberg Schmidt, the production is faithful to the original. Running 2:45, it is one of the slower-moving classic musicals of the era. The original production opened on Broadway in 1960 and became a favorite of the Kennedy clan — the original cast album spent a whopping 60 weeks atop the Billboard best selling album list.

Telling the story of King Arthur and the round table and his marriage to Guenevere, it leads to the eventual unraveling of peace and harmony when said queen falls in love with French knight Lancelot leading to war between England and France. Also to a lot of pontificating. There isn’t a lot of action in this musical, it is known most for its gorgeous score.

John Sartor is a terrific King Arthur – he plays the part with a natural ease and warmth, and it all feels very genuine. Emily Noble is a lovely Queen Guenevere – her voice soars on her big numbers. If Bryan Aue’s Lancelot pales a bit next to these two, it is only because of the caliber of performances you are getting here. His swagger and demeanor come across as a bit hammy (okay, I take that back, this entire musical is hammy), but that is what it is and Bryan does a nice job with what he’s handed.

Michael Suchyta turns in a delicious evil-fringed performance as illegitimate son Mordred, Glen Reynolds is very funny as Pellinore, and Barbara Day has a wonderful moment as food-obsessed Morgan Le Fey (in a sequence normally cut by most productions).

Musical Director Wendy Biggs Fichter has done very good work with both her leads and her ensemble. The beautiful set – comprised of sliding walls and later some nifty ceiling-hung banners – is designed by Jim Steele. Roseann Spodeck’s costumes are gorgeous. The armor worn by the men looks wonderful. Want to see what great costume work looks like? Just follow Lancelot’s costumes as he goes from full-knightware to more relaxed looks later in the production.

The orchestra under the direction of David Waggoner (mostly) hits all the correct notes. Lighting is good – some of the best I have seen here (David Reynolds II and Joel Bias).

Directer Sonnberg Schmidt is wise to go with a reduced ensemble size — it works well in the space, and they sound (and look) fantastic. There are a few campier moments that could have used a bit of tightening and less ensemble reaction. There is a moment at the end of “Guenevere” when stage action has run out and there is just a lot of choir-like singing.

Camelot celebrates an ideology that was already dead in 1960 — and its themes of righteousness and might for right seem glorified and hokey in 2016. The recent Broadway tour cut out all of the pageantry in the show, and focused on the love triangle instead, and it worked better. The underlying theme of “is a person born to glory, or is glory thrust upon them” reverberates as poignantly as ever, and then there is that luscious score with ballads such as “If ever I would leave you”.

There is much to celebrate in Camelot, not the least of which is that a local group has chosen this show to perform. Its rarely done anymore due to the high cost of sets and costumes, and its outdated classic form. This re-imagining works very well, and I enjoyed my evening in Wyandotte very much.


Camelot at Downriver Actors Guild runs through Sunday May 15th at the Theatre on Avenue, 2656 Biddle Ave, Wyandotte, MI.



“The Music Man” at Downriver Actors Guild (Review) May 9, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
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Of all my favorite musicals, The Music Man is the one I like the most — AND the one I prefer to see done in community theaters rather than professionally — its the quintessential community show: lots of roles across the age spectrum, a great script, great songs with lots of opportunities for singing and dancing, and the true sense of community coming together to create something of value. I never go into a production of this show expecting perfection. I go in expecting fun.

That is on great display at Downriver Actors Guild in Wyandotte this weekend and next. Directed by John Sartor, the show is well-paced and moves quickly in its blackbox home, and looks lovely on Leo Babcock’s small-town River City Iowa set. The large cast never overwhelms the space, and remain in character and are spirited throughout. Kayla Aue’s choreography adds to the fun. Wendy Fichter’s musical direction is very good and the diction and vocal work of the large cast is great. The many many costumes are colorful.

Kevin Karminski plays a very fine Harold Hill, and while on the youngish side for the role, reminds me of Gavin Creel’s star-turn at the University of Michigan many years ago. We all know how that worked out for Gavin. The same can be said for Kevin’s energetic presentation, with a voice that soars as necessary, and an impish sense of trouble-making underlying it all.

Marion (you know, the Librarian) was performed by Amanda Aue this week (next week Annie Kordas takes on the role). Her soprano voice is lovely. Her “Til there was You” with Hill on a footbridge was the musical highlight of the show — and there were sniffles all around me. You know this show just always works from that moment on.

The men’s quartet was excellent — Ray Carter, Jeff Powers, Jay Cater, and Butch Plague sound terrific together and seem to have fun throughout. The Pick-a-Little Ladies work their best not to be upstaged, and as a result they do upstage the quartet from time to time — but its all in good fun. The Grecian Urn sequence was simply hilarious.

There are also good performances by Jacob Partrich as Tommy Djilas and Emily Noble as Zanetta Shinn (“yee gads!”). Crowd favorite Eric Paschke delights as anvil salesman Charlie Cowell (and for the adults, delivers the shows dirtiest lines with a sense of humor that speaks volumes for musical comedy). Loretta Bullock is a fine Irish matriarch as Mrs Paroo (and a line-slip up led to the evenings largest laugh at Winthrop’s inseam size). Ashley Blevins gets laughs by simply standing there reacting as mayor’s wife, Eulalie — but she doesn’t just stand there and and is even funnier once things get moving — she’s hilarious.

And that brings me to Winthrop — Evan Sartor upstages every scene that he is in (in a good way) — and simply brings the audience to a level of cuteness-ecstasy in “Gary, Indiana” — bravo little guy.

Are there problems? A few. Is the show perfect? Not always. Does it really matter? No. There’s some funky lighting, and sound cues are sometimes missed (mics seemed to go in and out at random on some of the folks).

If there is one thing that threatens to bring the production down, its the orchestra which blats and splats its way through the dance numbers. They generally sound fine during vocal numbers, but listening to them during the dance numbers grows excruciating — and halfway through “marian the librarian” actually caused the dancers to lose their tempo with missed beats. Its a tough number to keep going with the best of orchestras — with this one, well, I just wanted to yell out “cut the brass, cut the brass!”

But it is all fine in the end — the cutest kids in the world appear to save the day with their instruments and ill-fitting uniforms…Winthrop pretends to play the cornet and brings down the house…and Harold and Marion have their happy ending. And so does the audience.

Its all sheer fun and there’s a great big heart beating inside this chestnut of a musical — and its recommended.

The Music Man continues at Downriver Actors Guild, Theatre on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle Avenue, Wyandotte… through May 17th.

Downriver Actors Guild gets a new home (and puts on a great Superstar) June 14, 2014

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Downriver Actors Guild in Wyandotte (that’s 38 minutes away to the southeast for you Ann Arbor folks) have much to celebrate in their new home — The Theater on Avenue at 2656 Biddle Avenue.

Born in only 6 months in an abandoned warehouse (about 4 times the size of the Encore in Dexter), the theater has come to life these past two weekends with a great production of John Sartor’s directed Jesus Christ Superstar, a show he knows well. This isn’t so much a review of the show (except to say its terrific and go see it if you can get a ticket), but a kudos to the new theater building itself. Paid for by donations and in-kind services, the theater was clearly a labor of love for the good folks involved.

Raked seating for 208 in comfortable theatre seats donated by the Dearborn Players Guild provides good views of the moderately sized stage. The 50 member cast easily fit on the stage and its multi-tiered set designed by Leo Babcock. The orchestra had its own area on stage right, and while sound issues are still being worked out is a good solution for fitting musicians into a limited theater space.

Lighting is superb — Dave Reynolds puts on a show with the new equipment, and it is colorful and lights the space well. He’s even brought in a couple moving units for this production, which allows not only movement of light and color on stage, but occasional splashes of light in the audience as well, in keeping with the show’s rock-opera look and feel.

The lobby is spacious and the bathrooms are gorgeous — thanks to Sartor Tile. And it is abuzz with life — there’s a bake sale preshow and during intermission, and a 50/50 raffle going strong. There are also photos of the entire cast and people were busy circulating throughout the area. Its a great space, and it will be comfortable and out of the elements on cold winter nights.

And finally, there is plentiful parking in the lots behind and around the theater, and how great is it to have a theater literally across the street from a Tim Hortons/Cold Stone Creamery. Arrive an hour early and go grab a sweet cream cone.

Congratulations on the launch of a beautiful civic theater space – one that many other community theaters (and some professional ones) will be envious of.  It wouldn’t be fair to end this without listing the people and affiliations involved in making this happen, so to the best of my knowledge they are:

Many many donors at all levels of giving…Dearborn Players Guild, Dearborn…Daly-Merritt Properties, Wyandotte…the Babcock Design Studios, Saline…Wagner Structural Solutions, Howell…McDowell & Associates, Ferndale…Sartor Tile, Dearborn Hts…Denken Engineered Electric, Madison Hts…Murrell Plumbing, Canton…Temperature Control, Wyandotte…Gandol Door, Romulus…Advance Plumbing, Detroit…Virginia Tile, Troy…Total Facility Storage, Wyandotte…Wyandotte Mini Storage, Wyandotte…Ryan Building Materials, Southfield.