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“Les Miserables” at Croswell Opera House is stellar (review) May 11, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Eric Parker. I’ll come back to him in a moment, but I had to start the review with him.

Over the course of the past year, almost every theater in America has performed the musical Les Miserables, and this was the 6th entirely different production of Les Mis that I have seen in that year. I can also report that Croswell Opera House’s production is far and away the best I have seen all year, and one of their very finest large-scale musicals I’ve seen (and I’ve seen most of their musicals the past 20 years).

Call it a small miracle…okay, call it a really really huge spectacular theatrical miracle…that COH has created what is the best looking, best sounding, and best directed production of the show I have seen outside the recent pre-Broadway tour, and that includes the ultra-slick but emotionally empty production University of Michigan’s musical theater program presented a month ago.

Director Mark DiPietro not only knows how to create stunning stage pictures (there are moments in this production that look like paintings from the 1800’s) but also knows how to pace musicals so that they are seamless — yet intimate enough to wring genuine emotion from the audience  (“A little fall of rain” had me in tears from the get-go).  Musical Director Jonathan Sills not only gets remarkable (and dynamic) vocal work from his leads and ensemble, but his orchestra is pitch perfect — to see a show like Les Mis with a full orchestra is a dream come true.

But this is also the largest and most technical work I have seen at Croswell, and it works extraordinarily well. Ryan B.  Tymensky’s crisp lighting design highlights his scenic design (which is huge, and incorporates projections that look remarkable good (despite a slight moire effect throughout). Natalie Kissinger has designed superb costumes for the very large cast. Choreographer Katie Fairbanks makes good use of her ensemble. Tyler Miller’s sound design is solid (despite a few crackles here and there — still, far better than that recent university production I saw).

Okay, that brings me back to Eric Parker. Every now and then, everything on a production just comes together the right way — the music, the design, the direction, the venue, and the performers — and in this particular production, Eric Parker’s performance as Jean Valjean is one to be cherished – to be cheered – to be admired – to be bragged about for years to come. He is simply “oh my God” awesome. When he is joined by the always excellent Michael Lackey as Inspector Javert, their scenes together basically explode off of the Croswell stage.

But there is more — Erin Satchell Yuen sings a strong Fantine, and Jamie Lynn Buechele (Cosette) and Jarrod Alexander (Marius) are wonderful both separately and together. Also wonderful are Natasha Ricketts and Jeffrey King as the Thenardiers.  Their costumes and wigs for the wedding sequence add a whole new dimension entirely. Alisha Bond is a heartbreaking Eponine.  Bethany Craig is cute as as button as Young Cosette, and Jeremy Craig is an impish Gavroche.

The men’s ensemble simply bests any I have heard since the original 25th anniversary tour cast came through town two years ago. Michael Yuen sings a very fine Enjolras indeed — but the entire group of Parisian students is remarkable.  The women hold their own in both “The Docks” as well as “Turning” (which, incidentally, looks gorgeous with its flickering candles). The entire ensemble is excellent throughout, and they have plentiful stage business to keep them all busy efficiently. Watch Croswell regulars Kyle Kasischke and Lori MacDonald in their many scenes as various characters, never missing a beat.

There are a few minor quibbles — spotlights, when closed down to their tightest, wobble a bit too much — and some cast member’s breathing can be heard over their body mics. I’m not sure much can be done to fix that given the resources available. Very minor quibbles indeed. My only other thought (and there is nothing that can be done about this when not using a turntable) is that the large music swell that was originally written to accompany the rotation of the barricade set to expose the layers of dead bodies leads to dead air without that rotation.

The production continues at Croswell Opera House, 129 east Maumee Street, Adrian Michigan through next week. Tickets are available at croswell.org or by calling 517-264-SHOW. Don’t hesitate to get your tickets as soon as possible, as word of mouth and reviews should sell this production out. Just see it. Thank me for sending you their way later. And if you have never seen a show at Croswell Opera House, what the heck are you waiting for? Get your tickets.

Eric Parker. I just had to end this review with him.


Rocky Horror Show at Croswell Opera House is a blast (Review) October 20, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
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The Rocky Horror Show, that bizarreness of a stage musical that became a cult hit in London in the early 70’s and a midnight-movie cult in the US, returns to the Croswell Opera House for its third incarnation in recent years, and its a big, sprawling, hilarious blast of musical theater mess.

Once again directed by Eric Parker, and including many of the original cast (albeit in some new roles) as well as some newcomers, the show begs to ask the question, “why?”….well, why not?

Paul Manger makes for a terrific new Frank ‘n’ Furter as he sashays around the large open set in heels and corset, spitting out the lines and songs with the best of them; Katy Kujala is a great-voiced Janet, and Scotland Mills a fine furry boyfriend Brad. Zane Dickerson reprises the role of Rocky in all his body building glory; Eric Parker is a hilarious Riff Raff, and Kyrie Bristle nearly steals the entire show from all of them as Magenta in the waning minutes of the musical.

To be sure, there are ups and downs in the cast — but everyone is solid in their roles, and everyone has a blast and it shows. Stephanie L. Stephan provides some terrific dance movement and she is wise: she understands who can move, and who less so and she makes the most of that knowledge (a skill required by the best choreographers working with non-professional casts at various level of skill). It all looks terrific on the Croswell stage.

Keith Holloway’s set is serviceable, and projections hilarious. Lighting by Tiff Crutchfield is colorful and appropriate to the mood of the show. Cindy Farnham’s costumes range from decent to spectacular. The one problematic tech area in this production is sound: and in this instance, NOT the Croswell’s system, but the actual sound design. The orchestra (under the sure direction of Todd Schreiber) is located backstage, and they sound muffled. When the ensemble joins them for off-stage background vocals, the vocals can barely be heard. While some of the cast use body mics, the other leads use wireless handset mics. While it ads a great touch of “70’s” style kitsch, it results in vocal inbalance throughout. When the entire ensemble is onstage, with leads using mics, the ensemble becomes a vocal afterthought and they can not be heard clearly. The result is some great looking ensemble numbers that have no vocal “pop”; i.e., it doesn’t sound like a rock score should. There were also some missed soundboard cues, that I am sure will resolve themselves as the show gets further into its run. If ever a show deserved better sound design, this is it.

Of course, Rocky Horror is only as good as its audience participation — and there is a lot of it here. You an purchase a participation goody bag at the concession stand before the show, and join in — and if you have never seen a production of Rocky Horror, take a few minutes to peruse the many websites that give you audience shoutback suggestions. At the friday night opening performance, those who knew the show clearly had a better time than those who did not — and to the audience (and cast) surprise, some of the best ShoutBack audience members were in attendance in the first row. They made for a rollicking (if profanity-laced) evening. You’ve been warned — Rocky Horror itself is kind of a 70s throwback-edgy show, lets rate it PG-13…but throw in that awesome audience participation, and it becomes R-Rated instantly.

If the Friday night audience was any indication, this is one of those shows that will need some extra word of mouth to sell tickets — the audience was about half full. BUY TICKETS. The show is terrific and fast-paced, the cast is hilarious, and you will have a wonderful time at this Rocky.

The Rocky Horror Show continues through October 27th at the Croswell Opera House, Adrian MI. Tickets at croswell.org, or by phone at 517-264-7469. There is also a costume contest during intermission every Friday and Saturday night.