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This Fair Lady has Done Me In (Review – Encore Musical Theatre Company) August 6, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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Photo courtesy Encore staff photographer, Michele Anliker

 

Lerner and Loewe’s MY FAIR LADY is probably the last musical you would expect to see at the Encore Musical Theatre Company – how do  you make all those costumes and sets work in a space that small? Well let me tell you, the production that opened last night at the Encore is not only scrumptious, but it is the finest musical they have done to date. Consider yourself lucky if you have a ticket, because its entire run is sold out.

Jessica Grové is a remarkable Eliza Doolittle and this is her musical top to bottom, acting, singing, and having the time of her life. You can’t keep your eyes off of her and her powerhouse performance, whether that is singing her way through a lovely “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” (with some great vocal support by the male quartet) or tearing through the more dramatic “Show Me”, leaving suitor Freddy literally floored.

Daniel Gerroll plays a dynamic Henry Higgins and his interactions with Eliza have a particular poignancy. The wordplay and meaning are clear in this intimate setting. Their interactions in Act II brought an angle to the show I had not considered before, and it works well here. Eliza’s transformation is particularly compelling, while Higgins goes for a slightly different ride than the usual take on the part.

There’s a wonderful performance by UM Musical Theater senior Riley McFarland as Freddy whose vocal chops soar in “On the Street Where You Live”; Dale Dobson turns in a fun Colonel Pickering; and always one of my favorites Keith Kalinowski plays a boisterous and humor-laden Alfred Doolittle singing and dancing his merry way through “With a Little Bit of Luck” and later the very fun “Get Me To The Church on Time”.

The entire ensemble is terrific — and they sing, dance, and support the leads throughout. The work here is simply stellar from top to bottom. Great to see old favorites on stage, as well as a handful of newcomers who I hope stay here forever.

Director and Designer Tony Walton has created a sumptuous feast of a musical, and despite its long (three hour) length, it never feels too slow. The sets fit in a jigsaw puzzle fashion in the space, and everything looks open and airy. Projections by Mr Walton are gorgeous, at times black and white, at times spotted with color, and representational of the original Broadway sets. It works magnificently here, and with no surprise given Mr Walton’s Tony/Drama Desk/Academy Award background. He’s helped by some terrific lighting by Robert Perry, gorgeous costumes by Caitlin Graham and Yuka Silvera (Eliza’s costumes). Choreography by Matthew Brennan is appropriate to the space and never repetitive. Anne Donevan’s props looks terrific as does Andy Galicki’s projection work. Tyler Driskill has done his usual excellent vocal work as musical director, and his 6-piece backstage band sounds terrific throughout.

As mentioned earlier — the entire run, every single ticket is sold out. If you hold a ticket, consider yourself the bearer of treasure, because you will not want to miss this MY FAIR LADY. There is a cancellation list at the box office — which is several pages long. I suggest you join it if you are looking for tickets – any tickets – to this production.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Encore’s Extraordinary “Into the Woods” (review) August 21, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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There is probably very little I can say that hasn’t already been written about Encore Musical Theatre Company’s Into the Woods — simply, it’s brilliant, original, and the best musical they have presented.

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I, for one can tell you that I am sick and tired of Into the Woods — I’ve seen every one of its various Broadway professional versions and every local high school, junior high, community theatre and church-basement theatre has done it. But this production had me smiling in delight — and when a show that you know every single word and lyric to can do that after all these years, there is something special going on indeed.

The casting is superior from top to bottom…from Jessica Grové’s superb Witch, to Baker and Baker’s Wife Matthew Brennan and Thalia V. Schramm, to Princes and Wolf (Peter Crist and Sebastian Gerstner…pictured above singing “Agony”). Throw in excellent performances by Jeff Steinhauer (Mysterious Man and Cinderella’s Stepmother – yes, you read that right), Katrina Stribley as Cinderella, Hannah Hesseltine as Little Red, and Elliot Styles as Jack. Top them off with fantastic supporting players Maggie Malaney as Rapunzel, Cassi Mikat and Maggie Williams as Florinda and Lucinda, Emily Rogers as Jack’s Mother, Ari Axelrod as the Steward, and a hilarious Tim Brayman as Milky White (yes, you read that right too).

Director Dan Cooney sets it all in the mysterious and shadowy eaves of an old attic — and the set design itself (by Sarah Tanner) adds a level of drama to the proceedings — light shines through the wooden slats, and illuminates glimpses of things happening throughout — the fully integrated ensemble cast are on stage almost the entire evening and serve as a greek chorus at times — emphasizing words, watching proceedings, providing sound effects. It all works remarkably well. Also fully integrated into the show is the onstage orchestra – with musical director/pianist Tyler Driskill moved around the stage as needed, and the remainder of the orchestra on stage left. The sound is remarkable.

Matthew Brennan’s choreography is organic and never overwhelms the numbers, nor the intended purpose of the staging. People here do not dance just to dance. Daniel Walker’s lighting evokes mood better in this production than anything I have seen at Encore to date. Sharon Larkey Urick’s costumes look lovely, and Anne Donevan has gathered eclectic and interesting properties that serve multiple purposes throughout.

Witness the creative use of light to create the Giant…the clever use of simple props to convey Milky White’s adventures…the “found properties” qualities of ladders and woven material that convey beanstalks and towers. It is flawless work.

Absolutely do not miss Into the Woods — you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’ve seen something brilliant — and you have.

Very Highly Recommended — nay, demanded that you attend.

Into the Woods continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through August 30th. For tickets call 734-268-6200 or visit http://www.theencoretheatre.org. I understand there are still some tickets remaining for the final weekend.