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UM’s “Gibson Fleck” shows promise, fine score (review) November 19, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Entertainment, musical theater, Theatre.
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It’s hard to review a workshop production of a show. Such is the case at the University of Michigan, where the musical theater program is presenting GIBSON FLECK this weekend.

There are parts of this new musical that work well. There are others that don’t. But what works well works very well –the opposite is also true of the things that don’t work well. I won’t go into reviewing the show itself in this blog review, since it is a work in progress. Suffice it to say that the show involves a young man searching for his roots (and a sense of “home” as the songs often reflect) after being moved from “family” to “family” while growing up due to a series of coincidences.

Make no mistake, this is a full-fledged UM production, so the clever set (by Vince Mountain); the lighting, costumes, orchestra, and large cast are all super. The production makes terrific use of the Arthur Miller Theater on North Campus. It’s great to see a student-written production get this type of treatment. The direction by Linda Goodrich moves the production briskly along and makes for an entertaining evening.

There is some lovely work in the score by A.J. Holmes and Carlos Valdes, especially when things slow down and become more melodic. The book by Ali Gordon never finds its voice. It’s not worth delving into this further here, because this is clearly a work in progress, and as future workshops and rewrites occur, it is sure to find a stronger center. As it stands, its a bit difficult to discern which characters one is meant to care about; and I didn’t want to care about all of them.

My own final thoughts on the way home: I loved seeing a new musical that clearly has some excellent young talent behind it; and wish nothing but good things for this team down the road. My take: I’d love to see a bit more about Gibson, and a bit less about some of the other people in his life. Congrats to the team involved. The lucky few with tickets will enjoy this new show, even if the road to the finish is a bit bumpy at this point.

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“Evita” – University of Michigan Musical Theatre Program October 17, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
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“Evita”, currently running at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre at the University of Michigan is a musical theatre diamond. Presented by the Musical Theatre department, it is as slick as a Broadway tour, and as tight as a college production can be.

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The production reaffirms that the only current professional caliber musical theatre being presented in Ann Arbor is being done by the UM Musical Theatre program. Let me state up front that I love big-budget proscenium-theatre musicals with full orchestras. Especially when they are done right.

Under the expert direction of Linda Goodrich, the show plays out exactly as it should — a fast, straight-forward Act I, followed by an ever-increasingly more emotional Act II, through to the tear-jerker ending. “Buenos Aires” and “A New Argentina” remain Act One’s highlights, while “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “Rainbow Tour” are clearly Act Two’s forte pieces.

To be sure, this is a problematic work of musical theatre. The Peron story doesn’t really play out true to reality, and follows a “spin” on her biography that bends the truth, and is mean-spirited at that. The Broadway production catapulted Patty LuPone to stardom (ironically, she will be performing here later this year).

But this production is simply first rate, from the fine performances of Desi Oakley (Eva) and Carlos Valdes (Che) to the smaller ensemble parts. The costumes, sets, lighting, choreography, sound, and orchestra are professional and slick. In short, everything a production of the show should be. Linda Goodrich and her design team have made the theatre feel twice the size that it is, and the simple (but beautifully designed) tiered set makes the proscenium arch feel far higher than it is. This is just plain old great design work. The costumes here, like in the original Broadway production, instantly make an indelible impression – separating class, age, and social rank – and make scene changes seamless and fluid without set changes. Can I add that Desi gets to wear the most stunning clothing I’ve seen in a show this season? By the time Eva reaches her Rainbow Tour, you are utterly transported to a different time and place. By that point in the story, the emotion has also kicked into high gear and it’s a race to the conclusion. Brava to both Ms. Oakley as well as Linda Goodrich’s fine pacing and direction.

This is a love it or hate it work of theatre. The same can’t be said of the production, and I loved it. Unfortunately, unless you already have tickets, you won’t be seeing this one. Every performance has been sold out for weeks.

On a final note, can we consider this show now “done” here locally? Civic, Encore, UM, EMU, Croswell…

Stunning “42nd Street” by University of Michigan Musical Theatre Program April 18, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre.
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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — there is absolutely nobody that presents more professional musical theatre regionally than the University of Michigan Musical Theatre program. Recently celebrating it’s 25th birthday, the program is going strong, with graduates consistently working on Broadway and nationwide.

Nowhere is this professionalism more evident than in Linda Goodrich’s production of the musical theatre chestnut 42nd Street running this weekend at the Power Center. This is the second time she has directed this musical for UM, the last time in 1995 and the first UM show I had the privilege of seeing myself. This current production is equally stunning.

Bryan Langlitz plays Billy Lawlor and Mary Michael Patterson plays Peggy Sawyer, both to perfection. The cast is uniformly strong, and the tap is just spectacular. I’d venture to say they actually look more in-sync than some Broadway Tour companies, partly due to the sheer amount of time dedicated to teaching and perfecting the many dance numbers in classes as well as rehearsal each day.

The following photos give you a sample of the production. I’d urge you to beg, borrow, or steal tickets to see it while you may — and in reality, that is the only way you can — every single performance is sold out in the 1400 seat theatre.

Bravo UMMT — and a great big Brava to Linda~~

0809-42nd0110809-42nd0910809-42nd2810809-42nd3410809-42nd441(note: All photos courtesy of UM Musical Theatre Program, copyright University of Michigan Musical Theatre Program, 2009)