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“Five Course Love” musical makes for a great date-night at the Williamston Theatre (review) August 9, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Theatre.
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I love discovering new musicals that I have neither heard of nor seen, and then seeing them done well. Such is the case with Five Course Love at the Williamston Theater. This professional theater company continues to impress with their work, and this production is top-notch. An easy drive from Ann Arbor, this side of Lansing, it’s a great night out.

Laura Croff, Aaron T. Moore, and Matthew Gwynn in Five Course Love. Photo by Chris Purchis, Williamston Theatre

Three actors perform fifteen roles in a series of mishaps at differently themed restaurants, all loosely revolving around the theme of love. The music roughly follows the theme of each restaurant (country/western at the BBQ; fifties-pop in the diner; etc). Playwright/Composer Gregg Coffin has written a dandy show — one that deserves more stagings in the future.

The script is clever and funny. The music is musical. The lyrics are hilarious (and at times, bawdy — keep the under-13’s at home for this one). It’s a very difficult piece to perform, but it’s done well here. The cast did look tired heading into the final scene of the show; and the show itself does go on a bit long in one or two of the scenes.

Laura Croff, Aaron T. Moore, and Matthew Gwynn each contribute a handful of characters – at times more than one at once! They are personable, generally sound good together, and are clearly having tremendous fun. Harmonies suffer in a few instances, but that does not distract from the general goings-on. Musical accompaniment is provided by Jeff English, who is also the Musical Director. He has performed a great job with the cast, and he joins in on the fun from time to time as the performance progresses.

Bartley Bauer has designed a serviceable set; its gorgeously lit by Ted Rhyner with great costumes by Melanie Schuessler. At times, the costumes and props take on a life of their own (i.e. Laura’s leather ensemble as Gretchen; the horses in the Ballad of Guillermo).

But the evening wouldn’t be possible without the terrific direction of Tom Woldt. He uses cleverly repeating patterns that set character against character, and makes excellent use of the smaller theater space. It’s all tied together nicely in the final scene. This is fine directing.

Grab some tickets, bring a date, and go laugh. This is a wonderful summer surprise. Bravo to the Williamston Theatre for taking a risk with this lesser known work, and for giving it a top-notch home for the summer.

Williamston Theatre, Williamston Michigan – Tickets by phone at 517-655-SHOW.

“Bleeding Red”, Michael Brian Ogden’s immensely entertaining comedy at The Purple Rose Theatre May 4, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre.
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If you haven’t yet seen it, you have a few more weeks to see”Bleeding Red”, Michael Brian Ogden’s immensely entertaining comedy at The Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, MI.

3180_1013314348236_1686368926_14552_1722547_n(photo copyright Purple Rose Theatre, 2009; Michael Brian Ogden, Matthew Gwynn, Matthew David in Bleeding Red)

Anyone who has spent any time at all overseas will know that soccer fans are far more devoted to their teams than any American equivalent. That devotion is displayed in a love of the beautiful game that goes beyond merely following your team and includes long established pre-game and gametime rituals and routines. You get a small sampling at UM Hockey games, but at a much lower intensity level. That devotion sets the scene for this hilarious production, and what happens when the recent breakup of one of a group of friends threatens to upset their rituals on the eve of the most important game Liverpool played in 2005. There’s a love story in there, and some commentary on family, rootedness, growing up,and the ever present English class system….but it’s essence is the friendship of three buddies and their devotion to the game.

The small 5-member ensemble cast is superb, and Michael Brian’s writing funny, insightful, and surprisingly good for a first work. Guy Sanville’s direction as usual shows terrific comic timing, and captures the nuances of friends who have become so comfortable with each other and their routines that they routinely pile-up on one another, and dance around emotion as if they have done so for years. Great work here.

Oh — by the way, Liverpool and Milan really did play that game in 2005 — and the team’s theme song really is “You’ll Never Walk Alone”…Rodgers and Hammerstein have been turning over in their graves for years…and the rituals and songs played out in the show really ARE that insane — from someone who suffered through a season of European soccer, imagine 40,000 fans doing these rituals in the stadium while another million idiots do so on the streets of London throughout the day of the game — and you have a little sense of what happens the world over on gameday, and why American sports will never come close to that intensity of fan devotion.

Great job, Purple Rose! Great job Michael Brian Ogden. Go see the show.