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“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at Wharton Center, East Lansing (Review) is a Dream December 9, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
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Okay, let me state this for the record: I have seen White Christmas, the musical, 7 times now – between San Francisco, Boston, Detroit, and East Lansing. I love this show, and am not going to review the show itself…This is the 2009 Tour that made a one-week stop at the Wharton Center at MSU, East Lansing.

The show is a dream – and the cast is one of the best I’ve seen since the initial production in San Francisco (still my favorite cast – but maybe just because I saw them first and could brag for a year until other people started to see the show in it’s season incarnations). Stephen Bogardus and Kerry O’Malley reprise their roles from the NYC 2008 production. David Elder and Megan Sikora play their dancing-fool sidekicks, and they are dandy together. This production features the best-danced “I Love a Piano” that I have seen in four different incarnations. The Elder/Sikora “Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” is perfection. The tap dancing throughout this production is spectacular by the entire cast. Stephen Bogardus brings charm and style to his role, while Kerry O’Malley is just plain lovable.

What is currently a drought of productions and jobs on Broadway has resulted in one of the most talented dancing casts in ages — there are folks in this show that normally play leads in other musicals. It all lends a wonderfully polished perfection to the show as a whole. Lorna Luft makes a fine Martha Watson and sings her heart out in her big show-stopper number. Her stardom in no way overshadows any of the cast members, and she appears to be having the time of her life.

For those who saw the show at the Fox Theatre, be warned that it’s a different creature at Wharton Center — featured as part of it’s Broadway tour season, the performances are near sold-out throughout the run. There appear to be balcony and scattered rear orchestra seats available for some performances this week — but don’t expect you can walk up to the box office like you could at the Fox and just get great seats. Not the case here.

For those not in the know – this is just a holiday treat — a big, colorful, Randy Skinner tap-dance filled extravaganza. It could really play at any time, not just Christmas time — it’s a full-blown Broadway musical with spectacular dancing and a fine familiar book and score. Filled with classics like “White Christmas”, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”, “Snow”, “Blue Skies”, “Sisters”, “I’ve Got My love to Keep Me Warm” and a half-dozen others. It moves at lightning pace, and it’s a musical lovers musical, much like “42nd Street” or “Babes in Arms”.

Go, have fun, and see a spectacular cast. On a final note — beware the weather. I don’t know which was more exciting on Tuesday night — opening night at White Christmas, or the spectacularly dangerous drive home to Ann Arbor for an hour in some of the worst driving weather you could imagine — snow, turning to sleet, turning to ice. I hate driving, and I particularly hated driving home after the show. Luckily I had the White Christmas cast album on my iPhone to play through the car stereo system to keep me in a good mood. Check the weather reports before you head out this week. I leave for Florida tomorrow, or I would have seen the show a second time if I could. But I’m glad I will be out of this weather in less than 24 hours for a week. For those of you left behind in this Michigan weather — go enjoy this “warm cup of hot chocolate” musical. Go see a Broadway show.

And that’s the view from Ann Arbor this week.

Musicals that are appropriate for small venues (Musical Theater 101) August 25, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
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Seeing the announcement of yet another inappropriate musical in a small venue local theatre, I thought I would help them out by listing, from a directing and design point of view, musicals that are appropriate for small venue theaters and those that are not. I list appropriate shows in alphabetical order, followed by inappropriate shows in alphabetical order.  In most instances, trying to force a large-venue proscenium show into a small theatre space not only looks claustrophobic, breaks with the integrity of the piece, and in general doesn’t work in that small venue. From time to time a theatre might “pull it off” (a theatre in Connecticut recently did an almost set-less production of The Producers in the round! that worked)…but for the most part, they don’t work.  Here’s some help for this small venue local theatre that keeps picking inappropriate shows… The following is nowhere near a complete list, but its a good start. Note that most small-venue shows will almost always work in larger venues. Larger venue shows will almost never work in smaller venues.

Musicals Appropriate for Small Venues

Adding Machine

Aint Misbehavin’

The All Night Strut


All Shook Up

Altar Boyz

Always, Patsy Cline


Aspects of Love


Avenue Q


Bat Boy

Bed and Sofa



Blood Brothers

Bright Lights Big City




Caroline or Change

A Catered Affair

Charlotte Sweet


Closer than Ever


Dames at Sea

A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine

Debbie Does Dallas, the Musical

Dessa Rose


The Drowsy Chaperone

Ernest in Love

Evil Dead, the Musical



The Fantasticks

Floyd Collins

Forever Plaid


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Goblin Market


The Goodbye Girl

Grand Hotel


The Great Trailer Park Musical

Grey Gardens


Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hello Again

High Fidelity


I can Get it For You Wholesale

Irma la Duce

I Love My Wife

I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change

I Remember Mama

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Jane Eyre

Jerry’s Girls

Jerry Springer the Opera

The Last 5 Years

Little Shop of Horrors

Little Women


Lucky Stiff

A Man of No Importance

March of the Falsettos

Marie Christine

Moby Dick the Musical

My Favorite Year

Naked Boys Singing

A New Brain

Next to Normal


Oh, Coward

On a Clear Day You can See Forever

Once on this Island

110 In The Shade

Pacific Overtures


Pump Boys and Dinettes

Putting it Together


Ring of Fire

The Rink

The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd

The Robber Bridegroom

Rocky Horror Show

Romance, Romance


The Secret Garden


She Loves Me

Shout, The Mod Musical

Side by Side by Sondheim


Songs for a New World

Spring Awakening

The Story of my Life

Stop The World, I Want to Get Off

Summer of ‘42

Sunday in the Park with George

Sweeney Todd

The Sweet Smell of Success


Tell Me on a Sunday

They’re Playing Our Song

The Thing About Men

3 Guys Naked from the Waist Down


Tick Tick Boom

Title of Show

Triumph of Love

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg



Weird Romance

The Woman in White


A Year with Frog and Toad

You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown


Musicals Inappropriate for Small Venues

The Act


All Shook Up


Annie Get Your Gun

Anything Goes


Babes in Arms

The Baker’s Wife


Beauty and the Beast

Bells are Ringing

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas


Big River

Bonnie & Clyde

The Boyfriend

The Boys from Syracuse


By Jeeves!

Bye Bye Birdie






Children of Eden

A Chorus Line

A Christmas Carol


City of Angels

The Civil War


Crazy for You


Damn Yankees

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels




Fiddler on the Roof

Finian’s Rainbow


Flower Drum Song



42nd Street


Frankenstein the Musical

The Full Monty

Funny Girl

George M!



Guys and Dolls




Half a Sixpence

Hello Dolly

High School Musical

High School Musical 2

High Society

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

I can Get it For You Wholesale

In the Heights

Into the Woods

Jekyll and Hyde

Jesus Christ Superstar

Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat

The King and I


Kiss Me Kate

Kiss of the Spider Woman

La Cage aux Folles

The Last Starfighter

Leader of the Pack

Legally Blond

Les Miserables

The Light in The Piazza

The Lion King

A Little Night Music

Mack and Mabel


Mamma Mia

Merrily We Roll Along

Man of LaMancha

Me and My Girl

Meet Me In St Louis



Miss Saigon

The Most Happy Fella

Movin’ Out

The Music Man

My Fair Lady

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

My One and Only


9 to 5 the musical

Notre Dame de Paris

No No Nanette

Notre Dame de Paris



On the Town

On the Twentieth Century

On Your Toes

Once Upon a Mattress

Over Here!

Paint Your Wagon

The Pajama Game

Pal Joey


Peter Pan


Phantom of the Opera


The Pirates of Penzance

The Pirate Queen

The Producers

Promises, Promises




7 Brides for 7 Brothers

70 Girls 70


Song of Norway

Sophisticated Ladies

Sunset Boulevard

Saturday Night Fever

Seussical the Musical



Side Show

Singin’ in the Rain



Song and Dance

The Sound of Music

South Pacific


Starlight Express

State Fair

Steel Pier

Sunday in the Park with George

Sweet Charity


Take Me Along

A Tale of Two Cities

The Tap Dance Kid

Tarzan the Musical

Thoroughly Modern Millie




Two Gentlemen of Verona

We Will Rock You

The Wedding Singer

West Side Story

Whistle Down the Wind

White Christmas


The Will Rogers Follies

The Witches of Eastwick

The Wiz

The Wizard of Oz

Woman of the Year

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

CITY OF ANGELS at Croswell is jazzy and “reel” fun… August 1, 2009

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Croswell Opera House has a doozy of a show in the Tony-winning CITY OF ANGELS currently playing in Adrian.


Considered by many to be Cy Coleman’s best score, from the rhythmic driving beat with scat vocal quartet accompaniment to the patter of “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere” and the lush jazzy “It needs work” the score is a masterwork, that sounds utterly fantastic in the hands of musical director Jonathan Sills and his more than able orchestra. It’s more than just accompaniment in this show, it’s the drive and energy to which the piece is set, and it delivers from start to finish.

The cast is top notch – with special kudos to UM vocal performance student Joshua Glassman as writer Stine, whose vocal training is evident from his first note through his last, where his voice projects naturally and cleanly without ever seeming forced, even in big belt numbers like “Funny”. It’s a joy to hear, and this young man has a long successful career before him. See (and hear) him here first.

It helps that he and James Swendsen (alter-ego detective Stone) have a natural chemistry together on stage — they play off of each other in a fashion that truly delineates the creator/creature line and makes for a fun flip when the lines get blurred in later goings. Swendsen has a more pop-oriented sound to his voice, and the two of them match remarkably well vocally in their scenes together.

The women fare equally well in Sarah Lynne Nowak’s Donna/Oolie  and Emily Tyrybon’s Alaura/Carla. Both have terrific stage presence and voices to match.

Bruce Hardcastle turns in an energetic performance as Buddy/Irwin. In a role that threatens to carom out of control on each turn, it doesn’t, and remains funny and consistently on character throughout. Other supporting players range from great (the quartet) to good. There are a few missed notes here and there by supporting players, but nothing that distracts from the overall skill level of this adept cast.

The set looks great and works well with it’s split level design, the show moves rapidly from scene to scene and set changes don’t miss a beat, and the lighting is appropriately bright and colorful for color-scenes and moody and shadow-strewn for the Black and White “movie” scenes. What originally seems a bit murky and dark in the opening sequences eventually establishes a visual design that just plain old works as the show progresses.

That it all hangs together so well, and so cleanly, is the wonderful work of director/choreographer Stephanie L. Stephan. She understands that this is a difficult story to follow, and directs with large, masterful strokes that allow the audience to easily follow the action on stage. No mean feat, considering the many plot turns, and the stage-convention of switching back and forth from real-life to alter-ego movie action throughout using the same actors. This was achieved on Broadway through miraculous (and at that time ground-breaking) instantaneous ability to drain color out of sets and costumes through lighting and paint technique. Here it is up to the director to make it work, and it works terrifically.  This is a very difficult musical to design and produce, as other theaters can attest, from the passable production at University of Michigan a few seasons ago, to the disastrous Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production many years ago. Make no mistakes, this current production is in a league of its own. Congratulations.

The script and lyrics are smart and funny, with enough suspense thrown in to make it all work. I saw the production in its original Broadway run several times, and it becomes smarter and wittier with each viewing. Mix-in the tremendous musical score, the great performances, and swirl it all around by a top notch director and crew, and you have a tasty, jazzy, funny musical comedy treat at Croswell Opera House this summer, my favorite by far of this season’s offerings — not just at Croswell, but anywhere regionally this summer.

City of Angels continues this weekend and next weekend. Tickets at croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW(7469).