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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

OKLAHOMA! at Encore Musical Theatre Company August 7, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Entertainment, Theatre.
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One step forward, two steps back…just when GUYS AND DOLLS and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS started to turn the corner for professionalism, along comes OKLAHOMA, now playing at Encore Musical Theater Company, in Dexter, MI.

6088_1194988028572_1044573288_608083_2260876_nSebastian Gerstner as Will Parker, Sarah Litzinger as Ado Annie, and Steve DeBruyne as Ali Hakim (Photos courtesy Encore Musical Theatre Company)

6088_1194807824067_1044573288_607508_1036278_nLiz Griffith as Laurey and Rusty Mewha as Curly

There is good, and there is bad in Encore’s OKLAHOMA. There is no ugly, and that is a really good sign of ongoing good work by this company. But the show proves too much community and too little professional theater in the long run. I didn’t expect to enjoy this production, and it was better than I expected. Not because I don’t like the show, or because I don’t like Encore (I like them very much); but because Oklahoma is just not a suitable show for this small venue.

First the good: Sebastian Gerstner (Will Parker) and Sarah Litzsinger (Ado Annie) are fabulous. Their scenes together have spark, and MSU student Gerstner holds his own with the professional leads in this production. Steve DeBruyne is adorable as Ali Hakim and has quickly become an Encore audience favorite. The three of them provide the highpoints in this production, and there are many of them.

Liz Griffith (UM Musical Theater program graduate) is very good as Laurey. She sings beautifully, and brings a 3rd dimension to this difficult role. The same can not be said of Rusty Mewba as Curly. While he looks great, and sings well, the performance is flat and there is just no spark between the two of them. Contrast this with the sassy and colorful performances of Gerstner and Litzsinger, and you have a show where the secondary leads overshadow the ones we should be rooting for. I liked Gavriel Savit as Jud, but he comes across more as teddy bear than he does evil. Some of the psychology of this character that makes him both sad and scary is missing in this performance.

The set is very fine — if too big for the theatre. It serves well throughout the production…but more on this later. Much was made by the director of the “earthy real aspects of the show”….I dunno, this show looked exactly like every other production of the show I’ve seen — with many similarities to the recent West End production. Sound and lighting is generally good.

Director Barbara F. Cullen (this time co-directed by Jon Huffman) does a very good job with the pacing. The directing and choreography are serviceable, if familiar. That it comes in at 2 1/2 hours including an intermission is nothing short of miraculous for this otherwise very long show.

Then there is the bad: and some of this is beyond the control of the actors or the director — first, if any American musical screams of wide open spaces and the sheer joy of running through plains and dancing uninhibitedly, it’s Oklahoma. The Encore space is just plain old too small for the large scope of this show. The cast is too small. The entire thing looks cramped on the Encore stage – and instead of wide open spaces, things begin to feel claustrophobic as the show progresses. It works well in Jud’s Smokehouse, but starts to show its smallness during the dream ballet. By the time we get to the penultimate song, “Oklahoma” has folded in on itself rather than celebrating the wide open American west. It doesn’t help that the shiny metal air conditioning vent serves as the proscenium frame and shines on the ceiling. Please paint this black! Please!

Second, it is difficult to listen to a Rodgers and Hammerstein score played by a miniscule orchestra that is out of tune, and which sometimes drags down the pace of the production. Sure, its impractical to have a large orchestra in this small space — but shouldn’t that be a consideration at the time the season is being selected?  At points in the show, the cast on stage entirely drowns out the orchestra. At other times, they can’t hear each other well and entrances are not together. This has consistently been a problem this entire season, and the Encore needs to look at options to fix this (like a television monitor system, or selecting shows that can place the orchestra on the stage itself).

The supporting cast and ensemble are generally community theatre quality. Performers range from good to poor with its corresponding timing and line readings. The men’s ensemble fares better than the women’s which is too young and too weak vocally to compare with the professional cast members in the show. “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City” is the highlight of the first act –partly because it showcases the wonderful Mr. Gerstner, and partly because the men generally fare better in the song and dance aspects of this show. The choreography is creative and they make the most of this short number (albeit, missing taps — sigh….)

My favorite moment: Sarah Litzsinger’s face — the utter joy she expresses — when the fight breaks out during “Farmer and the Cowman”. It made my night.

You can do worse than OKLAHOMA this summer at the Encore. It’s entertaining and well paced. The leads are generally good, and the show is what it is. But you could do better too (see CITY OF ANGELS at the Croswell Opera House for example).

OKLAHOMA continues at Encore Thursdays through Sundays until August 23rd. Call 734-268-6200 for tickets, or purchase them online at http://www.theencoretheatre.org

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).

“Glee” on Fox – September 16th July 20, 2009

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It’s Back!!! Well, almost…

GLEE, which made it’s Fox premier back in May to reel-in the American Idol audience returns (hopefully for a long healthy run) on Wednesday September 16th.

glee1 copy

Starring Matthew Morrison (Broadway’s Hairspray, The Light in the Piazza, and South Pacific) and with the craftsmenship of Broadway veterans from stage design to performance, the show is already a cult favorite, and is sure to be one of the biggest hits of the fall. It’s also sure to make a star of Cory Montieth as the macho football-player-turned-showchoir-leadmale…(Cory also follows in Fox’s long string of shows starring 27 year olds playing 16 year olds…)

The reviews have generally been glowing. The 2nd and 3rd episodes have already been screened at Fox and reviews report they are even BETTER than the premier. The show has also promo-ed the second episode at LA’s OutFest, and are promo-ing the third episode at ComicCon…

I haven’t seen Fox put this amount of hype into a show in a long time — and deservedly so. It’s got a fresh, exciting cast, and true talent both in front of and behind the scenes. I’m rooting for GLEE to have a long, healthy run on Fox. Lets hope the audiences follow. This is the first musical comedy show on primetime that stands a chance since FAME all those long years ago.

You can see the premier episode of GLEE here for free (Hulu membership required): http://www.hulu.com/watch/73740/glee-pilot

You can buy the premier episode on iTunes.

Professional Musical Theatre – Detroit Regional 2009-2010 June 28, 2009

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Broadway is alive and well across the region during the coming musical theatre season. Note that the following list is not comprehensive, and it does not include any community theatre listings nor small venues, only professional theatre in full-sized houses. I have included UM and MSU seasons at the end. This includes Detroit musical theatre venues, as well as those within a short drive of Detroit.  Particularly noteworthy this season is the pre-Broadway tryout of The Addams Family in Chicago this fall — starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. Also noteworthy is this fall’s The Boys in the Photograph in Toronto, a reworking of the Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Beautiful Game.

Support Broadway. Go see a Broadway show.


Ethel Merman’s Broadway (Gem Theatre) Sept 9 – Dec 31

Phantom of the Opera (Detroit Opera House) Sept 8 – Sept 27th

Legally Blond (Fisher) Oct 15 – Nov 01

Jersey Boys (Fisher) Dec 17 – Jan 23

The Wizard of Oz (Fisher) Jan 29-Feb 14

Young Frankenstein (Detroit Opera House) Feb 23 – March 14

Spring Awakening (Fisher) April 20 – May 09


101 Dalmations, The Musical  Nov 17-22

Little House on the Prairie, The Musical  Dec 1 – 5

Jesus Christ Superstar with Ted Neeley, Feb 14


The Wedding Singer Oct 1 – 4

The Drowsy Chaperone Jan 14 – 17

The Rat Pack is Back Feb 25 – 28

Wicked March 31 – April 18


Jersey Boys (Bank of America Theatre) Open ended run

Spring Awakening (Oriental Theatre) Aug 04 – 16

Cats (Cadillac Palace) Oct 13 – 18

Young Frankenstein (Cadillac Palace) Nov 3 – Dec 13

The Addams Family Pre-Broadway tryout (Oriental Theatre) Nov 13 – Jan 10

In the Heights (Cadillac Palace) Dec 15 – Jan 03

Dreamgirls (Cadillac Palace) Jan 19 – 31

Mamma Mia! Jan 19-24

Annie  Jan 19-24

The 101 Dalmations Pre-Broadway tryout (Oriental Theatre) Feb 16 – 28

Billy Elliot (March 18 – this is a sit-down)

Beauty and the Beast (Mar 23 – Apr 4)

Shrek The Musical (Oriental Theatre) July 13 – Sept 5 (unconfirmed: this will be a sit-down)


Tap Dogs – Oct 24

Menopause the Musical – Jan 15-16

Camelot – Jan 30

A Year With Frog and Toad – Mar 7

Forbidden Broadway 25th Ann tour – Apr 17


Young Frankenstein (Palace) Oct 13-25

Chicago (Palace) Jan 12-24

In the Heights (Palace) Feb 9 – 21

Xanadu (Palace) March 2 – 14

Grease (Palace) May 11 – 23

Fiddler on the Roof (Palace) June 15-27


Jersey Boys (Toronto Centre for the Arts) Open ended run continues

The Sound of Music (Princess of Wales) Open ended run continues

The Boys in the Photograph (aka: The Beautiful Game) (Royal Alexandra) Sep 22 – Nov 1

Rock of Ages (April 20 – June 6)

Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Spring 2010 venue TBA)

Fiddler on the Roof (Dec 2009/Jan 2010 Venue TBA)

Young Frankenstein (Mar/Apr 2010 Venue TBA)

Little House on the Prairie The Musical (Jan/Feb 2010 venue TBA)


Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (Dec 8-13)

Young Frankenstein (Feb 2 – 7)

A Chorus Line (April 6 – 11)

South Pacific (Lincoln Center version) April 27- May 2

The 101 Dalmations Pre Broadway Tryout )Jan 26-31)

Phantom of the Opera (May 19 – June 6)

MILLER AUDITORIUM (Kalamazoo) 2009-10 Season

The Wedding Singer (Oct 20-21)

Stomp (Jan 19-20)

Menopause The Musical (Jan 29-31)

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Feb 23 – 25)

Avenue Q (April 21-22)


Evita (Lydia Mendelssohn) Oct 15 – 18

Ragtime (Power Center) April 15 – 18


The Rocky Horror Show (Sept 25 – Oct 4)

Rent (April 16 – 25)