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Jayna Katz in Concert – aka “Dogfight” the musical (review) March 22, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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This afternoon I had the thrill of seeing Jayna Katz in concert at Lansing’s Peppermint Creek Theatre Company. Okay, it wasn’t really her concert, she’s starring in their current musical production, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul’s off-Broadway hit “Dogfight”. But this is the Jayna show from start to finish. Her backup singers range from terrific (Joe Quick and Matthew Bill) to so-so.

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First, let me say how happy I am to continue to see Peppermint Creek present newer material and shows that aren’t run-of-the-mill regional fare — Dogfight is a great show, and you should check it out. The music and lyrics are fresh and energized, and Peter Duchan’s book is simple and effective in conveying this intimate story – and the story gets better as it goes along with a stronger second act as the love story plays out.

It follows a group of soon-to-be-Vietnam-bound marines as they hold a pre-deployment “dogfight” — throw some money in the pot, find the homeliest girl you can find, bring her to a party, and the ugliest wins the money. But what happens when there are real feelings involved instead? What happens when the girl you bring ends up being a sweet and innocent hard working waitress on her first date? And what happens when you start having feelings back? That’s the crux of the simple storyline.

Jayna Katz brings an amazing acting and singing performance to the role of the waitress, Rose. Her rendition of “Pretty Funny” is heartbreaking and powerful. In fact, everything else pales in comparison. It was a wise move for Peppermint Creek to bring in this visiting actress who now lives in NYC (but has local Chelsea and Siena Heights roots).

Her potential suitor (and eventual lover) Eddie (Patrick Harney), is a less experienced performer, and pales next to Jayna, making the relationship (and their songs) rather one-sided. Fortunately, he is at his best when with his two buddies Boland (Matthew Bill) and Bernstein (Joe Quick). The three together have an energy that is palpable. The men in general are quite strong in this production and Bill and Quick are the strongest of the bunch. The women in the production are relegated to backup-singers for the most part and fill-in smaller parts. One important character loses diction (and notes) in her higher register.

A few of the orchestra’s strings struggled through the difficult score though the rest of the ensemble is very good, and placing them onstage is a great way to balance the sound in the theatre space. The set by Jeff Boerger is beautiful, and works well in the space, making it all feel much larger than it really is. The Golden Gate Bridge looks wonderful looming above the action. Lighting cues were somewhat off, and the microphones occasionally popped during this afternoon’s performance. There are also a few places where attention to detail might have been more prudent — one of the actors real tattoos show prominently moments before a scene where he is supposedly afraid of getting a tattoo in the show. The dresses that Rose chooses from for her date are on plastic modern-day hangers that didn’t exist in 1963.

Oh, and Lauren Ezzo is absolutely a hoot as Ruth Two Bears — in fact, she manages to upstage the action taking place during the early goings of the Dogfight sequence by doing absolutely nothing… and it is brilliantly funny.

But the real reason to see this show is twofold: its an important new musical theater work and nobody else locally has done it (nor do I see it on any upcoming seasons), and Jayna Katz who carries this production, and you should see her do it.

Dogfight continues at Peppermint Creek through March 29th. Directed by Chad Badgero. Musical direction by Edric Haleen. Choreography by Karyn Perry.

Lead Performances drive this “Parade” (Peppermint Creek) Review November 15, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Michigan, musical theater, Musicals.
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Love it or hate it, any theater company takes a risk when producing the Alfred Uhry/Jason Robert Brown musical “Parade” — it is a hard sell to get an audience to empathize with a jewish factory manager who may or may not have committed the murder and rape of a 13-year old factory worker in 1912 Atlanta, Georgia. You might be familiar with the story from the 1987 movie “The Murder of Mary Phagan” or the 2009 The People v Leo Frank.  Its a challenging and complicated musical to be sure, but one that has Peppermint Creek fortunately sold out throughout its run.

What really makes this particular production soar is the outstanding lead performances by Adam Woolsey as Leo, and Mary Maurer as his wife Lucille. Individually and together, their vocals and acting soar, and make this a compelling piece of musical theater. I’ve seen Adam in several productions now, and the work here surpasses anything he has done previously, and comes unexpectedly — that the show works here is in large part due to his subdued and empathic performance. There is also very solid vocal work from up-and-comer Ben Cassidy as Frankie Epps (among other small roles).

If you don’t already have a ticket, you won’t be able to see this remarkable singing performance — but look for other works by Peppermint Creek in Lansing — I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the local premier of the off-Broadway Pasek and Paul musical “Dogfight” this spring.

Kudos to a theater company willing to take risks — and not perform the “same old stuff” — and what better way to see that rewarded but sold-out houses.