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Clever Creepy Cool “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” at the Dio (review) November 25, 2017

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The Dio has a delicious Christmas treat in store for you this year (and I’m not just talking about Chef Jarrod’s holiday-themed pre-show meal!) in the form of Tom Mula’s adaptation of his own book, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol. It’s an entirely different take on the familiar Dickens Christmas tale, and it is fun, cleverly conceived, a bit creepy in its telling, and ultimately quite cool.

Sonja Marquis directs the very energetic show’s four actors (left to right in photo above, Victor McDermott, Matthew Wallace, Elizabeth Fritsch, and Mark Vukelic) and makes great use of the space for this romp through (not always) Dickensian territory. Set, Lighting, and Sound design by Matt Tomich are terrific throughout.

In order to rid himself of the chains he has forged through life, link by link, Jacob Marley is assigned the unenviable task of reforming his partner Scrooge — the first act basically sets this up, the second plays fast and loose with the original Christmas Carol tale — not always taking a straight path, but always entertaining. We find out about Marley’s own ghosts (take it or leave it, purists), and his interactions with the world around him. You think Scrooge was a baddy?

Matthew Wallace turns in a strong multi-faceted performance that is much more difficult than it looks to the audience – and he does a terrific job. The rest of the cast plays everyone else (the four play 18 roles all told). The original production of the play was done as a one-man-show and was later adapted for a 4-member cast and has met holiday acclaim nationwide. I can’t think of four better performers than those on stage here. From spirit guides, to ghosts, to Dickens’s characters from the novella, to all the other assorted roles played here, the cast is uniformly good and the energy is palpable in this show that never slows down.

Part tragedy, part comedy, part holiday play, part morality tale, you’re in for a very entertaining evening at the Dio. The show is different, and  it is not like all the other fare out there, and despite its bizarre journey, you’ll still go home feeling quite filled with holiday spirit — and that’s what a show at Christmas time is all about, right?  (Well, that and turkey and ham for dinner, right? Thanks Jarrod!).

Highly Recommended.

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol continues through December 31st at the Dio Theatre in Pinckney, MI. Tickets (selling out very quickly) can be had at diotheatre.com or 517-672-6009.


Whole Lotta Fun at this Trailer Park (Review) August 26, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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There’s a riotous new musical at The Dio, and you’ll laugh your ass off. The Great American Trailer Park Musical opened its run last night and a terrific cast, great tech design, and a fun show itself create a fun adult night out (cause there is some cursin’ and swearin’ and sexin’ in this show).

There isn’t much to Betsy Kelso and David Neil’s story: exotic dancer Pippi arrives at the trailer park, quickly hooks up with married Norbert (whose wife is agoraphobic and hasn’t left their trailer in 20 years), and soon Pippi’s ex-lover comes a callin’.  Alls well that ends well, and you will have a blast getting there.

The “story” is told by three trailer park girls — a side-splittingly funny Betty, er,  Sonja Marquis; foul-mouthed Lin (short for Linoleum, hilarious and almost unrecognizable Natalie Rose Sevick); and Pickles (played by the fantastic in every single ridiculous moment Tori Rogers).  Andrew Gorney has tremendous fun as Norbert, while Carrie Jay Sayer turns in another remarkable performance as Jeannie, his stay-at-home wife. Alaina Kerr adds another brilliant performance to her quickly growing musical theater repertoire as stripper (sorry, exotic dancer only) Pippi, and Mike Suchyta is wonderful as the menacing, marker-sniffing, roadkill-king Duke.

Steve DeBruyne directs the intermission-less evening with an eye to comedy at every turn; Music Direction and orchestra are under the capable leadership of Brian Rose; Kristin Renee Reeves has created some very funny choreography; Set, Lighting, and Sound Design is colorful and nifty by Matt Tomich; Properties by Eileen Obradovich are spot on and just keep coming and coming and coming; and there is great costume and hair work by Norma Polk and Madison Merlanti respectively. There is the usual delicious preshow meal by Chef Jared.

You will laugh yourself silly for most of the duration of this side-splitting musical. You’ll also be surprised by what a big little show this really is. There are dozens of costumes, and exteriors of trailers open to interiors of trailers. The show occasionally veers out of the trailer park off to the local strip club, and there’s a very humorous use of a rolling chair and headlights (literally in this case) when Duke comes to town.

Will Jeannie ever leave her house so she can attend the Ice Capades? Will Norbert end up with Jeannie or Pippi? Will Duke stay sober long enough to do anything once he finds Pippi? Will Pickles ever stop talking about her “hysterical pregnancy”?…(folks tell her she’s not pregnant but she has all the symptoms)

See for yourself at The Great American Trailer Park Musical which continues at the Dio Theatre in Pinckney  through October 8th.

Very Highly Recommended.

The Dio Theatre, diotheatre.com, or (517) 672-6009 Downtown Pinckney MI.



Lively and funny “Barefoot in the Park” at The Dio (Review) February 13, 2017

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The Dio is offering a lively and funny mid-winter treat in Neil Simon’s first mega-hit “Barefoot in the Park.”

Newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter (Mary Dilworth and Peter Crist) have just moved into their 5th Floor walkup in New York City, and the comedy quickly mines the travails of too-small, overpriced, crumbling starter apartments, surprise visit by Mother (Sonja Marquis) and quirky neighbor Victor Velasco (Dan Morrison), along with telephone installer Steve DeBruyne and Delivery man Stephen Dean.

Directed by Greg Bailey, the production breezes by with its one-liners and jokes.  There are terrific performances all around, and  the cast play off of each other well. Marquis in particular brings a genuine feel to Mrs Banks that is funny and refreshing. Dilworth and Crist play off of each other well in both more loving as well as angrier scenes.

Matt Tomich has designed an excellent set which looks unlike anything else you have ever seen at The Dio. Dominated by a center stage skylight (used to terrific effect in some very funny sequences) his lighting also looks terrific throughout, but in particular during some lovely moments with light shining in through the skylight.

Costumes look terrific, although I did have a minor quibble with a few prop items that were not period correct. I did like the condensation of three acts into two as well as the cleverly staged furniture arriving with Velasco supervising.

Greg Bailey’s program note states that one of the goals for the show was to bring warm hearted, funny theater to Livingston County. That the Dio has done terrifically well with Barefoot in the Park. Glad to see local theaters rediscovering this comedy – Ann Arbor Civic Theatre did an award-winning production of it last season as well. I enjoyed both of these productions in different ways. Chef Jarod’s pre-show meal, as usual, is tasty and filling. The New York cheesecake ice cream at dessert time was a particular treat.

You’ll find yourself laughing heartily at this Barefoot, and its well done fun.


Barefoot in the Park continues at The Dio through March 5th. diotheatre.com or (517) 672-6009




“Rock of Ages” rocks the Dio — (Review) April 16, 2016

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The Dio has a great big hit on its hands — Rock of Ages, a celebration of rock music from the 80’s, opened this week, and it is a solid, funny, and professional looking and sounding show.

Director Steve DeBruyne has assembled a super-talented cast of performers. Kristin Renee Reeves has given them excellent choreography (the best I have seen at the Dio). Matt Tomich has designed a lovely bar-based set and done some wonders with lighting. Brian Rose has done very good work with musical direction. Norma Polk’s costume design is spot-on, as is Eileen Obradovich’s prop work.  Chef Jarod has brewed up a delicious dinner, as always.

The musical surprisingly ran over 5 years NYC and had a highly successful tour. Lets talk about it for a moment — Written by Chris D’Arienzo and set in the 80’s, it follows a newcomer to LA Sherrie, who finds work at the Bourbon Room (a rock club), quickly falls in love with bar-back Drew (longing to be a rock star), and plays out just as the Mayor is about to close a deal to tear down “the strip” to sell out to German developer Hertz and his son Franz. Protestor Regina tries to stop the proceedings, while the manager and personnel at the Bourbon Room try to figure out a way to raise money, resulting in bringing in rock star Stacee Jaxx for his “final concert”. What follows in a basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back played out in this setting. Going deeper isn’t worth it — because the show is about the music — its all tied together with rock music of the era, including hits such as “We Built This City”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, and “Hit me with your Best Shot”. You get the idea.

The Broadway production was a booze infused 80’s rock love-fest (alcohol was sold at the theatre and flowed freely all night) — and that was not so evident at the Dio at Friday’s performance — although the audience enthusiastically gave the show a standing ovation so it clearly hit the right notes overall.

There are terrific performances from Kristin Renee Reeves and Christoper Kamm as Sherrie and Drew. They find excellent support in Greg Bailey as club-owner Dennis Dupree and Steve DeBruyne as right hand man (in more ways than one) Lonny Barnett. Elizabeth Jaffe plays “wacky” Regina Koontz (a very good performance in a thankless role – entirely rewritten for the movie for Catherine Zeta-Jones). Dan Morrison is a very solid and funny Hertz, while Jared Schneider is an outstanding Franz. Linzi Joy Thomas is fine indeed as Justice Charlier. Sean Philibin hits all the right notes as rocker Stacee. The rest of the excellent cast is comprised of Thomas Mate, Molly Cunningham, Brian Buckner, Natalie Rose Sevick, Tori Lynn Rogers, and Nick Pettengill — each very good in their multiple supporting roles and ensemble. Brian Rose leads a terrific 5-piece band.

If there is any quibble, from a director’s point-of-view, some of the pacing feels a bit slow — some throwaway scenes are played all-out, and where things can be tightened and overlapped, they play out line by line. There is also a lot of use of blackouts which I don’t recall from the production in NY and which seem to slow things down a bit.

Your like or dislike of the show itself will be highly dependent on your like (or dislike) of 80’s rock (note: rock, not pop). You won’t find fault with anything on stage – though its the raciest show the Dio has performed — its laced with 80’s style humorous obscenity, sexual references, and it is also very loud. I have to admit that I was a bit worried that the audience (many in their 60’s and older) would find the show off-putting — no need to worry there, they were the first to start the standing ovation last night — proving that new material, done well, will entertain audiences that you might otherwise find surprising. What the show itself is missing is the level of audience involvement found in NYC or on tour — but it worked very well even with a very different target market. Please be aware that this is not a show for the entire family, though quite frankly, there isn’t anything in it that your typical 14 year old hasn’t heard or seen countless times on cable tv, at school, or elsewhere.


Rock of Ages continues at the Dio through May 22nd. Tickets are selling very fast and many performances are sold out. Reserve your tables at diotheatre.com or 517-672-6009.


The Dio’s “Proof” Adds Up (Review) February 21, 2016

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Part mystery, part love story and part family drama, for their first foray into producing a dramatic play, The Dio has chosen to dive into the deep waters of David Auburn’s Proof, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award. You may be familiar with the movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins or you may remember it as “that play about math”, but as director, Steve DeBruyne says in his note in the program “the themes are much more universal. Themes of love, loss and a very important question: How much of a parent’s genius – or instability – does a child inherit?”

The play revolves around a young woman, Catherine (Esther Jentzen) who, on the death of her father, must sort out and deal with a number of long denied feelings and fears. Catherine’s father, Robert (Dan Morrison), was a brilliant mathematician who crossed the thin line from genius to insanity several years earlier, leaving Catherine to give up her own mathematical studies to care for him. Now she must adjust not only to his death, but come to grips with her fear that his mathematical genius, which she may have inherited, could also come with a dreadful price. Into the equation for Catherine add her father’s student, the very attractive Hal (Tristan Rewald) and her estranged sister Claire (Molly Cunningham) and the results are complex and satisfying.

For a piece this cerebral, you need someone truly dynamic to anchor your production and luckily for DeBruyne, he has found that in spades with Jentzen who is as talented as she is luminescent. She carries the play with such a natural grace and confidence that I predict you will be seeing her frequently on stages across southeastern Michigan and beyond for years to come. Rewald’s Hal is both smart and nerd sexy. Cunningham brings a nice mix of sibling rivalry and pushy older sister. While Morrison, as always, is a joy to watch and brings both humor and pathos to the declining father.

While the pacing set by director DeBruyne may have been a little contemplative and static for my taste, the talented actors held my interest and frequently had me leaning forward in my seat. The backyard set by Matt Tomich is lovely, although the swing upon which several key scenes are staged, has posts in front of it that sometimes block the view for parts of the audience. The only real complaint I have are the unnecessary protruding body mikes that are more distracting than useful, especially in the more intimate scenes.

Chef Jarod DeBruyne’s dinner this time around is an Asian Buffet and as I found out first hand they are graciously accommodating when it comes to special dietary needs – even on the fly. The menu can be found on their website in advance and it is suggested that you contact the box office with any special requests.

Proof continues at The Dio through March 16th, 177 E Main St, Pinckney, MI, 48169   517-672-6009 diotheatre.com

Thank you to guest reviewer Wendy Wright.

Hilarious “Mrs Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge” at the Dio (review) December 5, 2015

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Christopher Durang’s (2002) hilarious play with songs, Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge” has stormed and taken over the Dio stage in Pinckney, and its a giddy blast.

Take one part “A Christmas Carol” and one part “Its a Wonderful Life”; throw in a dash of Saturday Night Live and one-liners that wouldn’t have been out of place on Laugh-In,  and a pinch of politics…plus lots of booze, and Benny Hill without the boobies…and you have an irreverent backward tale of holiday woe — and a non-stop laugh riot.

What happens when the ghost(s) of Christmas Past, Present, and Future take Scrooge around to visit scenarios and they all play out better with dysfunctional endings! And what would Queen of Mean Leona Helmsley have to say about it all?

The fun ensues because of the swift, fun direction by Steve DeBruyne, and the excellent cast that delivers the jokes deadpan and spot-on. Dale Dobson plays Ebenezer, Vanessa Sawson the troubled wife of Bob Cratchit (Steve DeBruyne). They all turn in funny performances with great timing. Brendan Kelly has the evening’s funniest role as Tiny Tim (and later something else I won’t give away here). Jared Schneider made me laugh simply by throwing out random Spanish phrases during a bar scene. Mark “the third will visit when the clock strikes three” Bernstein has a hilarious turn as Jacob Marley’s ghost. The rest of the cast are all outstanding in their many various small roles including a maid in drag (Victor McDermott), kids (Gavin Burwell, Dominic Ignagni, and Kylie Scarpace), Little Nell (don’t ask) Amanda Durham, also Ebony Hull as all three Ghosts and Natalie Rose Sevick as “nice Mrs Cratchit”. Bravo to these merrymakers.

To say that the piece is unusual is an understatement — but it is filled to the brim with some of the funniest stuff to grace a holiday stage in a long time — and it is highly recommended.

Tickets, if any remain, can be purchased online at diotheatre.com or calling (517) 672-6009.