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Stellar “Always…Patsy Cline” at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) April 15, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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Emmi Veinbergs and Sonja Marquis create a magical evening of Patsy Cline at the Encore Musical Theatre Company’s “Always…Patsy Cline”. Buy your tickets this minute, then come back and read the review. Seriously. Just buy them right now, I’ll wait: theencoretheatre.org…Okay, have your tickets? Read on…

You know all about Patsy right? Oh, you don’t? Her country rock flame glowed brightly for her short career (she was killed in a plane crash at the age of 30) and is considered one of the leading female vocal performers of our times. “Crazy”, “Sweet Dreams” and “I Fall to Pieces” are only a few of the songs that you might be familiar with (there are 27 of them in this 90-minutes-plus intermission musical). You might have seen one of the biopics about her — usually filled with histrionics. You won’t find that in Ted Swindley’s musical, which wisely eschews the histrionics for a simpler girl-power storyline of a friendship between housewife Louise Seger and Patsy Cline that started one evening in a honkytonk and led to several years of letters back and forth between the two. Oh, you get that requisite sad moment at the end, but it lasts all of 7 seconds before the music is back and you’re clapping along.

Emmi Veinbergs is stellar as Patsy. Her voice is clear, pitch-perfect, and while evoking Patsy’s sound, she maintains her own vocal style and it is lovely. Also wonderful is Sonja Marquis’s Louise — another role in Sonja’s quickly growing repertoire of hilarious strong women.

Director Thalia V. Schramm keeps the production moving at a fast pace, but isn’t afraid to let us take a peek at quieter moments as well. Credit also goes to the superb on-stage band: Music Director (great work) Dan Mikat on piano, David Shann on violin, Billy Harrington on drums, Brent Marvin on bass, and Roger John Silvi on guitar. They sound phenomenal. In general, the sound design by Chris Goosman is the best I’ve heard at an Encore production. Great work is also turned in by costumer Sharon Larkey Urick, whose color palette for the evening is lovely. The set design by Kristen Gribbin is excellent, and Anne Donevan’s props are terrific (and sometimes very funny) as they evoke the early 1960’s era.

Don’t like country music? Well, get over it and come see what early country-pop music sounded like. After all, Patsy is in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, among the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music, and number eleven on the list of 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll. And an evening at the Encore will remind you why that is.

I can’t point to a single thing in this production that you’ll find lacking, except maybe you might be wanting one more song at evening’s end. And that is a fine fine way to leave the theatre.

Highest Recommendation.

“Always…Patsy Cline” continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through May 8th. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org or by calling 734-268-6200.

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Unmissable “Sondheim on Sondheim” at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) February 6, 2016

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The educational theater person in me wants to scream “SEE THIS SHOW” for you to better understand what goes into the craft of writing musicals and music for musicals. The Sondheim lover in me wants to scream “SEE THIS SHOW” for the remarkable (and rare) video footage of Sondheim talking about his craft, his colleagues, and his life. The musical theatre lover in me just simply screams “SEE THIS SHOW” because its darn terrific.

“Sondheim on Sondheim” opened at the Encore Musical Theatre Company last night and it is as slick and professional as anything you can expect from them in the excellent season they are having this year. Originally called “Moving On” and later “Opening Doors” the review was reworked and retitled by James Lapine in 2010 for a limited Broadway run (remember all those 80th Birthday celebrations on PBS?). The idea here is that a cast of performers present musical numbers from Sondheim’s 66 year career but the narration (provided vis-a-vis video clips, film clips, and rare television footage) is provided by Sondheim himself. The production uses the Broadway projections.

There is your theater lesson for the day — to learn about Sondheim, go directly to the source. He describes how he writes songs, who taught him, how songs are rewritten, added, and thrown out. An added hilarious bonus is his description of what types of pencils he uses and how to best sharpen them.

Musical Director (and pianist for the evening) Tyler Driskill has done outstanding work with his ensemble cast. He sits at the grand piano (nice!!) in Sarah Tanner’s striking NYC Sondheim’s Living Room set, and is occasionally joined by second off-stage piano as well. When you have such a piano virtuoso as Driskill, its wise to feature him center stage. The wonderful cast is comprised of Peter Crist, Leah Fox, Daniel A Helmer, Lauren Norris, Kelsey Pohl, Thalia V Schramm, Jim Walke and Adam Woolsey.

You will have your favorite moments and they will most likely be different from those sitting near you — because that is how Sondheim works. For me, the stunners of the evening were “Something Just Broke/Gun Song” from Assassins (which Encore will present in June), and “Ah, But Underneath” (a rarely heard gem written for Diana Rigg in the West End production of Follies) which also shows off Matthew Brennan’s understated but slick choreography at its best.

Dressed in muted but stylish clothing (by Sharon Larkey Urick) in blacks, grays, and shades of blue/purple/turquoise the cast works its way through the multiple numbers in solos, duets, and groups over the course of the (too long at 2:45) evening. That length for a review is understandable when you have stars like Barbara Cook on Broadway, but quite frankly just too long when you do not. Still, there isn’t a dull moment in the show, and those video clips are so outstanding you don’t want to miss a word. A nice touch is the new body-mics worn by the cast.

Well-directed by Dan Cooney, the production is simply not to be missed (whether you go for the music, or the videos, or the cast) — you are in for a stylish evening of remarkable musical theater songs.

Very Highly Recommended

Sondheim on Sondheim continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through February 21st. Tickets at 734-268-6200, their website at theencoretheatre.org or the box office at 3126 Broad Street, Dexter, MI

Amazing Jeremy Jordan at Dexter’s Encore Musical Theatre Company (Event Review) February 28, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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The Encore Musical Theatre Company has never looked as spiffed-up as it did last night at the spectacular fundraiser featuring Jeremy Jordan. In all honesty, I can not start this review without stating the deep pride I feel for Encore’s Founders, Board of Directors, Employees, Staff, and Volunteers. What occurred last night was more than just your typical fund-raiser — it was an earthquake shaking the theatre from one phase to the next — and it is well-deserved.

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Jeremy performed two concerts, one at 6, and one at 8. I attended the latter. The event started with a welcome from the company’s Board President Jamie Mistry and Development Director Chuck Colby, and then co-founder Dan Cooney performed two wonderful warm-up numbers, featuring a particularly exquisite “The Mason” from Working.

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Then Dan and Jeremy fought over the mic:

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Ha! Just Kidding! There was no fighting involved…

What followed was 70 minutes of exquisite vocal work by one of Broadway’s most charming young actors — and he delivered musically, interpersonally, and professionally. Afterwards The Encore presented him with what I thought was a diamond of a thank-you present: a Detroit-made-and-designed watch from Shinola.

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His performance-set highlighted his most well-known work: opening with West Side Story’s “Something’s Coming”, he followed with songs from The Last 5 Years (“Movin’ Too Fast” and “If I Didn’t Believe in You”), Smash (“Broadway Here I Come”), Bonnie & Clyde (“Bonnie”), and Newsies (“Santa Fe”). Interspersed were three of his own songs, for which he accompanied himself on guitar, a fine jazzy interpretation of “Losing My Mind” from Follies, and a lovely mash-up of The Wizard of Oz/The Wiz’s “Over the Rainbow”/’Home”.

Tyler Driskill provided remarkable piano accompaniment. Bravo!

I have seen Jeremy appear onstage in Newsies and Bonnie & Clyde, but nothing prepared me for the vocal finesse and range he displayed in this intimate concert setting — he’s earned accolades from coast to coast, and for his concert at 54 Below in NYC. What the audiences had was the rare opportunity to see one of the hottest rising stars on stage and screen in an intimate 100-seat environment where his charisma simply overwhelmed. I mean, honestly, I sat 11 feet away from him during the concert and the audience got to talk to him after the show — something even New Yorkers will never have the chance to do.

Oh, Fellow Directors: there is nothing like the thrill of hearing Jeremy Jordan announce the next show you are directing from the stage. Thank you for that soft introduction of Bonnie & Clyde to kick off Encore’s new season, Jeremy!

But this is a night where not only Jeremy shined brightly – but so did the entire Encore family — people felt welcomed, a part of something very very special, and something that ranks up there among the once-in-a-lifetime type things you are bound to experience — right here at home in our backyard.

A champagne toast followed the concert (juice for the underage set), and it was a well-deserved toast indeed. Kudos to your work last night. Kudos to this special evening. And Kudos to the coming season for a little theatre that is shining brightly in the world of musical theater.

Hilarious “Spamalot” at The Encore (review) September 19, 2014

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When Spamalot opened on Broadway in 2005, it ushered in a new type of audience — Monty Python fans who were looking for a ready-made evening of laughs, and not so much musical theater. Based on the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” they got their money’s worth, crowds kept coming, and the show ran for years, playing especially well to male audiences, a rarity in musical theater. Its now a favorite of the local theater circuits where its raking in the same kinds of bucks, from high school, college, community, and regional theaters. It was no surprise that, seen at the final preview last night, the audience was the largest I’ve seen at an Encore preview night — and while all seemed delighted, a few seemed befuddled as well…what had they just seen?…and that goes hand in hand with one’s enjoyment-level of farce, slapstick, and broad British humor.  I loved the show. Granted, it is more enjoyable if you have seen the movie. Even more so if you have seen the movie 25 times and know every line. Get tickets, then watch the movie before you go.

In the capable hands of director Thalia Schramm, the show barrels along in just over two hours of non-stop hilarity. Not every joke lands, and some are of the head-slapper-groaner variety — but its all there for Monty Python fans: the killer rabbit, the cow, the “bring out ‘yer dead” sequence, the Knights who say Ni, fish-slapping, and other assorted oddities. And for those who have never seen the musical before (cleverly billed in NYC as “the musical for non-musical lovers” a take-off on the 42nd Street ads) you will find that it is far more musical than you might imagine

The 14-member Encore cast is tight and talented — Keith Kalinowski plays a fine King Arthur with Sebastian Gerstner a superb sidekick Patsy (and many other roles — his French Taunter is side-splitting hilarious). Joey DeBenedetto plays many roles with a sly wink and funny (in)ability to look different in every scene (that’s one of the things that made Monty Python’s sketches so clever — you always knew who was playing who)…and of course he gets the evening’s funniest line “its only a flesh wound”. Ryan Dooley likewise turns in a hysterical Sir Robin (among other roles), Brian Charles a very funny Lancelot and Ni Knight, and Jeffry Ogden makes for a outrageously (and intentionally unfeminine) Herbert — his performance channels Monty Python so well that you instantly realize why this show won Best Musical in 2005.  Liz Jaffe has the evening’s most difficult vocal role as the Lady of the Lake, and she sings through her half-dozen songs with a strong voice and wide-variety of inflection, along with some great mugging and slapstick — at one point actually pounding the wall to get her point across. The entire ensemble (playing numerous parts each in this scaled-down version) is terrific: also including Michael Barbour, Piper Friend, Elizabeth Fritsch, Bryana Hall, Erika Jost, Josh Krivan, and Dave Roy. There is also a pre-recorded “Voice of God” by Dan Cooney’s friend from 9 to 5 the musical, Allison Janney.

Sets and lighting are by Dan Walker. The superb costumes are designed and coordinated by Sharon Urick. Matthew Brennan keeps everything moving appropriately with his choreography. R. Mackenzie Lewis does his usual fine job of musical direction, as well as pianist in the orchestra of 5, and they sound terrific — the blend is good between what you hear coming from the orchestra off-stage left, and the singers on stage. The men, in particular, sound great when the vocals are finally allowed to open up and provide some harmonizing.

Thalia Schramm knows that you can’t leave the audience thinking too much during this one — so its full-steam ahead from one groaner to another — the pace keeps everything moving along and will leave you either elated, or befuddled, but nothing less than completely entertained. Great job everyone!

Highly Recommended.

Spamalot opens officially tonight and continues through October 12th at the Encore Musical Theatre Company, 3126 Broad Street, Dexter, MI  734-268-6200  theencoretheatre.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fantasticks arrive at Dexter’s Encore Musical Theatre Company this month (preview) September 2, 2012

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Created over 50 years ago, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s The Fantasticks has become a staple of American musical theatre, telling the allegorical story of coming of age, young love, and meddling fathers – what’s not to love? Barton Bund makes his Encore directing debut amidst a solid group of actors at The Encore.

The original off-Broadway production that opened in 1960 ran from 42 years, making it the World’s Longest Running Musical, and a successful off-Broadway revival opened in 2006 and is still running. The production has played in 67 countries, and with approximately 250 new productions each year, The Fantasticks has become a favorite of many. The show includes many popular tunes: Try to Remember, Soon It’s Gonna Rain, It Depends on What You Pay, Metaphor and They Were You.

The Encore’s cast  is comprised of Brian Thibault as El Gallo, Paul Hopper as Hucklebee, Tobin Hissong and Bellomy, Thalia Schramm as Luisa, Ryan Dooley as Matt, Keith Kalinowski as Henry, Jamie Weeder as Mortimer, and Gayle Martin as The Mute.

Patrons who attend the official opening night of The Fantasticks on Friday, September 28th, are invited to attend the Opening Night After Glow with the cast and crew of the show. Complimentary hors d’ oeuvres will be provided, as well as a cash bar!  Tickets for all performances are on sale now, and may be purchased by stopping in, calling our box office, or visiting their website.

3126 Broad Street,  Dexter, MI, 48130   (734)268-6200    www.theencoretheatre.org