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“The Music Man” at Downriver Actors Guild (Review) May 9, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
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Of all my favorite musicals, The Music Man is the one I like the most — AND the one I prefer to see done in community theaters rather than professionally — its the quintessential community show: lots of roles across the age spectrum, a great script, great songs with lots of opportunities for singing and dancing, and the true sense of community coming together to create something of value. I never go into a production of this show expecting perfection. I go in expecting fun.

That is on great display at Downriver Actors Guild in Wyandotte this weekend and next. Directed by John Sartor, the show is well-paced and moves quickly in its blackbox home, and looks lovely on Leo Babcock’s small-town River City Iowa set. The large cast never overwhelms the space, and remain in character and are spirited throughout. Kayla Aue’s choreography adds to the fun. Wendy Fichter’s musical direction is very good and the diction and vocal work of the large cast is great. The many many costumes are colorful.

Kevin Karminski plays a very fine Harold Hill, and while on the youngish side for the role, reminds me of Gavin Creel’s star-turn at the University of Michigan many years ago. We all know how that worked out for Gavin. The same can be said for Kevin’s energetic presentation, with a voice that soars as necessary, and an impish sense of trouble-making underlying it all.

Marion (you know, the Librarian) was performed by Amanda Aue this week (next week Annie Kordas takes on the role). Her soprano voice is lovely. Her “Til there was You” with Hill on a footbridge was the musical highlight of the show — and there were sniffles all around me. You know this show just always works from that moment on.

The men’s quartet was excellent — Ray Carter, Jeff Powers, Jay Cater, and Butch Plague sound terrific together and seem to have fun throughout. The Pick-a-Little Ladies work their best not to be upstaged, and as a result they do upstage the quartet from time to time — but its all in good fun. The Grecian Urn sequence was simply hilarious.

There are also good performances by Jacob Partrich as Tommy Djilas and Emily Noble as Zanetta Shinn (“yee gads!”). Crowd favorite Eric Paschke delights as anvil salesman Charlie Cowell (and for the adults, delivers the shows dirtiest lines with a sense of humor that speaks volumes for musical comedy). Loretta Bullock is a fine Irish matriarch as Mrs Paroo (and a line-slip up led to the evenings largest laugh at Winthrop’s inseam size). Ashley Blevins gets laughs by simply standing there reacting as mayor’s wife, Eulalie — but she doesn’t just stand there and and is even funnier once things get moving — she’s hilarious.

And that brings me to Winthrop — Evan Sartor upstages every scene that he is in (in a good way) — and simply brings the audience to a level of cuteness-ecstasy in “Gary, Indiana” — bravo little guy.

Are there problems? A few. Is the show perfect? Not always. Does it really matter? No. There’s some funky lighting, and sound cues are sometimes missed (mics seemed to go in and out at random on some of the folks).

If there is one thing that threatens to bring the production down, its the orchestra which blats and splats its way through the dance numbers. They generally sound fine during vocal numbers, but listening to them during the dance numbers grows excruciating — and halfway through “marian the librarian” actually caused the dancers to lose their tempo with missed beats. Its a tough number to keep going with the best of orchestras — with this one, well, I just wanted to yell out “cut the brass, cut the brass!”

But it is all fine in the end — the cutest kids in the world appear to save the day with their instruments and ill-fitting uniforms…Winthrop pretends to play the cornet and brings down the house…and Harold and Marion have their happy ending. And so does the audience.

Its all sheer fun and there’s a great big heart beating inside this chestnut of a musical — and its recommended.

The Music Man continues at Downriver Actors Guild, Theatre on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle Avenue, Wyandotte… through May 17th.

Gorgeous but emotionally flat THE MUSIC MAN at University of Michigan (review) April 17, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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I am always so glad to have a ticket to a University of Michigan Musical Theatre Program show, because they are simply the best in town, every single time. That does not mean that the best is always perfect — and The Music Man, running this weekend at the Power Center is exactly that type of not-perfect.

There is a fantastic musical theater program cast of pre-professionals. I rarely highlight student names unless they are spectacular, and in this production, I don’t have one of those names to mention. Everybody is spot on good. Some have more charm than others. Direction and choreography by Linda Goodrich is terrific, as are all the vocals under the direction of Jason De Bord. The set is lovely, and the costumes are gorgeous. Lighting is spot on.

So why did I leave the Power Center feeling, well, sort of like I saw replacements in a Broadway tour? Was it an off-night? Did Harold Hill just not connect with me in the audience (he didn’t). Was it the lack of chemistry between Marian and Hill (there wasn’t). Or was it more-so that the entire affair felt so over-rehearsed that emotion was crowded out?

Or was it because the image of Gavin Creel playing Harold Hill, and that remarkable production (probably UM’s finest ever) still feels so fresh in my mind? That particular production by this same program was in 1998, so its been 17 years — and yet it still is the benchmark by which all of the musicals I’ve seen at UM will always be compared. This one did not compare.

Don’t get me wrong — this is a spectacular musical theater production, and you will leave knowing that you got your money’s worth — you saw some great up-and-coming Broadway and professional musical theater stars, and you sure got to see a really pretty show. But don’t expect to walk away feeling much.

The requisite tears came at the end of the show when the Boys Band arrives on stage, and the parents forgive all when they hear their kids play (badly). Its that classic musical theater moment that every single production of this show better do right, or don’t bother doing the show at all. And this production gets that very very right. I just wish there had been more of that throughout.

THE MUSIC MAN continues at the University of Michigan, Power Center through Sunday April 19th. All performances are sold out.




Downriver Actors Guild presents THE MUSIC MAN April 10, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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The Downriver Actors Guild will present THE MUSIC MAN  May 8th – 17th at the Catherine A Daly Theatre on the Avenue in Wyandotte, MI. The production is directed by John Sartor.


You already know the story. You already have your favorite scene. Now come see the show in an exciting new setting. Sartor is particularly enthusiastic about presenting the musical in the intimacy of a blackbox theater. “Experiencing actors fall in love before your eyes in a black box theatre is magical. The intimacy of a black box setting allows the actors the opportunity of realism rather than heighten a performance in order to play to the balcony. Patrons easily become part of the play itself.” The theatre itself opened only last year, and its a great new performance space for the group.

The production is musical directed by Wendy Fichter with set design by Leo Babcock. It is choreographed by Kayla Aue.   Kevin Kaminski of Detroit stars as Harold Hill, while Annie Kordas of Grosse Pointe Farms stars as Marian (Madam Librarian) Paroo.

Tickets can be purchased online at: downriveractorsguild.net or by calling 313-303-5269. The theatre is at 2656 Biddle, in Wyandotte, MI 48192. That’s a short 40 minute drive from Ann Arbor, yo!…