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Laugh Your Seasonal Cares Away with “The Year Without a Panto Claus” at Theatre Nova December 4, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre.
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Guest review by Wendy Wright

If you love slapstick, song and dance and sly political humor, then you need to run down to the Yellow Barn, where Theatre Nova is staging its annual Christmas “Panto” based on the classic holiday story “The Year Without a Santa Claus” called (what else) “The Year Without a Panto Claus”. As in past years this original piece is written by Founding Artistic Director, Carla Milarch and her frequent music collaborator R. MacKenzie Lewis. The direction is provided by Melissa Freilich.

If you are unfamiliar with this British Christmas tradition, Milarch described it perfectly in an interview she did recently with Emily Slomovits for the Ann Arbor District Library’s Pulp:

“I always describe a panto as a mash-up of a musical comedy, stand-up comedy, a vaudeville act, and an old-fashioned melodrama, with a heaping helping of The Three Stooges thrown in. There’s a good deal of falling down, chases, booing the villain, cheering the hero, political humor, and jokes — and, of course, candy for the kids.”

In summarizing this year’s show, Milarch continues:

“The premise of the play is that 2017 has been a bummer of a year, and Santa, like many of us, is starting to feel too depressed to carry on with life as usual. So, he decides to cancel Christmas. Jingle and Jangle the elves then set off on a hilarious journey to parts hither and yon to find some Christmas spirit to get Santa back in the saddle.”

Those who remember the characters of the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser will find a striking similarity between them and a couple of politicians who faced off a year ago. The new lyrics penned for Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and (my personal favorite) Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, will bring a chuckle or two.

The trio of actors playing multiple roles this year are Lisa Michaels, Ramona (Lucius) Burns and Scott Screws each of whom bringing their individual strengths to the stage. Michaels has a lovely singing voice, Burns can establish a real connection with the audience, while Screws has some wonderful comic timing. Alternating in the role of young Iggy are William Powers and Coleman Grengs. I was lucky enough to see Mr. Powers who, although only in fourth grade, has a list of professional credits and is clearly his mother (Milarch) and father’s (Phil Powers) son. He has presence and poise well beyond his years. Also joining the cast for each performance will be a different special guest. I saw the local duo Gemini who performed a song.

The sets by Forrest Hejkal, lights by Allan McMillan and costumes by Cal Schwartz are colorful and work well. The props by Becky Fox are fun and original. Director Freilich keeps the pace lively during the nonstop 100 minutes and I’m sure the lag in some of the more complicated transitions will smooth themselves out as the run continues.

The audience of all ages was smiling ear to ear. If you’re looking for some holiday fun for the entire family, this is the place to be.

Recommended

“The Year Without a Panto Clause” runs Dec. 1-31 at Theatre Nova, 410 W. Huron St., Ann Arbor. For tickets and more information, visit theatrenova.org.

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“Buyer & Cellar” – Theatre Nova – (Review) – March 22, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Theatre.
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“Barbra’s basement is just like any other mall, except for the total lack of customers or employees.”

Kudos to a remarkable performance by Sebastian Gerstner in the one-man show, “Buyer & Cellar” by Jonathan Tolins and to Theatre Nova on the launch of this new professional theater in Ann Arbor’s Yellow Barn, nicely converted into a theater-space that very much has the feel of the original PerfNet space (i.e. the one in the “commune building” before it mysteriously burned down on its path to becoming the new YMCA).

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Tolins piece is a fictional account of what might happen (though we are told numerous times at the shows onset that it has not happened!) if Barbra Streisand’s basement mini-mall (real) had a sales clerk (not real). But it ultimately leads to deeper thoughts about celebrityhood, worship of celebrities, people, and interpersonal connections…while never straying far from its one-liners and jokes.

Sebastian Gerstner is simply marvelous as Alex More, celebrity basement mall clerk extraordinaire…and his comic timing is superb without ever veering into hysterics. From one moment to the next, you marvel at his ability to convey several characters (sometimes at the same time!) with rapidly changing moods, locations, and motivations, let alone keeping 90-minutes of dialogue spewing forth. But its a performance to cherish and shouldn’t be missed — and he is funny…very very funny. He’s particularly good at conveying short conversations — you almost see Barbra standing there though his voice and mannerisms are nothing like hers…Barbra, you see, is an experience.

Dan Walker’s set looks terrific in its muted grays and off-whites, and there is good use of the space so that no matter where you sit, you feel you are having an intimate discussion with Mr. Gerstner in your living room. It helps a bit to know about Babs’s movies and career, though its by no means a necessity — but familiarity will bring much bigger laughs during particularly funny sequences about the “shameless manipulation in Prince of Tides” and the “romantic comedy nature of The Mirror has Two Faces”. I am still laughing this morning about jokes from last night.

The show runs one more weekend, and you shouldn’t miss it. It is a night you will long remember, and its a fitting start to a little new theatre company that said it thinks it can…and did.

Buyer & Cellar continues at Theatre Nova through March 29th, Ann Arbor’s Yellow Barn, theatrenova.org – 734-635-8450