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Gorgeous “An American in Paris” tour (review) November 16, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour.
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The current tour of “An American in Paris” is now at The Wharton Center in East Lansing, and it is gorgeous from top to bottom. I have previously raved about this musical when I saw it in NYC, and many know my thoughts on the travesty that was awarding “Fun Home” Best Musical 2015 instead of Paris. It’s simply one of the best new musicals out there, and this tour is scrumptious. In some ways it is better than the Broadway incarnation.

You might be familiar with the Gene Kelly movie that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1951 – and if not, you really should be. Then came a Paris-based production of this musical with its international design team and tour-de-force direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and its eventual transfer to Broadway with most of that cast and production team intact.

To put it simply, just don’t miss this Gershwin-laced, ballet-infused mega-hit. It’s the best dance musical since the original 42nd Street, and it will lift you out of your seat and into musical theater heaven for a few hours.

McGee Maddox dances a wonderful Jerry, and his singing is stronger than that of Bobby Fairchild on Broadway. Also magnificent is Allison Walsh as Lise who dances, sings, and acts beautifully. Matthew Scott is terrific as Adam, as is Ben Michael as Henri and Kirsten Scott as Milo. Bravo, Brava, and all that rot…or Merde as they wish you in France.

The entire supporting ensemble cast is superb, and once the musical launches into its many production numbers, the energy and talent is stratospheric. It is remarkable work by very talented ballet-based dancers.

But its also an evening in which all the scene changes are also choreographed and the set and costume design by Bob Crowley is beautiful (some of the best you will ever see) as is the projection design by 59 Productions, This is a work of art from both a performance as well as a technical design point of view.

Finally, let me mention Christopher Wheeldon again — this isn’t simple stage choreography; this is masterful ballet and it soars in its solos, duets, ensemble intertwining, and every moment of this musical moves – and it will move you or you have a heart of stone. His direction is superior – he knows not only how to move the production along at high energy levels, but guarantees that the audience is looking exactly where he wants you to look. In a full-stage ensemble number, watch how cleverly he manipulates bodies, arms, and legs, so that the audience eye goes directly to some small detail that he wants you to see in the midst of the cast. You won’t miss papa Baurel burst into spontaneous dance, nor mama Baurel do the same and instantly gather herself in repose. Magnificent.

Very Highest Recommendation.

An American in Paris continues at The Wharton Center through November 19th. It returns to Detroit’s Fisher Theatre November 28th through December 10th.

“Phantom of the Opera” tour, Wharton Center East Lansing (review) May 22, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, musical theater.
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Phantom makes its final stop in Michigan (the tour is about to close after 18 years) at the Wharton Center in East Lansing, and it is everything you expect – no more, no less. Andrew Lloyd Webber forever changed the face of musical theater tours when he emphasized the production values so that audiences on the road would see the identical show as on Broadway – down to the sets and costumes. So far, the musical tour has grossed OVER 5 BILLION dollars, so it has all paid off.

Tim Martin Gleason and Trista Moldovan in Phantom of the Opera

The third road company at the Wharton Center is first rate. Tim Martin Gleason (as the Phantom) has basically spent his professional life doing the show (starting in Ensemble then Raoul on tour and the Vegas spectacular) and now The Phantom. He is very good. Trista Moldovan (in the performance I saw) makes a fine Christine Daae – her voice is lovely. (At some performances, Kelly Jeanne Grant performs the role).

But nobody really comes to see Phantom to review the performances. It’s about the sets, the costumes, the music, the lights, and that Chandelier. And it all looks magnificent (even if the chandelier looks completely out of place in ultra-modern Wharton Center if you are sitting anywhere but center orchestra). When the phantom steals Christine away and takes her to his watery underground lair for the first time, the thrill of the candlelit boatride through the fog is still one of musical theater’s most indelible images — this is pure stage magic for a few minutes, and it’s one of my all-time favorite stage moments (see photo above).

The production tours with 27 trucks, and over 100 cast, crew, orchestra, and front-of-house personnel. This isn’t the first time Phantom has been an East Lansing boxoffice dynamo — but it is, sadly, the last.

If you haven’t seen Phantom before — for heavens sake, get a ticket and go enjoy this musical theater standard. If you have seen it before, you can probably take or leave this production, given it is identical to the performance you saw (wherever it was that you saw it.) But for theater purists, it’s your last chance to see the show with its original sets, costumes, stage effects and whatnot before your local community theaters start massacring the show a few years from now. This is a musical you DONT want to see performed by your local amateur group.

Phantom takes a lovely final bow at the Wharton Center. Highly Recommended.

Lush “South Pacific” on tour, Wharton Center, East Lansing (Review) April 29, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Theatre.
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See it! Run, don’t walk. Sure, every college and community theatre across America has done South Pacific, but you haven’t seen it like this, and you haven’t heard it like this.

I first saw this production of South Pacific at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center last season. I instantly fell in love with the current production from the moment the stage floor slid open and revealed the full orchestra beneath during the Overture. You don’t have that in this tour production, but the music still sounds fantastic, and the show looks gorgeous.

Slightly scaled down from the vast Beaumont stage in NYC, the sets are faithful recreations, and it’s quite amazing how well the show fills the Wharton space. It’s all beautifully lit, and the sound design is terrific.

Chalk it all up to crisp, imaginative, and slick direction by Bartlett Sher and a wonderful tour cast, led by Carmen Cusack as Nellie and Christopher Carl as Emile. The ensemble is strong, and they sound great backed by a full 25-piece orchestra. (Compare that to the normal tour orchestras that are usually 11 pieces).

The message of South Pacific rings as true today as it did in 1949 — in fact, so much of this production is spot-on that it’s hard to remember this is a 61-year old show. By the time Cable and Emile fly off on their spy mission and the stage fills with strategic maps and war-room activity, the pulse starts to pound, and the tears soon start to flow.

Go see this show. Miss it, and you will have missed one of the finest Broadway productions of the decade. Go. You will thank yourself later.

Wharton Center (East Lansing) announces 2010-2011 Musical Theater Season March 28, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Theatre.
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Wharton Center in East Lansing has announced their 2010-2011 Season.

Mary Poppins – November 3 – 21

9 to 5: The Musical – December 15-19

Stomp – January 21-23

Shrek The Musical – February 8 – 13

Chicago – April 8 – 10

Jersey Boys – Sept 28 – Oct 16 (2011) – Which technically makes this the 2011-2012 season, but I guess Wharton Center is charging for them now with their subscription for 2010-11 — Go see it in Toronto where it has a sitdown production.

“Young Frankenstein” the musical, Wharton Center East Lansing (Review) February 7, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater.
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It is what it is, and that is all that it is. Funny and entertaining, Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation of his own movie of Young Frankenstein is now playing at the Wharton Center in East Lansing — and if you missed it here (it closes Sunday evening) it rolls into the Detroit Opera House in a couple weeks with the same cast.

The show is nothing if not funny — the script is virtually intact from the movie, with more added to fill out the evening’s bawdiness. The audience just ate up the jokes, including those hidden in the clever lyrics. In places, Brooks has taken his own movie dialogue and incorporated it intact into the lyrics themselves. I didn’t get a chance to see this in New York, but I get the feeling this tour is pretty close to what audiences saw there.

Roger Bart (Frankenstein — pronounced Franken-shteen) and Shuler Hensley (The Monster) reprise their Broadway roles, and that is a major boon to this tour. I have never been a huge Roger Bart fan, finding his squirming and mugging off-putting; but Shuler Hensley is just terrific here. The “Puttin’ on the Ritz” second act number is the true show-stopper it is intended to be. But if you’re looking for other hummable tunes, you’re not going to find them here (with the possible exception of Frau Blucher’s “He Was My Boyfriend” — the all-around funniest moment in the show.)

While the entire cast of the tour is strong, I particularly liked Cory English (Igor); Joanna Glushak (Frau Blucher); and Anne Horak (Inga).

There were some sound problems throughout the evening at the Wharton Center — mic cues were late, and some garbled. Those types of problems will be less apparent in Detroit where the show settles in for a longer run and those types of technical issues can be better compensated for.

Overall — I admit I had fun, but that’s about it. I wasn’t blown away by the show; I wasn’t blown away by the sets or costumes or performances. I wasn’t blown away by the script, lyrics, or score. I loved the two numbers mentioned above. Everything about this production is professional and well-done. So why wasn’t this the best thing since the invention of the zip code?

First, your enjoyment of this show will go hand in hand with your enjoyment of slapstick, borscht-belt humor, and broad bawdy jokes. Similar in style and direction to The Producers, Brook’s critics-wowing audience-alienating mega-award winning hit, it’s like a Bialystock and Bloom production come to full colorful life. I didn’t like The Producers, although I was equally awed by the talent on display both performance-wise and art direction wise. So consider this more of the same…but different…but not different enough.

Second, your enjoyment of this show will go hand in hand with your tolerance-level for Roger Bart. If hand-swinging, face-grimacing, all-out mugging, squeaking, and voice inflection humor are your thing, add another star to the review.

Finally, your enjoyment of this show will go hand in hand with your love of the original Mel Brooks movie. Filmed in black and white with the incomparable Gene Wilder, Terri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, and Cloris Leechman the movie is considered by many to be Mel Brooks at his absolute best. Adding music to the mix really does nothing more than make one long to run home and watch the movie again (which I did this morning).

You’ve surely already decided if you are going to go see the show or not — so go, have fun, and laugh. It’s cold outside, a good laugh is always welcome. But if you are a true musical theatre lover, you might not find the show as amusing as you would hope. Frankly, I had much more fun at the hilarious “The Addams Family musical” in Chicago a few months ago.