U-M’s "Merry Wives of Windsor" brings Falstaffian wit to the holiday season


University of Michigan's production of The Merry Wives of Windsor

Left to right: Mallory Avnet (Mistress Page), Liam Loomer (Sir John Falstaff), and Christiana Moyle (Mistress Ford) in the University of Michigan Dept. of Theatre & Drama’s production of Shakespeare’s most popular comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor. Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

The story is that Queen Elizabeth I was so delighted by William Shakespeare’s raffish Sir John Falstaff in the historical plays Henry IV, Part 1 and 2, that she asked the playwright to give the rotund knight a play of his own, a love story for an aging rogue.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare’s only farce, has been a hit ever since. The University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre hopes to brighten the holiday season with its production of the play, Dec. 7-10 at the Power Center, under the direction of John Neville-Andrews, a professor of theatre at UM.

“I looked at the season and it’s a very serious and somewhat political season, so I thought around Christmas time we needed something humorous, funny, and enjoyable; hopefully a broad comedy for the public to come see at Power Center,” Neville-Andrews said.

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Kick Out the Hams: Wild Savages' "Queen Bee" video


Do you remember the days before the smoking ban when you'd leave a concert smelling of stale cigarettes and cheap beer, and the stench would permeate your rusted-out car on the late-night ride home, lingering in your nose the next morning?

Wild Savages are the soundtrack for that drive.

The Ann Arbor trio plays bluesy proto-metal that would not have been out of place on WRIF in 1980. Think of Wild Savages as part of the 1970s Black Sabbath, Foghat, and Nazareth lineage that has produced contemporary bands like Red Fang, Saviours, and The Sword.

"Queen Bee" is the first single off the band's second album, Stagefright, which is being feted with a free record-release concert at The Blind Pig on Saturday, Dec. 16. Wild Savages goof around in the video by mugging for the camera like 1980s hair-metal bands, shotgunning beers, and playing bass on the toilet.

In other words, it's totally great.

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Jamm on It: Jon Glaser talks "Parks and Recreation," "Girls," & more at AADL



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Michigan native and U-M grad Councilman Jamm -- nee Jon Glaser -- sat down with us to discuss his television and comedy career on Nov. 26 at AADL's downtown branch.

He created, starred in, and co-wrote the TV shows Neon Joe Werewolf Hunter, Jon Glaser Loves Gear, and Delocated. He is perhaps best known as the aforementioned Councilman Jamm on Parks and Recreation and and Laird on HBO's Girls. Other TV credits include

Inside Amy Schumer, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Wonder Showzen.

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Valerie Hegarty's "American Berserk" exhibit deconstructs the gloss of U.S. history


Valerie Hegarty, Watermelon Tongue 2, 2016, glazed ceramics

Valerie Hegarty, Watermelon Tongue 2, 2016, glazed ceramics.

Brooklyn-based artist Valerie Hegarty is known for site-specific installations. For her American Berserk exhibit in the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities Gallery, Hegarty created a rotting watermelon -- which isn't to say she saw the space and thought, "Hmm, this room screams, 'EXPIRED FRUIT.'" Rather, Amanda Krugliak, curator for Institute for the Humanities, suggests Hegarty’s works “speak to the morass, the schism, the cracked facade, and fruit rotten, the flowers drooping.” The tradition of representing fruit on the brink of putrefaction is long established.

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Balancing on the Edge of Motherhood: Anna Prushinskaya, "A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother"


Anna Prushinskaya, A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother

Anna Prushinskaya's debut book, A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother, deftly examines the spaces between places and states of being.

The end of pregnancy is a strange time. You wait for the biggest change that can happen to a person other than death and yet, for most, you don’t know when the change will happen.

When will the baby be born? When will a woman become a mother?

When I was pregnant with my son, I read the title essay of A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother by Anna Prushinskaya probably 15 times. It became almost a talisman to me, a promise that he would eventually be born, that I would be able to cross over to motherhood.

When my water broke just like Anna described in her essay, unexpectedly and fast, I still had no idea what was coming. I was still perched between womanhood and motherhood.

In A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother, Prushinskaya writes beautifully about her experience balancing between places, between states: between pregnancy and motherhood, and between her Soviet homeland and her current home of Ann Arbor.

I spoke with Prushinskaya about her experience writing the book, how motherhood has changed her as a writer, and the birth of her second son. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

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All in the Family: Saxophonist Peter Formanek's senior recital


Peter Formanek is a 22-year-old saxophonist who is about to graduate from the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre & Dance with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

But he's been studying music with a Ph.D.-level teacher his whole life.

His father, Michael Formanek, toured with giants like Tony Williams and Joe Henderson when he was still a teen in the early 1970s, and he went on to play with Freddie Hubbard, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Tim Berne, and Fred Hersch, among many others. He also records as a leader for ECM Records, one of the greatest jazz and classical labels ever.

As the younger Formanek mentioned at Love Songs, his senior recital on Monday, Nov. 27, at Kerrytown Concert House, there were always great musicians coming over to his family's home in Baltimore, Md. As he said while introducing his father, who joined him for the evening's final song, "I'm going to call up my dad, who is not only the person responsible for getting me into music but also giving me so many musical opportunities and access to all these really, really amazing musicians that I've been able to be around my entire life."

Formanek live-streamed his recital, which is archived on YouTube. (There will also be a high-quality edited version with audio from the board.) Below you'll find the list of musicians who joined him and the set list, which includes songs by Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter, along with four Formanek originals -- three by Peter and the set closer by his dad.

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Mash-Up 'Mime: Theatre Nova's "The Year Without a Panto Clause"

Theatre Nova's The Year Without a Panto Clause

Theatre Nova's The Year Without a Panto Clause is an original play based on the English theatrical tradition that began in the 18th century.

Around the holidays, theater troupes often feature classic Christmas plays familiar to Americans. But for the past two years, Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova has presented an American twist on a British Christmas tradition. A panto, short for pantomime, is a variety show that developed in England in the 18th century that employs song, dance, comedy, and much more to tell a Christmas-related story.

This year’s panto, The Year Without a Panto Clause, is written by Theatre Nova artistic director Carla Milarch and features original songs by the show’s music director, R. MacKenzie Lewis, who has composed music for Nova's previous two pantos as well as for last year’s hit musical Irrational.

I spoke with Milarch about the inspiration for her pantos and what makes this show unique.

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It's De-Lovely: "Anything Goes" at Encore Theatre


Anything Goes at Encore Theatre

Diggers of gold: Despite Encore’s space limitations, the choreography in Anything Goes winks at the grand spectacles of Busby Berkeley.

“Tap Your Troubles Away” isn’t one of the songs featured in the screwball musical comedy Anything Goes, but it’s nonetheless what popped into my head upon leaving Dexter’s Encore Theatre on Sunday.

Why? Because this silly confection of a Depression Era, vaudeville-infused musical, jam-packed with wordplay and witty Cole Porter tunes, offers a pleasurable, two and a half hour escape from our increasingly stressful world.

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Look Deep: John Lilley's “Wandering Around … in black and white” at Kerrytown Concert House


John Lilley

John Lilley, Sand Dunes, Early Morning: Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado, black and white photograph on archival paper.

We last saw John Lilley’s photography at the Kerrytown Concert House in June 2012. His John Lilley Photographs exhibition found the Dexter photographer using digital color notable for its exhilarating chromaticity as well as its remarkable penchant for detail.

“Simply put,” said Lilley at that time, “I make photographs because I see photographs.”

But as he later tellingly added in that statement, “I’m rarely attracted to the 'big picture.' Rather, my vision is almost unconsciously drawn to distinct designs, textures, and forms that occur as small subsets of the broader landscape. I’m fascinated by the myriad possibilities for abstract composition that exist in our world.”

All of which is to say that Lilley’s current Wandering Around … in black and white shows us that his monochromatic photography is easily the equal of his color work. Indeed, if anything, Lilley’s photographic self-discipline is as much (if not more) vivid than his color art.

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Synthesize Your Life: A wrap-up of Mini MoogFest 2017


Mini MoogFest 2017

MoogFest visitor jams on a Korg tinyPiano in an impromptu duet with Earth, Wind & Fire's Larry Dunn on the big screen. Photo by Christopher Porter.

If we Ann Arbor District Library staffers were excited synthesizers, we'd be whooping with pitch-bent, major-key oscillations from the joy Mini MoogFest 2017 brought us. Our third annual iteration of this event greatly expanded upon our two previous offerings, and we had a fully packed house at the Downtown Library on Saturday, Nov. 18.

Librarians on the scene estimated that over 350 people -- including around 75 kids -- made their way through Mini MoogFest, where they built synths using littleBits, played around with AADL's Music Tools, and enjoyed live performances from area electronica artists.

Below is a roundup of photos, videos, and social media posts covering Mini MoogFest 2017.

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