Review: Starling Electric Makes a Welcome Return With Electric Company


Hey you guys! Starling Electric brings you the power in their new album, Electric Company.

Hey you guys! Starling Electric brings you the power in their new album, Electric Company.

It’s been a while since the world has heard from Ann Arbor’s foremost purveyors of throwback power-pop, Starling Electric. Originating in 1997 as frontman and songwriter Caleb Dillon’s solo project, Starling eventually grew into a full-fledged band, releasing debut album Clouded Staircase in 2006. The band’s psych-tinged jangle-pop drew accolades from national notables like Guided By Voices and the Posies, and Starling became something of a live staple in Ann Arbor and Ypsi. But the band essentially disappeared from the public eye in 2014, when Dillon left Ann Arbor to travel the country for a bit. Fortunately, however, Dillon has returned to Michigan. And with his return comes the long-awaited release of a new Starling record, Electric Company, which has been in the works since 2010.

From track one of Electric Company, it’s an immediate relief to have Starling back in action. Album opener “No Clear Winner” announces itself with the sound of a needle drop and four blaring, distorted guitar chords backed by John Fossum’s majestic drums. Dillon structures the main body of the song in classic Pixies fashion. A quiet verse backed by acoustic guitar and synth accents repeatedly builds to a driving, anthemic chorus. “I don’t know what I control / I don’t know what I can hold,” Dillon sings, articulating themes of uncertainty that have the slightly more graceful feel of willing surrender when backed with music this contagiously bombastic. Dillon cheekily describes the album as “powerless pop,” and the wordplay fits.

Elsewhere, “Permanent Vacation” will burrow itself right into your eardrum and refuse to vacate your brain within five seconds of deploying its simple, catchy opening rhythm guitar riff. If there’s a single on the album, this is it; the bright, polished production and chug-a-lugging rhythm make it one of those songs that demand to be blasted with the windows down on a warm-weather road trip. Another highlight, “Jailbird Joey,” embraces somewhat sludgier production, with Christian Blackmore Anderson’s lumbering bass dominating in the mix. Dillon particularly shows his talent for orchestration on the propulsive closer “Start Again,” which interweaves trumpet, piano, mellotron-generated woodwinds, and some jazzy guitar lines to gorgeous effect.

The centerpiece of the album–both figuratively and literally, at track eight of 16–is “Jesus Loves the Byrds,” a brief but stunning tribute to one of Dillon’s foremost musical influences. The instrumentation on the downtempo tune is simple, but a wistful acoustic guitar arrangement and the quintet’s lush harmony backup vocals make a stellar combination. As Dillon drops lyrical references to “Eight Miles High” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (and likely makes a cheeky reference to the Byrds’ cover of “The Christian Life” in the title), it’s easy to slip into the same reverent, borderline-religious mood with which Dillon seems to approach the Byrds.

However, outside of that one unabashed paean to Starling’s influences, Dillon doesn’t wear his muses on his sleeve as much as usual on Electric Company. Where Clouded Staircase so often sounded like a mixture of lost tracks from the Byrds and Guided By Voices themselves, on Electric Company Dillon has developed a clearer authorial voice. He still loves the Byrds’ riffs, the Zombies’ chamber-pop arrangements, the Beach Boys’ harmonies, and Guided By Voices’ maddeningly succinct lo-fi pop genius. But on Electric Company Dillon synthesizes those top-flight guiding lights into something that’s more distinctly his own. It’ll be fascinating to see where he goes next, but hopefully the wait will be less than a decade this time.


Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He prefers his pop with at least a little jangle in it.


Electric Company will be available April 15 on Starling Electric’s Bandcamp and major streaming services.

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Review: Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Michigan Theater


Review: Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Michigan Theater.

This year's Banff Film Festival featured a mountain of films so great that it was almost impossible to summit up.

For the first time ever in Ann Arbor, the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival sold out. It’s not surprising for the festival to sell out in places like Denver or Salt Lake City, with populations of over a million people, but in Ann Arbor there are usually plenty of seats. Not so this year, as 1,650 people filled the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium Sunday night, eager to view the breathtaking selection of films that comprise the festival.

Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, named for the national park in Canada that hosts it and for The Banff Centre, is a celebration of stories about profound journeys, unexpected adventures, and ground-breaking expeditions. The main event takes place over nine days in Canada, but then select films from the festival go on world tour. Ann Arbor has been lucky enough to be a stop on the tour for many years now. The three-and-a-half hour event features a dozen films of various lengths along with a raffle and an intermission where attendees can peruse booths set up by sponsors of the event and learn more about the festival itself. I’ve gone to the festival for the past five years and the films are always a breath of fresh air in the dreary days of April: from mountain biking to base jumping to heli-skiing to rock climbing to white water rafting, the scenery shown is stunning, the stories told are amazing, and the physical prowess required to do the things captured on film is unbelievable. I leave feeling inspired, relaxed, and with many new travel destinations on my list each year.

This year’s tour opened with The Important Places, a film by Forest Woodward that juxtaposed his father’s aging with his own move away from their home in Colorado to the city. Ultimately, Forest and his dad recreate a rafting trip on the Colorado River that his father had taken 30 years before, in an attempt to reconnect: with each other, with the land, and—for Forest’s father—with his younger self.

In the 5-minute film DarkLight mountain biking at night was made even more amazing by neon lights emphasizing the silhouettes of the bikers, and of the dust they kicked up as they sped across rock outcroppings. The lighthearted film Paradise Waits featured two phenomenal skiers showing off their skills in Wyoming and Alaska while Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blared in the background.

The feature film of the evening was Across the Sky, the story of rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold, the first people to complete the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia, Argentina in one go. It won the award for Best Film on Mountain Climbing at the festival this year, and it truly was an incredible story. The two men spent almost a month in Patagonia before their hike, waiting for a weather window to open up so that they could attempt the Traverse. Skilled as they were, journeys such as the one they completed always come with unexpected twists and turns, and this one was no different. From gale-force winds to ice-coated handholds, their trip was as much a feat of mental strength as it was of physical. Caldwell and Honnold’s senses of humor and positive outlooks were not only amusing throughout the film, but inspirational to me after it ended, too.

The highlight of the second half of the show was Eclipse, a multifaceted film about a group of “eclipse-chasers” seeking the perfect photograph. Photographer Reuben Krabbe had had a vision of capturing a skier in front of an eclipse for years and knew that such a shot was a once in a lifetime chance. As the eclipse neared, he and a team of guides and professional skiers headed up to the Arctic, pursuing what seemed to be an impossible dream. For Krabbe to get the shot, not only did he have to find a spot from which to shoot that would work, but the weather had to be clear so that the eclipse could be seen and so the skiers could ski safely—and the weather is not usually clear in March in the Arctic. The shot that he ultimately captures is worth the weeks spent huddled in igloos, battling frigid winds, and rescuing sunken snowmobiles. The film won Best Snow Sports Film at the festival this year.

The festival concluded with a 60-second parody film: an advertisement for Nature Rx, the cure for irritability, boredom, and apathy, which gave many audience members a good chuckle. The Banff Film Festival will be back in Ann Arbor next April and, if this year is any indication, buy your tickets to this delightful event in advance!


Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library and would love to go mountain climbing in Patagonia, but never wants to heli-ski.

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Preview: Get Hype: An Evening with Skyline Theatre


Some of the Skyline Theatre students in Get Hype: An Evening With Skyline Theatre.

Some of the Skyline Theatre students in Get Hype: An Evening With Skyline Theatre. Photo by Lisa Gavan.

This Friday night you can enjoy an evening of entertainment by Monty Python, Shakespeare, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and Lerner and Lowe when Skyline High students present "Get Hype: An Evening with Skyline Theatre."

Selections include songs from “The Pirates of Penzance” and “My Fair Lady” and modern hits like “Avenue Q” and “Hamilton.” In addition to well-known favorites, a few lesser-known gems are featured from shows like “Blood Brothers,” cult classics like “Batboy,” and a scene from a personal favorite of the director called “The Explorers Club.”

“We have 20 students performing throughout the night and each of them get a couple of moments in the spotlight,” said director Brodie H. Brockie. “We have so much talent at Skyline that, unfortunately, sometimes even really talented students never quite get a featured role, but this format gives everyone a chance to shine.”

The cast for “Get Hype” includes Desirae Nelson, Evan Murphy, Jacki Boswell, Theo Billups, Vanessa Noble, Leah Bauer, Peter Dannug, Hayla Alawi, Emily Naud, Sam Waterhouse, Amanda Wilhoit, Isabella Preissle, Cassie Ritter, Emma Gerlinger, Christina Holder, Emily Benedict, Jianmarco Barbeau, Riley O’Brien, Ava Chamberlain, and Kristina Kimball. Student stage managers Ryann Patten and Katier Arnett make sure things are running smoothly behind the scenes.

The event serves as a fundraiser for the Skyline Friends of the Arts to offer scholarships for theatre students hoping to attend the International Thespian Festival this summer at the University of Nebraska.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Friday, April 15 at 7:30 pm in the Experimental Theatre at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor. Admission is free, but a $10 donation is suggested.

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Review: Sci-Fi Film 'Midnight Special' Is as Subtle as It Is Breathtaking


Midnight Special is now playing in select theaters.

Midnight Special is now playing in select theaters including Rave Cinemas Ann Arbor and Quality 16.

The highly unconventional sci-fi film Midnight Special opened in most theaters nationwide this past weekend, coinciding with the opening of another highly unconventional sci-fi film, the ultraviolent “first-person shooter” Hardcore Henry. The two films could hardly have been marketed more differently. Hardcore Henry has been widely promoted, preceded by opening-night “Ultimate Fan Events” (can a movie no one has seen yet even have ultimate fans?), while Midnight Special has hardly been marketed at all. The Henry marketing team seems out to convince the world that the next cult classic is upon us. This may well be true; I haven’t seen it yet. And although I expect to have a blast when I do, I doubt extremely that it will even begin to hold a candle to the singularly awe-inspiring experience writer-director Jeff Nichols has crafted in Midnight Special.

The film follows a father, Roy (Michael Shannon), and his son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who possesses bizarre powers. The boy can communicate with electronics in eerie ways and occasionally undergoes episodes during which his eyes glow and he communicates mysterious information to those who gaze back at him. However, due to his condition he can’t be outside during the daylight, leading Roy and his companion Lucas (Joel Edgerton) to transport Alton only by night. The already harrowing situation is compounded by the fact that our protagonists are on the run–from the FBI, the NSA, and a Mennonite-esque religious sect who consider Alton the imminent instrument of their salvation.

The less said about the film’s plot, beyond the above summary, the better – and to some degree, even that brief description almost gives too much away. That’s because one of the key drivers behind Nichols’ story is uncertainty. We’re thrown into the narrative and allowed to figure things out on our own. There is exposition, but it’s doled out slowly and naturally as the characters converse. We’re often forced to draw our own conclusions in the moment until a better answer comes along, both about smaller plot concerns as well as the overarching question of whether Alton is an alien, a religious savior, or just a freak.

However, thanks to Nichols’ excellent direction of a strong cast, the nature of the relationships between the characters is never in question. Shannon, best known for colorful performances in films like Revolutionary Road, Man of Steel, and Nichols’ own Take Shelter, here underplays to extraordinary effect. Roy’s all-consuming love for Alton is right there in Shannon’s eyes from frame one, to the extent that Shannon probably could have made this movie work just fine without a word of dialogue. Lieberher gives an excellent performance, precocious by the nature of his character but never showy or unnatural. Edgerton and particularly Kirsten Dunst are also terrific in their supporting roles. Everyone in the film is cast in a resolutely unglamorous role, forced to prioritize emotion over ego, and they rise to the challenge to tell a powerful story.

“Unglamorous” is a good word to describe Nichols’ vision overall. He summons the steamy Texas and Louisiana backwaters the characters speed through with such accuracy one can almost feel the humidity in the air. His pacing and tone are perfectly pitched, masterfully juggling the tension of the chase with graceful scenes of familial tenderness among the protagonists. And – oh yes – this is a sci-fi movie, and there are some spine-tingling supernatural moments rendered with judicious use of CGI. But unlike Christopher Nolan, whose genre films effectively crank both family drama and visual spectacle to the max, Nichols dials back and lets the audience lean in a bit to embrace a sense of wonder instead of bombarding us with emotional and sensual stimulus.

The cumulative effect is extraordinary, building to a protracted, breathtakingly beautiful climax that brought tears to the eyes of even this usually stoic moviegoer. One wonders what Nichols might do with a budget bigger than Midnight Special’s modest $18 million, but hopefully the director’s marvelous restraint isn’t just a product of financial necessity. However, the film's relatively low profile compared to Hardcore Henry, its main genre competitor this weekend, is likely a more direct result of budgeting. And that’s a shame, because it seems likely that Midnight Special will remain a lot more compelling a decade or two from now than Henry’s admittedly audacious technological gimmick. Midnight Special’s greatest strength is its humility, its unassuming and unpretentious genius. Here’s hoping that doesn’t hold it back from well-deserved recognition as one of 2016’s very best films.


Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.


"Midnight Special" is now playing in select theaters including Rave Cinemas Ann Arbor and Quality 16. Check theater's websites for showtimes.

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Preview: Festival of Found Films from the Vault


The Festival of Found Films from the Vault will be a celebration of 16mm films purchased at the U-M sale

The Festival of Found Films is sure to be a reel treat for movie enthusiasts.

In the summer of 2015, the University of Michigan sold more than 7,000 instructional films owned by the Askwith Media Library to the public. The films had been used in campus classrooms from the 1940s to the 1970s and represented a variety of forgotten media formats – including 16mm and VHS. The collection was unique in its subject matter and scale, but having digitized the titles, U-M sold the films to gain shelf space.

Local film lovers, collectors, and treasure-hunters flocked to the sale, seizing the opportunity to own these rare films. Some shoppers lamented the loss of such a sizable collection; the films would now be spread among many owners and would not be preserved as a group. But no one could deny the price tag, as film prices started at just $1. So, film cans and VHS tapes were carried home by the armful and the collection was dismantled.

And that was it – until now.

A local Ann Arborite, Frank Uhle, has coordinated an amazing opportunity to see the films from this collection reunited on screen. The Festival of Found Films from the Vault will be a celebration of 16mm films purchased at the U-M sale. Uhle is calling out to all those who shopped the sale, and asking them to bring their best purchases to be screened together at Bona Sera Café in downtown Ypsilanti. Anyone interested in screening one of their treasures from the film sale at the event should contact Frank at franku@umich.edu.

Expect to see funny, strange, and surprising films, all projected on Uhle’s own 16mm projector – a special experience for all! You can bring films, or just your own curiosity, for an afternoon of small-screen entertainment.


Elizabeth Wodzinski is a Desk Clerk at AADL and 16mm is her favorite measurement.


The Festival of Found Films from the Vault will run from 2-5 pm on Sunday, April 17 at Bona Sera Café in downtown Ypsilanti at 200 W. Michigan Ave. The event is free and open to the public.

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Preview: It's Poet, Verses, Poet at the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam Finals


Ann Arbor's Poetry Slam Finals will feature born and bread poet, Tim

Ann Arbor's Poetry Slam Finals will feature born and bread poet, Tim "Toaster" Henderson.

This year's Ann Arbor Poetry Slam Finals are happening Saturday, April 16 at Espresso Royale on State Street.

The top 12 competitors from this season will deliver their best poetry for the chance to win one of four team spots to represent Ann Arbor at the National Poetry Slam, plus there will be a full feature performance by internationally acclaimed poet Tim "Toaster" Henderson.

Laboring all year to cook up their best poetic recipes, 12 champion poets will rush the stage with only three minutes each—holding nothing back—to tell it all and tell it well! The audience erupts with boos, roars, applause - or silence - to cast their votes in front of five randomly selected audience member judges.

Excitement rises as the number of contenders drops to nine, then seven, then five, until only four triumph, earning the right to represent Ann Arbor at the National Poetry Slam!

And, as if 12 award-winning local poets weren't enough to blow your mind and soothe your conscience, internationally acclaimed poet Tim "Toaster" Henderson is traveling in to offer a feature performance. Henderson, based in the Bay Area but originally from Chicago, is one of the most captivating poets and performers of our generation. Come ready for an epic final showdown at Espresso Royale on State St. on April 16.


Community contributor Garret Potter is a slam poet and a co-organizer of the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam along with Lindsay Stone.


The Ann Arbor Poetry Slam Finals take place Saturday, April 16, 2016 at 7 pm at Espresso Royale at 324 S. State St. in Ann Arbor. Advance tickets are $8 student, $10 general, the cost is $15 at the door. Visit the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam's Facebook page for more details.

The Ann Arbor Poetry Slam is free and open to the public and happens every first and third Sunday at Espresso Royale on State Street.

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Review: Winteractive: The Art of Video Games


Winteractive exhibition logo

Winteractive: The Art of Video Games is on display in the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery through Friday, April 15. Image on the left is from Proteus, on the right is from Ballpoint Universe

Despite what Roger Ebert once said, video games can be art. Art is anything that conveys a universal truth and, as psychologist Daniel J. Levity says, “if successful, will continue to move and to touch people even as contexts, societies, and cultures change.” The exhibit Winteractive: The Art of Video Games, currently on display in the University of Michigan Hatcher Gallery, has some great examples of games that do just that.

Flower

Flower is a video game developed by Thatgamecompany and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.

In Flower, you are the wind, controlling the movement of a single flower petal through the air. Though no words are involved, the game follows a narrative arc that explores finding balance between nature and a constructed environment.

The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan was developed by Giant Sparrow for the PlayStation 3, released in October 2012 through the PlayStation Network.

The Unfinished Swan is an existential exploration into the equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. You, as the player, are a young boy chasing after a swan who has wandered out of a painting and into a surreal, unfinished kingdom. The game begins in a completely white space where you get to throw paint to reveal the world around you and venture into the unknown.

Passage

Passage is a 2007 experimental video game developed by Jason Rohrer.

Passage is a metaphor for the human condition that explores the poetry of experiences and consequences. Each play-through is a five minute "poem" in which you get to experience an entire human lifespan. Passage asks you to choose which goals are most important and demonstrates how pursuing one goal can make the pursuit of others more difficult. Do you seek companionship, treasure, distance? It's up to you, and your early choices alter your eventual experience.

Winteractive is a hands-on exhibition. Eight games in total are set up for you to play at demo stations throughout the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery.

Video games, just like writing and painting, are a creative medium. Early language existed as a means to communicate danger. Writing originated as bookkeeping. Painting began as an attempt to capture the reality of nature as seen by the human eye. It takes time to change the perception of an audience – sometimes many generations' worth.

Games can educate and often provide a means to escape your reality, but some can also touch your heart and connect you to the universe. Some games are art, as this exhibition clearly demonstrates.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at AADL.


Winteractive: The Art of Video Games is on display through Friday, April 15 at the University of Michigan Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery, located at 913 S. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. This exhibit was a collaboration between the Ann Arbor District Library and the University of Michigan Library Computer & Video Game Archive.

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Kickstarter Campaign for 'Commie High: The Film' Needs Some Extra Credit


Commie High: The Film is hoping for a little extra credit for their Kickstarter campaign.

Commie High: The Film is hoping for a little extra credit for their Kickstarter campaign.

Donald Harrison's latest project is, of his own design, a passion project which won’t happen without your support. Harrison is the Lead Producer, Director and Founder of 7 Cylinders Studio, which makes videos for a variety of businesses and organizations in the Ann Arbor area and beyond, from RoosRoast Coffee to the Huron Valley Watershed Council. Video production is a natural career path for the 43-year-old Southfield native, having previously served as Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival from 2008 – 2012.

His newest endeavor, Commie High: The Film, is a documentary that Harrison and his crew hope to make about Ann Arbor’s Community High School. The school started in 1972 as an experiment in public education and was one of the first public magnet schools in the country.

“It was part of a movement in the late 60s and early 70s,” said Harrison during a recent interview with me on 107.1 WKQL-FM. “The movement was to do education in a different way. Students were getting credit for going out in the community and doing things, actually interacting with different businesses and different people. If you were interested in blacksmithing, [you would] find a blacksmith and learn how to do that, how to work with metal. You were also able to design your own curriculum and you also called teachers by their first name - that continues to this day.”

Setting Community High apart from other alternative schools is the fact that it doesn’t skew toward a specific student population (‘gifted’ or ‘underachieving’), and it doesn’t favor a certain area of study above others. Community High, located on North Division near Kerrytown, has an impressive and diverse list of alumni which includes NPR reporter Neda Ulaby, author and Found Magazine publisher Davy Rothbart, party-rocker Andrew W.K., Evite co-founder Josh Silverman, and blues-rock guitarist Laith Al-Saadi, who’s currently tearing it up on NBC’s The Voice.

So what made Harrison want to make this film in the first place? “My initial interest in the film was when I met an alumnus who camped out for two weeks in 1996 to try to get into Community High,” he said. “That got me really interested in learning more. To me it’s such rich, local Ann Arbor history, but it’s (also) important nationally in terms of education and what can we learn from an alternative school that’s part of an already really great school system.”

Harrison is in the final stages of a Kickstarter campaign that hopes to raise $45,000 toward the making of Commie High, but time is running short as he hopes to find funding for the project. “It’s this roller coaster ride,” he said. “Over 200 people have already backed it, but we have some room to go before we make our goal. Either we make it and we go into production or we unfortunately have to go back to the drawing board.” As of noon on April 7, over $32,500 has been pledged, with the remaining $12,500 to be raised by next Wednesday, April 13 at 10 am.

“We’re optimistic and we think there are a lot of people with love for Community High or 'Commie High,' as so many people affectionately refer to it,” said Harrison. “Although at points it was used as a derogatory term, we’re really embracing it. We’re not teaching Communism, it’s just teaching people how to be better individuals.”


Martin Bandyke is the morning drive host on Ann Arbor’s 107one, WQKL-FM.



For more information about Commie High: The Film and to make a pledge go to the film's Kickstarter page.

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Review: Give Three Cheers, and One Cheer More for UMGASS's Production of the Pinafore


Their eyes flash with an inborn fire, their brows with scorn are wrung.

In foreground, left to right: Tom Cilluffo as Ralph Rackstraw, Lee Vahlsing as Bill Bobstay, and Natan Zamansky as Bob Becket. Photo courtesy of UMGASS.

OK, so, H.M.S. Pinafore means a lot to me. I was into theater a bunch when I was a kid, and as a sophomore in high school in Overland Park, Kansas, I found myself in the role of Ralph Rackstraw, and found my crush in the role of Josephine. Or maybe she became my crush because she was in the role of Josephine. The 80s are a little blurry these days, but I definitely remember singing Twist & Shout on a parade float. Suffice it to say, this show gives me the FEELS, and I know it like the back of my hand.

So, naturally, I approach many modern stagings of H.M.S. Pinafore with a bit of trepidation. I love the of-the-momentness of Gilbert & Sullivan, and that moment was not the Roaring 20s, or the South Pacific circa 1943, or on the bridge of a Starship, or any such nonsense. I get it, the temptation of a stunty slant on such an endlessly reheated work can be irresistible for cast and crew alike, but I'm in the audience, damme, and I'm here to see something authentic-ish!

Which is why I was so delighted by what must have been the University of Michigan Gilbert & Sullivan Society's umpteenth staging of H.M.S. Pinafore. With the exception of a small amount of clever, harmless nonsense tacked on to the beginning of each act, this was a wonderfully authentic production, with very strong leads and a talented chorus, put on at a rollicking pace with a pit orchestra spilling over into the aisles of the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater.

Tom Cilluffo delivers an outstanding performance as Ralph Rackstraw. I really appreciate that UMGASS does not amplify their cast, and Cilluffo fills the hall with his mastery of the role, going for and easily nailing the high notes that even some professionals pass up. He's very funny as well, in a role that often gets played overly earnestly by high school sophomores in Kansas.

Adina Triolo as Josephine is even more excellent, anchoring the production with her talent and poise, balancing Josephine's ethereal solos with a gift for mugging as appropriate. Gilbert & Sullivan's original productions were famous for eschewing the stilted, heavily-stylized delivery of their time in favor of remarkably natural performances, and Triolo continues that tradition while still shining as a virtuoso in a challenging role. Yeah, so she also looks quite a bit like my high school crush. No, you have goosebumps.

Phillip Rhodes as Captain Corcoran does a great job with some of the show's best songs, and plays especially well with Don Regan, who is refined and funny as Sir Joseph. I will say I was disappointed by Sir Joseph's straightforward aristocratic costume; his frippery is usually a highlight of Pinafore Productions. However, Regan gets big bonus points for pronouncing "clerk" as "clark" to properly rhyme with "mark"; this is a Gilbert & Sullivan shibboleth; those who miss this rhyme should be put to death.

Andrew Burgmayer did an admirable job as Dick Deadeye, physically inhabiting the role thoroughly enough to make it a surprise when he shrugged it off for curtain call. I do wish I could have heard him a bit better, but it's a tough range. He and Rhodes did a wonderful job on "Kind Captain, I've Important Information," perhaps the only duet ever written about a torture implement.

Lee Vahlsing held the entire show together as Bill Bobstay, a role with a lot of exposition to deliver and did an outstanding job on "He is an Englishman." Vahlsing and Cilluffo were joined by U-M freshman and impressive bass Natan Zamansky on the challenging a capella sections of "A British Tar", and they nailed this song where community productions often run aground.

Lori Gould was a perfect Buttercup, adding some great asides to the role, and the director did a careful job to set up Meredith Kelly's Cousin Hebe as a love interest for Sir Joseph, which often seems to come out of nowhere once the social order inevitably goes all topsy-turvy. Surely that's not a spoiler, seeing as how THIS SHOW PREMIERED IN 1878.

All the sailors and sisters and cousins and aunts are well-rehearsed and the choreography is delightful, with some very clever and funny twists without falling into gimmickry.

My only real disappointment with this show was a truly nerdy nitpick; there's a short exchange between Sir Joseph and Hebe near the end that was a recitative in the early productions, but then became spoken dialogue. I don't care if the spoken version has been canon for 130 of the work's 138 years; I love that recitative and would have been thrilled to hear it! What do Gilbert & Sullivan know about Gilbert & Sullivan anyway?

And along those lines, there's an alternate ending where Sullivan added a chorus of "Rule, Britannia" to celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee. I love UMGASS's tradition of opening the show with having the audience stand and sing "God Save the Queen," and I was hoping they'd go with the Imperial ending! As you can see, these are very important concerns.

This is a fun, polished, and refreshingly straightforward production of one of the greatest works of musical theater, and a entertaining evening for total fo'c'sle noobs as well as for hopeless Savoy-savvy fussbudgets like me. Whether this is your first experience on the Saucy Ship or your hundredth, you're sure to enjoy the efforts of these safeguards of our nation. Congrats to cast and crew, and thanks for a trip down memory lane.


Eli Neiburger is Deputy Director of the Ann Arbor District Library and had no business being cast as Ralph Rackstraw in high school. Love levels all ranks, but it does not level them as much as that.


UMGASS presents H.M.S. Pinafore continues April 8, 9, and 10 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. Ticket sales have closed online, but tickets will still be available for purchase at the Box Office.

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Preview: Everything's Coming Up Smithee!


The ludicrous mutant fish from Frankenfish.

"Outta my way guys, I'm going to the Smithee Awards!" -This ludicrous mutant catfish. Frankenfish (2004).

The movie with the ghost grandpa in the mirror, the bright green food, and the absence of trolls despite being named Troll 2. The movie that repeated a five-minute scene four times. The movie where the dad tells his son that fool-proof plans are hard to come by. This year’s 25th annual Smithee Awards on Saturday, April 16th will honor all these and more of their B-movie brethren.

Named for the fake director credited when the actual director does not want their own name on such a horrible piece of cinema, the Smithee Awards celebrates all that is wonderful about really, really terrible movies.

Every year for the past 25 years, the volunteers behind the Smithee Awards have gathered fans of bad movies together on the campus of the University of Michigan to watch clips from movies such as Zombie Honeymoon, Frankenfish, and Superargo vs. Diabolicus.

This year viewers will enjoy categories like “Worst Special Effect,” “Most Ludicrous Premise,” “Stupidest Looking Monster,” and the self-explanatory “Whaaaat?!?!” Each of the 19 categories has five movie clips, and audience members vote on the best of the worst, or the worst of the best, depending on how one views life.

To up the awesome factor, the organizers provide free “food and drink” (they insist on the quotation marks). While watching a clip of, say, Die-ner, you may enjoy those weird, spongy, orange circus peanuts, giant Pixie Sticks, or bacon fudge. Wash that sugar down with a variety of soft drinks that often include the latest offering from Jones Soda.

Smithee Supreme Committee member Kevin Hogan says, "We are older than Pokemon. We have been around longer than Magic: the Gathering, and made several million fewer dollars. It's been 25 years of Smithee Awards shows -- this is the silver anniversary -- and every year is just as exciting as the first."

Previous worst picture winners include: Enter…Zombie King (about a zombie king’s existential crisis, of course), Metallica (robots in a junkyard make a suicide pact), and Back from Hell (featuring a scene wherein a hand reaches out from the Bible, grabs a preacher’s crotch and then tries to strangle him).

Whether you are a B-movie horror aficionado or not, come out to 1800 Chem Building on April 16 at 7 pm to enjoy movies that can be described as “like the darker side of Hee-Haw.” Because everyone needs a little dark-side of Hee-Haw in their life.


Community contributor Patti Smith is a teacher, writer, and lover of all things Ann Arbor.


The Smithee Awards take place in Room 1800 of the Chemistry Building at 930 University Ave. on Saturday, April 16 at 7 pm until around midnight.

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