Encore offers a charming, thoughtful "Camelot"


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Basso profundo: Stephen West voices King Arthur with a rich baritone in Encore's Camelot. Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Camelot, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, was a powerhouse 1960 follow-up to their masterpiece My Fair Lady. It gave the Kennedy Administration a theme and sent audiences away happily whistling the tunes of several memorable songs.

The title song paints a vivid utopian vision of King Arthur’s domain of medieval England, but dark shadows are the musical’s real theme. Based in part of T.H. White’s humorous account of Arthur’s rise from innocent farm boy to king, Camelot is not a boy’s adventure of knightly derring-do. Instead, it’s a bittersweet tale of a romantic triangle, uneasy betrayal, and lost dreams.

The Encore Musical Theatre production is charming if somewhat constricted by the limits of the theater’s stage. Director Daniel C. Cooney brings the elements together with a nice balance of romantic yearning and soft comedy. The romantic leads spark nicely as they should. The stage doesn’t allow for the wider expanse of a more elaborate setting but set designer Sarah Tanner uses props and a simple castle courtyard to suggest the royal life.

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Back to the Future: Kevin Smokler, "Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies"

Kevin Smokler, Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies

Kevin Smokler, Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies

The 2010 Academy Awards telecast devoted a nearly seven-minute chunk of airtime to commemorating the life and work of John Hughes, a director/writer/producer who never received an Oscar nod in his life.

Kevin Smokler's recent book, Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies, explains why those Hughes films stand the test of time. But his interests run much wider than just Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Throughout his enjoyable survey of the decade, Smokler persuasively argues that, during this time, setting began to matter more to teen films than ever before.

Smokler will return to his original hometown of Ann Arbor on Monday, June 12, at 7 pm for an appearance at Literati. I spoke with the author about Reagan-era high-points as varied as Risky Business, The Lost Boys, and Back to the Future, as well as the Hughes canon.

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Video Snapshot: First Fridays, Ypsi Pride, and Ebrahim Soltani & Parisa Ghaderi at YES!



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Ypsilanti was poppin' last Friday. With YES! Experimental Space celebrating its new exhibition, "Waiting for the Past: Ebrahim Soltani & Parisa Ghaderi," Ypsi Pride holding its first annual festival, and the ongoing monthly throwdown First Fridays in full effect, Ypsi was full of people enjoying the city.

Donald Harrison, who runs YES!, 7 Cylinders Studio, and is making the documentary Commie High: The Film, ran his camera and captured the sights and sounds going down in Ypsilanti on June 2, 2017.

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Mitten Music: Neil Woodward, Michigan's Troubadour


Neil Woodward, Michigan's Troubadour

Neil Woodward, Michigan's Troubadour.

Michigan's Troubadour will make a stop at The Ark on Sunday, June 11, at 7:30 pm. And, no, Michigan’s Troubadour is not a fanciful title, it’s Neil Woodward’s official designation, given to him several years ago by the Legislature of the State of Michigan in recognition of his more than four decades of presenting concerts of songs and stories of Michigan and the Great Lakes States in countless settings throughout the Midwest.

Woodward’s show at The Ark will celebrate the release of his 10th recording, My Huckleberry Friends. Woodward has long been the unofficial artist in residence at Flint’s Crossroads Village, a 19th-century historical town, and the songs on this CD celebrate the Village and one of its highlights, the Huckleberry Railroad. I asked him to tell us about his life in music, about this recording, and about the concert at The Ark.

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Soul Nourishers: Kathleen Alfonso's "Quiet Spaces" at Kerrytown Concert House


Misty Evening, Cultivating Truth, Kathleen Alfonso

Misty Evening (left) and Cultivating Truth by Kathleen Alfonso.

Kathleen Alfonso’s Quiet Spaces paintings are biomorphic abstractions. Her art hums with a quiet spiritual conviction and it has turned Kerrytown Concert House into a meditative setting for leisurely contemplation.

As Alfonso tells us in her gallery statement: “Let us join together in celebration of the beautiful natural world we have around us; the ever-changing landscape that delights and nourishes our soul.” She says her work is meant to “fulfill a need in our human nature to connect with the natural world," and to give word to Alfonso’s imaginative color-field configurations she uses the examples of “the intrinsic design of a plant leaf so full of variety and life; light shining and creating shadows into a space; or the current of water flowing and creating ripples and reflection."

Ultimately, she wisely concludes, art is “complex; but simply viewed, causing us to respond.”

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Diana Krall kicked off Ann Arbor Summer Festival with a night of sensuous songs


Diana Krall

Diana Krall had "the best seat in the house" on Tuesday at Hill.

Chart-topping jazz pianist/singer Diana Krall kicked off the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s main stage season on Tuesday night by making the nearly packed 3,500 seat Hill Auditorium feel as intimate and cozy as The Bird of Paradise.

That long-gone Main St. jazz club, which closed in 2004 after nearly 20 years in business, hosted performances from Krall early in her career (which she mentioned early in the evening); and I’m likely not the only one who had flashbacks of being in that smaller space again as Krall opened Tuesday night’s show with her fun, flirty take on “‘Deed I Do,” and then, shortly after, applied delicate, quiet keystrokes on the Nat King Cole hit “L.O.V.E.” – a song featured on Krall’s latest album, Turn Up the Quiet just released in May.

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Still Grinning: Terri Tate defeats cancer with "A Crooked Smile"


Lori Rader-Day

Terri Tate's debut book, A Crooked Smile, helps cancer survivors laugh "through the hard times."

Some believe that there are two ways of looking at the world: as if everything is a miracle, or as if nothing is. Author Terri Tate prefers the former, and this belief guides her attitude and her memoir.

The Grosse Pointe native and former Ann Arbor resident will be reading from her debut book, A Crooked Smile, on Sunday, June 11, at 1 pm at Nicola’s Books. That Tate is here to share her journey with us is somewhat miraculous.

In 1991, Tate’s doctors diagnosed her with oral cancer and gave her a two percent chance of survival; however, “the book is not fundamentally a cancer memoir,” Tate shares. “It is mostly about the journey involved.”

Prior to becoming a writer, Tate worked as a nurse, a hypnotherapist (the first one in the Ann Arbor phone book!), and public speaker. And then came the oral cancer diagnosis.

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Cry of Joy: The Sea The Sea at The Ark


The Sea The Sea

Sea-faring couple: Mira Stanley and Chuck E. Costa make beautiful music together.

Sometimes the best way to describe a band is to let the musicians do it themselves.

"Indie folk/pop duo band! Harmony-based, lyric-driven, simple and true," the married couple Mira Stanley and Chuck E. Costa wrote in an email about their duo, The Sea The Sea. "But the best way for us to describe it is to just say, come to a show! We’d love to sing for you."

You'll have a chance to be sung to by The Sea The Sea on Wednesday, June 7, when the duo returns to The Ark.

The ambiance and intimacy of the upstate New York couple's music evokes old-time folk, the mellow side of modern pop, and the technical precision of something not quite classical but not far from it. When you add in their thoughtful, intricate lyrics and their impeccably blended vocal harmonies, you’ve got music and musicians that are engaging on many levels.

I reached out to The Sea The Sea to ask them about the couple's union, the source of the band's name, and Stanley's time in Ann Arbor as a U-M student.

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Not a Drag: Theatre Nova's "The Legend of Georgia McBride" is charming


Theatre Nova, The Legend of Georgia McBride

Nick Yocum stars as Casey and Georgia McBride and Vince Kelley as Miss Tracy Mills in Theatre Nova's The Legend of Georgia McBride. Photo by Brandy Joe Plambeck.

Sometimes, when you’re down and out, you have to pull yourself up not by your bootstraps, but by a pair of sparkly platform heels.

As least, that’s one way to read Matthew Lopez’s comedy The Legend of Georgia McBride, which opens at Theatre Nova Friday.

The play -- which premiered in New York in September 2015 -- tells the tale of an Elvis impersonator, Casey, who performs regularly at a failing bar in Panama City, Florida. Just as Casey’s wife learns that the couple will soon be parents, Casey finds himself in professional freefall: the bar’s owner has hired drag performers to see if they can help turn the bar’s fortunes around. But when one of the new hires faints before going on stage, Casey finds himself reluctantly filling in, only to discover that he’s not so bad at drag.

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Opening Weekend: Highlights from the 2017 Cinetopia Film Festival


Cinetopia 2017

The first weekend of Cinetopia is over and I saw eight films in total. Sure, that’s more than the average person sees in a weekend but far fewer than the 400 seen by the programming team to select the 68 that make up the festival. Deciding what to see was difficult, and with so many intriguing options I often just chose on a whim. While I found something to admire in all that I saw, I really want to tell you about two of my favorites.

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