Encore offers a charming, thoughtful "Camelot"


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.


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.”


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.


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.


Laith Al-Saadi kicks off Sonic Lunch 2017

Laith Al-Saadi kicks off Sonic Lunch

Laith Al-Saadi kicks off the 10th edition of the free Sonic Lunch concert series. Photo by Liz Grapentine.

Any Ann Arbor townie will tell you there’s one place to be at 12 noon on Thursdays in late spring through the end of August: at Liberty Plaza for Sonic Lunch

On June 1, Sonic Lunch kicked-off its 10th year of free, live music events, and it had one of its local stars opening the season: Laith Al-Saadi, an Ann Arbor “hometown blues-rock hero,” in the words of Martin Bandyke from local radio station 107.1.

When I made my way past some roadblock barriers and into Liberty Plaza, I’d shown up just 5 minutes before noon and the place was already packed. I should have predicted as much with the gorgeous weather that day, not a cloud in sight. What I didn’t predict was no open spots or shade in sight, either. This poor ginger didn’t even think to bring her sunblock as she stood in the midday rays for an hour, but the chance to hear Al-Saadi’s performance was worth the sunburn.


Painted Drawings: Nora Venturelli's "Vice Versa" at WSG Gallery


Vice Versa 43 (excerpt) by Nora Venturelli

Nora Venturelli has maintained a significant interest in figure drawing and painting throughout her career, and specialized in studying the human form in college. Her work addresses themes of movement, shadow, and the body in its relation to interior thought processes. These concerns are evident in her most recent work on display at WSG Gallery in an exhibit titled Vice Versa, which runs through June 10. In addition to her series on the human figure, Venturelli has worked with a number of other subjects, including landscapes and still life.

Venturelli was born in Rosario, Argentina, and emigrated to California in 1968 after graduating high school. Today, she teaches both drawing and painting at Eastern Michigan University and University of Michigan STAMPS School of Art & Design, and lives in both the United States and Argentina. She is active in the arts community, showing her work locally and internationally.


Everyday Objects: "Text/Image" at Ann Arbor Art Center


Underdog by Christopher Schneider

We live in a hyper-literate age of endless imagery and short attention spans.

We seldom pause -- and really, when do we have time? -- to consider the process by which we create meaning for ourselves from the constant interaction of words and pictures in books, magazines, on television and the web, on our phones.

In Text/Image now on view until June 3 in Ann Arbor Art Center’s Gallery 117, Detroit-based artist/curator Jack O. Summers has thoughtfully collected for our consideration some artworks that refer to everyday objects whose meanings “are enhanced or subverted by the multi-dimensional interplay of text and images.” The exhibit concentrates on still imagery, leaving aside the more kinetic treatments of text and image interaction such as video and animation.


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #639

14-year-old Ginny Moon * * * is much like any typical teenager, never mind that she is autistic. She loves Michael Jackson, plays the flute at school, looks forward to her weekly basketball practices, and has good friends in Room 5 where the kids with special needs spend parts of the school day. For the past 4 years, she lives happily with her "forever parents" after unfortunate placements in a string of foster homes.


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #638

Two debuts that join the heated national conversations about deportation of illegal immigrants; the global concerns for refugees fleeing war-torn countries; and issues of identity and alienation that would likely affect generations to come.

The 2016 winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction and a May 2017 LibraryReads pick, The Leavers * * by Lisa Ko is based on true stories. It "depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity." (Kirkus Reviews)


A Walk on the Wilder Side: Water Hill Music Fest 2017

"A Walk on the Wilder Side" video essay downloads:
720p video, 480p video or 240p video, or MP3.

Video essay text:

Every first Sunday in May since 2011, Ann Arbor’s Water Hill neighborhood becomes a giant outdoor nightclub. Bands set up on lawns, porches, and inside homes and play for free as people pack the streets roaming from venue to venue.

The festival, which also gave the previously unnamed neighborhood its name, is heavy on folk, bluegrass, and Americana. But I went to Water Hill in search of the artists who didn’t fit under those umbrella terms. The event has always included music that’s not based on acoustic strings, but according to some longtime Water Hill attendees, this year was particularly low on bands bucking the festival’s perceived standard sound.