Encore offers diverting, funny, and timely ‘9 to 5’


Purple Rose Theatre, Harvey

Photo courtesy of Michele Anliker Photography.

A video projection of Dolly Parton hovers over the Encore Theatre stage. The always charming country singer/songwriter plays host to Encore’s production of 9 to 5, a Broadway musical of the hit movie 1970s comedy starring Parton, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dabney Coleman.

Parton teases that what we are about to see took place in 1979, a time of disco music, no internet and less enlightened thinking.

Unfortunately, last year’s presidential campaign made it clear that issues of gender equality and sexual harassment are still alive and kicking. And 9 to still gets a lot of knowing laughter about a workplace culture skewed to male privilege.

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Purple Rose’s “Harvey” reveals poignancy along with whimsy


Purple Rose Theatre, Harvey

Purple Rose Theatre's Harvey is oh so pleasant.

Mary Chase’s Harvey has been entertaining audiences with its gentle humor for more than 70 years. It’s a play we think we know well.

The new Purple Rose Theatre production of this Broadway classic reveals a deeper, richer, and more focused Harvey. It’s still funny, still frantic at times, but so much more.

We are most familiar with James Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd. He’s a sweet charmer and he drinks a bit but has a sense of the whimsical and a good heart. He can see eye to eye with a six-and-a-half-foot rabbit, or more precisely a pooka, a Celtic spirit with an affection for rumpots and others.

Now imagine instead a different kind of Elwood P. Dowd. He’s still a charmer with a whimsical streak. But he’s a smaller man and maybe he drinks a little more than he should and those ideas he floats about life might just be worth our attention.

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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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Redbud’s "Prodigal Son" will draw on fine-tuned acting for intimate drama

Redbud Productions, Prodigal Son

Liam Weeks stars in Redbud Productions' Prodigal Son. Photo by Jason Page.

When Loretta Grimes saw an off-Broadway production of John Patrick Shanley’s Prodigal Son in January 2016, she realized it had all the basic elements for a Redbud Productions staging. The cast was small, the story intimate, and the emotions intense.

She is directing the Redbud Productions' staging June 1-3 at the Kerrytown Concert House.

“For me, I loved the play in general, the characters were well-drawn, and the writing was excellent,” she said. “But I was mainly drawn to the main character, Jim Quinn, who is John Patrick Shanley as the play is autobiographical. I think what I like is that the character is such an underdog and I think we can all relate to that. He’s this rough, tough kid from the Bronx who goes to this prestigious Catholic school in New England, but it’s like fitting a round peg in a square hole.”

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The audience will decide "whodunit" at "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The Session Room on Jackson Road was in a festive mood May 9.

The front of the restaurant/beer hall was taken over by what appeared to customers like a troupe of English music hall performers.

In truth, they were actors from the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre trying out their jokes, songs, patter, and various English accents in preparation for their upcoming presentation of Rupert Holmes’ musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, June 1-4, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

The show's director, Ron Baumanis, said the setting was perfect for getting his cast in the mood.

“Here we have this show with great musical numbers that can be lifted right out and done as an evening of entertainment,” he said. “Sessions is a beer hall and essentially music halls started out as beer halls then moved into theaters. But instead of seats, people sat at tables with their tankards of beer and did business or whatever they wanted to do.”

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Crime novelist Steve Hamilton returns to AADL for his second Nick Mason novel


Steve Hamilton

Exit Strategy is U-M grad and Michigan native Steve Hamilton's second Nick Mason novel.

Last year Steve Hamilton took a u-turn.

The award-winning author of the popular Alex McKnight detective series introduced a new series with a very different main character in The Second Life of Nick Mason, a New York Times bestseller and multi-award winner that is being developed as a major motion picture.

McKnight was a straight arrow ex-Detroit cop, who left Detroit after his partner was killed and he was seriously wounded in a confrontation with a mentally ill man with an Uzi. McKnight escaped to rent cabins in tiny, isolated Paradise on the shores of Lake Superior in the U.P. But soon he was reluctantly being drawn into one case after another as a private detective.

By contrast, Mason is a tough kid from the south side of Chicago, a career criminal. He and two of his buddies began stealing cars as teenagers and then moved on to a series of minor crimes. Mason tried to give it up for his wife and daughter, but he and his pals became involved in a dock heist that went seriously bad, leaving one friend and a policeman dead. Mason took the rap and refused to rat on his associates, one his best friend. He was given 25 years without parole.

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PTD’s "August: Osage County" mines rich humor and strong drama


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PTD Productions takes on Tracy Letts' 2008 Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, August: Osage County.

Violet Weston is the sharp-tongued, nasty piece of work at the center of Tracy Letts’ brilliant family dissection August: Osage County. Violet can be awfully unpleasant, but she has her reasons, as do all the others in this play that is rich in symbolism but played with a tough realism.

Any good production of this Pulitzer Prize-winning play starts with a ferocious, vulgar, and yet sympathetic Violet, the matriarch of an Oklahoma family in transition. Janet Rich is all of that and more in Ypsilanti’s PTD Productions presentation of Letts’ play. She grumbles, complains, coos, and rages in the face of a tragedy that briefly unites her broken family.

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Older actors take center stage in Civic Theatre’s "Mornings at Seven"

Civic Theatre’s Mornings at Seven

Barbara Mackey King and Melissa Stewart read from scripts during rehearsals for Civic Theatre’s Mornings at Seven.

Youth will be served.

In popular music, movies, and theater, young adults are usually the center of attention. Older actors will land roles as wise elders, cantankerous villains, or doddering comic relief. But the roles are sometimes few and far between.

That’s one reason why Thom Johnson wanted to stage Paul Osborn’s gentle, Midwest 1939 comedy Mornings at Seven for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

“I did this play 10 years ago with another group and in the intervening years, looking at shows I wanted to be in, I noticed a real lack of parts for older people,” Johnson said, “and this show except for the two ‘youngsters’ who are in their 40s, it’s all about older people. I think that’s what really sparked me into wanting to do it, an opportunity for older actors to get out there on stage and do their thing.”

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Encore helps develop new musical take on ‘Into the Wild’


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Conor Ryan, as Christopher McCandless, sets off Into the Wild at the Encore Musical Theatre. / Photo by Michele Anliker.

The Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter is participating in an exciting creative collaboration. Encore is offering its space and many of its talented actors and musicians in the “developmental premiere” of a new musical based in part on Jon Krakauer’s best-selling non-fiction book “Into the Wild” and in part on “Back to the Wild,” a photographic history of Chris McCandless’s journey by the McCandless Foundation.

Krakauer’s book told the story of Chris McCandless, who took off after graduating from Emory University on a cross-country tour in search of adventure and his soul. The adventure ultimately led to the wilds of Alaska and a brutal death and left more questions than answers about McCandless and his quest.

The book was later adapted into a critically acclaimed movie under the direction of Sean Penn.

Janet Allard wrote the book and lyrics for the new musical with music and additional lyrics by Niko Tsakalakos. Mia Walker is the director. She has worked as director or been assistant director on Broadway, off-Broadway, and touring productions.

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Smooth Sailing: U-M’s "The Little Mermaid"


U-M's production of The Little Mermaid

Under the sea, you and me: Ariel (Halli Toland) and Prince Eric (Trevor Carr) take a dramatic pause in U-M's The Little Mermaid. Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

The seaway to true love is full of perils in Disney’s The Little Mermaid but, of course, the young lovers bridge land and sea for a happy ever after. And the magical production of the University of Michigan Musical Theatre Department carries us smoothly along to that expected Disney end.

The Little Mermaid production at the Power Center for the Performing Arts is light, airy, expertly performed and a fine display of how imaginative staging can turn fluff into gold. The production continues 8 p.m. April 14 and 15 and 2 p.m. April 15 and 16.

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