Civic Theatre prepares a "Cabaret" for our unsettled times


Civic Theatre, Cabaret

Trish Fountain takes on the traditionally male role of the Emcee in Civic Theatre's updated version of Cabaret. Photo by Lisa Gavan.

When the musical Cabaret opened on Broadway in 1966, memories of World War II and revelations about Nazi concentration camps were still fresh for the majority of Americans. The story of Weimar Germany’s plunge into nihilism and the rise of the Nazi Third Reich resonated with audiences as a reminder of how insidious evil can be.

Kat Walsh and Jennifer Goltz-Taylor hope their production of Cabaret for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre is equally relevant for our troubled times.

“When Jennifer and I first proposed the show, we were looking at how polarized people are around a number of issues in our country and around the world,” said Walsh, the show’s director. “There’s a feeling of being unsettled on all sides of the political world. When we looked at the cabaret world in the 1930s, there was that same feeling of unsettledness. David Mamet said we’re here to engage with our audience and create a community, to ask what in the hell is going on it this world.”

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U-M’s “One Hit Wonder” delivers with an energetic pop tart


One Hit Wonder

One Hit Wonder's charm isn't from its tried-and-true plot; it's from the cast's energetically delivered pop songs that everybody knows. Photo courtesy U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

As Paul Simon once noted, “It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.” Sadly, many of them do not have as long and productive a career as Paul Simon. Many of them are “one hit wonders” but their single contribution to the charts linger on.

The University of Michigan Musical Theatre Department is presenting the world premiere of One Hit Wonder, an energetic musical that gives the university students a chance to workshop an original musical that is tailor-made for a young cast and audience on one hand and for a nostalgic older audience with a taste for 1980s-style pop music .

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U-M’s "Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" draws parallels with current events


The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is Bertolt Brecht's satire of Hitler and organized crime set in 1930s Chicago.

He drew support from working class people by appealing to their fears and their prejudices in a time of economic strife. He went into angry rants blaming minorities for all the country’s problems. He encouraged his supporters at rallies to punch out those who protested against him. He came to power in an unusual though legal way, while claiming the support of the nation. He pushed a philosophy of racial and ethnic superiority. He told the crowds that “I and I alone can make this nation great again.”

He was Adolph Hitler.

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PTD’s "Anatomy of a Murder" features iconic UP setting, still relevant themes


PTD Productions, Anatomy of a Murder

The stage version of "Anatomy of a Murder" differs from the more famous book and film versions -- and not always for the best.

John Voelker -- a defense lawyer, prosecuting attorney, and Michigan Supreme Court Justice -- brought legal credibility, unusual frankness, and a down-home Upper Peninsula sensibility to his landmark novel Anatomy of a Murder (under the pen name Robert Travers).

Director Otto Preminger and screenwriter Wendell Mayes brought those qualities to the 1959 film version, shot in and around Marquette. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards including best picture and best actor for James Stewart.

PTD Productions in Ypsilanti is presenting a later stage version by Elihu Winer. Winer’s plodding version eliminates some major characters and key plot points and makes little of the UP atmosphere that is a central feature in Voelker’s novel and Preminger’s stark black and white location photography. This is a wordy, condensed version, though still set in the deeply rural 1950s UP.

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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"


Clutter

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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