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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Youth Theater Productions: Fall 2017


High School Musical

So literal: The Pioneer High School musical cast of High School Musical.

Area high school drama clubs and other youth-theater ensembles are about to stage their annual fall productions. Below are descriptions of the shows provided by the theaters and production companies.

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They Did It: Nearly 4,000 Rosies riveted down the world record


Rosie the Riveter

A gathering of 3,755 Rosie the Riveters in Ypsilanti smashed the previous record of 2,229. Photo by Sherlonya Turner.

I was on a bike ride with a friend when he told me about the Saturday, Oct. 14, attempt to reclaim the Guinness World Record for the biggest gathering of women dressed as Rosie the Riveter. My knee-jerk response was that this wasn’t my scene. I’m not a fan of crowds, and more specifically, a bunch of women coming together at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center to dress up like Rosie the Riveter was definitely not my scene.

Rosie the Riveter is a representation of the women who worked in factories during World War II to support the war effort. The character is based on several people, including Rose Will Monroe, who worked as a riveter at Ypsilanti's Willow Run Aircraft Factory building B-24 bombers. But Rosie's didn’t resonate with me personally. I come from Southern black stock, and the women I am descended from always did some sort of work, primarily domestic, outside of their homes, paid or otherwise. Also, it’s in my nature to take icons and popular narratives and complicate them; it’s what I was taught as a history student, and it has become second nature. I didn’t think that there was anything here for me.

However, my friend’s prompting had given rise to a question, “Who are these women. Whose scene is this?”

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Camus' leaden "L’Etat de siège" is a slog even for the great Théâtre de la Ville


L’Etat de siège by Théâtre de la Ville

Director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and Théâtre de la Ville’s take on L’Etat de siège is a feast for the eyes, but not much can be done about Albert Camus’ ham-fisted postwar tale.

I once spent a summer reading just about everything Albert Camus wrote. Not exactly beach reading, I know -- I jokingly referred to it as “my crazy summer” -- but I’d been hired to write the preface of a book about the French writer’s work, so I dove in.

I hadn’t counted Camus' seldom-produced 1948 play L’Etat de siège (State of Siege) among my favorites of his writings, but I was intrigued that Théâtre de la Ville was staging it. Having seen previous Théâtre de la Ville productions courtesy of University Musical Society (UMS), including Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in 2012 and Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author in 2014, I was hopeful the Parisian company's past lavish renderings of absurdist classics would nonetheless find a way make Siege sing.

And yes, Theatre de la Ville’s take on Siege at the Power Center on Friday and Saturday looked slick and offered some truly inspired moments of stagecraft, but Camus’ heavy-handed political allegory still ended up feeling pretty leaden.

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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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Crooked Insights: Pod Save America at the Michigan Theater


Pod Save America at the Michigan Theater

Pod Save America pulled no porogressive punches at the Michigan Theater on Friday. Photo by Sherlonya Turner.

I am one of the people who couldn’t get enough of political podcasts during the 2016 presidential election. That is how I found my way to the podcast Keepin’ It 1600, hosted by Washington insiders Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, Jon Lovett, and Daniel Pfeiffer.

In January 2017, the hosts of that show started Pod Save America, a show about current United States politics and it impacts on the American people as a part of Crooked Media, their network that now hosts five podcasts and written work from several contributors. Through their work, they hope to inform people from their progressive point of view about the current political landscape while entertaining their audience and inspiring them to become personally involved in the political process.

Based on the crowd outside of the Michigan Theater on Friday, Oct. 6, the Pod Save America team inspired people to leave the comfort of their homes to see the foursome in action.

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Purple Rose Theatre's "God of Carnage" is stuffed with delicious comic chaos


God of Carnage at Purple Rose Theatre; photo by Sean Carter

Left to right: Paul Stroili, Kate Thomsen, and Rusty Mewha star in the Tony Award-winning God of Carnage at Purple Rose Theatre. Photo by Sean Carter.

The only real carnage in God of Carnage happens entirely offstage, but the knock-down, drag-out battle of social mores that takes place more than earns the play its comically dramatic title. Yasmina Reza's 2009 Tony Award-winning play, which runs through Dec. 16 at the Purple Rose Theatre, is 70 minutes of one-act, real-time comic chaos as two married couples attempt to reconcile after their sons get into a playground fight.

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Visceral Violence: "Sweeney Todd" is Encore Theatre's finest production yet


Sweeney Todd at The Encore Musical Theatre Company by Michele Anliker Photography

Director/choreographer Matthew Brennan brings a distinctive vision to Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at The Encore Musical Theatre Company. Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

In 2015, I pronounced Into the Woods to be Encore Theatre’s strongest overall production since the Dexter company opened its doors in 2009.

Well, move over, Into the Woods. There’s a new Sondheim show in town, and when it opened on Friday night, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street quickly established itself as the best thing yet to happen on Encore’s modest, black-box stage.

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PencilPoint TheatreWorks' Ypsi THRIVE highlights new one-act plays


Ypsi THRIVE

Four of Ypsi THRIVE's seven plays are by women, as are five of the directors, and the majority of the roles are for females.

Brian Cox returned to creating theater about five years ago when he began writing his first full-length play, Clutter, based on one of his short stories. Since then, he has written multiple one-act plays, directed, produced, and devised many more shows and storytelling nights, and started his own theater company, PencilPoint Theatreworks in Ypsilanti. He’s an accomplished director, producer, and artistic director, and earlier this year Cox won Encore Theatre's Wilde Award for Best New Script with Clutter.

After offhandedly mentioning this during the interview, Cox pauses, glancing down and blushing slightly. “But I don’t act. No acting.”

So what is Cox’s newest project? On Sept. 28 he’s opening Ypsi THRIVE, a three-day, new-play festival at Riverside Arts Center that features seven short plays.

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Theatrical Projections: Major plays and operas are just a movie ticket away

HD theater

Clockwise from upper left: Angels in America, Uncle Vanya, The Exterminating Angel, Norma, and Yerma are but a few of the HD theater broadcasts at two Ann Arbor movie theaters.

If you don’t live in New York City or London, and perhaps don’t have the money to go to The Metropolitan Opera or the National Theatre on a regular basis, you might feel like you’re missing out on some amazing arts events.

But HD broadcasts of productions from these venues to movie theatres around the world are a way for people all around the world to see legendary works like La Bohéme, Hamlet, Everyman,Der Rosenkavalier, and more, performed by legendary performers such as Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Plácido Domingo, Vittorio Grigolo, and Renée Fleming. NT Live has been broadcasting shows from the National and other theaters in London to movie theaters since 2009, and The Met: Live in HD has been broadcasting operas since 2006.

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