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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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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From Scratch: Neighborhood Theatre Group's "Dispatches From the Dumb Decade"


Neighborhood Theatre Group, Dispatches From the Dumb Decade

Neighborhood Theatre Group's Dispatches From the Dumb Decade is an all-original everything, from the script to the music.

Neighborhood Theatre Group (NTG) is an Ypsilanti-based theater company that was founded by Kristin Danko and Aaron Dean, two transplants from the Chicago theater scene. And it’s not an accident that Danko and Dean are also the director and playwright, respectively, for NTG’s newest musical, Dispatches From the Dumb Decade, which runs June 2-4 at Bona Sera Underground.

“The ethos of the entire company is that everybody does a little piece of something,” says Dean. Which also explains why the NTG House Band arranged the music for Dispatches From the Dumb Decade. According to Danko, “Once we realized that we all had talents outside of theater -- we all play instruments, write music, and sing -- we decided to start a band. We’re called the NTG House Band, and it’s a great way for us to reach a more diverse audience, and the music scene here in Ypsi is outstanding.”

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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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Kickshaw Theatre and AADL team up for a staged reading of the award-winning "Lungs"


Lungs, Kickshaw Theatre

Kickshaw Theatre actors Dani Cochrane and Bryan Lark will participate in a reading of Lungs at AADL's west branch on May 19.

On Friday, May 19, the Kickshaw Theatre is collaborating with the Ann Arbor District Library to put on a staged reading of Lungs, a new play by Duncan Macmillan. Lungs tells the story of a couple weighing the pros and cons of deciding whether or not to have a child in modern America, knowing all the current societal and political problems in the world.

Lungs premiered at Washington, D.C.’s Studio Theatre and has since been performed around the world. It was nominated for a Charles MacArthur Award for Best New Play or Musical and the British production won the Off West End Award for Best New Play. This reading will feature the actors Dani Cochrane and Bryan Lark.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to ask the Kickshaw Theatre’s artistic director and founder Lynn Lammers a couple of questions about the upcoming performance.

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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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"Remnants" uses survivor stories to educate about the Holocaust


Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan

Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan collected survivor stories for his one-man play Remnants.

U-M professor Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan likes to talk -- and thank goodness for that.

Greenspan has spent 40 years interviewing (and re-interviewing) Holocaust survivors, and from that trove of oral histories he compiled a radio-play-turned-one-man-show called Remnants, which he’ll perform on Monday, May 8, at the downtown library. He put together the radio play in the early '90s, using material he first started collecting for his dissertation in the 1970s.

“The first thing I did was call rabbis who had congregations in the Southeast Michigan and Toledo area,” said Greenspan, who noted that doing survivor interviews was an uncommon practice at that time. “They’d tell people, ‘This guy from U of M wants to interview survivors.’ So initially I’d used the rabbis as matchmakers, but that quickly became unnecessary because things snowballed. People would say to me, in the middle of an interview, ‘You have to talk to my friend Zoli.’ … So I’d make an appointment to talk with Zoli, and one person led to another.”

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Ellipsis Theatre Company updates Brecht's canonical "Caucasian Chalk Circle"


The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Ellipsis Theatre Company

Simon (Eddie Rothermel) and Grusha (Lucy Price) in Ellipsis Theatre Company's The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Bertolt Brecht’s canonical 1944 text The Caucasian Chalk Circle is the kind of play that many of us read in a college course but rarely see produced.

So it’s worth noting that locals will have the opportunity to see Circle on the stage when Ellipsis Theatre Company presents it at the Yellow Barn from May 4-21.

“Ellipsis is always very interested in the act of storytelling … so the fact that it’s so explicit in this play was appealing to us,” said Ellipsis co-founder Joanna Hastings, who’s both playing a role in and co-directing Circle with Scott Screws. “Plus, (Circle’s) so flexible. You can do it in all sorts of ways.”

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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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