UMGASS Delights with "The Gondoliers"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

The Gondoliers and their Wives. None of them will be a Queen.

In foreground, left to right: Chris Kendall and Megan Maloney as Marco and Gianetta, and Ben Powell and Laurel Baker as Giuseppe and Tessa. Photo courtesy of UMGASS.

Beloved community institution UMGASS (The University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society) is back this weekend with a lovely production of Gilbert & Sullivan's last hit, The Gondoliers, or the King of Barataria.

Director and UMGASS staple Lee Vahlsing points out in the show notes that The Gondoliers was the product of a compromise by producer Richard D'Oyly Carte to get another comic opera out of the simmering tensions of the relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan (at the time in 1889, Sullivan had already been knighted by Queen Victoria, but Gilbert would not be knighted until years later, in 1907, by King Edward); if they would collaborate on another comic opera, D'Oyly Carte would produce Sullivan's Grand Opera, Ivanhoe, and he would be taken seriously by high society at last, or something.

At any rate, as Vahlsing notes, this arrangement led to greater collaboration between the two than the rut they had fallen into, and the result is one of their best and most beloved Operettas. Lovingly staged with two charming sets and including truly impressive costuming, the only hint of modernity in this faithful production is a bit of Charleston in the choreography -- and perhaps a touch of Iron Maiden here and there.

"Orion"'s Return: Mark di Suvero comes to Ann Arbor with his iconic sculpture for a rededication at UMMA

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Mark di Suvero's Orion at UMMA

Mark di Suvero's Orion photographed during an UMMA After Hours event.

The Diag. The Arb. Nickels Arcade. Kerrytown. Michigan Stadium. 

These are among the most popular sights of Ann Arbor.

But another equally famous landmark has been missing from Tree Town for the past year.

Mark di Suvero’s Orion -- the tall, orange-red sculpture outside the University of Michigan Museum of Art -- was removed in April 2018 when UMMA made upgrades to its grounds to deal with storm-water repairs. Orion was shipped back to di Suvero's studio in New York for conservation work, including a new coat of paint.

On April 23, di Suvero's 53-foot high, 21,220-pound steel sculpture will be reinstalled in front of UMMA, taking up its familiar spot on the front lawn, not far from  Shang, the artist's other piece that welcomes visitors to the museum.  The kinetic sculpture outside UMMA's entrance invites passersby to swing on its suspended platform.

A2 Civic’s "Fahrenheit 451" draws parallels to our current political "catastrophe"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Fahrenheit 451

Luc Robinson stars as the book-burning fireman Guy Montag in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

In Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, firemen don’t put out fires, they start them with a temperature that burns book paper. 

An authoritarian government has decided that books just confuse people with too many ideas, too many alternatives. They prefer people who like to watch hours of mindless television while their minds gently drift away on drugs.

David Widmayer is directing Bradbury’s stage version of Fahrenheit for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. He said Bradbury’s fears may be more relevant than they’ve ever been. Fahrenheit, along with 1984, Brave New World, and a slew of modern dystopian stories have been in vogue in the last few years.

All the Young Doogs: Ypsi trio Doogatron makes electronic music with a human touch

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Doogatron

Building the Perfect Robot: Take one Kyle, add a Stevie, mix with a Mike, and you've got a Doogatron. Photo by Kate de Fuccio/AM1700

Synth music is often a solitary exercise. It's easy enough for one person to program all the music and not have to deal with band dynamics.

Electronic music duos are more common and count influential acts such as Orbital, Mouse on Mars, Autechre, Boards of Canada, Coil, and many more in those ranks.

Less common is a synthesizer trio, quartet, or quintet, but there is a rich history of synth groups, too, from Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Harmonia, Throbbing Gristle, Add N to (X), and Hot Chip. The combination of personalities mixed with live playing over sequenced sections gives the music a more human quality, and Washtenaw County trio Doogatron is part of this lineage.

Stevie, Kyle, and Mike -- family names are for families -- make loose-limbed techno that mixes programmed parts on computer and live playing on vintage synths. The group's sound is elastic and trippy even as it's framed by linear rhythms. 

Doogatron's self-titled debut LP came out Nov. 2, 2018, and the group has followed that with a New Year's Day 2019 mix of original tunes, reworked album cuts, and earlier tunes initially heard on Soundcloud. In February, Doogatron will release the first of at least four EPs/singles scheduled for this year. "Each release comes from one continuous recording session," Stevie said, "so each track will serve as a part one, part two, part three experience," starting with "Before Subsidized Time" b/w "After Subsidized Time."

Stevie gave us the lowdown on Doogatron's history, name, and work process.

AADL's Fifth Avenue Press returns with five new books & a release reception on May 5

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fifth Avenue Press logo

The Ann Arbor District Library's Fifth Avenue Press helps local authors produce a print-ready book at no cost -- from copyediting to cover design -- and the writers retain all rights. In return, the library gets to distribute ebooks to its patrons without paying royalties, but authors can sell their books -- print, digital, or audio -- however they choose and keep all the proceeds.

Started in 2017, Fifth Avenue launches its third round of books on Sunday, May 5, with a free catered reception from 1-3 pm in the lobby of AADL's downtown location, featuring author readings from the imprint's five new titles.

Click the book titles below to read interviews with the authors:

Large-Scale Statements: "Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s" at UMMA

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Al Loving's Bowery Morning and Helen Frankenthaler's Sunset Corner

Left: Al Loving, Bowery Morning, 1971, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the Estate of Al Loving and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

Right: Helen Frankenthaler, Sunset Corner, 1969, acrylic on canvas. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Museum purchase, 1973/1.813. © 2018 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

In the year-long exhibition Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s, the University of Michigan Museum of Art asks, “Can abstract art be about politics?”

The exhibition asks audiences to consider the once hotly debated status of abstract art almost 50 years later. Despite the gallery exhibiting only four pieces, the exhibition proves the abstract art of the 1970s has an ability to engage with major political themes then and now.

The move toward abstraction in art accelerated in the 1970s, and many artists turned to it in lieu of representational art. As UMMA points out, some were criticized for turning away from traditional means of representation. Critics suggested that abstract art could not be political, therefore believing artists to be intentionally disengaging with politics. At the same time, minority artists were challenging tenets of art history and institutions that promoted a specific set of standards in determining what “great art” was. Though some argued that abstraction was unable to convey political messages, the movement itself became political by deconstructing the status quo.

The Art of the LP: Record Store Day 2019

MUSIC VISUAL ART REVIEW

AADL Record Store Day 2019

Since its inception in April 2008, fans of vinyl LPs have flocked to their favorite independent shops for the event known as Record Store Day. Created to promote patronage among local music sellers, Record Store Day has grown immensely over the last decade. 

In 2017, AADL got in on the action and began hosting a pop-up record fair at the downtown library. Located in walking distance from Ann Arbor’s three record shops -- Wazoo Records, Encore Records, and Underground Sounds -- AADL aimed to provide vinyl enthusiasts another place to dig through crates, mingle with other music fans, and take a look at the growing collection of LPs available for checkout at the library. 

If you missed us this year, be sure to keep an eye out for our 2020 Record Store Day next April. And if you’re clamoring for more music, be sure to check out AADL's collection of vinyl and CDs, as well as the Ann Arbor Music & Performance Server (AAMPS), where you can download local music offerings.

This year’s event at AADL saw 16 independent vendors cover more than 700 square feet of table space with their sonic wares and the volume and variety did not disappoint any enthusiastic attendees. Local DJ Aaron Batzdorfer spun tunes all afternoon, minus a brief respite where his son Porter stepped in on the wheels of steel. In the library’s Secret Lab, patrons exercised their imaginations and created their own LP album art -- many of which are posted below.

The American Scream: Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" at The Purple Rose Theatre

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

All My Sons

Ryan Black, David Bendena, Caitlin Cavannaugh star in The Purple Rose Theatre Company's production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.

Written and taking place in 1947, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is steeped in the emotional fallout of World War II. One might question the relevance of mounting a new production of the show today: What remains to be gleaned from this 70-plus-year-old work? However, Miller’s observations on the nature of generational sin remain as shattering and relevant as ever -- particularly when staged with the intelligence and sensitivity of The Purple Rose Theatre Company’s new production, running through June 1.

All My Sons takes place on the Keller family’s front lawn in Kokomo, Indiana, lovingly recreated with an artificial lawn, antique furniture, and a rope swing hanging from the rafters of The Purple Rose’s intimate space. Kate (Michelle Mountain) has spent three years in denial since her son Larry, a pilot, went missing in action during World War II. Her husband Joe (Richard McWilliams) and son Chris (Ryan Black) have long accepted Larry’s death and grudgingly tolerated Kate’s insistence on his survival. But their tenuous existence is upended by the arrival of Larry’s ex-girlfriend Ann (Caitlin Cavannaugh), whom Chris has secretly planned to marry after carrying on a romantic correspondence with her.

The plot thickens as details arise about Joe’s business partnership with Ann’s father, Steve, who went to prison for knowingly selling defective aircraft to the Air Force. Joe has maintained his innocence in that situation in the intervening years and has gotten off scot-free. But as damning new information comes to light, the fragile assumptions on which all the characters have built their lives threaten to crumble.

Rock 'n' Roll Heart: JD McPherson at The Blind Pig

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

JD McPherson band

Photo by Jena Ardell

I was a fan of JD McPherson’s music the moment I heard his debut album, Signs & Signifiers, around seven years ago. This was high-energy rock 'n' roll that immediately brought to mind the early masters of the genre -- think Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochrane, Bo Diddley.  

Rural Oklahoma native McPherson specializes in original material, not cover versions, and he and his dynamite group -- together for eight years -- put a fresh spin on music too often thought of as golden oldies, something safe and nostalgic. McPherson’s discography is thoroughly listenable and also includes 2015’s Let the Good Times Roll, 2017’s Undivided Heart & Soul (my personal favorite), plus Socks, his delightful album of new Christmas songs released late last year.

McPherson and his band -- bassist Jimmy Sutton, keyboardist Raynier Jacob Jacildo, drummer Jason Smay, and saxophonist/guitarist Doug Corcoran -- were in fantastic form when they played in Ann Arbor last summer as part of Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch concert series, and they return to town this Wednesday, April 17 for a show at The Blind Pig. I caught up with JD McPherson by phone last week as he was getting ready for a concert in Calgary, Alberta and had a lively discussion about everything from favorite recording studios to Socks to the reasons behind his rock 'n' roll sensibility.

Busting Up the Boys Club: Ladies Laugh Night at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase

PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2 Comedy Showcase's Ladies Laugh Night comediennes

Clockwise from upper left: Connie Ettinger, Brandi Alexander, Kate Brindle, and Nicole Majdali.

John Belushi said it. Christopher Hitchens also said it. Jerry Lewis said it, too. They all said the thing that they likely would have never said about any other group: women aren’t funny.

If you need proof that women are funny -- and you shouldn’t, but in case you do -- come out to Ladies Laugh Night at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase on Thursday, April 11. The show features an all-woman lineup of Brandi Alexander, Nicole Majdali, Kate Brindle, and Connie Ettinger

Comedy Showcase owner Claudia Neeb includes more female comedians in the club’s lineup because “we believe in seeking out diverse types of comedians, including women. As a club, we try to ‘grow’ comedians by encouraging them to work on and strengthen their talent and then move onto the next level.”