Preview: As You Like It, Young Actors Guild

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

The Young Actors Guild rehearses their new production of Shakespeare's As You Like It.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows to go see YAG's As You Like It. Pictured above are shots from rehearsals.

All the world's a stage this weekend when The Ann Arbor Young Actors Guild presents one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies, As You Like It, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

After fleeing the many injustices surrounding her usurping uncle's court, Rosalind (disguised as a boy) and her cousin Celia encounter love, adventure, and a band of outsiders as they travel through the mythological forest of Arden to where her father and his friends live in exile. Much wit and romance abounds between Rosalind, perhaps Shakespeare's most inspiring female character, and Orlando, her beloved, with many quotable assists from the jester Touchstone, the melancholy Jacques, and others.

The themes of the play celebrate the healing power of nature, love, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Recommended for all audiences.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Performances are Friday, May 13th and Saturday, May 14th at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, May 14th and Sunday, May 15 2:00 pm, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets: $7.00 for students through college; $12.00 for adults; and $15.00 for reserved seats in rows one and two, any age. Tickets available online or at the door.

Review: Alejandro Escovedo at the Ark

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Review: Alejandro Escovedo at the Ark.

Alejandro Escovedo and his trio rocked the Ark last Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo took to The Ark's stage, joined by his longtime cellist Brian Standefer and keyboardist/harmony singer Sean Giddings as the Alejandro Escovedo Trio. The trio’s performance was part of an ongoing tour to promote the vinyl reissues of his first two albums, 1992’s Gravity and 1994’s Thirteen Years, which were released on Record Store Day last month.

Escovedo likes sharing stories with his audience during his shows, and this show was no exception. He gave a shout-out to his early producer, Chuck Prophet, who he met while working at Waterloo Records and who shepherded him into the Austin music scene. He also shared the story of his young wife’s suicide many years ago, leaving him behind with two young children.

Then he opened the show with a plucky rendition of "Five Hearts Breaking." The cello brought a heartbeat-like sound to the music as a fine alternative to percussion. Next, they performed with rocking fervor Tom Waits’ "Bottom of the World." Jamming to the dark lyrics of "Sally was a Cop;" the singer said it “goes out to Trump”, to which the audience cheered. The poignant ballad, "Rosalie," Escovedo sang about the longing of two lovers separated by thousands of miles. This is a story Escovedo often shares; the two young almost-lovers meet while Rosalie is visiting her aunt in California and the young man so taken by her that he writes her letters everyday for years until they are able to be together again.

Next, they performed "Chelsea Hotel ’78" conjuring punky sounds and images from the Real Animal album released in 2008. The singer mentioned his earlier band, Rank and File which he aptly described as a George Jones & Clash mash-up.

At one point the singer said he was going to make “some Detroit-style noise” and started on some familiar notes to The Stooges’ “Wanna Be Your Dog”...but it was just a tease. Upon playing Sister Lost Soul, Escovedo spoke of the recent losses of David Bowie, Merle Haggard, and Prince. Sheila Escovedo, aka Sheila E., is the performer’s niece, so the loss of Prince was a personal family one.

Escovedo performed 11 songs total with one encore: the rocking "Castanets." To top it all off, he told the backstory of that tune, divulging who it was that he "likes better when she walks away." The night was full of rocking music and great stories and, despite a fairly mellow audience, both Escovedo and his special guest Lucette couldn’t say enough great things about the gem that is the Ark in Ann Arbor.


Beth Manuel is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library and one of her favorite Alejandro songs is Velvet Guitar.

Preview: The Randy Napoleon Trio, Kerrytown Concert House

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Preview: The Randy Napoleon Trio, Kerrytown Concert House.

Randy Napoleon will perform songs and all that jazz at the Kerrytown Concert House. Photo by Cybelle Codish.

Internationally acclaimed jazz guitarist, composer, and arranger Randy Napoleon will appear at the Kerrytown Concert House on May 15 to play from his new CD Soon, released recently by the Detroit Music Factory. Napoleon, a professor of jazz at Michigan State University, will appear with Rodney Whitaker on bass and Keith Hall on drums.

Washington Post critic Mike Joyce has praised Napoleon’s “exceptionally nimble finger-style [guitar] technique,” and Detroit Free Press critic Mark Stryker cites his “gently, purring tone that makes you lean in close to hear its range of color and articulation.”

A graduate of the U-M School of Music, Theatre and Dance, Napoleon is well-known on the New York jazz scene and has performed and recorded with Freddy Cole, Michael Bublé, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and Benny Green.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


The Randy Napoleon Trio appears at the Kerrytown Concert House, 415 North Fourth Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI, on Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 4 pm. Call 734-769-2999 for more information, or visit the Kerrytown Concert House website to make reservations.

Preview: Disney's Jungle Book Kids, Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Junior

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Preview: Disney's Jungle Book Kids, Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Junior.

Bring only the bear necessities with you to A2CT Junior's production of the Jungle Book Kids.

This coming weekend, Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s Junior Theatre presents Disney’s Jungle Book Kids. The production is suitable for children ages 4 and up.

In this stage version of the Disney musical - which features many of the familiar characters and songs from the movie – Mowgli, a “man cub,” is befriended by a helpful python and a singing bear as he marches his way through the jungle. Along the way, he helps restore peace among the animals and learns what it means to be human.

"Theater offers such incredible opportunities for kids to learn self-confidence, performance skills and teamwork,” says director Caitlin Rowe. “We love watching the kids grow from auditions to performances; and to do that with the great Rudyard Kipling story and Sherman Brothers music made famous by the Disney movie is a special treat.”


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Performances are May 13 at 7:30 pm, and May 14 and 15 at 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm at The University of Michigan’s Arthur Miller Theatre, 1226 Murfin Ave, 48109. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and children. Tickets available online, by calling or visiting the A2CT office (734) 971-2228, or at the door of the Arthur Miller Theatre before each performance.

Review: Leisure & Luxury at the Kelsey Museum

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Leisure & Luxury exhibition images

Landing Nike/Victory [mid-1st c. AD/pentelic marble] (left), double-pearl-pendant earrings [1st c. AD/gold and pearl] (top right), Strongbox [3rd-1st c. BC/iron, silver, bronze, copper] (bottom right) / Images courtesy of the U-M Kelsey Museum of Anthropology.

The University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Anthropology’s Leisure & Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii has everything going for it that a supremely superior museology project can have going for it. It’s a remarkable detective story thousands of years in the making, complete with bona fide top-notch investigators. And, not the least, it is a visual feast for the gallery browser who is willing to take the time to investigate the proceedings at hand.

As Kelsey Curator Elaine K. Gazda tells us, the exhibit “explores the lavish lifestyle and economic interests of ancient Rome’s wealthiest citizens from the time of Julius Caesar (around 50 BC) to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius AD 79. On view are spectacular marble sculptures and wall paintings from an enormous luxury villa that may once have belonged to the Roman empress Poppaea, second wife of Nero."

“In contrast,” continues Gazda, “objects from a nearby commercial complex show how wine is bottled and traded. It was also here that 54 people died during the eruption, several of them carrying gold jewelry and coins. Disparities of wealth and social class evident in these two establishments raise questions about the life of leisure and luxury in ancient Pompeii—questions that were as vital in antiquity as they are today.”

This succinct synopsis pretty much covers the territory of the exhibition, but it’s the hard-earned work on display that makes this such an exceptional museological project. These artifacts give the exhibit a previously uncirculated authenticity that’s quite exciting—as well as illuminating of this ancient period of history.

As anyone who has visited the ruins of this area with the still-smoldering Vesuvius in the background can tell you, the distances depicted in Leisure & Luxury are far shorter geographically than the imagination might lead us to believe. Situated in the hills off the Bay of Naples, the city of Pompeii took the brunt of the two events on August 24-25, 79 AD—a first day of gas and volcanic ash extending high into the stratosphere that produced a pumice rain southward of the cone that built up to depths of nine feet, followed by another day of gas and hot rock that buried the city in two flows and engulfed the bay of Naples. But equally devastated were the coastal cities of Herculaneum (to the northwest across the bay) and Oplontis (situated three miles away slightly northwest on the coastline).

And this is where the detective story begins in earnest. The excavation of some public baths in 1834 identified the long lost city of Oplontis as a middle-sized town with wealthy villas and a well-developed residential community. But it took systematic excavations between 1964 and 1984 to unearth several important villas, most notably “Villa B,” a house that is now known as the Villa of Lucius Crassius Tertius, where more than 50 bodies were found. Inside, excavators found piles of jars that indicated the villa was a business center where wine, oil, and other agricultural products were manufactured, processed, and sold.

Yet as archeologically important as this "Villa B” has proven to be, the arguably more sensational excavation is the now-called “Villa A” of Poppaea Sabina, named after emperor Nero’s second wife, which was situated on the coastline between Naples and Sorrento. This luxurious villa, buried under 28 feet of pumiced ash, was first discovered during the construction of the 18th century Sarno Canal at the modern city of Torre Annunziata, when plundering mid-19th century French excavators removed several paintings from the villa and uncovered its lavish peristyle garden.

Flash forward to the late-20th century through the present and one encounters the work of University of Texas Art Historian John R. Clarke, who with colleagues founded the Oplontis Project. Housed in that university’s Department of Art and Art History, the project was founded with private funds, University of Texas Funds, and the National Endowment for the Humanities through special permission by the Italian Ministry of Culture with the cooperation of the Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii. The current result is a handsome recounting of this history, edited by the U-M’s Gazda and Clarke and now on view at the Kelsey Museum.

Leisure & Luxury fragment images

Small Fragment with Ionic Column and Architrave [50 BC/fresco on plaster] (left), Fragment of a Figure of Eros [45-79 AD/fresco on plaster] (center), Fourth Style Ceiling Fragment with Hippocamp [45-79 AD/fresco on plaster] (right) / Images courtesy of the U-M Kelsey Museum of Anthropology.

And what riches are on display: architectural components such as a mid-First century Corinthian capital with a ring of eight acanthus leaves at the bottom, lately excavated in a storage place that decorated (or was meant to decorate) a wing of "Villa A" that was undergoing renovation at the time of Vesuvius’ blast. Likewise, there are wide ranges of painting fragments uncovered from the now-called Atrium Five, with reconstruction renderings that indicate where these frescos would have been situated at the original site. Of commercial importance are first-century silver spoons, earrings, bracelets, a gold necklace, double pearl-pendant earrings, and a variety of recently minted first-century coins.

Yet of all these treasures, among the most poignant is a delicately rendered, re-pieced-from-fragments, first-century BC, white marble “Aphrodite/Venus,” whose left foot is raised above a diminutive standing Eros, and whose left hand holds an apple resting on a smaller female statue. Oddly enough, a slight disfiguration of this Aphrodite’s nose completes her rescue from oblivion.

We cannot know for certain if this is a depiction of the goddess. As Gazda writes, “It is not clear who is represented in the sculptural support, and there are no parallels that might identify her.” As such, the statue may be a play in time as well as in meaning, a folding of fate from within both idolatry and mythology through the conceit of all-too-familiar vanity—as unexpectedly undone by nature.

But that was then—and this is now. As Leisure & Luxury whole-heartedly shows us, there’s so much more we can—and must—learn from what little past we have. We’ve literally just scraped the surface. As “Aphrodite/Venus” might tell us if she could speak, there’s a fantastic world beneath our contemporary world awaiting excavation. And this is the exhibit’s most enduring legacy.


John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.


University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Anthropology: “Leisure & Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii” will run through May 15, 2016. The U-M Kelsey Museum Meader Gallery, Second Floor of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing is located at 434 S. State Street. The Kelsey Museum is open Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.–4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 1–4 p.m. For information, call 734-764-9304.

Preview: The Westside Art Hop

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Preview: Westside Art Hop on May 14.

Art by Lisse Williams (top left), Lee Vanderwalker (top right), Kim Ensch (bottom left), and Tim Marsh (bottom right) will be only a hop, skip, and a jump away in May.

It's almost time for the May edition of the Westside Art Hop, a one-day day art walk around the Old West Side of Ann Arbor! This is the 8th iteration of this event, a neighborhood sale of art in homes, studios, porches, and yards, held in May and December.

It's an opportunity to find interesting handmade arts and crafts, while enjoying the neighborhood bordered by Liberty S., 7th St., Pauline St., and Eberwhite Woods. Participating artists specialize in painting, photography, glass, metal and wood sculpture, jewelry, cards, mosaics, and fiber arts.


Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


The 8th Westside Art Hop takes place Saturday, May 14, 2016 from 11-5 pm in the Old West Side of Ann Arbor. Free parking is available on the street and at Eberwhite School. Keep an eye out for Art Hop lawn signs to direct you to participating locations.

Preview: New Sketch Comedy Series 'Ypsi Daze' Takes Center Stage

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Preview: Ypsi Daze, Neighborhood Theatre Group.

Ypsi's new sketch comedy crew, pictured above, will perform weekly on Fri-daze.

I absolutely love sketch comedy.

This guilty passion was inherited by my son, Matt, who is still one of MADtv’s biggest fans. In fact, he spent much of his high school career as one of the chief contributors to the Planet MADtv discussion forum.

So, you can imagine how excited we both were this month to learn that, not only will MADtv return to network television, but that Ypsilanti’s Neighborhood Theatre Group is planning a local weekly sketch comedy series to be performed at Dreamland Theater every Friday this May!

Entitled Ypsi Daze, the raw and fast paced show, written and performed by the cast, offers new, original sketches each week. A weekly rolling-sketch filled with characters highlighting the absurdity of theater itself is also part of the comedy mix.

Directed by founder Kristin Anne Danko, the Neighborhood Theatre Group cast features Aaron Dean, Eric Hohnke, Mary Hourani, Chris Jakob, Angela Tomaszycki, Erin Watts, and Christopher Zavac.

I cannot think of a better way to end the work week than with a relaxing evening of comedy! Neighborhood Theatre Group’s decision to offer tickets at affordable prices ($10 general admission, $5 students) is also a welcome feature.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


Ypsi Daze will run Fridays in May at Dreamland Theater (26 N. Washington St.) in Downtown Ypsilanti. All shows are at 8 pm. Tickets are available for purchase online. For info on group rates, email NeighborhoodTheatreGroup@gmail.com

The Ragbirds Grow Up and Get Stronger With 'The Threshold and the Hearth'

REVIEW MUSIC

The Ragbirds Grow Up and Get Stronger With 'The Threshold and the Hearth'.

Today is a good time to begin listening to the Ragbirds' new album, The Threshold and the Hearth.

The easy sound byte about the Ragbirds’ new album, The Threshold and the Hearth, is that it’s the Ann Arbor folk band’s first release since band cofounders Erin Zindle and Randall Moore had their first child. One might expect more than a couple dewy-eyed reflections on new parenthood, if not an album full of them, but the Ragbirds seem to have their eyes set on bigger things. Structured as a loose concept album about the ups and downs of a fictional couple’s relationship, The Threshold and the Hearth is certainly informed by a newfound sense of wisdom and maturity, but it’s not obsessed with the personal particulars of Zindle and Moore’s very recently changed lives.

In fact, if you’re going to read anything too personal into the album, Zindle kicks things off by asserting her status as an inveterate musician, unchanged by the years. “I was born in a lemon grove with a fiddle / Not a stitch of clothes,” she sings in opening track “Lemon Grove,” naturally backed by a jaunty and immediately catchy plucked fiddle riff. The track builds beautifully, eventually incorporating a rollicking drumbeat, harmonies, and a fiddle solo. For those who know the band, the tune is classic Ragbirds: upbeat folk, in the sense that it features some acoustic, traditionally Appalachian instrumentation and because the music industry requires an easy genre tag for the sound. But otherwise it’s the wholly unique product of Zindle’s world-spanning blend of musical influences and her pop sensibility for a great hook.

Zindle stretches that sound even more as The Threshold and the Hearth goes on. “Cosmos,” with its charming lyric setting up the album’s central relationship between “a cosmologist and a cosmetologist drinking cosmos at the club,” has a funky little guitar and bass riff. “The Curse of Finger Pointing” makes lovely use of kalimba and some African-inspired percussion for a sound straight out of the Paul Simon playbook. And on “Strange Weather” Zindle quietly pours her heart out over a minor-key piano ballad.

This mélange of sounds highlights Zindle’s adaptability and adventurousness as a songwriter, and her lyrics display similar range. Over their decade in action, the Ragbirds have made their name on being mostly a feel-good kind of band, but Zindle contextualizes that positivity more on The Threshold and the Hearth. In “Good Time To Be Born,” Zindle crafts a nicely detailed interaction between a cynical man and a harried young woman in line at a grocery store checkout lane. With empathy for both her characters, she admits “There is always peace, there is always war” while asserting that “Today is a good time to be born / Today is a good time to begin.” And on “Sometimes Honestly” she sings, “I believe in optimism / Secretly I still expect the worst.”

The album’s most downbeat cut, the beautiful “Strange Weather,” chronicles the low point in the record’s central relationship. But even amongst doom-laden imagery, Zindle conjures hope. “If I build a fire to melt the frost / If you stop the winds before they gust / We can save our love before it’s lost / Before we become just rubble and dust,” she sings. The tune ends on an unexpected major chord. While she may be positive-minded, Zindle’s certainly not wearing rose-colored glasses. Her songwriting here reflects a thoughtful adult perspective on love and life that uses hope as a weapon to cut through the rough stuff.

Beyond the band’s songcraft, musicianship on The Threshold and the Hearth is excellent as well. Zindle’s dusky voice is expressive and engaging as ever, although it’s impossible to ignore the equivalent personality she puts across through her fiddle work. Zindle’s brother T.J. is also a standout here, lending warm, occasionally jazz-inflected guitar licks to songs like “Tough Love” and “On Your Side.” Bassist Dan Jones subtly lends weight to a few of the fiddle riffs, harmonizing with Zindle, and Jon Brown and Moore fill out the sound with a versatile complement of percussion.

The Threshold and the Hearth garnered a newfound national distribution push from the Ragbirds’ signing with Rock Ridge Music, and the band enlisted the producing talents of Grammy-nominated R.E.M. and Ryan Adams collaborator Jamie Candiloro for the record. Those decisions seem to have paid off well for the band, as The Threshold and the Hearth debuted at No. 20 on Billboard’s folk chart. And rightfully so. It’s a pleasure to see this band growing up and just getting better, stronger, and smarter with age.


Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He also believes in optimism, but secretly expects the worst.


The Threshold and the Hearth is now available in physical form at the Ragbirds’ online store and in digital form on major streaming services.

Now Streaming: Saturday Looks Good to Me at AADL

MUSIC

April 22, 2013: Saturday Looks Good to Me at AADL.

You can stream Saturday Looks Good To Me at AADL any day of the week.

On April 22, 2013, almost exactly three years ago, Saturday Looks Good to Me set up in the Ann Arbor District Library’s Multi-Purpose Room to play a set. It was still almost a month until the official release of their album One Kiss Ends it All, but their performance was full of those emerging songs — Invisible Friend, Empty Beach, Johnny. There were plenty of favorites from their dozen-plus prior years as a band, too — Underwater Heartbeat, Ultimate Stars, and even a version of Everyday that harkened back to their self-titled 2000 debut.

Backbone of the band Fred Thomas captured the performance on a four-track. After lots of fiddling and adjusting and remixing in the intervening time, he came up with a lovely mix.

Now, you can hear the song of the strings, the chime of the glockenspiel, and the saxophone’s warmth on top of intertwined vocal harmonies, and the bass and guitar's back-and-forth in this really special performance.

Stream the entire set here.


Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at AADL and has a hard time ever picking just one favorite band or record when people ask her that question.


More albums by SLGTM can be found in our catalog, with lots of EPs, singles and other releases available through bandcamp.

Preview: Water Hill Music Fest

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Fest-goers in a Water Hill front yard

Fest-goers in a Water Hill front yard.

Spring has sprung! Or at least it’s in the process of springing — blossoms popping amidst the drizzle, sunshine peeking out every day or two. Festifools in April feels like a hopeful end to winter in Ann Arbor, but for the last 5 years, it’s been that first Sunday in May — and with it, Water Hill Music Fest — that have made me feel like the warmer season has truly arrived.

If you live in a nearby neighborhood, you’ve likely stumbled upon this happening, but for those who don’t have an address adjoining the festivities, Water Hill Music Fest is worth a little trip. Whether you’re a grownup flying solo (or with a crew) or a family toting along a babe, Water Hill is a homegrown, low-key music festival that pops up in front yards and porches from Sunset to Miller (N/S) and from the railroad tracks up to Brooks (E/W).

Unlike a lot of the music festivals that get all the attention (think Coachella, etc.), Water Hill has a super DIY ethic and no expensive ticket charges. It celebrates making music for the sheer fun of it — with nine-year-olds getting the same sort of stage as the veterans.

Everyone is in close proximity and variety is the name of the game. There are 70+ musical acts playing throughout the four hours of the Fest. You might catch a renowned pianist at one house, and then skip a few blocks over to see members of an elementary school band. No lie, one of my very favorite acts a few years ago was a gale of teens singing songs about citrus fruit. You just can’t get grown-ups with that kind of unbridled enthusiasm!

While part of the fun is just wandering around and the serendipity of what you might happen upon, here are a few acts that you may want to check out, along with handy links:

CHRIS BUHALIS 2-3pm, 600 block of Cressfield
JIVE COLOSSUS 2-3pm, 1000 block of Fountain
APPLESEED COLLECTIVE 3-4pm, 700 block of Spring
WALEED HOWRANI 3-3:15pm, 700 block of Miner
LITTLE TRAPS 3:15-4pm, 500 block of Hiscock
CORNDADDY 4-4:30pm, 600 block of Hiscock
WYCH ELM 4-5pm, 1200 block of Bydding
ACCIDENTALLY HIP 4:15-5pm, 900 block of Miner
HUMAN SKULL 4:30-5pm, 700 block of Gott

Check out the full lineup for times and locations (by block!) here.

You’ll want to plan on parking outside the neighborhood and walking (or heck, take the bus or bike!) into the neighborhood, as many of the streets really become more for pedestrians than for cars. The terrain is pretty stroller-friendly with the caveat that this ‘hood IS called Water HILL. Still, the sidewalks and crosswalk ramps are generally in fairly good shape.

If you’re still feeling unsure of where to go and what to bring, festival organizers have a few tips, too!


Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at AADL and is glad that her neighborhood got its moniker from a music fest (and its water-word streets).

Water Hill Music Fest will be held in Sunday, May 1st, 2-6 pm in the Water Hill neighborhood of Ann Arbor. Since it IS spring, and this is an outdoor festival, it’s good to note that there is a rain date. In the case of inclement weather, the festival may be postposed until the following Sunday, May 8th.