Preview: National Theatre of Scotland: A Christmas Carol


The puppets of Christmas past, present, and future visit Scrooge in the National Theatre of Scotland's A Christmas Carol

The puppets of Christmas past, present, and future visit Scrooge in the National Theatre of Scotland's A Christmas Carol

Every year, at this time, audiences can choose from countless stage and screen versions of A Christmas Carol. Tiny Tim, Scrooge, and the Ghost of Christmas Past--characters created by Charles Dickens in 1843--are part of our shared holiday heritage. With so many professional and amateur productions each year, what new can be brought to this timeless and familiar classic?

With uniquely intimate staging, the National Theatre of Scotland brings its acclaimed version of A Christmas Carol to The University Music Society (UMS) for the holiday season. Using a mixture of puppets and actors, live music and a set that forces the audience into the action, director Graham McLaren mounted a theatrical experience that has Dicken’s original text at its core and will “challenge all notions of sentimental stage and screen adaptations.”

The Daily Telegraph raved that “every aspect of the piece contributes perfectly to its irresistibly magical atmosphere” and that the National Theatre of Scotland’s A Christmas Carol “deserves to be remembered as one of the classiest pieces of theatre to have been staged in Scotland, not only in the winter season, but at any time of year.”

Only 125 audience members will be seated at each staging, so it is best to get seats early.

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

Performances of A Christmas Carol will run from Thursday, December 17 through Sunday, January 3 at The Power Center, 121 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor. For ticket information, visit

Preview: The Three Musketeers, Young Actors Guild (YAG)


All for one and one for all with YAG's The Three Musketeers

All for one and one for all with YAG's The Three Musketeers

Ann Arbor’s Young Actor’s Guild (YAG) presents The Three Musketeers, based on Alexandre Dumas’ classic historical novel chronicling the adventures of D’Artagnan and the Musketeers of the Guard in 17th century France. On the road to adventure, young D’Artagnan finds more than he bargains for with fellow swashbuckling musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis as they slice their way through considerable court intrigue in an attempt to thwart the scheming and powerful Cardinal Richelieu.

YAG’s performance is teeming with fight choreography led by trainer Melissa Freilich, a teacher of the Alexander Technique and advanced actor combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors.

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

Performances of The Three Musketeers are Friday, December 18, 7:30 pm; Saturday, December 19, 2 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, December 20, 2:30 pm, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, University of Michigan campus, 911 N. University Ave. Tickets are $5.00 students, $10 adults ($15.00 for any two performances). Additional ticket information available at the YAG website.

Review: The Light in the Piazza, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance


A talented cast brightens the stage in The Light in the Piazza

A talented cast brightens the stage in The Light in the Piazza / Photo by Peter Smith

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance loves to boast about the many graduates who are making a name for themselves on Broadway and in regional theaters across the country.

A new production of The Light in the Piazza at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the UM North Campus just might add significantly to that list. An uniformly outstanding cast gives life to a musically challenging work that is at times comic, romantic, and richly melodramatic.

The musical with book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel is base on a 1959 novella by Elizabeth Spencer about a mother and daughter trip to Italy. The time and lush setting suggest the romantic, Technicolor movie melodramas of the 1950s in which a family secret creates a tension that can only be resolved through love.

The UM production on the intimate Miller stage leaves the splendor of Florence, Italy, to the audience's imagination (for how could it ever be presented on a stage). The stage is bare except for chairs, a table and, in one key scene, a bed. These are moved about fluidly by the ensemble cast who remain on stage as a chorus of Florentines. The small orchestra is also on stage. Up front a common story plays out. Mother and daughter go to Italy, where once upon a time the mother and her husband had a carefree holiday before the realities of business and life intruded. The pretty but fragile daughter finds romance with a passionate young suitor from an equally passionate Italian family.

The "secret" is a childhood injury that has left the young girl mildly developmentally impaired. But this is the 1950s, and her parents want to protect her, or is it control her. A mother-daughter struggle ensues.

This is not your typical musical comedy. The music is rich and varied, moving from the lift of a jazz combo to the complex drama of grand opera. Music director Catherine A. Walker leads a five member orchestra through the score superbly. Walker also plays beautiful piano from boogie-woogie to rising romantic flourishes. This is not the kind of show in which you leave whistling a tune, but the songs musically and lyrically capture the range of emotions that are at the heart of the show.

The cast is challenged in unusual ways. The songs are in English and Italian. Some cast members must sing and speak in Italian and in the halting English we associate with Italian immigrants. They must also move easily from operatic passion to quietly tender emotion to joyful humor. Guest director Brian Hill makes it all work seamlessly. He has his young cast performing beyond their years and capturing every nuance of a richly nuanced play.

Christina Maxwell plays the delicate, charming daughter Clara. She perfectly captures the sweet innocent early on and the fierce young woman trying to make a life of her own as the story develops. He voice is sweet but, even in the tight confines of the Miller, needs more projection.

The Naccarelli family are a joy, even as they embody a variety of well-worn Italian stereotypes. Luke Steinhauer as Fabrizio, the suitor, is magnificently over the top in love. His "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" is at once passionate but outrageous and the reactions of his more knowing brother and father are hilarious. Ben Bogen is the philandering brother Giuseppe, quick and lively, who distracts his brother with a little jazz. Liesl Collazo is Giuseppe's tart-tongued, jealous but passionate wife and family translator, who also believes in love. David Barnes is suave and precise as the family patriarch who falls to the charms of Clara's mother and has a sweet duet with her. Kalia Medeiros brings spark to a giddy scene where she provides an explanation for what's going on when a family argument ensues in raucously rapid Italian.

But in this uniformly fine cast, one member stands out. Kaity Paschetto gives a star performance as Margaret, Clara's caring but tense mother. Paschetto resembles a young Angela Lansbury and seems to move as easily from comedy to drama to musical expression as that esteemed actress does. Her singing voice is bright, expressive, and emotional. She expresses excellent comic timing in her efforts to put off the suitor without causing a scene. But her best scenes are her sad encounters with her angry daughter and her long-distance conversations with an estranged husband (Charlie Patterson).

Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

I'm Dreaming of Mortality


Joseph Keckler

Performance Artist and Vocalist Joseph Keckler / Photo by M. Sharkey

If you’re growing weary of all the holly jolly happenings that this time of year has to offer, then it might be time to take a break to contemplate mortality. I mean really take some time, like four hours worth, and spend it observing a classically trained vocalist perform operatic death after operatic death.

In Let Me Die, Joseph Keckler ties together and performs hundreds of deaths from the history of tragic opera. The project also involves a series of videos, incorporating operatic fragments into stories and images of contemporary life, realized in conjunction with Holly Hughes' Interarts class. Performance and video will be shown, surrounded by an environmental installation that sparsely combines operatic set elements. Audience members are welcome to come and go as they please during the four hour performance. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. MOCAD galleries and Cafe 78 will be open during the performance.

Joseph Keckler has spent the last few months as Witt Artist in Residence at the University of Michigan working with students to create music videos and to delve deeply into the world of the tragic. He has spent endless hours researching operatic deaths and has expertly categorized them under such headings as “the Stabbies,” "the Sickies,” and “the Poison People.” You can read more about his process in this great interview by M. Starkey.

Still not convinced? Then watch this video as a preview of the greatness that you will witness. Keckler sings Schubert to a cat. Need I say more?

Death is, quite simply, what gives meaning to life. Shakespeare understood this well as he wrote in King Richard II,
“O, but they say the tongues of dying men enforce attention like deep harmony.” Go to MOCAD this Saturday and face your mortal anxieties straight on.

Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and is mortal.

Joseph Keckler performs Let Me Die Saturday, December 12, from 1 – 5 pm at MOCAD, 4454 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201. In partnership with the Penny Stamps Speaker Series , the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), and the Roman J. Witt Artist in Residence Program. This event is free of charge and open to the public.

We're Dreaming of a Handmade Christmas


Get your wallets and your Nice list ready for this weekend's craft fair extravaganza

Get your wallets and your Nice list ready for this weekend's craft fair extravaganza

It's that time of year when it seems like there's a cool craft fair to attend every weekend. It’s especially going to seem that way during the weekend of December 12-13, when no fewer than four events will be hopping with handmade shopping in both Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Saturday, December 12 marks the sixth annual Tiny Expo Indie Holiday Art & Craft Fair. The fair will be held at the Downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library again this year. This is the second year that the show will be hosted at AADL, after bouncing around to different locations in its early years, and Tiny Expo is now happy to call AADL home.

The juried craft fair has grown a bit: this year it will feature 45 artists and crafters offering handmade wonders of all kinds. The event will also include a kid-friendly snow globe making workshop, a letterpress demo, and AADL’s new Secret Lab will be open and unveiling secrets.

Just down the road in Ypsilanti, the DIYpsi Holiday Market will take place on December 12-13 at the Riverside Arts Center. DIYpsi will feature 80 artists, and in addition will offer artisan food and beverages for sale. This is also the 6th year for the DIYpsi Holiday Market, which came into being after Ypsilanti’s Shadow Art Fair decided to no longer host a holiday fair.

A group of artists in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti independently desired to fill the gap and offer an opportunity for artists to sell their work and for shoppers to buy local and handmade. From this came Tiny Expo and DIYpsi and a MEGA craft fair weekend! Many shoppers make a weekend of it and hit up both fairs to browse an assortment of unique, quality handmade goods and have a good time.

To make the weekend even merrier, there are a few more events happening in Ypsilanti both Saturday and Sunday, just a hop, skip, and a jump from DIYpsi. Wares on Washington is in pop-up store format and is a community fundraiser for 826Michigan.

There is also Ypsi Alloy Studios, hosting their first annual Open Studio & Holiday Market. Visitors can check out the studio space where visual artists can make, create, and collaborate. The market will feature fine art and handmade gifts by a small group of artists, as well as a cash bar and a gift wrapping station.

More and more indie craft fairs pop up across Michigan each year, giving shoppers opportunities to shop local and buy handmade. It’s a great way to support local artists, keep the cash in our local economy, and have a unique, fun shopping experience outside the big box stores. And let’s face it, craft fairs usually have a better soundtrack and tastier drinks.

So if you’re looking for the coziest scarf ever, soap that smells like raspberry s’mores, a uterus-shaped brooch, a necklace made from graffiti found in Ann Arbor and Detroit, a piece of art to frame, or your new favorite ceramic mug, these creativity-filled craft fairs have you covered.

Amanda Schott is a Library Technician at AADL and readily admits to her craft fair addiction.

Tiny Expo takes place at the Downtown Ann Arbor District Library Saturday, December 12 from 11 am-5:30 pm. Free admission.

DIYpsi takes place at the Riverside Arts Center Saturday December 12 from 11 am-7 pm and Sunday, December 13 from Noon-6 pm. Admission is $1.

Wares on Washington takes place at Chin-Azzaro Studio Saturday December 12 from 10 am-6 pm and Sunday, December 13 from 11 am-4 pm. Free admission.

Ypsi Alloy Studios Open Studio & Holiday Market takes place at Ypsi Alloy Studios Saturday December 12 and Sunday December 13 from Noon-6 pm both days. Free admission.

Preview: Ebird and Friends Holiday Show


Ebird and Santa

Ebird and Friends bring their Holiday Show to the Ark

The annual Ebird and Friends Holiday Show may not have quite the legacy of the University Musical Society’s annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah. But in its eighth year the revue-style concert has quickly joined the ranks of Ann Arbor’s holiday traditions. The show’s moniker originates from the nickname of its creator, Ann Arbor musician Erin Zindle, best known as the front woman of folk group the Ragbirds. Zindle organized the first Ebird and Friends show in 2008 at Hartland Music Hall, and she has fronted the show’s backing band in each subsequent year. The show’s lineup features a diverse range of local artists presenting unique takes on classic Christmas songs, as well as original holiday tunes. This year local audiences will have three opportunities to see the show: Dec. 11 and 12 at the Ark, and Dec. 13 at Hartland High School’s auditorium. Pulp chatted with Zindle about the origins of Ebird and Friends, why Christmas music is so special to her and what we should be looking forward to at this year’s show.

Q: How did the first Ebird and Friends show come together?
A: My dad has lots of brothers and sisters, so the only time of year the whole family would gather consistently was on Christmas Eve. And my favorite part of that gathering was singing. We would do food and gifts and I would kind of rush through that stuff because I really, honestly, even just as a young child, just was so excited about singing in harmony together with my family. It was such a special thing to me growing up, and as I got older we just stopped doing that. I realized how much that impacted me as a young musician. It was the first time I acknowledged music as a community experience–as a community-building experience, even, and I just really longed for that. I live far away from my family now, but I have this wonderful musical family in Michigan, in Ann Arbor. It was a pretty natural extension of that to try to start that here. The first year I just called all my musician friends and just was like, “We all love each other and all say how much we want to band together. Well, let’s make it happen.”

Q: How do you select the artists for the show? Do you try to balance various genres or musical styles, or is it mostly just based on bringing in as many folks as are available?
A: It’s a really selective process. There are so many amazing artists that I honestly call friends and just love and respect so much in this area that there’s too many to pick from. I always have a way bigger list to start with than who I can actually involve in the show. It’s a really hard choice. But I usually don’t have the same artists more than two years in the show, just to keep changing it up. I try to find somebody who can hold down the funk and somebody who’s got old-timey-style folk and somebody who’s a little more jazzy and somebody who’s just a local dynamo that can blow everybody away. So I’ve got certain spots I’m trying to fill, in a way.

Q: How do you go about rehearsing for something like this? Do you make time when you can to rehearse with each act individually, or do you usually pull the whole group together to run through it?
A: We have a horn sectional and a string sectional. The harmony girls will get together and work out their parts individually. We’ll do one rehearsal with just the house band, and then we all get together just once. So many of the musicians have just that one rehearsal, where we’re just jumping in and trying to get through everything in one night. It’s a marathon rehearsal and it’s a big party and it’s awesome.

Q: Christmas music can get kind of a bad rap, but such a diverse range of artists from around our community seem to really embrace it in this show. What do you enjoy about performing Christmas music and why do you think it holds such an appeal for your fellow performers in this show?
A: I think that many of the songs have a message of getting together and peace on earth and celebrating joy and light and happiness. There’s a positive message to most Christmas songs, even though some are totally cheesy about that. There’s something about having a body of work in our collective culture that we all know. We can all sing “Jingle Bells” together. We all know it, no matter where we grew up or how we were raised or what our culture is, even our religion. We all know it. And I just think it’s a good starting place as far as getting artists to come together and be creative around a theme. It’s really a perfect choice in that way.

Q: What are you particularly excited about with regards to this year’s show?
A: The Accidentals have a brand-new original tune they’re going to be debuting. Olivia Millerschin is a really cool, fresh, young artist on the scene. She was one of my songwriting students up at Interlochen and she’s really been making waves with her career. I’m excited to have her as part of the show this year, also doing an original song. I could go on and on because there’s a lot of cool things in store, but I don’t want to give it away.

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 can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.

Ebird and Friends will be at the Ark on Friday, December 11th and Saturday, December 12th – Doors 7:30 pm, Show at 8:00 pm. Sunday, December 13th at the Hartland High School Auditorium – Doors 3:30 pm, Show at 4:00 pm. Tickets are $20. Information about where to purchase tickets can be found on the Ragbird's site.

Riot Grrls in Royal Oak: Sleater-Kinney Reunites


Sleater-Kinney comes to Royal Oak this Tuesday

Sleater-Kinney comes to Royal Oak this Tuesday

On Tuesday, December 8th, indie rock band Sleater-Kinney will be coming to the Royal Oak Music Theatre and sending riot grrrls everywhere into ecstatic dance-fits. The band was born in the heart of the Pacific Northwest’s 90’s indie rock scene, but this will be their first tour together since they announced their indefinite hiatus back in June of 2006.

The fact that I, a Sleater-Kinney novice, have heard the eager buzz about this event from all different directions really says something. And mainly that something is, “This is a really big deal.”

For those who, like myself, have little knowledge of the actual band (to the point of mumbling their name in conversation on the off-chance that I am pronouncing it wrong), the post-hiatus antics of the band members themselves might ring more bells:

After the dissolution of Sleater-Kinney, guitarist and vocalist Corin Tucker went on to form the Corin Tucker Band and released the albums 1,000 Years and Kill My Blues.

Drummer Janet Weiss joined the band Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and produced two albums with them before leaving and joining the short-lived band Wild Flag, alongside Sleater-Kinney guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein.

And, perhaps most recognizable, guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein went on to wear hilarious wigs and vaguely creepy mustaches alongside Fred Armisen on the satirical TV show Portlandia.

That’s right! Feminist bookstore, anyone?

Portlandia: Feminist Bookstore

That fact alone has made me a Sleater-Kinney fan-in-training.

Carrie Brownstein also just published a memoir in October, titled Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl.

Sleater-Kinney reunited in 2014 and released their first studio album in ten years, No Cities to Love, in late January of 2015.

Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and often asks if anyone wants to see her Master's degree at sporting events.

Sleater-Kinney plays the Royal Oak Music Theatre Tuesday, December 8, doors at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available online from the theater.

I'm Dreaming of a Sing-Along Christmas


Busters and weirdsmobiles packed Michigan Theatre to sing along with White Christmas

Busters and weirdsmobiles packed Michigan Theatre to sing along with White Christmas

The Friday after Thanksgiving, there was no more festive place for a musical lover to be than the Michigan Theater for their annual White Christmas Sing-Along.

If you're not familiar with one of my favorite movies, that's ok--I'll tell you all the best things about it:
- The oddball phrases that Bing Crosby used in real life were added into the script, which is how his character comes to call a holiday celebration a "yuletide clambake" and refer to Danny Kaye's character as a "weirdsmobile."
- Vera Ellen's character only wears turtlenecks. Whether she's clad in an evening gown, a bathrobe, or anything in between, it's a turtleneck. She has about 30 costume changes. All turtlenecks.
- That indoor fireplace at the Columbia Inn
- Danny Kaye
- There's no bad guy. The film's primary antagonist is the lack of snow in Vermont.

The sing-along is a happy, silly, and friendly event, where people in the next row up offer to take a photo of you and your friends before the show starts. The jolly atmosphere is fueled in part by singing along with a selection of Christmas carols accompanied by the theater's prized Barton organ, and in part by the goodie bag given to each attendee, which includes an extremely stylish Santa hat that almost every audience member wears throughout the whole movie.

The emcee of the event wears a Mrs. Claus dress that looks like an update of the Haynes sisters' dresses from the Christmas tree finale scene. She sings along with the carols and the movie, and this year, conducted impromptu "fabulous holiday sweater" and "White Christmas costume" parades. After spotting many festively-dressed folks in the crowd, she invited holiday sweater-wearers up to the stage to show off their fashionable knitwear. But the crowd was most appreciative of the dozen or so White Christmas cosplayers. There was a gentleman wearing Danny Kaye's costume from the "Choreography" number, two very clever costumers dressed as the butcher and the cobbler from the civilian clothes finale of "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army," and a couple who dressed in approximations of the "Sisters" wardrobe, one in the Haynes sisters style and the other inspired by Bob and Phil's famous lip-sync reprise.

The watching of the movie is punctuated with enthusiastic singing from the audience, with help from the lyrics captioning each musical number, and also with props from the goodie bags. They contained the following items:

-The aforementioned Santa hat - for establishing that this event is as cheerful as it is positively goofy
-A candy cane - for eating
-A snowflake sticker - for wearing
-Bubbles - to blow during the "Snow" song and at the finale
-Plastic horse - to trot out each time Betty mentions her knight-on-a-white-horse expectations of romance
-Blue feather - to garnish your personal rendition of "Sisters," which is played no fewer than three times
-Hand clappers - this plastic toy came in super-handy to chime in whenever there is on-screen audience applause, or an energetic bout of tap-dancing.
-Glow sticks - these red or green glow sticks were for swaying along with the ballads, most notably "White Christmas" but also "Count Your Blessings" and "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me"
-Popper - these tiny firecrackers accompany General Waverly in blowing out the candles on the cake celebrating the reunion of his admiring Army division
-A tissue - to pull out and emote along with Emma the busybody housekeeper. Pro tip: keep this tissue handy for whenever the General tells his men how much they mean to him

This is the kind of event best enjoyed with a group of friends, or your mom, or a group of friends and your mom, and what the hell, a group of your mom's friends too. It's a great time with a great crowd, and a great way to appreciate a classic holiday movie.

Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at AADL and she likes the song/dance number "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army" best.

Preview: The Seventh Westside Neighborhood Art Hop


Westside Art Hop logo

It's Art Hop time! Artists on Ann Arbor's Westside are opening their homes and studios to the public this Saturday, for viewing and sale of art and craft items. It's your chance to find that one-of-a-kind gift (and to enjoy the sun before Jack Frost comes to stay). Past Art Hops have featured everything from paintings and photography to 3D art–ceramics, wood sculptures, and blown glass. Items range in price from $3.50 to $350.00. Live music at some venues.

Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.

The Westside Neighborhood Art Hop is 11 am to 5 pm Saturday, December 5, 2015 in the neighborhood bordered by Liberty Street, 7th Street, Pauline, and Eberwhite Woods in Ann Arbor. The full list of artists is available on the Westside Art Hop site. More info is on their facebook page.

You're Dreaming of a Tuba Christmas


TubaChristmas in Boston

TubaChristmas Boston, 2013 / Photo from 3rd House Journal.

TUBACHRISTMAS was created by Master Tubist Harvey Williams in 1974 as a tribute to his Tuba Sensei, the legendary William J. Bell, who played for Sousa himself and was a foundational part of the rise of Tuba & Euphonium ensembles and repertoire. Now in its 42nd year, TUBACHRISTMAS is a low-stakes collision of Tuba and Euphonium players in 174 cities around the world to play Christmas music arranged for Tuba & Euphonium Ensemble. Irresistible, right?

Well, you'll get your chance to attempt to resist it this Sunday, December 6, at Kerrytown, as TUBACHRISTMAS Ann Arbor descends upon the Farmer's Market for a 2 pm performance, led by local Tubist George Thompson. The Observer covered the 2013 debut of TUBACHRISTMAS at Kerrytown, and they had to admit that "People who expect that a large group of tubas could only produce a loud, murky rumbling are in for a surprise."

TUBACHRISTMAS only comes once a year; don't miss your chance to be blown away by what Tubas can do!

Eli Neiburger is Deputy Director for the Ann Arbor District Library and was responsible for dubbing the Michigan Marching Band Sousaphone Section "The Great Hammers of Thor" after a throwaway line from an episode of Buck Rogers.

TUBACHRISTMAS Ann Arbor happens Sunday, December 6 at 2 pm at the Kerrytown Farmer's Market. Dress for the weather!