Encore Theatre premieres a new musical based on the life of silent star Lon Chaney

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

A stage scene from The Encore Theatre's production of A Thousand Faces based on the life of Lon Chaney

Photo by Michele Anliker Photography

In addition to presenting classic American musicals and lively cabaret shows, The Encore Theatre in Dexter is also doing its part to expand the musical theater repertoire with premiere presentations of new musicals.

This month, Encore is presenting the world premiere of A Thousand Faces, a musical bio on the life of silent-screen star Lon Chaney. 

As with any new theatrical production, the first presentation is an opportunity for the creative team to make adjustments and test run the audience's response to the new material. The book writer, the composer, the lyricist, and the director will tweak this show as the weeks go on. 

They’re off to a good start but audiences might be a bit surprised by the show’s approach to telling the Chaney family story.

Along with the great silent comedy stars, Lon Chaney's name and films still resonate with audiences. He was the man of a thousand faces. He was an actor who hid himself in characters that were both physically and psychologically damaged. Chaney was famous for his performances in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, The Unholy Three, Laugh, Clown, and He Who Gets Slapped. He did his own shock-producing makeup and twisted his face and body into a dozen different contortions. But he could also show his own face and give a tough performance in the contemporary war drama Tell It to the Marines.

After a scene of Chaney adjusting his Quasimodo makeup and trying on tortured facial expressions, A Thousand Faces takes us back to Chaney’s youth, because this isn’t a story about making horror movies, it’s about family.

Happy 75th Birthday, Mr. Osterberg: Rare Iggy Pop and The Stooges photos from the Peter Yates collection

MUSIC

The Stooges at Fifth Forum in Ann Arbor, July 1969. Photo by Peter Yates.

The Stooges at Fifth Forum in Ann Arbor, July 1969. Photo by Peter Yates via AADL's Old News.

There are probably more than two great things to come from Muskegon, Michigan, but I want to focus on two: Brunswick bowling balls and Iggy Pop.

The former wasn't born in Muskegon, but the latter was on April 21, 1947.

In honor of Pop's 75th birthday, Pulp's highlighting a few photos by Peter Yates, who moved to Ann Arbor in 1969 and was soon chronicling the Southeast Michigan cultural scene. Last year, the Ann Arbor District Library's Old News team digitized numerous Yates photos, which you can peruse here.

The photos shown here are all from July 1969, soon after The Stooges had recorded their self-titled debut, which came out August 5, 1969. 

Transcontinental Travelogue: Country-pop singer-songwriter Katie Pederson recounts her solo journey on "Limitless"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Singer-songwriter Katie Pederson balances on a fallen tree as she walks through a forest

Former Ann Arbor-ite Katie Pederson finds a sense of renewal within nature on Limitless. Photo by Sarah Schade.

In November 2019, Katie Pederson embarked on a solo, transcontinental road trip.

The monthlong expedition allowed the pop-country singer-songwriter and pianist to process past sorrows and reconnect with herself before relocating to Tennessee from Michigan.

“When I left Michigan, I knew I was gonna move to Nashville, but I didn’t quite know … so I just left,” said Pederson, who hails from Ann Arbor. 

“I wanted to go to the mountains to get some perspective, so I went out to Alberta, Canada, and stopped at hostels along the way in North America. I did a lot of hikes in different areas, read a lot of Mary Oliver’s poetry, and met a lot of really wonderful people.” 

Those therapeutic experiences provided the magical inspiration for Pederson’s new sophomore album, Limitless, and helped her explore a sense of renewal within a nature-rich landscape. 

Pederson will recount her Limitless journey during an April 24 album release show at The Ark with special guest Grace Theisen, a Kalamazoo blues-Americana singer-songwriter.

Tracey Snelling's "How to Build a Disaster Proof House" constructions contemplate displacement and disenfranchisement

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Tracey Snelling's How to Build a Disaster Proof House

A vibrant installation at LSA’s Institute for the Humanities Gallery asks viewers to contemplate the utility (or lack thereof) of building a “disaster proof house.”

Tracey Snelling, the current Roman Witt Artist in Residence at the gallery, returns to LSA after previously exhibiting Here and There in 2017, which addressed “challenges of economic inequities, racial biases, and imposed class divisions that often limit the options available to so many people.” Her new exhibit, How to Build a Disaster Proof House, curated by LSA's Amanda Krugliak, “contemplates the uncertainty, displacement, and disenfranchisement that frames the present day” and asks, “How do we find a safe place, protected from bad weather and circumstance, in an era of floods, fires, violence, abuse and pandemics?”

Friday Five: Lily Talmers, simulatent, Paper Petals, Russell Tessier, COMFORT KIT

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 04-15-2022

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features two singles from two forthcoming albums by singer-songwriter Lily Talmers, isolationist ambient by simulatent and Paper Petals, jazz fusion by Russell Tessier, and flannel-y punk by COMFORT KIT.

 

Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s “Pass Over” is a Black Lives Matter-era translation of Exodus and "Waiting for Godot"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Dan Johnson and Justin Montgomery in Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu, directed by Casaundra Freeman at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Sean Carter Photography.

Dan Johnson and Justin Montgomery in Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu, directed by Casaundra Freeman at Theatre NOVA. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

The time is ripe for Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s Pass Over, now on stage at Theatre Nova.

The play was the show that officially reopened Broadway last August; we’re fast approaching the holiday of the same name, which commemorates the Jews’ emancipation from slavery in Egypt; and given the reignited culture wars of this mid-term election year—fueled in part by debate about critical race theory—Nwandu’s powerful reimagining of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, with two young Black men in the lead roles, feels like the theatrical version of lightning in a bottle.

Pass Over (run time 80 minutes) focuses Moses (Justin Montgomery) and Kitch (Dan Johnson), who live a hardscrabble Groundhog Day-like existence on a heavily policed city block. They regularly perform rituals like a secret handshake; Moses says “Kill me now” when he wakes up each morning, and Kitch replies, “Bang bang”; and they each name wished-for items on their “Promised Land Top Ten” lists.

But even as the men speak and dream of escape—using language so rife with curses and the n-word that it soon feels more centered on sound and music than meaning—they’re not going anywhere; and a streetlight pole that looms like Vladimir and Estragon’s tree, in this new context, haunts the play’s action with the ominous suggestion of lynching. Building on this idea, a cartoonishly obsequious, lost, “golly gee” white man (Kevin O’Callaghan) enters the scene, wearing a light-colored suit and carrying a picnic basket full of food for his mother; and a racist, violent white cop called Ossifer (also played by O’Callaghan) appears now and then to keep Moses and Kitch in their place, both literally and figuratively.

Penny Seats Theatre Company's "The Actors" is a comedic and emotional look at processing parental loss

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Penny Seats Theatre Company's The Actors

Early in Ronnie Larsen’s play The Actors—staged by the Penny Seats Theatre Company at the Stone Chalet Event Center in Ann Arbor—a character says, “Theater’s weird. Families are weird.”

Ronnie, the comedic drama’s main character (who notably shares the playwright’s name, and is affectingly played by Brandy Joe Plambeck), voices this idea while explaining why he’s looking to hire a man and a woman to spend a few hours a week in his apartment, playing the roles of his deceased parents. He's lonely and has decided to use his inheritance money to hire actors that might make him feel cared for and connected again. Ronnie provides a family history and specific, remembered scenes for the actors to play out, inviting them to improvise.

Inevitably, though, things go hilariously off-the-rails, as the boundaries between reality and pretend get increasingly fuzzy. Ronnie’s stand-in father Clarence (Robert Schorr) and mother Jean (Diane Hill) develop an attraction for each other; Clarence moves in, after being kicked out of his real home; and Jean’s real grown son (David Collins) inserts himself as Ronnie’s pretend older brother Jay, which makes the real Jay’s (Jeffrey Miller) unannounced visit all the more painfully awkward. But Jay’s arrival also brings new information to light that throws Ronnie’s family memories, and motives, into question.

Patti F. Smith taps into the stories of brewpubs, brewers, and their beers in her new book, "Michigan Beer: A Heady History"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Patti F. Smith and her book Michigan Beer: An Heady History 

Patti F. Smith's introduction in her new book, Michigan Beer: A Heady History, may activate your thirst to take a seat at one of the state's many current establishments:

Like the waves that crash in the magnificent Great Lakes that surround Michigan, beer and brewing has constantly moved and evolved in the state. […] Come along on a trip through the history of Michigan’s brewers and beer as we explore, region by region, the history of brewing in our great state. 

But Michigan Beer reports on mainly pre-World War II businesses and their beverages. Smith highlights the “first wave of brewers” who came to the U.S. from countries like Germany and Prussia. She also describes the “second wave” who endured or sprung up after Prohibition and also struggled during WWII. The “new wave” gets a dedicated chapter at the end of the book regarding breweries in the 1980s and onward. 

Michigan Beer is organized by regions of the state: the Upper Peninsula, Western Michigan, Mid-Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Southeast Lower Michigan, plus the “new wave” not divvied up by location. Each chapter spotlights numerous corners of the state from Copper County and Escanaba to Grand Rapids and Detroit, with many more cities showcased. Readers can look up their hometown, college town, or favorite vacation spot and see what breweries were once pouring there. 

Friday Five: Doogatron, Thomas Gun, Claire Cirocco & Fred Thomas, Larynx Zillion's Novelty Shop, angels

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five record covers for 04-08-2022

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features industrial krautrock techno by Doogatron, punky psychobilly by Thomas Gun, clangy drift music by Claire Cirocco & Fred Thomas, experimental glam by Larynx Zillion's Novelty Shop, and electro-pop by cherry seasoning.

 

Recovery Strategy: Chelsea singer-songwriter Scotty Karate finds catharsis on "Always Honey"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Scotty Karate sitting in a chair on stage, holding a guitar and singing. Photo by Darrin James.

Chelsea, Michigan's Scotty Karate performs live in Washtenaw County as a one-man band. Photo by Darrin James.

Scotty Karate’s therapeutic album Always Honey chronicles a path to personal growth and recovery.

The Chelsea alt-country singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares his vulnerable experiences with addiction, loss, and heartbreak on his latest insightful album via Ann Arbor's Ravine Records

“It’s been some pretty heavy-duty times, and with my whole recovery the last four years," said Karate, aka Fredric Scott Leeman, who works at Washtenaw County’s Community Mental Health. "I’ve reflected a lot on past relationships and things like that."

Karate started reflecting on those relationships and experiences in January 2018 when he received treatment at a local rehabilitation center and resided in transitional housing for 15 months. At the time, he saw several friends get kicked out, then relapse, and later pass away.

“With my own experiences and how they worked out, I had to see this [trauma] … you couldn’t not see this living with these people. It was kinda the point,” Karate said. “Even if it wasn’t that, I felt like I was on this boat, and if you got on this side or that side of the boat, everybody fell off … so you had to stay in the middle of the boat. It’s so tricky, it’s not just kids having fun anymore, none of it is.”