Dual Struggles: Encore Theatre's "Big Fish" puts up a good fight

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Big Fish

David Moan as Edward Bloom, Emmi Bills as Sandra Bloom, and John Reed as Young Will in Encore Theatre's production of Big Fish. Photos by Michelle Anliker Photography.

A colleague of mine once observed that when you ask people about their mothers, you tend to hear stories and fond memories, but when you ask people about their fathers, tears flow within minutes. 

Why?

Perhaps because traditional, American modes of masculinity and emotional expression have stood at loggerheads for many generations, making father-child relationships highly complicated. Yet it’s precisely this dual struggle to connect that drives Big Fish, the novel-turned-movie-turned-stage-musical now playing at Dexter’s Encore Theatre.

"Silencer" Spring: Ann Arbor native and poet Marcus Wicker at AADL

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Poet Marcus Wicker reads at AADL

On April 20, Ann Arbor native, Marcus Wicker came to AADL to talk about his latest poetry collection, Silencer.

And if it weren’t for Kehinde Wiley, the prolific black painter most recently in the news for his portrait of President Barack Obama, there’s a chance that this event wouldn’t have happened.

The cover of Silencer prominently featured one of Wiley’s paintings, which is what drew AADL staff member and program host Sean Copeland to the book as he was working at the library. Copeland, not a poetry superfan, took the book home, read the work, and knew that others should experience it. (Read Copeland's interview with Wicker here.)

Over 30 people attended the Friday night event on what turned out to be the first spring-like day Ann Arbor had seen in a while. Wicker, in fact, remarked on that saying to the crowd, “It’s a Friday and you came here to see poetry. You could be on a lawn somewhere drinking beer.” (Video of the event coming soon.)

Discomfort Food: Chef Tunde Wey turns up the heat on racial inequities

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW INTERVIEW

Tunde Wey by Deji Osinulu

Tunde Wey by Deji Osinulu.

“I was eager to be successful. I still am.”
--Tunde Wey

When I heard chef Tunde Wey would be hosting dinners and food trucks in Ann Arbor and Detroit designed to get people talking about race in America, I sought more information. 

The word that came up most was "provocative"; runner-up: "uncomfortable."

For late April and early May, Wey has brought his Saartj dining concept to Michigan, which is where the Nigerian chef came to study at age 16. This is also where he started to make his mark with (revolver), the pop-up restaurant in Hamtramck featuring a cast of rotating chefs.

The Saartj project calls attention to privilege. In one version of the project, white people were charged more than minorities for their food. In the Detroit version, diners fill out a questionnaire providing information about their race, education, and income mobility; the price of their dinner then increases according to their relative privilege.

Altering the Landscape: "Written Into Rock" at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Impossible Geometries Grand Canyon by Millee Tibb

Impossible Geometries (Grand Canyon) by Millee Tibb.

Ann Arbor Art Center’s current exhibition, Written Into Rock, explores imagery associated with the Earth, geology, and human impact on the environment. Curated by Gina Iacobelli, the exhibition features the works of seven artists dispersed throughout the gallery instead of placing works by each artist together.

The exhibition announcement states that the show “is an exploration of the ways in which humans have altered the natural landscape,” and was in part initially inspired by writings of Donna Haraway and Heather Davis, who explore ideas relating to the Anthropocene era, a “new geologic area defined by human’s mark on the geologic record.”

João Luiz & Danilo Brito strip down Brazilian choro to its essence

MUSIC PREVIEW

Joao Luiz & Danilo Brito by Sascha von Oertzen

João Luiz and Danilo Brito by Sascha von Oertzen

When Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito played Kerrytown Concert House on April 1, 2017, he brought a traditional choro quartet with him: 7-string guitar, guitar, cavaquinho, and percussion.

For his April 29 show this year at Kerrytown, Brito is down to the essentials, pairing with guitarist João Luiz, one half of the Brasil Guitar Duo and an equal to the mandolinist in terms of choro adoration and acumen. The setlist will draw from compositions by Jacob do Bandolim, Orlando Silveira, Edurado Souto, and Pixinguinha as well as Brito and Luiz.

So, what is choro?

Jimmy Webb brings a lifetime of songs and stories to The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jimmy Webb photo by Rockstars and Babies

Secret Mitten man: Jimmy Webb returns to Ann Arbor, a place he spent several summers. Photo by Rockstars and Babies.

Michigan has impacted Jimmy Webb in some interesting ways -- especially given that he was born in Oklahoma, lived for many years in California, and now resides on Long Island.

The great songwriter and performer -- who plays solo at The Ark on Sunday, April 29 -- regularly visited the Ann Arbor area as a child. His father, a Baptist minister, took the family on trips here to see another minister when Jimmy was around ages 8-12, he said in a recent phone interview. “Every summer my dad got $100 out of the bank, and we’d pile into the Plymouth or whatever our family vehicle was, and we’d head for Michigan,” he recalled. 

Later, as an adult, Webb returned to Michigan to buy a boat and start a memorable trip from Lake St. Clair through Lake Erie and ultimately down the Hudson River.

Communal Music: Ann Arbor Concert Band preps for its season finale

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Annie Li and Ann Arbor high school band conductors

Ann Arbor high school band conductors Robert Ash (Huron), David Leach (Pioneer), and Jason Smith (Skyline) join clarinetist Annie Li (Pioneer) for the Ann Arbor Concert Band's season finale on May 6.

For the past 39 years, the Ann Arbor Concert Band has prepared for a season finale. That's a lot of successful seasons for a community band consisting of non-professional musicians. Their love for performing will be obvious at the group's latest season finale, "Symphonic Broadway," which will feature music from Mozart, Wicked, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line, and a selection of works by Jerome Robbins. 

I talked to Phillip Rhodes, president of the Ann Arbor Concert Band, about the group's history, scholarship, and season-ending concert, which happens May 6 at the Michigan Theater.

BYO Radness: Camp Totally Awesome Fest returns for its 14th year

MUSIC PREVIEW

Camp Totally Awesome Fest 14

Dogs, tarantulas, and human children are encouraged to come to the 14th Camp Totally Awesome Fest.

In fact, everybody is welcome at this annual Ypsilanti event, but last year Awesome Fest’s guiding force, Patrick Elkins, specifically said dogs, tarantulas, and human children should come hear some jams, and I’m just going to assume the offer stands for this year’s throwdown since the Facebook event post says, “Free! All Ages! All Species!”

Spread over April 27-29 at six venues, Camp Totally Awesome Fest is primarily about music -- there are about 45 bands and a few DJs and performance artists on the lineup -- and the genres span R&B and indie rock to hip-hop and modular-synth electronics.

Songs for Everyone: Joanna & the Jaywalkers project universal emotions with a powerful voice

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joanna Ransdell

Joanna Ransdell's voice is an audible red light that commands you to stop whatever you were doing and just listen to her sing.

The 28-year-old Ypsilanti resident's gorgeous vox is dark but mellifluous, swinging from the edge of vulnerability to the side of quietly defiant, using slight inflections and lyrical twists to tell her relatable stories. Ransdell's timbre is located in the Stevie Nicks / Natalie Merchant / Patty Griffin solar system -- a full, pure, powerful projection of beauty injected deep into the universe and straight into all your feels.

The Ann Arbor-raised, Community High School-graduating Ransdell recently released The Open Sea Before Meher debut album with Joanna & the Jaywalkers. The record is filled with lovely, low-key chamber-folk pop and it's quite a bit different from Ransdell's 2014 solo LP, Open Fire, which fits squarely in the piano-centric lineage of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spector.

Brass Tacks' "39 Steps" has giddy fun with the Hitchcock classic

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Brass Tacks Ensemble's The 39 Steps

Daniel Bizer-Cox, Dory Mead, Isaac Ellis, and Maegan Murphy make the most of their invisible car in Brass Tacks' minimalist take on Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.

The bare-bones thrust stage in a playroom at the Children’s Creative Center is the perfect setting for the Brass Tacks Ensemble’s production of Patrick Barlow’s playful The 39 Steps

Barlow turns Alfred Hitchcock’s famous thriller into an imaginative comic romp. While staying true to Hitchcock’s script, the play lets four actors engage is theatrical play as giddy as many days of child’s play at the Creative Center.