Encore Theatre's "School of Rock" rolls despite its difficulty


Encore Theatre's School of Rock

Horns high: Encore's School of Rock kids honor Ronnie James Dio's grandmother (whether they know it or not). Photo by Michele Anliker.

Taking a beloved hit movie and transforming it into a stage musical is standard practice these days. One look at current Broadway listings -- Aladdin, Anastasia, Frozen, the soon-to-open Mean Girls, and Waitress, to name a few -- proves how often the stage artists are borrowing from the screen.

But of course, not every translation works.

What made School of Rock -- the youth version of which is now being staged at Dexter’s Encore Theatre -- a bona fide hit (and a Tony Award nominee) instead of a B-side flop?

Out of Order: Ellipsis Theatre's "Fabula Rasa" is a surreal comedy


Fabula Rasa poster image

“I’ve been part of a team producing it three times now, including the first production and this current one,” explained Joanna Hastings, playwright and creator of Fabula Rasa, an Ellipsis Theatre production at Bona Sera Underground on March 9 and 10. “The second time was when we cut out the major dance element and also the character of the Sphinx, which was taken from one of Kamrowski’s paintings, changed from being a storyteller to being a predator/psychopomp/healer. The revenge Archimedes exacts on Castor and Pollux has intensified with the different iterations of the play.”

If this all sounds slightly confusing at first glance, it’s meant to. 

Below the Borscht Belt: U-M's Eileen Pollack & her "Bible of Dirty Jokes"


Eileen Pollack by Michele McDonald

U-M professor Eileen Pollack grew up in the Borscht Belt, which is where her new novel takes place. Photo by Michele McDonald

A cousin who runs a Vegas strip club? A beloved brother who goes missing while in Vegas? A late husband who wrote dirty jokes for a living? A heroine with a failed stand up career who must save the day?

These colorful characters make up the new book The Bible of Dirty Jokes by U-M professor Eileen Pollack, but the roots of the novel come from a different era.

“I grew up in a hotel in the Borscht Belt," Pollack says. "It's really where stand up comedy got its start. Famous comedians would perform there, creating this sort of culture, and that’s what I knew.”

From Bach to Rock: California Guitar Trio at The Ark


California Guitar Trio

Classical rock: Hideyo Moriya, Paul Richards, Bert Lams are the California Guitar Trio.

If you are unfamiliar with the artful pyrotechnics of the California Guitar Trio, simply buy a ticket to their upcoming show at The Ark on March 11 and get ready to have your mind blown.

California Guitar Trio is comprised of Bert Lams, Hideyo Moriya, and Paul Richards, who combine exquisite musical chops with an omnivorous, multi-genre approach to music. On stage and on their albums, CGT includes all manner of acoustic cover versions as well as dazzling original material. Whether it's rock, classical, jazz, country, or surf music, CGT perform with style and skill that’s hard to match elsewhere.

I’ve been a fan of the Trio since the beginning of their career, so it was a real treat to catch up with band member Paul Richards by phone in advance of the group’s Ark date on Sunday.

Syncretic Sounds: Tim Haldeman's "Jazz + Film" blends art forms


Tim Haldeman by Miles Larson

Saxophonist Tim Haldeman and bassist Dave Sharp are teaming up again for "Jazz + Film." Photo by Miles Larson.

When the Tim Haldeman Quartet assembles at Hathaway’s Hideaway in Ann Arbor on Sunday, March 11, to play improvised jazz while films are screened, the musicians will continue a tradition that is most associated with a pioneering soundtrack by trumpeter Miles Davis.

At the end of November 1957, Davis flew to France to begin a monthlong series of concerts, including a three-week stint at Club Saint-Germain in Paris.

But the trumpeter didn't bring the musicians who comprised his first great quintet.

Company Wang Ramirez keeps on pushing over the "Borderline"


Wang Ramirez by Frank Szafinski

Set me free: Company Wang Ramirez uses cables and pulleys to defy gravity. Photo by Frank Szafinski.

“When we put ourselves in positions of risk, interesting things happen,” says choreographer Honji Wang. She is talking to me on the phone from Minneapolis about the upcoming performances of Company Wang Ramirez -- the group of dancers she leads with partner Sébastien Ramirez -- at Ann Arbor’s Power Center, March 9-10, as part of UMS's season. Our conversation is shot through with Wang’s references to what is interesting, and it reveals an ongoing passion for illuminating the unexpected and the provocative through dance.

Gaining Experience: A2SO's "Music From Harry Potter"


Sherlonya Turner and her son at the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's performance of the Music From Harry Potter

“I’m going to have to make you a wand. You can’t be out with me without a wand.” --My son

On more than one occasion, my son has pointed out to me that I’m lucky that he, a teenager, still wants to hang out with me, you know, a mom. With that in mind, as soon as he mentioned that the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra would be at Michigan Theater playing songs from Harry Potter, I pulled out my debit card and secured tickets for the Sunday, March 4, afternoon matinee performance.

Fulfilling Promises: Sherri Winston discussed her writing process at AADL


Sherri Winston

“You’re like family now because the weather has conspired against us.” --Sherri Winston

If you want to attend an intimate author event, attend one during a snow (slush?) storm that follows an unseasonably warm day. On Thursday, March 1, middle-grade author Sherri Winston talked about her latest projects and her process at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder put on a clinic in classic bluegrass at The Ark


Ricky Skaggs

He is just so good. They are all just so good.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder played The Ark on Saturday, March 3, for a concert to benefit the Breakfast at St. Andrews. And the sold-out crowd enjoyed an absolutely first-rate bluegrass show that transported the spirit of Kentucky fully intact to Ann Arbor.

Cultivate's Songwriter Sunday series demystifies the process


Katie Pederson and Tim Monger at Cultivate in Ypsilanti

Katie Pederson and Tim Monger are two of many area artists who have participated in Songwriter Sunday at Cultivate in Ypsilanti.

Many of us wonder what the creative process for an artist is like. How do they come up with ideas for their songs? What inspires them? How do they start to write and compose an original song?

Beginning in November 2017, Cultivate Coffee and Taphouse has held Songwriter Sunday bi-weekly, offering local artists the chance to share their songwriting and creative process, and giving interested members of the public the chance to answer some of those questions.