UMGASS is back this weekend with the last of Gilbert & Sullivan's 14 operettas: The Grand Duke. Originally set about a hundred years before its 1896 debut, UMGASS has gently updated the setting and costumes to about a hundred years ago, in 1907.
Directed by David Andrews and starring a cast of UMGASS regulars along with some fresh faces, The Grand Duke features a play-within-a-play (with a clever, unique twist for true G&S Fans) and the wish-fulfillment theme of a theater company bending the aristocracy to their will through the power of their production (with some help from archaic statutes).
Three years ago, I nervously walked on a warmly lit stage as the last performer, and only freshman, in Poetry Night in Ann Arbor. An annual tradition that returns Dec. 15 at the Mendelssohn Theater, Poetry Night is an outstanding opportunity for teen poets to bleed part of their written body out into the world.
The structure of this event was refined recently by the new Neutral Zone Literary Arts Director, Molly Raynor. What once was a mass performance of youths ranging from beginners to seasoned poets is now a nurturing and intimate evening of some of the best performers Ann Arbor has to offer.
A friend of mine once almost gleefully described her hometown as having a great shop for all her foodie needs. A place to get cheese. A butcher with local meats. A restaurant selling pies. All nearby and not big-box stores. I thought of her joy in this collection of local businesses when I first encountered Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit, a new cookbook by Lisa Ludwinski based on her bakery of the same name, Sister Pie. Ludwinski started the business in 2012 in her parents’ kitchen in Milford, Michigan, and joins the many excellent establishments in the Detroit area that provide baked goods.
But not just any baked goods.
Director Daniel Cantor finds a great deal of modern relevance in Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night, or What You Will. The nature of the human soul, the roots of romantic attraction, and the power of disguise are among its timeless themes, played out through a plot that involves a gender-bending love triangle.
In England, the panto (short for pantomime) is a Yuletide tradition. A familiar fairy tale is retold as an excuse for a light-hearted vaudeville of jokes, well-worn comic routines, and song and dance.
Theatre Nova has adopted the idea as an annual holiday treat. This year a new take on The Elves and the Shoemaker gets reimagined into a Jewish-centered The Elves and the Schumachers, just in time for Hanukkah.
The plot of Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis’ retelling keeps to the basics: elves help a desperate shopkeeper and save the day. But, oy vey, do they wander far and wide into the surreal and the totally silly.
"I manage Annekes Downtown Hair Salon on Main St.," Danielle Davis said. "I'm a true Townie."
But when Davis isn't overseeing people getting their hair done, she's crafting songs as Dani Darling. The artist formerly known as Soulgalaxygirl just released "2:22," her first single and accompanying video under the new sobriquet, and it's a woozy slice of off-kilter R&B. The video features Darling lounging around her place, swiping her way through a bunch of Tinder profiles in search of a soul mate, but the tune itself is more of a true love song.
When Darling performs live, it's in a two guitar, bass, and drums lineup, and her music continues to evolve week by week and won't necessarily sound all that much like "2:22" in the future. But the multifaceted Ann Arborite with strong pipes can light up whatever kinds of songs she sings.
We talked to Darling about "2:22" and future plans with her band.
On November 28, veteran jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis brought the warm winter spirit to Ann Arbor's Hill Auditorium, courtesy of UMS. Marsalis came along with the delightful Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and they played tunes of the season. It was the opening night for their Big Band Holidays Tour and the house was full.
The music at Hill took on several moods, from contemplative to stirring, with Marsalis introducing each song with commentary, then mostly guiding the band from the back row while also playing with them there. The opener, "Jingle Bells," set the tone for the night and Marsalis played a remarkable solo, his fingers moving quickly as he showcased the instrument's upper range.
From the 1930s and into the 1940s, people tuned their radios to hear the ongoing adventures of The Lone Ranger, The Whistler, and Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy. Radio dramas fell out of fashion with the rise of television in the 1950s, but with the rise of Sirius and podcasting, it only makes sense that some clever person would revive the spirit of radio plays and marry it to today’s technology. Ann Arbor's Empire Podcasting offers the best of the old and the new in its podcast, Mary From Michigan Saves the World, which is the brainchild of Michael Byers.
“I’ve been a huge fan of radio my whole life,” says Byers, who worked on a skit show in college. “I never lost the love for radio, its art form, its history.” Byers teachers creative writing and radio drama and comedy classes at the University of Michigan where his students perform and produce their own skits similar to those heard on Mary. “I’d been thinking about this project for a long time," he says. "I finally jumped in last year” by incorporating Empire Podcasting.
Aimee Bender holds a special place in my heart.
Several years ago, I found myself thinking about Bender's work, a story of hers that I remembered. I took to the internet, looking for the name of the story; instead, I found someone’s dating profile, someone who also adored Bender’s writing.
I was sucked in, reading every detail.
In a romantic comedy, this would be the moment I decided to find this girl and make her love me. But I don’t live in a romantic comedy, so I thought, “I should be dating where this girl is dating.”
I followed that girl.
With this in mind, when I learned Aimee Bender would be speaking at UMMA as a part of the Zell Visiting Writers Series alongside poet Philip Metres on November 15, I knew that I, again, would follow that girl.
*This story was originally published June 7, 2018.*
A truly excellent dive bar is an exceedingly special place. Slipping in through the door -- preferably dirty and unmarked -- one should lose all sense of time and place. The bathroom walls should be scrawled upon; the darts, the pool, and the jukebox should be cheap; and there should always be the sneaking suspicion that the bartender is watering down your drinks, even if all you’ve ordered is a pitcher of Labatt.
I’ve spent many a conversation lamenting that 8 Ball is the last true dive bar in Ann Arbor, once even making the bold statement, “If 8 Ball goes, I go.” After one of these conversations recently, I started thinking about other good dives in the area. I remembered fondly the summer afternoon I found myself at Fenders in Milan and wished for the umpteenth time that Powell’s in Ypsilanti was closer to me. But there had to be some other good ones that I was missing or -- gasp -- didn’t even know about, I figured. And that’s how the idea for this piece, in which I attempt to find the best dive bar in Washtenaw County, was born.
After making a list of all the potential dives I thought needed to be explored (and overcoming my disappointment that Zukey Lake Tavern is outside county lines), I asked my fellow dive-bar-loving friend to come with me on the journey. It turned out that the day that worked best for us to embark on the trip was a random Tuesday at the end of May. “Are dive bars open on Tuesdays?” I texted my friend. “They are if they want to be considered BEST OF WASHTENAW COUNTY,” he responded. “Excellent point,” I said.
Finding the best dive bar in any county is a marathon, not a sprint, so we started in the early afternoon at the county’s northernmost bar: