Every spring in Ypsilanti, a beautiful community event blossoms. For 12 years now, Totally Awesome Festival has marked the true beginning of spring in Ypsilanti. Totally Awesome Festival is an annual celebration of music, arts, fashion, and pancakes.
The event traces its roots back to Totally Awesome House, once located at 724 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor (now demolished), which hosted the Totally Awesome Supper Club in 2004 and 2005, where one could see local and touring acts and dig into with great potluck food. When theTotally Awesome House-mates were told they couldn’t renew their lease, they threw a festival, the first ever Totally Awesome Festival, to celebrate the music and the spirit of the house, one where anything was possible.
The next year, Totally Awesome Festival II was held to commemorate the first festival and it has been going on ever since.
Most often falling on the last weekend of April, and with venues sprinkled among backyards, puppet theaters, riversides, and other dreamy locations, Totally Awesome Festival is a chance to enjoy the great music that happens all around Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Detroit. It is always free, and open to all ages, and all species. For the 10th Totally Awesome Festival, the festivities ran for a whole week. For the 11th Totally Awesome Festival, events ran for 55 continuous hours. This year, the festival goes international, with some of the acts performing in Bangalore, India.
This year’s lineup of performers looks incredible and includes, Stef Chura (whose new album is coming out soon), Avery F, Bevlove, and Dykehouse. Totally Awesome Festival’s acts features singer/songwriters, punk, freak folk, neo soul, performance art, poetry, and of course, the annual Totally Awesome Take Home Fashion Show, an outpouring of free clothing curated from Ypsilanti Ann Arbor/Detroit fashion icons. Keep an eye on the public Facebook event as the schedule may change slightly.
So bring your family, bring your friends, bring your goldfish, bring anyone who is interested in music and art and community to this exciting annual event that is unlike any other. Take home some memories and take home some fashion and become part of this Ypsilanti ritual!
Shoshannah Ruth Wechter is a librarian living in Ypsilanti, and views Totally Awesome Fest as an annual holiday that is not to be missed.
The 12th annual Totally Awesome Festival kicks off Friday, April 29, 2016, at 12 pm and runs through the evening of Sunday, May 1, 2016, at venues throughout downtown Ypsilanti.
You don’t get much quirkier than the concept for Theatre Nova’s new production Irrational, a rock musical about ancient Greek mathematicians. The show by Ann Arborites David Wells and R. MacKenzie Lewis follows the con man Hippasus (Sebastian Gerstner) as he attempts to ingratiate himself with the powerful cult leader Pythagoras (Elliot Styles). But Hippasus’ plan to use his newfound social stature to win the beautiful Eloris’ (Tara Tomcsik) hand in marriage–and more importantly, her wealth–goes pear-shaped when Hippasus inadvertently introduces the concept of irrational numbers into Pythagoras’ ratio-obsessed sect.
It’s a rather bizarre story at face value, even more so given that it’s at least somewhat based in historical record. Pythagoras, namesake of the famous theorem, did in fact lead a movement known as Pythagoreanism, and legend has it that he also had a man named Hippasus put to death for introducing the concept of irrational numbers. Wells takes this odd bit of mathematical lore and thoroughly has his way with it, adding a number of third-act twists and fleshing out a love triangle between Hippasus, Eloris, and the forthright Pythagorean Theodusa (Emily Brett).
The strongest moments in this unusual riff on ancient history are consistently those involving Styles’ Pythagoras. Styles, only two years into his musical theater studies at the University of Michigan, is the play’s comic center of gravity. Clad in white plastic-framed glasses and a flowing white tunic and pants, Styles fully grasps the humor inherent in his nerd rockstar character and plays it for all it's worth. He has the grace to pull off a few surprising physical stunts, the presence to fully project Pythagoras’ bluster, and vocal chops that even extend to pulling off a well-placed rap in Pythagoras’ self-aggrandizing showstopper “Mononymous.” The character is over-the-top, of course, but with Styles in the role you won’t doubt Pythagoras’ power for a second.
Styles is helped along by a generally well-used Greek chorus, an entertainingly sassy trio of gamblers played by Anna Marck, Esther Jentzen and Emily Manuell. The three harmonize beautifully and frequently pump up the humor of Pythagoras’ numbers with fawning girl-group backup vocals and a smattering of hip-hop dance moves. Wells overuses the trio for exposition, however, as the chorus repeatedly re-explains plot developments made perfectly clear in song moments before.
Tomcsik is a sly supporting player, punching up several laugh lines that are good on paper but surprisingly hilarious thanks to her delivery. Brett puts considerable physical energy into her performance, if not quite the inner confidence that her character is written with, and Matthew Pecek is amusingly game as a disenfranchised Pythagorean. Gerstner, however, doesn't quite match the personality and comic energy summoned by Styles, Tomcsik and other costars. Hippasus ought to be at least Pythagoras’ equal in charisma, but the character never quite pops.
That probably has something to do with the fact that Wells and Lewis seem to inject the lion’s share of their creative energy into pretty much everything except Hippasus. We never quite get a sense of our leading man from square one, and his crucial relationship with Eloris is established in a single musical number that isn’t enough to sell us on her connection to him.
Lewis’ score may be at its best when Pythagoras and the chorus are involved, but it’s consistently strong throughout the play. Lewis’ songs are excellent, mostly traditional show-tune stuff with bits and pieces of funk, R&B, and rock thrown in to lively effect. His work here is sometimes quite complex, with some of the group numbers featuring accomplished use of counterpoint and harmony. The tunes are thoroughly catchy and you’re likely to walk out of the show with at least one of them stuck in your head.
Perhaps the most ambitious task Irrational sets itself is pulling off a full-fledged musical in Theatre Nova’s extremely intimate stomping grounds at the Yellow Barn. Director Carla Milarch makes the best possible use of the theater’s small thrust stage, successfully blocking the actors to play to audience members on all three sides of the sparse set and choreographing to the greatest extent that the space allows. But there’s simply no room for a live band in this setting, which is something of a shame given how good Lewis’ score is. On opening night the prerecorded score seemed surprisingly quiet; the coming performances of the show would be served well by cranking up the volume and letting the music soar a little more.
Irrational is far from a perfect production, but it certainly doesn’t lack for creativity, originality, or enthusiasm. Wells and Lewis deserve major props for conceiving such a singular idea, and Milarch deserves the same for her efforts to bring it to life in this challenging space. The Irrational team did two years of workshopping to get the show to this point, and it’s easy to see something truly great emerging with a bit more refinement.
We’re fortunate to have creative minds in town coming up with big, crazy, fun ideas like Irrational, and even more fortunate to have an outfit like Theatre Nova that’s willing to realize those ideas onstage with professional craft. Although it has its flaws, Irrational is a lot of fun and it deserves the attendance to prompt the additional development that a second (or third or fourth) staging might bring. Where else are you going to see a rock musical about ancient Greek mathematicians?
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. Like Pythagoras (or Prince), he intends to one day be known by just one name.
Irrational runs April 22 through May 15 at the Yellow Barn, 415 W Huron St. Tickets are $20 and showtimes are 8 pm Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; and 2 pm Sundays.
Back for its 8th year, the Midwest Literary Walk showcases nationally-lauded authors and poets at various venues throughout downtown Chelsea. The event will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 1-5 pm and is free to the public.
This year’s exceptional lineup opens with Christopher Sorrentino, author of The Fugitives, former National Book Award Finalist for Fiction, at 1 pm at the Chelsea Depot at 125 Jackson St. Set in Michigan, The Fugitives blends the literary fiction and crime thriller genres. The Los Angeles Times describes it as a “stunning new novel… with exceptional interior monologues animated by deception, double-dealing and a doomed affair…”
At 2 pm, National Book Award “5 Under 35” honoree Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus, will also read at the Chelsea Depot. The hauntingly beautiful Gold Fame Citrus takes place in a future American West ravaged by drought and follows a young couple and mysterious child as they try to make their way to a better life.
The Midwest Literary Walk then moves to the Clocktower Commons at 320 N. Main St. for Robin Coste Lewis (Voyage of the Sable Venus), winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry, and Jamaal May, an American Library Association Notable Book honoree. At 3 pm, the two poets will discuss their art form, interspersed with readings of their work.
At 4 pm, novelist Paula McLain, whose bestsellers include Circling the Sun and The Paris Wife, will take the stage at the Clocktower Commons. McLain’s latest, Circling the Sun, brings to life the fearless and captivating Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who, as Isak Dinesen, wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
At each reading location, the authors’ books will be available for purchase from Literati Bookstore, and time for book signing is incorporated into all sessions. Additionally, many downtown Chelsea businesses are offering discounts to attendees of the Midwest Literary Walk on the day of the event. Following the final reading, participants are invited to the Chelsea Alehouse at 420 N. Main St. for a casual afterglow.
Tune in to WDET's Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson on 101.9 FM to hear an interview with a different author each Friday between now and the Midwest Literary Walk. The show airs from 9-10 am and re-airs from 7-8 pm.
Community contributor Emily Meloche is an Adult Services Librarian at the Chelsea District Library.
The 8th Annual Midwest Literary Walk will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 1-5 pm at venues throughout downtown Chelsea, and is free to the public. For more information on the 2016 Midwest Literary Walk, the authors, and their works, please visit midwestliterarywalk.org.
A paleontologist walks on the stage. Behind him is a projection of a famous and enigmatic fossil find. The bones of two ancient bodies are seemingly entwined, facing each other.
Lovers, religious sacrifices, bodies covered in a long ago volcanic eruption? No one knows, everyone has a theory or two.
The paleontologist is an absent-minded professor, a bit of a joker, a man who admits being more comfortable on a dig conversing with ancient bones than in front of a classroom. But he has always been drawn to those dusty bones and their secrets and what they might say about love, community, and life.
This is the beginning of Matt Letscher’s richly-conceived comic drama Gaps in the Fossil Record, making its world premiere at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea.
Gaps is an interesting conversation across generations, a family drama, an emotional volcano at times, and even a bit of eco-science fiction. That it all works so well is a tribute to director Guy Sanville and his creative team, three superb actors, and the raw intelligence, wit, and insight of Letscher’s play.
Richard, the awkward paleontologist, is a very late bloomer. He’s given his life over to those lovely bones and shunned people. Now he’s a middle-aged college teacher who finds himself loved by a 20-year-old student. They’ve come to give the good news to the young woman’s mother, with whom she has a complicated, if loving, relationship.
This provides the bones for an interesting exchange of secrets, fears, hopes, and explanations across several years. To reveal too much of the plot would spoil some of the play’s appeal. Suffice it to say that the three characters go through some big changes that open both wounds and revelations.
Mark Colson is a gaunt, shambling figure as Richard, at first a nice guy, though seemingly ill fit for Jane, his assistant on a recent dig. As the play progresses, Colson must deal with the deepest emotions. He goes from sly wit, to anxiety-ridden unemployed middle-ager in crisis, to an old man with cognitive problems. Colson finds the core in each of these transformations, and in the beginning and at the end is our guide. His strongest emotional moments are also some of his more hilarious moments, a testimony to just how complex Letscher’s play is to perform.
Michelle Mountain is riveting as Susan, Jane’s mother and a widow of a complicated and tragic marriage. She also navigates the shifting tones beautifully, from horrified mother “losing” her daughter to an old geezer, to sympathetic mother-in-law struggling with her own desires, to troubled grandmother. Mountain’s Susan is blunt, foul-mouthed, tender, warm, and finally a survivor through life’s ups and downs. Every emotion is real.
Aja Brandmeier takes on two roles; the love-struck Jane, finding love in a world shy father figure, and Meredith, Richard and Jane’s teenage daughter. As Jane she has a kidding, ribald, and good but sometimes tense relationship with her mother. Brandmeier captures that tension excellently and is also convincing in portraying her affection for her smart but socially awkward older lover. But Brandmeier’s strongest moments come as Meredith, a purple-haired punk with a kindly heart. She tends to an aging father who doesn’t know her and here the character is a shy, tentative girl, more like her father. She’s also someone bewildered by a world in chaos. Brandmeier holds her body as if trying to hug herself and shield herself from a cold world.
Sanville brings this together with a rewarding simplicity. The acting is sharply in sync. The comedy never falters and the emotional highs never become too overwrought. The production values are high.
Vince Mountain’s gray set is basically a bare stage, a backdrop of white wall doors for projections of bones, with furniture pieces moved in and out efficiently. Lighting and projection design by Noelle Stollmack and sound design by Tom Whalen are integral to the production’s success and take center stage for a while at the end.
Gaps in the Fossil Record should find a place in many regional theaters and may well get its shot at Broadway, but Letscher should count himself lucky and well-served by this superb Purple Rose world premiere production.
The play received recognition with the 2015 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. The Foundation provides financial support to theatres with established reputations for producing new plays. The grants have provided funds for extended rehearsal time to develop plays and schedule productions. Fifteen of these plays have gone on to Broadway including the 2014 Tony Award winner All The Way and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner Next to Normal.
Playwright Matt Letscher is a Grosse Pointe native, a 1992 graduate of the University of Michigan, and an actor on stage, film, and television.
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.
Gaps in the Fossil Record continues at The Purple Rose Theatre, 137 Park Street, Chelsea, at 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 pm matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays; and 2 pm matinees Sundays through May 28. For ticket information, call the box office at (734) 433-7673 or visit http://www.purplerosetheatre.org.
Barefoot in the Park was an early Neil Simon Broadway hit.
It had the bantering dialog, the sarcastic asides, and the frazzled New York setting of most of his plays. But it's a romantic comedy without the neurotic edge or the bitter insights into the stress of the big city of his later plays, nor the depth of character of his biographical plays. It has its funny and its pleasant moments, but it hasn't aged as well as his later plays, perhaps because anxiety is funnier.
The Ann Arbor Civic Theater is presenting Barefoot at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the University of Michigan north campus. Director Wendy Wright notes that the play is a sweet product of its time that isn’t often performed. She also notes that Simon, the most successful comedy playwright in Broadway history, is having a moment at regional theaters and it’s a good time to take another look at the play that really launched him into orbit on Broadway and on film.
The play is set squarely into its 1960s time period - in this production 1965, to be exact - to make use of a groovy Top 40 soundtrack of the times.
The play concerns newly-weds who are setting up their first "home" in a cramped, one-bedroom walk up apartment on Manhattan's east side. Corie Bratter is trying her best to feather this love nest for her lawyer husband after a six-day honeymoon at the Plaza Hotel. She's nervous about his reaction to their new home that he has yet to see. She's also nervous about the reaction of her perfectionist mother.
The apartment house has many eccentric tenants but the only one we see is a charming old flirt who lives in an even more cramped attic apartment.
Even when the play was new, the relations between men and women, especially in New York City, were already changing, as Simon's later plays would show. But here the tension is between a nervous stay-at-home wife and her striver husband. The focus is on Corie's attempts to match her tart-tongued mother with the sweet-talking old gentleman, Victor. She also wants to loosen up her conventional lawyer husband enough so he can "walk barefoot in the park," even in February.
Colleen Davis is bright and cheery as Corie. She sets the tone for the play, eager to please and increasingly upset when things don’t go as planned. She is appropriately charmed by the old rascal and sees him in contrast to her stolid husband.
Karl Kasischke as Paul is the more practical of the two. Comically he comes into his own at the end when he finally loosens up for Corie. This comes after an argument that could be a bit more sharply played. I think Simon was looking for a bit of a slamming-door farce in this scene. Things pick up when Kassischke’s Paul goes into a bit of inspired hysterics that is the valve release that Simon has been building toward.
Ellen Finch as Corie's mother Ethel gives an excellent performance. She gets the funniest lines and she handles them with authority - droll, biting, but really affectionate. She's charming.
Larry Rusinsky gets to overact as Victor Velasco, the character that is meant to be broad. He is someone for whom life is a stage. His scenes with Corie and her mother are amusing and silly in a 1950s comedy way.
Also amusing in a small role as telephone installer Harry Pepper is Theo Polley. He sounds like New York and he also has a fine sense of timing.
This is not top drawer Simon. Some of the jokes are too rooted in their time period and in this case don’t even acknowledge the changing world of young women at the time. It lacks the insecurity that would be at the heart of later Simon. But it does have something that would be rarer in later Simon plays with the exception of The Goodbye Girl: It has a romance and an affirmation that love conquers all.
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.
Barefoot in the Park runs through April 24, 2016 at the Arthur Miller Theatre, 1226 Murfin Ave, Ann Arbor. Buy tickets online, or call (734) 971-2228 (A2CT).
On April 14, my favorite podcast, Buzzfeed’s Another Round, put on a live show at the Michigan Union. If you don’t have a favorite podcast, what makes you think you’re some kind of special non-nerd? Another Round is now your favorite podcast--get listening! If you have a different favorite podcast, that’s fine. I also used to have a different favorite podcast. But it also means that you just haven’t listened to Another Round yet. So get listening!
Hosted by the unbelievably sharp duo Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, Another Round is a show featuring interviews with such amazing people as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hillary Clinton, and Queen Latifah, among many others. However, the show is much more than just interviews. It's also chock full of brilliant critiques on race, gender, and politics, hilarious opinions on animals, amazing stories, live bourbon drinking, and advice about calling your mom. Thanks to U-M's School of Social Work People of Color Collective, the show was free and open to the entire public. Heben and Tracy performed to a packed audience that rightfully lost its mind when they showed up.
The show started with the segment “Tracy’s Animal Corner,” in which we learned how truly terrifying owls are. I'll admit to having a positive association with owls before this event, but I think I may have switched sides and now agree with Tracy that they probably are demon animals brought up from Hades. The second segment of the live show, “Is This Real Life?” generally addresses what truly abhorrent thing white folks have recently done. Luckily for the audience’s mood, this particular story leaned more towards hilarious than rage-inducing. And I learned from it that apparently most white folks don’t know about shea or cocoa butters, so get on that.
The guest interview was Flint musician Tunde Olaniran, who was smart and funny as he talked about music, belonging, choreography, and the Flint water crisis. He finished with an amazing performance that had everyone out of their seats and dancing. Despite all of the mega-celebrities that Heben and Tracy have interviewed, they treat all of their guests with the same respect and excitement, which was wonderful to witness in person.
I left the show feeling uplifted and inspired. As a white woman, this podcast and live show is not made for me, and that’s a good thing. It’s made for black people, and I feel lucky just to be able to listen in. Tracy and Heben had wonderful and moving advice about being confident for the young black women in the audience, and I saw a few people tear up amidst all of the laughter. As corny as it might sound, I felt honored to share the same space as Heben and Tracy even for just a few hours, and I could tell I wasn’t alone. Now go start listening to Another Round!
Evelyn Hollenshead is a Youth Librarian at AADL.
Emerging musicians and work week refuge come together at Crossroads Pub's Showcase Tuesday. The staples of a local dive bar -- pool tables, retro wall signs -- mix with the Starry Night-inspired stage decor and energetic lighting, creating an open space for live performances. Last week featured two Ann Arbor area bands, Gillie & the Freeman and Once United, who were enthusiastic about playing together.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Once United before they jumped on stage to perform a dynamic array of indie rock songs written mostly by lead vocalist and guitarist Patrick Beger. The core of the trio seemed to be the distinct musical identity of each member. “I just want to play the songs I write with good people," Patrick says. "Being friends first, and not being the exact same type of musician makes us who we are as a band.”
A Michigan native, Patrick taught himself guitar, piano, and drums while growing up on Torch Lake. He joined a friend’s classic rock cover-band, The Breakers, and played shows all over northern Michigan. The experience cemented Patrick’s love for songwriting and performance, encouraging him to move to Chicago to pursue music. In 2013, Patrick came to Ann Arbor to study communications at the University of Michigan and founded Once United.
Patrick started rehearsing with drummer Josh Weichman, a sound engineer for Solid Sound Recording Company, the iconic Ann Arbor studio tucked away in the woods with clients ranging from Beck to The Detroit News. Josh’s keen technical sensibility and resonance on the drums adds a punchiness to Once United’s sound, especially in the song “Trust Me”. While his past musical projects were mostly punk or hard rock, Patrick’s songs caught Josh’s ear. “This is not the typical type of band that I would have joined, but I'm happy that I did," Josh says. "The songs were really catchy. And fun to play too.”
As luck would have it, Patrick found a room in an apartment with Ryan King, Once United’s versatile bass player whose love for psychedelic and prog rock comes through in particular on songs like “Killin’ Time” and “Cracks of New York City”. Along with his uncanny ability on the bass, Ryan is an accomplished clarinetist and founder of several Ann Arbor area bands, including local jam prog band Stormy Chromer.
Ryan: “As a musician, you are a conduit for some feeling or emotion, or spirit, that needs to go through you, or through your fingers when you play, so it's not like we're responsible for the emotion that comes through. It just has to do with our hearts, and our ability to put sound through our appendages and through love.”
Patrick: “What he is kinda describing is the subconscious, which I think is true with a lot of musicians. It's your subconscious coming out, and for some reason you have to express it. I don't know why exactly.”
Ryan: “It's like your spin on the greater collective conscious. It’s like you are a certain tint or shade of glasses, and there's this man behind you looking through it, and what you see is the music.”
This interest in turning the stories running through our lives into song and experimenting with sound is apparent on “The Looper Song,” where electric guitar riffs are mixed live, or “Came to Get Greedy,” an edgier piece. Once United’s captivating hour and a half set proved their range as musicians and treated the audience to authentic songs that capture a simultaneous longing for intimacy and escape -- or, as Ryan put it, “just a healthy dose of human spirit.”
Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications. An original film she wrote will be released in 2017.
Once United’s refreshing sound can be heard online at onceunited.bandcamp.com or live at Ann Arbor Brewing Company on June 6th and Chelsea Sounds & Sights Festival on August 4th. Keep up with them on Facebook as they add more shows for the summer.
Last Saturday, April 9th, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra presented an excellent selection of music to a sold out Michigan Theater.
The evening opened with "The Tall-Eared Fox and the Wild-Eyed Man," a piece written by Ann Arbor composer Evan Chambers. Inspired by traditional jigs, the strings section started with a jaunty tone and then transitioned into different breakdowns of the music, ending with an experimental section that pushed the boundaries of the jig into a more traditional and modern place.
Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, featuring guest violinist Jinjoo Cho, was the second entry in the night’s concert. I was completely caught off guard by Cho’s tremendous performance, which was both technically complex but also emotionally packed. Her playing was simply astounding, breathtaking in the depth of emotion conveyed even as control of the instrument was maintained. I honestly don’t have the words to convey how absolutely delightful and absorbing Cho’s playing was. If Cho ever happens to visit Ann Arbor again, I would highly recommend attending. I will certainly be following her career with avid interest.
After a short intermission, the orchestra returned to perform Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Composed in 1917, this piece explores the character of each of the planets of the solar system, excluding Earth. Each character sketch is relatively quick, resulting in a piece that progresses quickly and holds the interest of even those unfamiliar with classical music. Even if you’ve never heard of The Planets, you’ve probably heard some clip of this influential and popular composition playing in the background of some piece of media.
The performance by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra was a joy to attend. The Planets is a fun suite of music to start with, and the orchestra was clearly up to the challenges presented by the piece. Since the character of each planet is so distinct, I can only praise the A2 Orchestra for conveying a spectrum of emotions and concepts. From the jaunty "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity," to the strident and somehow playful "Uranus, the Magician," the A2 Orchestra rose to the occasion and delivered an exceptional range of musical experiences. I was familiar with The Planets going into the concert, and I was surprised at how much of a difference there was between the recordings I’ve listened to and hearing the music in person. There’s a bit of personality or a depth of emotion that recordings just can’t capture. The journey the music takes you on through the solar system seems somehow more real when you’re sitting in the same room as the musicians.
The visualizations paired with the music made for an interesting experience, slightly reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia. Visual artist Adrian M Wyard created the accompaniment using both NASA images and digital recreations of the planets. Pairing the music with images added a layer to the performance that certainly captured your attention, but that could sometimes border on distracting. I was surprised at how well Holst managed to capture the essence of the planets, particularly those closer to Earth, in 1917, when our knowledge of the solar system was so much more limited than it is today.
Audrey Huggett is a Public Library Associate at the Ann Arbor District Library.
For many famous entertainers, the scariest thing in the world is to see someone rushing at them and screaming, "Oh my god, it's you. I am your biggest fan!"
But apparently for a young Patsy Cline, just on the verge of becoming a country and pop music phenomenon, a down-to-earth woman and fanatic devotee was just what she needed to stay grounded in the lives of the people for whom her music was a joy, a comfort, and a reassurance that they were not alone in their trials and tribulations.
Two extraordinary performers bring comedy and pathos to the unusual friendship between Cline and a divorced Houston mother of two in Always ... Patsy Cline at the Encore Theatre in Dexter.
The play was conceived by Ted Swindley as basically a musical revue of Cline's beloved catalog of songs through the eyes of her friend Louise Seger. Though we know how the story ends, with Cline's tragic death in a plane crash in 1963 at a shockingly young 30 years old, this is primarily a rollicking, laugh out loud comedy balanced by the plaintive sadness of so many of Cline's songs.
Sonja Marquis is a blunt, in-your-face Louise Seger. She's the kind of woman who harasses radio DJs, bellows when she wants attention, drinks like a sailor, and loves sad old country songs. Marquis is hilarious as she struts across the stage telling her story, swaggering and joshing with the audience, doing broad imitations of the sorry men in her life, and charging ahead without a second thought to form a lasting friendship with a soon-to-be very famous star. But Marquis also brings a poignancy to Seger, a lonely women in a bad marriage when she first hear's Cline's remarkable voice. She drops everything to badger a DJ to play "I Fall to Pieces" over and over, knowing what solace it brings her. That roughness and bluntness combined with a deep warmth plays out in her mostly long distance relationship with Cline.
Emmi Veinbergs becomes Patsy Cline. Standing on a honky tonk stage with a four-piece country band, Veinbergs shows that she has mastered every inflection of Cline's plaintive but clear and ringing voice. Cline was one of the first crossover country stars. Her distinct phrasing and soft Southern accent made her records appealing beyond the then narrow Southern country-western fan base. Veinbergs has the voice down perfectly and she also captures the way Cline swayed as she sang while avoiding the broad arm gestures of other singers. Veinbergs also bears a strong resemblance to the singer.
The catalog of great Patsy Cline songs provides an entertaining cabaret of music by some of country's greatest songwriters, who stood in line hoping that Cline would deign to sing their songs. Veinbergs does drop-dead renderings of "Crazy," "Sweet Dreams," "She's Got You," and "If You've Got Leavin' On Your Mind." She also covers Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart" and the Kitty Wells hit "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels."
Cline sings that song in the honky tonk where she meets her No. 1 fan Seger. She is singing along to music on a jukebox, growing distant and wistful because Cline is also a fan and her life plays out the drama in Wells' record as her songs will in the lives of millions of listeners just like Louise Seger.
In a later scene in Seger's kitchen, where Cline has been shanghaied, the two women lay out their grievances through songs, particularly "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray" and "Crazy." Veinbergs' singing and Marquis' humorous commiseration are brilliant demonstrations of the emotional power of country music to express the most basic human needs and provide solace.
These two fine actresses under the direction of Thalia V. Schramm get to the heart of the matter in these two scenes where a common understanding is played out with special delicacy. Dan Mikat is the music director and Veinbergs and the band would be welcome at the Opry any time.
The Encore set designed by Kristen Gribben is amazing in its detail and flexibility. In one part of the stage is a typical 1950s style kitchen, small but tidy. The rest of the stage is a wood paneled honky tonk that also doubles for the Grand Ole Opry stage. It is nicely detailed with photos, Schlitz promotional lights, and other bar room details.
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.
"Always ... Patsy Cline" continues Thursdays at 7 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Saturday and Sundays at 3 pm through May 8, at the Dexter Musical Theatre Company in downtown Dexter. For tickets, call (734)268-6200.
Great theater has the power to magically take us to another place and time and introduce us to the most interesting and colorful people.
This weekend the Power Center is being transformed into Noo Yawk City, circa 1950s. Specifically it's the "devil's own street" Broadway with gamblers, chorus girls, and missionaries out to save their souls in a dynamic, eye-popping production of the beloved musical classic The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance production brings it all together: superb singing, beautiful choreography, sharp humor, and a flexible set and lighting that makes good use of the large Power Center stage.
Guys and Dolls is a "musical fable" that makes lovable mugs of the denizens of Broadway based on the streetwise stories of Damon Runyon with a book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. Loesser created one of the finest scores and some of the most loved songs in the Broadway repertoire, drawing on a variety of styles, rhythms, and vocal arrangements. Loesser brought high class music to the lives of the city's "less reputable" residents.
Big musicals are always about strong collaboration. Here director Mark Madam, musical director and conductor Cynthia Kortman Westphal, and choreographer Mara Newbery Greer have put all the pieces together to bring out the best in their student cast.
The story is familiar. Nathan Detroit, proprietor of the "oldest-established, permanent floating crap game" in New York, is having trouble finding a place to host a dice game for a visiting Chicago gambler Big Jule. He is also trying to maintain relations with his "doll" Adelaide, star chanteuse of the Hot Box Nightclub.
Slick, suave, and daring gambler Sky Masterson is back in town and Nathan thinks he's found a way to raise funds to rent a space by betting that babe magnet Masterson will not get a nod from the uptight Sarah Brown of the Save-a-Soul Mission.
This simple plot creates the frame for all that music, complex dance routines, comedy, and romance, and the UM cast seems to be savoring every minute of it.
Will Branner brings a rich baritone and a bit of swagger to Sky. He moves smoothly, as he should, from confirmed playboy to romantically devoted swain. He does a fine job on "Luck Be a Lady."
He meets his match in Solea Pfeiffer's Sarah Brown. As Pfeiffer moves from uptight missionary to a dame in love she handles a sweet transition from operatic soprano to a more modulated popular voice. She is especially effective when Sarah lets her guard down on a trip to devil-may-care Havana (pre Castro). Pfeiffer completely embodies the music and lyrics of "If I Were a Bell," a giddy realization that she's falling in love.
Joseph Sammour plays the less refined street tough Nathan Detroit (as suggested by his name). He fidgets, he worries, he talks tough, but he's really a softie, madly in love with his Miss Adelaide. Sammour is both charming and sly as Nathan but he rises to the occasion on his big musical moment with Adelaide, "Sue Me," which he turns into a warm testimony of his devotion.
Any production of Guys and Dolls hinges on a great Miss Adelaide, the comic spark and the emotional draw of Loesser's songs. Hannah Flam is an outstanding Adelaide: adorable, loud, gawky, and thoroughly convincing. Her musical highlights are many from the Hot Box revue numbers "A Bushel and a Peck" and "Take Back the Mink" to her duet with Pfeiffer on "Marry the Man Today." But the tall, imposing Flam makes her biggest impression on "Adelaide's Lament." She's funny but also poignant when she sings that romantic troubles are enough "to give a person a cold."
The musical really kicks into gear with "Fugue for Tinhorns" in which Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southside and Rusty Charlie tout contrapuntally why they "have the horse right here." Noah Weisbart as Nicely-Nicely, Wonza Johnson as Benny, and Tyler Leahy as Rusty handle the complex musical and lyrical blending expertly.
Weisbart and Johnson team up for the song "Guys and Dolls" and make like a seasoned vaudeville team, both in fine voice and comic timing. Weisbart is outstanding as he leads the rollicking "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat." A nicer Nicely-Nicely couldn't have been cast.
Cameron Jones has a standout moment as Arvide, the older mission leader and father figure for Sarah. Jones sings a tender "More I Can Not Wish You" in a heart-rending tenor voice, each word sharply defined.
Under Westphal's direction the musical numbers are fresh and believable and the orchestra performance is bright and strong while never overpowering the singers.
Greer's choreography is rhythmically precise and effectively handles the numerous styles that Loesser uses from show-biz tap dance to the sensuous Latin movements of Havana to an aggressively stylized crap game. It all works, the student dancers bring rich life to every scene.
Sets by Edward T. Morris and costumes by Jessica Hahn and Michayla Van Treeck capture the period with simplicity but effectively. A special note should be made of Mark Allen Berg's lighting which is effectively used with the choreography to create a sense of drama and punctuate the rhythms.
Guys and Dolls continues at the Power Center on the U-M main campus at 8 pm on Friday, April 15, and Saturday, April 16, and 2 pm on Sunday, April 17. For ticket information, call 734-764-2538.