Encore Theatre goes "Into the Wild" with a musical about Christopher McCandless

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Clutter

U-M grad Conor Ryan plays the main character, Christopher McCandless, as well as Alexander Supertramp in The Encore Theatre's take on Into the Wild. / Photo by [http://www.micheleanliker.com/|Michele Anliker].

The developmental premiere of the new stage musical adaptation of Into the Wild opens this weekend at The Encore Theatre. The play (and book that it’s adapted from) are based on the true story of Christopher McCandless, an Emory graduate who abandoned all of his possessions and stopped communicating with his family when he chose to hitchhike to Alaska.

Into the Wild is directed by Mia Walker, who has worked on some of the most influential plays in the musical theater world over the last ten years. She directed the current national tour of Pippin, acted as associate director for both Waitress and Finding Neverland on Broadway, and was the assistant director of Invisible Thread (previously Witness Uganda) at Second Stage Theatre.

The play is written by Niko Tsakalakos (music and lyrics) and Janet Allard (book and lyrics). Tsakalakos studied at Tisch School of the Arts under the mentorship of William Finn, composer of Falsettos, A New Brain, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Recently, I was extremely fortunate to have an in-depth email interview with both Mia Walker and Niko Tsakalakos, where I had the chance to ask them about both the show and their career paths up until this point.

Theatre Nova's "Clutter" explores the traps of false memories

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Clutter

Artun Kircali as Sir and Tory Matsos as Woman in Clutter. Photo by Jee-Hak Pinsoneault.

Much like a plaster casting mold, most modern American plays squeeze themselves into ready-made stylistic and thematic models that have a good track record. The styles can often be pinpointed back to one or two particularly significant behemoths that are scattered throughout the history of the American theater.

One such theatrical prototype is the Memory Play. It was initially popularized by playwright Tennessee Williams in the preface for his 1945 drama The Glass Menagerie. As Williams described it, “When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not, or certainly shouldn’t be, trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting experience, but is actually or should be attempting to find a closer approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are.”

The playwrights Pinter (Betrayal), Friel (Dancing at Lughnasa), and Leonard Jr. (The Diviners) are all known for their Memory Plays. Each examined different subjects, but all used the power of characters retelling their memories and dreams to exaggerate details in order to increase the emotional impact of those stories.

Clutter, the new show at Theatre Nova written by Brian Cox, is a world premiere Memory Play about the traps of false memories that we set for ourselves by taking part in nostalgic rumination.

Cheers! Kickshaw Theatre's "Here's to You, Here's to Me" is a play masquerading as a drinking party (& vice-versa)

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Since it began in January, [https://www.facebook.com/KickshawTheatre|Kickshaw Theatre] is known for putting together unconventional productions. Lynn Lammers’ first show, The Electric Baby, was performed in the equivalent of a warehouse and centered on a woman grieving the death of her grown daughter. The show begins when the woman storms off into traffic and causes a cab to crash into a pole.

In contrast, in the current production, Here's to You, Here's to Me, Kickshaw is hosting a 30-minute drinking party at various local bars around Ann Arbor.

To clarify, this particular "party" is devised by the actors, but this is still as informal as theater can get. “The show started with just the concept of toasting, lots of research, and a discussion about what people want/need from theater at this moment in time,” Lammers told Pulp in a recent interview.

Which explains the improv, the jam sessions, and the alcohol. Oh, the alcohol. For really, what would a show about toasting be if the actors and the audience didn’t all have copious amounts of alcohol on hand throughout?

Ellipsis Theatre fought a plague throughout its house to produce Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"

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Twelfth

The rehearsals for Ellipsis Theatre's Twelfth Night were a breeding ground for illness (and good acting).

[https://www.facebook.com/EllipsisTheatreA2|Ellipsis Theatre]’s production of Twelfth Night has been beset by a tragedy of the sort usually only seen performed on the stage of Shakespearean prose -- namely, a plague.

Many of the actors caught serious cases of the flu, to the point where the show did not go on during the first weekend of its run and was pushed back a full week. The night I saw the show, one actor (playing Sir Toby) had just joined the cast in the last three days and another actor who was playing Orsino was doubling for Sir Andrew since the original Sir Andrew had turned green just hours before.

Such extreme changes in performance schedules will almost certainly affect audience levels for the run, which is a shame; I strongly recommend that you go see Twelfth Night this upcoming weekend if you can, assuming that the cast has not all fainted into comas.

Penny Seats Theatre Company kicked off its 2017 season with the ebullient "Sing Happy!"

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Sing

They sure do look like happy singers.

When Lauren London started the [http://www.pennyseats.org|Penny Seats Theatre Company] in 2010, it was with the idea that Ann Arbor should be brimming with “high-quality, live theater that doesn’t break the bank.” That’s exactly what you’ll get if you see the new Kander and Ebb revue Sing Happy! -- Penny Seats' first show of its 2017 season -- playing in the Celtic Room of [http://www.conoroneills.com/annarbor|Conor O’Neill’s] pub and restaurant on February 9, 14, 15, and 16.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the work of Kander and Ebb, they wrote the musicals Chicago and Cabaret, among many others. The four women who star in this revue are remarkably gifted, and the songs and arrangements that director Thalia Schramm chose are consistently beautiful, moving, and show-stoppers.

I’ve now seen Sing Happy! twice and recently asked producer Lauren London and director Thalia Schramm some questions about the production and the Penny Seats Theatre Company's upcoming season.

Double Acts: Theatre Nova's "Popcorn Falls" is full of comedic riffs

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Popcorn

Funny men: Jeff Priskorn and Jonathan Jones recall classic comedy duos. Photo by Jee-Hak Pinsoneault.

The new play Popcorn Falls is an energetic romp, full of impressions, wit, and (slightly manic) charm. Written by James Hindman and directed by Daniel C. Walker, Popcorn Falls features two men riffing off one another in the style of comedy duos like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. The time breezes by as the actors take on fifteen different roles, bringing to life the citizens of an entire small town.

The play focuses on Ted Trundell (Jeff Priskorn), the mayor of Popcorn Falls, and his friend, Joe (Jonathan Jones). When Mr. Doyle -- also played by Jones, a grinch-like role similar to Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life but with the lilting accent of a villainous Jimmy Stewart -- tells the mayor that he plans to take over the town and turn it into a sewage treatment center unless they can successfully put on a play that the town agreed to many years earlier. Ted decides that he’ll do whatever it takes to save his home -- even writing and directing a play despite having practically no familiarity with theater whatsoever.