Around the holidays, theater troupes often feature classic Christmas plays familiar to Americans. But for the past two years, Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova has presented an American twist on a British Christmas tradition. A panto, short for pantomime, is a variety show that developed in England in the 18th century that employs song, dance, comedy, and much more to tell a Christmas-related story.
This year’s panto, The Year Without a Panto Clause, is written by Theatre Nova artistic director Carla Milarch and features original songs by the show’s music director, R. MacKenzie Lewis, who has composed music for Nova's previous two pantos as well as for last year’s hit musical Irrational.
I spoke with Milarch about the inspiration for her pantos and what makes this show unique.
When we hear the word “orchestra,” we usually think of a group of musicians who play classical music. But the trailblazing Brooklyn-based orchestra [http://www.theknightsnyc.com|The Knights] -- coming to Rackham Auditorium on Sunday, Nov. 12 [https://ums.org/performance/the-knights|courtesy of UMS] -- are known for turning the word on its head by challenging orchestral norms and often using untraditional environments (from parks to bars) and repertoire (from avant-gardist Karlheinz Stockhausen to singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens) to connect to a wide range of audiences.
Such a genre-bending, rule-breaking orchestra needs soloists who are just as adventurous, and for this tour, The Knights have teamed up with two superstars of instrumental music, [https://www.aviavital.com|Avi Avital] and [http://kinanazmeh.com|Kinan Azmeh].
Both Avital, an Israeli mandolin virtuoso, and Azmeh, a celebrated Syrian clarinetist and composer, produce just as diverse and tremendously compelling a repertoire as The Knights, and the combination of these three forces is a treat not to be missed. Their program on Sunday will jump from their unique arrangements of pieces by Purcell, Bach, and Schubert to some of Azmeh’s own compositions, including one he wrote specifically for The Knights, Avital, and himself. They will also feature a piece by Knights co-leader and Silkroad Ensemble member Colin Jacobsen as well as traditional Middle Eastern, Balkan, and klezmer pieces.
I spoke with Avital and Azmeh about their solo work, collaboration with the Knights, and more.
[http://www.marygauthier.com|Mary Gauthier] is the perfect songwriter and performer for an intimate venue like the [http://greenwoodcoffeehouse.org|Green Wood Coffee House], where she plays Friday, Oct. 27.
Her voice is untutored and unassuming but deeply evocative and powerful, and her songs go straight to the heart in a way that is personal, candid, and unaffected by artifice or unnecessary frills. Every line of every song is its own entire world, its own little gem of a thought. Her straightforward and relaxed style of performance lends these songs a truthfulness which is best experienced up close.
“Small venues lend themselves to a more personal show. Small rooms suit my music and storytelling,” she says.
On Saturday, Oct. 21, the [https://www.a2so.com|Ann Arbor Symphony] will present a program called “[https://www.a2so.com/events/ludwig-the-kings|Ludwig and the Kings].” “Ludwig,” of course, represents luminary German composer Ludwig van Beethoven. But who is the King in question?
“Growing up in Israel, I had daily bible studies and was fascinated with the complex characters of some of the prophets and kings," said conductor Arie Lipsky, who has led the symphony for 17 seasons. "This concert presents a rare musical outlook on King Solomon, known to be the wisest man on earth.”
If you don’t live in New York City or London, and perhaps don’t have the money to go to The Metropolitan Opera or the National Theatre on a regular basis, you might feel like you’re missing out on some amazing arts events.
But HD broadcasts of productions from these venues to movie theatres around the world are a way for people all around the world to see legendary works like La Bohéme, Hamlet, Everyman,Der Rosenkavalier, and more, performed by legendary performers such as Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Plácido Domingo, Vittorio Grigolo, and Renée Fleming. NT Live has been broadcasting shows from the National and other theaters in London to movie theaters since 2009, and The Met: Live in HD has been broadcasting operas since 2006.
[https://www.facebook.com/events/118841612089162|The Revolutionists] takes place in 1793, during the French Revolution and the start of the Reign of Terror. But [https://www.theatrenova.org|Theatre Nova's] production of Lauren Gunderson’s play is remarkably fresh and relevant today. The characters’ language and mannerisms are entirely present-day, and the four strong women the play portrays are fighting for freedoms that many women, racial minorities, and the disenfranchised still do not enjoy even today.
Even though The Revolutionists is set during one of the most horrifying periods in history, and it’s clear that not enough has changed about these issues since then, the play is far from a downer.
It is, in fact, mostly a comedy.
And what a premise for a comedy.
[https://www.facebook.com/KatieGeddesMusic|Katie Geddes]' warm voice and inviting onstage personality make you feel like you are getting a virtual hug at her concerts. And maybe that feeling will make you want to hug someone, too.
Her voice is a cross between Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, and her music selections hark back to gospel and country stars of old, but there is a contemporary edge to her presence and vocal stylings. The result is a sound that makes her sound simultaneously modern and timeless.
Rarely has an Ann Arbor stage been so uniquely suited to a play as West Park is to [http://www.pennyseats.org/event/3cbf2877a81f697ff58c582459a1f678|Peter and the Starcatcher], Rick Elice’s Tony-winning prequel to Peter Pan, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.
West Park, which serves as the summer home of [https://www.facebook.com/pennyseats|The Penny Seats Theatre Company], is versatile and adaptable to a wide variety of theatrical experiences. When I saw Peter and the Starcatcher last weekend, a friend turned to me at intermission and said, “This set looks like it would if I were a kid playing pirates and make-believe out in my backyard.” And it does. Many of the imaginatively used props consist of mismatched, cobbled-together items like grocery shopping carts, kitchen timers, a plastic pineapple, coconut shells, and more.
Ann Arbor theatergoers usually have to travel to Jackson to see performances by the critically acclaimed [http://pulp.aadl.org/node/362713|Michigan Shakespeare Festival] (MSF). But on Monday, July 31, MSF company members will come to The Ark in Ann Arbor to perform. Granted, it's not a play; it's MSF's seventh annual [http://theark.org/shows-events/2017/jul/31/shakespeare-unpluggd|Shakespeare Unplugg’d], a no-holds-barred variety show.
Sometimes the best way to describe a band is to let the musicians do it themselves.
"Indie folk/pop duo band! Harmony-based, lyric-driven, simple and true," the married couple Mira Stanley and Chuck E. Costa wrote in an email about their duo, The Sea The Sea. "But the best way for us to describe it is to just say, come to a show! We’d love to sing for you."
You'll have a chance to be sung to by [https://www.facebook.com/theseatheseamusic|The Sea The Sea] on Wednesday, June 7, when the duo returns to [http://theark.org/shows-events/2017/jun/07/sea-sea|The Ark].
The ambiance and intimacy of the upstate New York couple's music evokes old-time folk, the mellow side of modern pop, and the technical precision of something not quite classical but not far from it. When you add in their thoughtful, intricate lyrics and their impeccably blended vocal harmonies, you’ve got music and musicians that are engaging on many levels.
I reached out to The Sea The Sea to ask them about the couple's union, the source of the band's name, and Stanley's time in Ann Arbor as a U-M student.