U-M's Musket's production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s "In the Heights" feels like home


The cast of University of Michigan Musket's "In the Heights"

The cast of In the Heights was joined by Tony Award-winning orchestrator and music director Alex Lacamoire for a workshop and master class.

What makes someplace feel like home?

That’s the main question that threads throughout Lin-Manuel Miranda’s semi-autobiographical musical In the Heights, a story about the neighborhood Washington Heights and all of the people who live there. Miranda is best known for creating Hamilton a few years back, but he first rocketed to Broadway fame as the writer and lead actor in In the Heights.

“It’s unbelievable how he was able to encapsulate this whole community into music,” said Bruna D'Avila recently, the director of an entirely student-produced and acted University of Michigan Musket production of the show that runs March 16-18.

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. 

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.

Civic Theatre musical will take audiences on a "First Date"


First Date at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre

Musical chairs: Drew Benson and Sarah Mazurek star in the pop- and rock-centric First Date.


Even terrifying at times.

That first date can make you sweat.  

That’s the premise of the chamber musical First Date, book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner.

Aaron C. Wade will direct the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of First Date, March 8-11, at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the north campus of the University of Michigan.

PTD’s "Disgraced" explores tensions in multicultural USA


The cast of PTD Productions' Disgraced

Present, tense: Neel Vaidya, Ryan McGriff, Lisa Coveney, and Angelicia Morton star in PTD Productions' take on the Pulitzer-winning Disgraced.

Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced begins slowly but builds into a fierce confrontation and a hard breakdown in social and political correctness. This 2012 drama is hot-wired with themes that still rattle American society at all social levels.

Ypsilanti’s PTD Productions dares to jump in with a generally compelling production of an emotionally and intellectually difficult play. Director Joe York gets fine performances from his cast, even though some are a bit miscast for the roles they play. This is a topical play that is also personal and deserves an audience.

Kickshaw Theatre's "Or," is a farce with sharp teeth


Kickshaw Theatre's Or,

Plagued with laughs: Daniel Helmer and Vanessa Sawson star in the sharp-edged farce Or,. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Farce is tricky to pull off, but when it’s done well, there are few things funnier. The rest of the time, it’s either tedious or just plain embarrassing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much mediocre farce.

A lot of what sets the sublime apart from the shabby is precision. Yes, all comedy relies on timing, but farce requires lightning-fast costume changes, flitting facial expressions, and meticulously calibrated entrances.

Thankfully, Or, the newest production from Kickshaw Theatre is an exquisite farce as performed by masters of their craft.

Restored “Porgy and Bess” Score to Be Showcased at Hill Auditorium


Porgy and Bess

Left: Todd Duncan (Porgy) and Anne Brown (Bess), 1935. Right: John Bubbles (Sportin’ Life) and Brown, 1935. Photos courtesy the Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts.

The version of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess that will be performed at Hill Auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 17, won’t be tremendously different from other renditions familiar to audiences through the decades. But it will be the closest thing anyone’s heard in quite some time to the “folk opera” performed just the way its creators intended.

Saturday’s opera is part of the Gershwin Initiative -- a long-term partnership between the Gershwin family and the University of Michigan. Presented by the University Musical Society and the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the event will mark the public debut of a new, scholarly edition of the opera’s score. Morris Robinson as Porgy and Talise Trevigne as Bess lead the cast; the performance will also include the University Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Kiesler; the UMSMTD Chamber Choir, directed by Jerry Blackstone; and the Our Own Thing Chorale, directed by Willis Patterson.

U-M's "You for Me for You" is a surreal, sensitive take on immigration


You for Me for You cast photo

U-M students Levana Wang (left) as Junhee and Amanda Kuo as Minheein You for Me for You by playwright Mia Chung. Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

Time, space, and matters of the heart converge in Mia Chung’s surreal drama You for Me for You.

Chung’s 2012 play hits on two red-hot topics -- immigration and the tension between North Korea and the United States -- in a story of two loving sisters who become separated in time and space.

You for Me for You will be presented Feb. 15-18 by the University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre and Drama at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

Fantastic Beasts: Neighborhood Theatre Group's "Cryptic"


Cryptic poster for Neighborhood Theatre Group

Everyone gathered once all the tables had been pushed together in the center of the room and enough chairs had been scrounged. Scripts were handed out and a notebook was passed around for the actors and crew members to write their names, roles, and contact info while introductions were made around the large makeshift table.

There were no monsters or mythical creatures in sight.