U-M alumna Penny W. Stamps died from leukemia on Dec. 18, 2018, but her dedication to bringing arts and ideas to Ann Arbor community continues with the school and speaker series named in her honor.
The winter lineup of U-M Stamps School of Art & Design's Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series was announced Jan. 11 with 12 events, primarily at the Michigan Theater and many in conjunction with other performances and events at the university and in the community.
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).
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.
After all these years the adventures of New York City matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi are still going strong.
Dolly is now working her magic at the Encore Musical Theatre, where Hello, Dolly!’s jaunty style, catchy title song, and lively dances make it the perfect sprightly bauble for the coming holiday season.
Hello, Dolly! was a hit right from the start. The original 1964 New York production starring Carol Channing became the longest running musical on Broadway up to that time, with numerous leading ladies filling the role that Channing made famous. The title song became a mega-hit record for Louis Armstrong, briefly toppling The Beatles from the top of the charts. The musical has been revived numerous times on Broadway, most recently last year with a smash hit staging starring Bette Midler.
In the late 1970s, a young African-American with musical ambitions left his strict religious home in Los Angeles to set out on a journey to discover who he was, what he believed and where he belonged.
Years later, the rock songwriter and musician known as Stew turned his story of self-discovery into the unusual and critically acclaimed musical Passing Strange. The musical, with book and lyrics by Stew, and music by Stew and a former bandmate, Heidi Rodewald, received seven 2008 Tony Award nominations and Stew won the award for best book. Passing Strange also won the Drama Desk Award for outstanding musical.
His story resonated with those who lived during those years and it resonates still with young audiences, which makes it a perfect vehicle for young actors. The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre will present Passing Strange Nov. 15-18 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.
Ghouls, goblins, zombies, and ghosts.
Well, not all ghosts are scary.
Take Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. The ghost is mischievous but also charming. What is scary is the sarcasm that the characters hurl back and forth at each other.
Brass Tacks Ensemble will present Coward’s humorous take on all things ghostly Nov. 2-4 and 9-11 under the direction of Aaron C. Wade.
“It’s a haunted tale with a little bit of comedy and it’s that time of the season for a ghost story,” said Wade. “It a fun challenge to do this sort of theater.”
Some theaters revive Broadway hits. Others take chances on new plays that may or may not be successful. In 1973, an adventurous theater in New York did what no theater had ever done: the Chelsea Theater Center of Brooklyn revived a 1957 Broadway flop.
Candide, for all its problems, featured music by Leonard Bernstein that rivals what he accomplished in West Side Story and his best concert works. After bringing in new people to revise the book and lyrics and finding a radical new way to stage the work, the Chelsea brought Candide back to Broadway; there, it drew huge audiences, earned rave reviews, and took five Tony Awards. Since then, Candide has been a staple of theater and opera companies -- it lives on the line between musical theater and operetta -- and has been revised by other companies along the way.
Now, on what would have been Bernstein’s 100th birthday, the University Opera Theatre, in collaboration with Michigan’s departments of Theatre & Drama and Musical Theatre, will present the 1988 Scottish Opera version. Matthew Ozawa will stage Bernstein’s favorite and final revision; Kenneth Kiesler will conduct the University Symphony Orchestra. “The Scottish version has much more music,” Ozawa reports.
Arsenic and Old Lace, Joseph Kesselring’s classic dark comedy now being staged by Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, provided director Alexandra Duncan with her first-ever stage role in high school -- though it wasn’t a particularly lively or demanding part.
“I was Adam Hoskins, the dead man in the window seat,” Duncan said.
Welcome to the Brewster family home in Brooklyn, where writer Mortimer Brewster wants to marry the girl next door. Problem is, he’s just learned that his sweet old spinster aunts have been murdering lonely old men with poison-laced elderberry wine; plus, his delusional uncle, who believes he’s Theodore Roosevelt, has been providing graves by digging locks for the Panama Canal in the house’s cellar.
Theatre Nova continues a season of World and Michigan premieres with the first Michigan staging of Shem Bitterman’s meditation on creativity, ambition, and aging, The Stone Witch.
The title refers to a children’s book by a young but struggling children’s book author and illustrator. Peter Chandler has the talent but is unable to sell himself or his cherished first book, based on an old folktale told by his mother.
An editor at a prestige publisher offers Chandler a deal. They’ll consider his book if he can help them encourage their famous star children’s book writer and illustrator to finally break through and end a 12-year-long creative block.