New Day Rising: Penny Seats' "Sunrise Coven" tackles the opioid epidemic and second chances

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Jeannine Thompson (Hallie), Allison Megroet (Winter Moon), David Collins (Ethan) in Penny Seats' Sunrise Coven.

Jeannine Thompson (Hallie), Allison Megroet (Winter Moon), David Collins (Ethan) star in Penny Seats' Sunrise Coven. Photo courtesy of Penny Seats Theatre Company.

It’s no secret the United States has a drug problem, and painkillers are at the top of the list. The Penny Seats Theatre Company’s Sunrise Coven tackles that conversation and then some.

Written by Brendan Bourque-Sheil, the show takes place in Buckstop, Texas, a small town where everyone knows everyone else and all their business. We meet Hallie Heaton (Jeannine Thompson), a diabetic nurse practitioner who has wound up in the hospital because she overdosed on Oxycodone. The doctor taking care of her is Annie (Inchai Reed), who reveals she has based her entire career on Hallie and sees her as an idol.

Hallie gets the unfortunate news that due to her OD, she has lost her nursing license. On top of that, her eyesight is starting to go bad and she's having visions she can’t explain. 

The Folds of Space: EMU’s "A Wrinkle in Time" was a quick-paced journey for the whole family

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

EMU's production of A Wrinkle in Time.

Time travelers: Laney Bass (Mrs. Which), Josi Middaugh (Charles Wallace), Lydia Tucker (Happy Medium), Annabelle Rickert (Meg Murray), Chandler Graham (Calvin) starred in Eastern Michigan University's production of A Wrinkle in Time. Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre.

Audiences at Eastern Michigan University’s Liberty Theatre traveled through time and hopped across realms over the weekend.

Tracy Young’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle, was a fast-paced family adventure that follows Meg Murry (Annabelle Rickert), an outcast at school who has trouble fitting in and making friends. The only people she’s close to are her mom (Amanda Bates) and her spunky younger brother, Charles Wallace (Josi Middaugh). Meg’s father (Jonathan Bias) has been missing for quite some time, and she’s still determined to figure out what happened to him.

One day, Charles Wallace convinces Meg they should check out the haunted house at the bottom of the hill. On the way they run into Calvin (Chandler Graham), who joins the siblings. At the house, they meet the eccentric Mrs. Whatsit (Brookelyn Hannah), Mrs. Who (Maura Doyle) who only talks in quotes, and the ominous voice of Mrs. Which (Laney Bass) whose presence is everywhere but isn’t seen by the kids. Turns out they are magical beings that can travel through space and time via a tesseract, a form of traveling by folding the fabric of space and time. 

"Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World" Explores the Challenges of Information Overload and Ubiquity

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Javaad Alipoor holds a tablet in a dark room with network of connections projected on him.

Javaad Alipoor's Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World looks at how contemporary technology and digital culture interact with politics. Photo taken from The Javaad Alipoor Company's website.

When you Google the name of the Javaad Alipoor Company’s theatrical production Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, you learn this grandiose mouthful of a title was originally used by French philosopher René Girard for a book he wrote.

To learn a little more, you might read a brief overview of Girard’s mimetic theory, which posits that humans don’t know what to want, so we look to others and imitate their desires. 

Wait. You came here for a review of Alipoor’s show of that name presented by UMS this week at the University of Michigan’s Arthur Miller Theatre, right? Sorry!

Yet this classic Digital Age digression demonstrates precisely what’s at the heart of Alipoor’s innovative 90-minute show, which was written with Chris Thorpe. Though we know, and are constantly reminded, that almost any information we could possibly want is now at our internet-addicted fingertips. In response, we go online like a reflex with the idea that “facts” provide us with understanding, or that the two things are somehow synonymous, is a dangerous illusion.

Using the unsolved, brutal 1992 murder of Iranian pop star (and refugee) Fereydoun Farrokhzad—who fled Iran during the Islamic Revolution in 1979—as the show’s base of operations, Alipoor integrates video and an onstage, fictional true crime podcast (as well as some nifty theatrical sleight of hand) to explore the case, and more broadly, the link between contemporary technology and politics.

My Deer Heart: Jeff Daniels' "Escanaba in Love" tracks love and laughter at an Upper Peninsula hunting camp

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Jamie Lee as Albert Soady Jr. and Mark Bernstein as Albert Soady Sr. in PTD Productions' Escanaba in Love.

Jamie Lee as Albert Soady Jr. and Mark Bernstein as Albert Soady Sr. in PTD Productions' Escanaba in Love. Photo courtesy of PTD Productions.

Michiganders know the opening day of deer season is essentially a holiday for many folks, and that's definitely the case in Jeff Daniels’ Escanaba in Love, which PTD Productions is staging at the Riverside Art Center in Ypsilanti.

In this prequel to Daniels' hit show Escanaba in Da Moonlight, the audience is transported to the small Western Upper Peninsula town where the infamous Soady Deer Camp resides. It's 1944 and multiple generations of Soady men have been coming to this cabin in the woods to hunt. 

Family patriarch Alphonse Soady (Larry Rusinsky) is convinced he shot the biggest buck to ever walk the woods even as Albert Soady Sr. (Mark Bernstein) is certain Alphonse is losing his mind.

In comes "Salty" Jim Negamanee (Gary Lehman), who walks with a gimp due to a supposed boat accident and an alcohol problem. They all talk about the excitement of opening day and who will get the big buck this year.

EMU’s touring production of "Hare and Tortoise" is racing to a school near you

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Four members of the Tortoise and the Hare crew inside the touring van.

After EMU's production of Hare and Tortoise tour to several Ann Arbor schools in a 16-person passenger van, it will perform two public shows at the Sponberg Theatre. Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre's Facebook page.

The Eastern Michigan Department of Theatre is doing a special tour of the beloved Aesop fable Hare and Tortoise. Adapted by Brendan Murray, and directed by Emily Levickas, the show is meant for kids around 3-8 years old, but anyone is welcome to come join the fun.

“We are touring to 10 different local elementary schools and libraries. We'll stop at four Ann Arbor elementary schools, including Abbot, Eberwhite, Haisley, and Wines. We also have two public performances at Eastern Michigan University in the Sponberg Theatre on Friday, November 10 at 7 pm and Saturday, November 11 at 10 am,” said Levickas.

The Tortoise and the Hare are involved in a race. The Hare, being the obvious favorite to win, is arrogant and mocks his competitor, the Tortoise. While the Tortoise knows that hard work and determination are enough to be a winner. In Aesop’s version, the Hare takes a nap during the race, underestimating his opponent, and awakes to the Tortoise crossing the finish line. We get the popular saying “slow and steady wins the race” from this tale. 

With this particular adaptation, Levickas said, “The show is based on the classic Aesop fable, but this adaptation by Brendan Murray explores themes of friendship, opposites, and the passage of time. In the introduction to the adaptation, Murray says "I hit on the idea of letting go and particularly letting go of comfortable, predictable certainties in favor of dangerous, but ultimately more fertile uncertainties. That is to say, a play about the terror and excitement of growing up.”

Kelli O’Hara brings the bright lights of Broadway to the Michigan Theater

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Black and white photo of Kelli O’Hara sitting in chair, wearing a black dress, and laughing.

Photo courtesy of Kelli O’Hara.

Kelli O’Hara is one of those versatile Broadway stars who shines in every show she’s in. 

She originated the role of Clara in The Light in the Piazza; played feisty union leader Babe opposite Harry Connick Jr. in The Pajama Game; washed a man right out of her hair as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific; originated the role of Francesca in the stage musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County; and charmed her young charges, royalty, and audiences alike in The King and I, for which O’Hara won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. 

All the other O’Hara performances I mentioned earned her Tony nominations, too, plus two more besides: Kiss Me, Kate and Nice Work If You Can Get It. So to call O’Hara one of our era’s greatest leading ladies of the stage isn’t hyperbole; it’s just true.

And although O’Hara’s slated to star in the world premiere Broadway musical adaptation of Days of Wine and Roses, scheduled to start previews January 6, she’s also recently been performing concerts in different parts of the country, and she’s headed to Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater on Sunday, November 12 at 7 pm. 

In advance of the show, the native Oklahoman answered a few questions via email about what inspired the concert tour; her newest upcoming show; and her memories of working alongside Ann Arbor native Ashley Park in The King and I.

Greetings From Hell: The devil is in the details in the University of Michigan’s "Orpheus in the Underworld"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Alexander Nick as Orpheus and Goitsemang Lehobye as Eurydice in the University of Michigan's production of Orpheus in the Underworld.

Alexander Nick as Orpheus and Goitsemang Lehobye as Eurydice in the University of Michigan's production of Orpheus in the Underworld. Photo courtesy of U-M Department of Voice.

The classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is everywhere in the performing arts right now. The play Eurydice, written by award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl, is being performed on stages all over the U.S. and was adapted into an opera by the same name, and the Broadway smash hit musical Hadestown, which won eight Tony awards including Best Musical, is still going strong in New York City, has a thriving national tour, and is opening on the West End in 2024. 

But before all of that, French composer Jaques Offenbach created Orphée Aux Enfers, or Orpheus in the Underworld, in 1858, and U-M's Department of Voice has put a whole new twist on it. (I went to the Thursday evening performance, and the actors I mention here may be different than those seen by others due to the double casting of the lead roles.)

Beauty and the Bard: Concordia University’s "Shakespeare in Love" is a tale of love, poetry, and laughs 

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Shakespeare in Love at Concordia University

Abby Lupescu as the quarter soprano in Shakespeare in Love. Photo by Sydney Deutsch.

Everyone knows Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet. But how did that play come to fruition and what was Shakespeare’s inspiration for the tragic tale?

Concordia University's production of Shakespeare in Love, a play adapted by Lee Hall and based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, takes us back to the days when William Shakespeare was a struggling poet and bard. 

William Shakespeare (Corey Flanders) has a bad case of writer’s block. It’s even more dire that he owes two producers a script for a new show, so the pressure is on. His best friend and fellow bard, Kit Marlowe (Caleb Gross), has agreed to help him find some inspiration and has even helped edit a few of his lines. In this day and age, more people are seeing and loving shows written by Marlowe rather than Shakespeare. 

Slowly but surely Shakespeare starts building the script for his famous Romeo and Juliet. He prematurely tells the producers he’s got something in the works and they run with it, holding auditions. At this time in history, women were not allowed to act on stage and all female roles were played by men in drag.

Bold Conversations: Theatre Nova's "What the Constitution Means to Me" explores big issues on a small stage

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

What the Constitution Means to Me. Photo by Heidi Schreck.

Emily Wilson-Tobin and Skye Solea debate What the Constitution Means to Me at Theatre Nova. Photo by Heidi Schreck.

New York Times theater critic Jesse Green hailed Heidi Schreck’s play What the Constitution Means to Me as “not just the best play on Broadway, but also the most important.” 

Here was a theater piece that grappled with real issues while also being funny and intimate. The playwright played herself, offering her story as a template for long-simmering grievance.

Schreck’s play was not the usual Broadway fare. The set was simple, the approach was friendly and beguiling—and then, quietly, outraged. Schreck used her own story to explore what the U.S. Constitution got right, where it failed, and its impact on the lives of everyone.

The play opened on Broadway in 2018, in the wake of the Me Too movement that put a bright spotlight on male privilege, violence, and smug disregard for half of the human race. 

Yes, the play is about the Constitution but its real subject is a dawning feminism and how that hallowed document has helped and hindered the freedom of women and minorities over the last 235 years.  

Theatre Nova is the perfect venue for Schreck’s play. It’s a small theater in the heart of a great university town, a place where arguments about the Constitution really matter. Nova is presenting What the Constitution Means to Me through November 9.

EMU’s "Sweet Charity" is fun and unique but needs just a little more sugar

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Isabella McQuigg stars as "Sweet" Charity Hope Valentine in EMU's production of the Broadway classic.

Isabella McQuigg stars as "Sweet" Charity Hope Valentine in EMU's production of the Broadway classic. Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre's Facebook page.

All is fair in love and dancing in Eastern Michigan University's production of Sweet Charity, running this weekend at the Legacy Theatre.

This beloved musical, which always pulls the heartstrings of hopeless romantics, was created by some of Broadway’s greatest: Cy Coleman (music), Dorothy Fields (lyrics), and Neil Simon (book), with the original Broadway show directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. 

Set in 1966, the show follows Charity Hope Valentine (Isabella McQuigg), a hostess for the Fandango Ballroom in New York City, who wants more for herself. At the top of the show she is dating Charlie (Levi Greunke), and while she sees the relationship as perfect, it’s one-sided and he’s using her for her money. He even pushes Charity into the Central Park lake and steals all the money out of her purse.