Locked-Up With Laughter: A2 Civic Theatre’s "My Three Angels" is a sharp family comedy

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

My Three Angels

L-R: Dillon Roseen, Theo Polley, Jim Sullivan, and Ellen Finch in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's My Three Angels. Photo by Lisa Gavan | Gavan Photo.

When Barbara Mackey King proposed directing My Three Angels for this season at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, she had two goals in mind. One was for actors and the other for audiences.

“I was in another play at Civic Theatre and everyone was talking about how there weren’t a lot of great plays for older actors,” she said. “I thought I can help with that and I remembered My Three Angels, which has some very fine parts for older, experienced actors.”

She was also looking for a play that would appeal to a diverse audience.

“I chose this play because it’s what I would call a good family comedy,” she said. “By that I mean not Leave It to Beaver or something like that, not for tiny kids. But something that the whole family can enjoy. It’s not too salacious or suggestive or anything like that. It’s something you can bring older kids to.”

She said that’s important for the future of live theater.

U-M’s take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s "The Pirates of Penzance" zips along in swashbuckling style

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

U-M's Pirates of Penzance

It is the very model of a modern musical comedy.

The University of Michigan Department of Music’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ever-popular The Pirates of Penzance moves along faster than the celebrated major-general’s patter song. The tiny Lydia Mendelssohn stage is alive with color, movement, and music.

Director Vincent J. Cardinal has chosen the 1980 Joseph Papp New York version of Penzance with more swashbuckling, dancing and some reinterpretation of Sullivan’s music. That production starred Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, and Rex Smith. U-M’s production is filled to overflowing with musical theater stars of the future.

All the Town's a Stage: Ann Arbor Civic Theatre celebrates its 90th anniversary

THEATER & DANCE INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre cast member rehearses for Voice of the Turtle, October 1948

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre cast member rehearses for Voice of the Turtle, October 1948. Photo donated by © The Ann Arbor News.

On Broadway in 1929, the Marx Brothers had them rolling in the aisles with Animal Crackers, Louis Armstrong was singing and playing a driving trumpet in “Hot Chocolates,” William Gillette was back for another turn at Sherlock Holmes, and Cole Porter had his first big hit with “Fifty Million Frenchmen.”

On a more serious note, Porgy by Dorothy and DuBose Heyward debuted and Eugene O’Neill Strange Interlude starring Lynn Fontanne was a big draw.

In Ann Arbor, a group with a passion for theater started a private club that began meeting to study and perform script readings. That passion is still glowing as the club that became the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre celebrates its 90th anniversary.

“That was sort of an outlet for people who wanted to get involved in theater but weren’t part of the university, because there wasn’t a community outlet at that time,” said Alexandra Berneis, Civic Theatre executive director. “They met at homes and in basements and things like that. They read plays, thinking about what they would do about creating an artistic outlet for people.”

Great Lakes Ghosts: Roustabout Theatre Troupe Haunts Ypsi With New Zettelmaier Play 

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW INTERVIEW

Julia Garlotte and Dan Johnson in Roustabout Theatre Troupe's production of Haunted.

Julia Garlotte and Dan Johnson are two of the actors who play multiple roles in Roustabout Theatre Troupe's production of Joseph Zettelmaier’s Haunted: The Great Lakes Ghost Project.

Joseph Zettelmaier’s Haunted: The Great Lakes Ghost Project. which closes the Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s season at the Ypsilanti Experimental Space (YES) this month, might never have been written if the founder of another Washtenaw County theater hadn’t encouraged him to write. After studying acting at Shorter University in Georgia, he returned to his family in Michigan and secured an acting apprenticeship at the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea. 

Playwriting? That wasn’t Zettelmaier’s plan. 

Apprentices at the Rose often perform on nights when the theater doesn’t have public performances. Sometimes they do original pieces, so Zettelmaier tried his hand at a few pages. “The night we did it, Jeff [Daniels] came up to me and said, ‘Give me 100 pages.’ I had an interest in playwriting, but it was Jeff’s interest in my interest that got me started,” Zettelmaier recalls.

U-M’s "Sense and Sensibility" is an ever-swirling dance

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

University of Michigan's production of Sense and Sensibility

Life is an ever swirling dance in Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s satirical romance Sense and Sensibility.

Director Priscilla Lindsay keeps her cast, the scenery, the furnishings and the barrage of witty bon mots and nasty comments in constant motion in the University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre and Drama production of Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility.

Reimagining Austen’s book as a dance is a way of both condensing it to a workable length and giving it a theatrical motion that helps capture the often uneasy and swiftly changing fortunes of middle-class England in the early 1800s. 

Austen is romance, subtle wit, keen observation of social manners and, also, an early feminist outrage at what women had to do have a socially acceptable life.

The Purple Rose Theatre's "Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Fallen Soufflé" rises to the occasion

PULP THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Fallen Souffle at The Purple Rose Theatre

Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Local Baker Street Irregulars who enjoyed David MacGregor’s 2018 world premiere production of Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre may now revisit the world’s most famous detective in his London flat for yet another all-new case.

MacGregor’s world premiere follow-up, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Fallen Soufflé, directed by Michelle Mountain, opened this past weekend at the Purple Rose. Fans of Ear will not only recognize the same actors playing the show’s primary roles -- nice bit of continuity, that -- but also Bartley H. Bauer’s sumptuous, award-winning set, which has been gloriously resurrected.

Just as Ear wove together cases involving Victorian-era celebrities Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde -- I believe I likened it to a lofty, arts-centric Love Boat episode -- Soufflé does the same, this time bringing both world-renowned chef Auguste Escoffier (Tom Whalen) and Prince of Wales Albert Edward (David Bendena) to 221B Baker Street.

Theater Nova’s "Admissions" is an outstanding, relevant drama 

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's Admissions

Left to right: Joe Bailey as Bill, Jeremy Kucharek as Charlie, and Diane Hill as Sherri in Admissions by Joshua Harmon at Theatre Nova. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Theatre Nova does it again with an outstanding production of a play that is both an intimate family drama and a relevant piece of social commentary. 

Joshua Harmon’s Admissions is a precise, nuanced, and often funny take on the affirmative action debate and how it plays out in the real world. As the University of Michigan has long been at the center of the debate on affirmative action, the play has a special interest for Ann Arbor. Harmon doesn’t take sides; instead, he examines the tensions, the presumptions of white privilege and the hypocrisies of those with the best of intentions.

Sherri Rosen-Mason is the admissions officer for Hillcrest, an elite prep school in New Hampshire. Her husband Bill Mason is the school principal. They are white, well educated, politically liberal, and dedicated to making their school more racially and ethnically diverse.

But what happens when their ideals and good intentions suddenly conflict with the ambitions of their talented, intelligent son who wants to go to Yale.

Encore Theatre's production of the Tony-winning "Fun Home" passes the test

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's production of Fun House

Sarah Stevens as Big Alison in Encore Theatre's production of Fun Home. Photo by Michele Anliker.

When I first read Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home -- the basis for a Tony Award-winning musical of the same name, now on stage at Dexter’s Encore Theatre -- I immediately sent copies of the book out to my three closest girlfriends.

It wasn’t Christmas or anyone’s birthday, but I couldn’t contain myself. Bechdel’s groundbreaking, bracingly candid, and bittersweet chronicle of a family tragedy gripped me so profoundly that my first, undeniable impulse was to share her story with others.

The stage musical adaptation -- with music by Jeanine Tesori, and book and lyrics by Michigan’s own Lisa Kron -- necessarily pares Bechdel’s tale down to its essentials, but it’s no less poignant while depicting Bechdel’s gleeful, college-age “coming out” and, shortly thereafter, her closeted father’s sudden suicide.

At Encore, Sarah B. Stevens plays the always-on-stage, present-day version of Bechdel, who’s struggling to sketch out and narrate her family’s history. (The “Fun Home” of the title is the nickname Alison and her younger brothers had as kids for the funeral home that has long been the Bechdels’ “family business.”) As she draws, she remembers various moments from her childhood and college days as they play out in front of her, until she finally can’t resist inserting her present-day self into the last late-night drive she ever took with her father (Daniel C. Cooney), urging herself to say something that will alter the course of what’s about to happen.

The 2019 edition of Rasa -- Akshara's annual multi-arts, inspired by India festival -- hits the home stretch

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Akshara dancers

The fall 2019 edition of Akshara's Rasa Festival is coming to a close, but not before it celebrates with four "multi-arts, inspired by India" events.

"Dances of India: classical and folk traditions" happens Thursday, September 19, at 7 pm, at AADL's downtown location. It will feature classical and folk dances from India, plus a discussion on the historical and cultural context of each.

The following night at 7 pm will be "Music from the East and the West," also at AADL's downtown branch. Indian and western musicians will talk about the concepts behind Indian and western music, and how they collaborate to create new music. This will be accompanied by a short concert.

The largest event of the festival is "Rasa Performing Arts Weekend: dance|music, east|west, classical|folk" on Saturday, September 21, 4 pm, at Towsley Auditorium, Washtenaw Community College. This is an evening of classical and folk dances from India as well as a concert that brings together Indian and western music traditions.

Civic kicks off a new season with the meta-musical "Urinetown"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2 Civic Theatre's production of Urinetown

Eeww!

The funny, punny title of Urinetown: The Musical may wrinkle some noses, but the show has been a smash hit off and on Broadway and at theaters across the United States since it opened in New York in 2001. On Sept. 12, the pee-centered satire will kick off the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s 90th anniversary year.

Urinetown: The Musical is the most important musical of the 21st Century with the worst title,” said Rob Roy in an email interview. “In fact, it’s that meta approach to the subject matter that makes it even more relevant to the audience. One is never allowed to just sit and be entertained. Authors Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman specifically brought Bertolt Brecht’s verfremdungseffekt to the show to force the audience to pay attention to the vital subject matter: our way of life is unsustainable.”

Verfremdungseffekt is a German word for a distancing technique used in theater and film to prevent an audience from getting too wrapped up in the story instead of bringing a critical mind to the ideas being explored. 

This meta-comedy is a shrapnel satire aiming for big capitalism and populism, bungling government bureaucracy and corrupt business with a format and musical score that lampoons the very idea of serious-minded musical entertainment, including the seminal work of Brecht and his musical collaborator Kurt Weill on The Threepenny OperaUrinetown was a critical as well as popular success, winning three Tony Awards and many other honors.