Preview: National Theatre of Scotland: A Christmas Carol

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

The puppets of Christmas past, present, and future visit Scrooge in the National Theatre of Scotland's A Christmas Carol

The puppets of Christmas past, present, and future visit Scrooge in the National Theatre of Scotland's A Christmas Carol

Every year, at this time, audiences can choose from countless stage and screen versions of A Christmas Carol. Tiny Tim, Scrooge, and the Ghost of Christmas Past--characters created by Charles Dickens in 1843--are part of our shared holiday heritage. With so many professional and amateur productions each year, what new can be brought to this timeless and familiar classic?

With uniquely intimate staging, the National Theatre of Scotland brings its acclaimed version of A Christmas Carol to The University Music Society (UMS) for the holiday season. Using a mixture of puppets and actors, live music and a set that forces the audience into the action, director Graham McLaren mounted a theatrical experience that has Dicken’s original text at its core and will “challenge all notions of sentimental stage and screen adaptations.”

The Daily Telegraph raved that “every aspect of the piece contributes perfectly to its irresistibly magical atmosphere” and that the National Theatre of Scotland’s A Christmas Carol “deserves to be remembered as one of the classiest pieces of theatre to have been staged in Scotland, not only in the winter season, but at any time of year.”

Only 125 audience members will be seated at each staging, so it is best to get seats early.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


Performances of A Christmas Carol will run from Thursday, December 17 through Sunday, January 3 at The Power Center, 121 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor. For ticket information, visit ums.org.

Preview: The Three Musketeers, Young Actors Guild (YAG)

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All for one and one for all with YAG's The Three Musketeers

All for one and one for all with YAG's The Three Musketeers

Ann Arbor’s Young Actor’s Guild (YAG) presents The Three Musketeers, based on Alexandre Dumas’ classic historical novel chronicling the adventures of D’Artagnan and the Musketeers of the Guard in 17th century France. On the road to adventure, young D’Artagnan finds more than he bargains for with fellow swashbuckling musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis as they slice their way through considerable court intrigue in an attempt to thwart the scheming and powerful Cardinal Richelieu.

YAG’s performance is teeming with fight choreography led by trainer Melissa Freilich, a teacher of the Alexander Technique and advanced actor combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Performances of The Three Musketeers are Friday, December 18, 7:30 pm; Saturday, December 19, 2 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, December 20, 2:30 pm, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, University of Michigan campus, 911 N. University Ave. Tickets are $5.00 students, $10 adults ($15.00 for any two performances). Additional ticket information available at the YAG website.

Review: The Light in the Piazza, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance

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A talented cast brightens the stage in The Light in the Piazza

A talented cast brightens the stage in The Light in the Piazza / Photo by Peter Smith

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance loves to boast about the many graduates who are making a name for themselves on Broadway and in regional theaters across the country.

A new production of The Light in the Piazza at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the UM North Campus just might add significantly to that list. An uniformly outstanding cast gives life to a musically challenging work that is at times comic, romantic, and richly melodramatic.

The musical with book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel is base on a 1959 novella by Elizabeth Spencer about a mother and daughter trip to Italy. The time and lush setting suggest the romantic, Technicolor movie melodramas of the 1950s in which a family secret creates a tension that can only be resolved through love.

The UM production on the intimate Miller stage leaves the splendor of Florence, Italy, to the audience's imagination (for how could it ever be presented on a stage). The stage is bare except for chairs, a table and, in one key scene, a bed. These are moved about fluidly by the ensemble cast who remain on stage as a chorus of Florentines. The small orchestra is also on stage. Up front a common story plays out. Mother and daughter go to Italy, where once upon a time the mother and her husband had a carefree holiday before the realities of business and life intruded. The pretty but fragile daughter finds romance with a passionate young suitor from an equally passionate Italian family.

The "secret" is a childhood injury that has left the young girl mildly developmentally impaired. But this is the 1950s, and her parents want to protect her, or is it control her. A mother-daughter struggle ensues.

This is not your typical musical comedy. The music is rich and varied, moving from the lift of a jazz combo to the complex drama of grand opera. Music director Catherine A. Walker leads a five member orchestra through the score superbly. Walker also plays beautiful piano from boogie-woogie to rising romantic flourishes. This is not the kind of show in which you leave whistling a tune, but the songs musically and lyrically capture the range of emotions that are at the heart of the show.

The cast is challenged in unusual ways. The songs are in English and Italian. Some cast members must sing and speak in Italian and in the halting English we associate with Italian immigrants. They must also move easily from operatic passion to quietly tender emotion to joyful humor. Guest director Brian Hill makes it all work seamlessly. He has his young cast performing beyond their years and capturing every nuance of a richly nuanced play.

Christina Maxwell plays the delicate, charming daughter Clara. She perfectly captures the sweet innocent early on and the fierce young woman trying to make a life of her own as the story develops. He voice is sweet but, even in the tight confines of the Miller, needs more projection.

The Naccarelli family are a joy, even as they embody a variety of well-worn Italian stereotypes. Luke Steinhauer as Fabrizio, the suitor, is magnificently over the top in love. His "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" is at once passionate but outrageous and the reactions of his more knowing brother and father are hilarious. Ben Bogen is the philandering brother Giuseppe, quick and lively, who distracts his brother with a little jazz. Liesl Collazo is Giuseppe's tart-tongued, jealous but passionate wife and family translator, who also believes in love. David Barnes is suave and precise as the family patriarch who falls to the charms of Clara's mother and has a sweet duet with her. Kalia Medeiros brings spark to a giddy scene where she provides an explanation for what's going on when a family argument ensues in raucously rapid Italian.

But in this uniformly fine cast, one member stands out. Kaity Paschetto gives a star performance as Margaret, Clara's caring but tense mother. Paschetto resembles a young Angela Lansbury and seems to move as easily from comedy to drama to musical expression as that esteemed actress does. Her singing voice is bright, expressive, and emotional. She expresses excellent comic timing in her efforts to put off the suitor without causing a scene. But her best scenes are her sad encounters with her angry daughter and her long-distance conversations with an estranged husband (Charlie Patterson).


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

I'm Dreaming of Mortality

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE FILM & VIDEO

Joseph Keckler

Performance Artist and Vocalist Joseph Keckler / Photo by M. Sharkey

If you’re growing weary of all the holly jolly happenings that this time of year has to offer, then it might be time to take a break to contemplate mortality. I mean really take some time, like four hours worth, and spend it observing a classically trained vocalist perform operatic death after operatic death.

In Let Me Die, Joseph Keckler ties together and performs hundreds of deaths from the history of tragic opera. The project also involves a series of videos, incorporating operatic fragments into stories and images of contemporary life, realized in conjunction with Holly Hughes' Interarts class. Performance and video will be shown, surrounded by an environmental installation that sparsely combines operatic set elements. Audience members are welcome to come and go as they please during the four hour performance. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. MOCAD galleries and Cafe 78 will be open during the performance.

Joseph Keckler has spent the last few months as Witt Artist in Residence at the University of Michigan working with students to create music videos and to delve deeply into the world of the tragic. He has spent endless hours researching operatic deaths and has expertly categorized them under such headings as “the Stabbies,” "the Sickies,” and “the Poison People.” You can read more about his process in this great interview by M. Starkey.

Still not convinced? Then watch this video as a preview of the greatness that you will witness. Keckler sings Schubert to a cat. Need I say more?

Death is, quite simply, what gives meaning to life. Shakespeare understood this well as he wrote in King Richard II,
“O, but they say the tongues of dying men enforce attention like deep harmony.” Go to MOCAD this Saturday and face your mortal anxieties straight on.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and is mortal.


Joseph Keckler performs Let Me Die Saturday, December 12, from 1 – 5 pm at MOCAD, 4454 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201. In partnership with the Penny Stamps Speaker Series , the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), and the Roman J. Witt Artist in Residence Program. This event is free of charge and open to the public.

Preview: Once Upon An Ever After, Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Jr.

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Fairy tales get muddled in A2CT Jr's Once Upon an Ever After

Fairy tales get muddled in A2CT Jr's Once Upon an Ever After

What might happen if Goldilocks, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood were to stray from the forest path and into each other’s stories? Find out in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s Junior Theatre presentation of Once Upon an Ever After, a fun-filled mash-up fairy tale featuring dwarves, bears, princesses, and surprising plot twists improvised by a talented ensemble of 22 kids ages 6-15.

Director Andrea Klooster collaborated with her cast to produce the script, which developed from brainstorming sessions and improv games - an idea she came upon while teaching a drama class at Interlochen Arts Camp in 1991. “I had recently seen Into the Woods for the first time, and I thought it would be fun to see what my students would do if we mixed some stories together. Once Upon an Ever After is a much more involved version of that idea.”

After the brainstorming sessions, the kids improvised their way through various scenes playing different roles each time, while the assistant director took notes of great ideas and dialogue that Klooster would eventually incorporate into a final script.

The result is both a play that didn’t exist before and an organic process for the actors, mixing familiar characters with unexpected and off-the-wall ideas performed by the very people who came up with them. “Because we didn't cast anyone in a specific role until after the script was written, the actors all experienced many of the roles and can see their own ideas throughout the show.”

Klooster had loads of fun and is proud of the kids’ efforts: “I was hoping the performers would unleash their creativity and create something awesome, and they have exceeded my hopes! This show is full of ideas that I would never have had, and is so much better than it would have been if I had just tried to write it myself.”


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Performances of Once Upon An Ever After are December 4-6, 2015, at the Children’s Creative Center (1600 Pauline Blvd., Ann Arbor, MI 48103). Friday night’s performance is at 7:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday performances are at 1 pm and 3:30 pm both days. Tickets are $5 for children and $8 for adults, and seating is general admission. Tickets available at the door or by calling the A2CT box office at 734–971–2228. Additional information is also available at www.a2ct.org. Appropriate for ages four and up.

Preview: An Almost British Christmas, Theatre Nova

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British Panto comes to Ann Arbor in Theatre Nova's An Almost British Christmas

British Panto comes to Ann Arbor in Theatre Nova's An Almost British Christmas

With the Holidays just weeks away, local professional theater company Theatre Nova will unwrap a delightful early Christmas present for local audiences.

An Almost British Christmas, based on popular British theatrical traditions of Panto or Pantomine, will blend elements of music, comedy, slapstick, and vaudeville. Audiences can boo the villain and cheer the hero in this family-friendly, fast-paced production, directed by Artistic Director Carla Milarch and featuring Wayne David Parker, Jennifer Graham, and Vicki Morgan.

This musical comedy, recommended for ages 5 to adult, will also highlight a special celebrity guest at each performance. Mayor Chris Taylor, Laurie Atwood of the Children’s Creative Center, local jazz singer Courtney Riddle, and the Gemini family are among those scheduled for a British Christmas visit. The guest list also includes Elsa from Frozen, and, of course, Santa Claus.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


Performances of ​ An Almost British Christmas ​begin Friday, November 27 and will run through December 20, with performances on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. For information, visit www.theatrenova.org, or call 734-635-8450. Theatre Nova is located at The Yellow Barn, 416 W. Huron in Ann Arbor.

Preview: Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story

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The Candy Man comes back to life in the Performance Network's Why Not Me?

The Candy Man comes back to life in the Performance Network's Why Not Me?

A Michigan premiere of an original play chronicling the life of a beloved entertainer will be featured this December at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network. Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story and Dickens: An A Capella Carol will run in repertory through December.

Originally performed to sold-out houses in Chicago last summer, Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story, written and directed by Tim Rhoze, is set in 1989, a year before the famed singer’s death. In this compelling new play, the iconic star reflects on the tragic car accident that took his eye, and other personal and public stumbling blocks he overcame in his career. Chicago actor Sean Blake reprises his role as Sammy Davis Jr., a performance that won him a Best Actor nomination at the Chicago Black Theater Alliance Awards.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


A preview performance is scheduled for Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story on Tuesday, November 24 with opening night on Wednesday, November 25. Performances will vary with Dickens: An A Capella Carol Tuesday through Sunday each week, and the final performance is scheduled for Sunday, December 20. Tickets may purchased online at www.pntheatre.org or by calling the box office at 734­-663­-0681. Performance Network is located at 120 E. Huron in Ann Arbor.

Preview: Dickens: An A Capella Carol

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Three ghosts visit the Performance Network throughout December

Three ghosts visit the Performance Network throughout December

Starting this week, a world premiere retelling of a Holiday classic will be featured at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network. Dickens: An A Capella Carol and Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story will run in repertory through December.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is musically revisited in an enchanting world premiere production of Dickens: An A Capella Carol directed by Suzi Regan. A treat for the entire family, the production features classic songs, a quartet of holiday carolers, and a mysterious storyteller.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


Dickens: An A Capella Carol will preview on Friday, November 27, with a Saturday, November 28 opening. Performances will vary with Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story Tuesday through Sunday each week, and the final performance is scheduled for Sunday, December 20. Tickets may purchased online at www.pntheatre.org or by calling the box office at 734­-663­-0681. Performance Network is located at 120 E. Huron in Ann Arbor.

Preview: Shrek, Young People's Theater

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It's all ogre but the shouting in YPT's Shrek the Musical

It's all ogre but the shouting in YPT's Shrek the Musical

You’ve seen it all before. A magical kingdom. A fair maiden locked in a tower guarded by a fiery dragon. A valiant hero and his trusty steed on a quest to free oppressed subjects from a hateful despot. Yes, all this and more can be found in Shrek, the Musical. Er, sort of….

In this song-filled take on William Steig’s classic children’s book, our hero is a crabby, flatulating ogre and his steed is a smart-alecky and annoying donkey. The maiden's also not quite what she appears to be and the oppressed subjects are familiar fairy tale characters led by a Pinocchio even Papa Geppetto would be hard-pressed to love.

Details … details. Be all that as it may, Shrek, the Musical, is a lot of fun and Young People’s Theater always puts on a really big show.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Shrek runs Thursday, November 19 - Sunday, November 22, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on the University of Michigan's Central Campus. For tickets, call 734-763-TKTS. $15 adults; $10 children, students, and Seniors 65+. For more information, visit Young People's Theater's website.

Preview: Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, Community Ensemble Theatre (CET)

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Performers bring the intensity in Community High School's Community Ensemble Theater's production of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

Performers bring the intensity in Community High School's Community Ensemble Theater's production of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

Community High School’s Community Ensemble Theatre (CET) will take on the highly ambitious, experimental play-of-many-plays, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind starting this weekend. This challenging interactive production, adapted for teenage performers from the Chicago production that debuted in 1988 - currently the city’s longest-running play at 25 years - is built around 30 two-minute “plays” in a 60-minute speed format.

In his 2010 review of the Chicago production, Chicago Theater Beat critic Keith Ecker described Too Much Light - then in its 21st year and still selling out every show - as “a complete and utter oddity,” citing its ideological kinship with the 20th century Italian Futurism movement.

CET director Quinn Strassel recently said, “This show is funny, edgy, and at times highly emotional. Most importantly, the unorthodox structure allows us to feature dozens of kids in lead roles."

“It's ambitious," adds Strassel, “but I think the kids are excited about taking on the challenge.”

Hardly your typical high school theater fare, Too Much Light... has only recently been made available to educational theatre companies, so Ann Arbor is finally getting its chance to see what all the fuss is about.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind will be performed in the Craft Theater at Community High School on November 12 & 13 at 7:30 pm, November 14 at 1 pm and at 7:30 pm, and November 15 at 2 pm. Tickets are $12.50 for adults and $9 for students and seniors, and are available online.