U-M Musical Theatre offers hard-hitting drama "The Exonerated"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

University of Michigan's production of The Exonerated

The acting students at the University of Michigan’s Department of Musical Theatre will be shifting gears to perform in The Exonerated, a docudrama that reveals serious problems in the United States criminal system.

The Exonerated by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen tells the true stories of six wrongfully accused convicted survivors of death row in their own words. The script was prepared from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files, and the public record.

Theatre Nova’s "The How and the Why" explores radical and exciting ideas

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's production of The How and the Why

L to R: Diane Hill as Zelda and Sayre Fox as Rachel in The How and the Why by Sarah Treem at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Golden Record Media Company.

It’s a beautiful thing when a play not only passes the Bechdel test with flying colors but offers an intellectually satisfying evening of theater, too.

For Theatre Nova’s production of Sarah Treem’s The How and the Why focuses entirely on the charged conversations between two women: tenured evolutionary biologist Zelda Kahn (Diane Hill) and the daughter she gave up for adoption, post-doc student Rachel Hardemann (Sayre Fox). 

As they meet for the first time, Zelda’s department is preparing to host an important conference. When Rachel reveals the radical theory she’s developed concerning the “why” of human female menstruation -- that it acts as a kind of physiological defense mechanism -- Zelda offers her the chance to present her ideas at the conference. When things don’t go well, Rachel’s left to wonder: Did Zelda set her up to fail out of professional jealousy? Or did Zelda just naively give Rachel an opportunity that she and her theory weren’t quite ready for?

Encore Theatre presents an emotionally taut staging of “Next to Normal”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Next to Normal

Bipolar disorder is not the usual musical fare. But the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal joins such recent topical musicals as Avenue Q, Rent, Dear Evan Hansen, and Hamilton as a forum for dealing with current issues using music and words to drive home tough lessons.

The Encore Theatre production of Next to Normal, with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, will not send you home whistling a tune, but it will leave you with a better understanding of the pain, confusion, and challenges faced by those with bipolar disorder and the family and friends around them.

Chamber of Secrets: Purple Rose Theatre's "Never Not Once" pulls no punches as it explores a family's difficult history

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Never Not Once at Purple Rose Theatre

Michelle Mountain (Allison), Caitlin Cavannaugh (Eleanor), Jeremy Kucharek (Rob), and Casaundra Freeman (Nadine) star in Carey Crim’s grab-you-by-the-lapels drama Never Not Once. Photos by Sean Carter Photography.

We often hear that people shouldn’t be permanently defined by their worst decision or act. But on the other end of that equation, all too often, are men and women who are irrevocably shaped by the violence committed against them.

Carey Crim’s latest world premiere play at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre, Never Not Once, directed by Guy Sanville, treads rather boldly across this ethical minefield. 

When Rutgers student Eleanor (Caitlin Cavannaugh) comes home unannounced, with boyfriend Rob (Jeremy Kucharek) in tow, and announces to her two moms that she aims to track down her biological father, her birth mother, Allison (Michelle Mountain), balks, insisting that the one night stand that left her pregnant in college was so inconsequential that she never even learned the man’s name. But when Eleanor’s other mom, Nadine (Casaundra Freeman), secretly supplies Eleanor with a possible clue regarding her father’s identity, the search narrows, and Allison is forced to revisit a trauma from her past.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Never Not Once is an intense 90 minutes of live theater, despite some moments of levity in the early going. It tackles some tough stuff, and for the most part, it doesn’t pull its punches. But then, it can’t afford to. If you’re going to “go there,” as Crim has chosen to do, you’ve got to have the guts to go all in. So don’t go to the Rose expecting to passively sit back and be entertained by Never. It’s more a grab-you-by-the-lapels kind of show.

Pulp Bits: Matthew Dear, A2 Folk Festival, Washtenaw music clubs, AADL archives Twitter

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE

Cast of Dionysus 1969

Two members of the cast of Dionysus in '69, the manager and assistant manager await fingerprinting and booking procedures in the Ann Arbor Police Headquarters. Credit: Ann Arbor News, January 27, 1969, via AADL archives' new Twitter feed.

A round-up of Washtenaw County arts and culture news.

Ann Arbor musician and Ghostly International co-founder Matthew Dear spent six years crafting his latest solo album, Bunny, which came out Oct. 12, 2018.

But for his contribution to FACTmagazine's "Against the Clock" series, Dear put together a song in 10 minutes.

Check out that Dear video below, plus the promo clip for the album single "Bunny's Dream," along with news on the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, the suddenly thriving Washtenaw County music club scene, and the AADL archives team recall a 1969 theatrical production that was accused of indecency.

Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series Winter 2019 lineup

Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series collage of winter 2019 events

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.

About a Century Since: UMGASS tackles The Grand Duke

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

The Cast of UMGASS's The Grand Duke

The Cast of The Grand Duke at the Mendelssohn Theater.

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).

University of Michigan brings the revelry of "Twelfth Night" to the Power Center

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

University of Michigan's Twelfth Night

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. 

All that in a rich, rewarding script make Twelfth Night a natural choice for the University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre & Drama, which presents the play Dec. 6-9 at the Power Center. 

Theatre Nova's annual panto gets goofy for Hanukkah with "The Elves and the Schumachers"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's The Elves and the Schumachers

Sarah B. Stevens, Dan Morrison, and Elizabeth Jaffe in The Elves and the Schumachers by Carla Milarch and R MacKenzie Lewis at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Golden Record Media Company.

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. 

Encore’s "Hello, Dolly!" is still looking swell

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore's Hello, Dolly!

Photo by Michele Anliker Photography

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.