Civic Theatre musical will take audiences on a "First Date"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

First Date at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre

Musical chairs: Drew Benson and Sarah Mazurek star in the pop- and rock-centric First Date.

Awkward!

Even terrifying at times.

That first date can make you sweat.  

That’s the premise of the chamber musical First Date, book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner.

Aaron C. Wade will direct the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of First Date, March 8-11, at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the north campus of the University of Michigan.

PTD’s "Disgraced" explores tensions in multicultural USA

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The cast of PTD Productions' Disgraced

Present, tense: Neel Vaidya, Ryan McGriff, Lisa Coveney, and Angelicia Morton star in PTD Productions' take on the Pulitzer-winning Disgraced.

Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced begins slowly but builds into a fierce confrontation and a hard breakdown in social and political correctness. This 2012 drama is hot-wired with themes that still rattle American society at all social levels.

Ypsilanti’s PTD Productions dares to jump in with a generally compelling production of an emotionally and intellectually difficult play. Director Joe York gets fine performances from his cast, even though some are a bit miscast for the roles they play. This is a topical play that is also personal and deserves an audience.

Kickshaw Theatre's "Or," is a farce with sharp teeth

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Kickshaw Theatre's Or,

Plagued with laughs: Daniel Helmer and Vanessa Sawson star in the sharp-edged farce Or,. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Farce is tricky to pull off, but when it’s done well, there are few things funnier. The rest of the time, it’s either tedious or just plain embarrassing. Unfortunately, there isn’t much mediocre farce.

A lot of what sets the sublime apart from the shabby is precision. Yes, all comedy relies on timing, but farce requires lightning-fast costume changes, flitting facial expressions, and meticulously calibrated entrances.

Thankfully, Or, the newest production from Kickshaw Theatre is an exquisite farce as performed by masters of their craft.

Restored “Porgy and Bess” Score to Be Showcased at Hill Auditorium

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Porgy and Bess

Left: Todd Duncan (Porgy) and Anne Brown (Bess), 1935. Right: John Bubbles (Sportin’ Life) and Brown, 1935. Photos courtesy the Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts.

The version of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess that will be performed at Hill Auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 17, won’t be tremendously different from other renditions familiar to audiences through the decades. But it will be the closest thing anyone’s heard in quite some time to the “folk opera” performed just the way its creators intended.

Saturday’s opera is part of the Gershwin Initiative -- a long-term partnership between the Gershwin family and the University of Michigan. Presented by the University Musical Society and the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the event will mark the public debut of a new, scholarly edition of the opera’s score. Morris Robinson as Porgy and Talise Trevigne as Bess lead the cast; the performance will also include the University Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Kiesler; the UMSMTD Chamber Choir, directed by Jerry Blackstone; and the Our Own Thing Chorale, directed by Willis Patterson.

U-M's "You for Me for You" is a surreal, sensitive take on immigration

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

You for Me for You cast photo

U-M students Levana Wang (left) as Junhee and Amanda Kuo as Minheein You for Me for You by playwright Mia Chung. Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

Time, space, and matters of the heart converge in Mia Chung’s surreal drama You for Me for You.

Chung’s 2012 play hits on two red-hot topics -- immigration and the tension between North Korea and the United States -- in a story of two loving sisters who become separated in time and space.

You for Me for You will be presented Feb. 15-18 by the University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre and Drama at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

Fantastic Beasts: Neighborhood Theatre Group's "Cryptic"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Cryptic poster for Neighborhood Theatre Group

Everyone gathered once all the tables had been pushed together in the center of the room and enough chairs had been scrounged. Scripts were handed out and a notebook was passed around for the actors and crew members to write their names, roles, and contact info while introductions were made around the large makeshift table.

There were no monsters or mythical creatures in sight.

Chekhov, Mate: "Wild Honey" is a comedic adapation of an unfinished tragedy

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Wild Honey graphic

Everybody loves Anton Chekhov’s plays. They’re thought-provoking, they’re poignant, and they’re hilarious crowd-pleasers.

OK, that last one might be a bit of a stretch, but at least Wild Honey, Michael Frayn’s adaptation of Chekhov’s untitled first play, is a hilarious crowd-pleaser.

Penny Seats' "Edges" is a song cycle about navigating your 20s

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Detail of the promotional poster for The Penny Seats' production of Edges

Detail of the promotional poster for The Penny Seats' production of Edges, written by Tony-winning U-M alumni Benj Pasek and Justin Paul when they were 19-year-old sophomores.

The Penny Seats Theatre Company has a celebrated history of presenting high-quality productions of shows that may not be especially well known. Peter and the Starcatcher, and Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well... are some of the just-out-of-the-mainstream productions the theater company has offered the last few years.

The Penny Seats' newest production, Edges, written by University of Michigan alumni Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (of The Greatest Showman, La La Land, and Dear Evan Hansen fame) is no exception. Edges is a song cycle, which means there isn’t much plot, but instead a central theme; in this case, navigating the adventures and struggles that come with being in your 20s. (The musical's best-known tune is "Be My Friend," aka "The Facebook Song.")

Edges is being staged at the Kerrytown Concert House from Feb. 8-16. I spoke with cast members Matthew Pecek, Kristin McSweeney, and Logan Balcom about the differences between working on a song cycle and a more traditional musical, the show’s relevance for people in their 20s and beyond, and more.

Artistic Pedagogy: "Dancing Globally" at the University of Michigan

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Madeline Joss and Nicolas Hopkin dance in Ohad Naharin's Mabul at University of Michigan's Dancing Globally

U-M students Madeline Joss and Nicolas Hopkin dance in Ohad Naharin's Mabul.

You’re setting the energy level pretty high when you blast a Dick Dale surf-guitar version of “Hava Nagila” before the lights even go down. My expectations were high, too, for the first night of University of Michigan Department of Dance’s four-day Dancing Globally event (Feb. 1-4).

Multiverses of Meaning: "Constellations" at Theatre Nova

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Constellations at Theatre Nova

Meghan VanArsdalen and Forrest Hejkal navigate the multiverse in Constellations. Photo by Jee-Hak Pinsoneault.

British playwright Nick Payne’s celebrated two-person play Constellations deals with quantum multiverses: multiple universes in which many different outcomes can come from the same, or a similar starting point. But don’t worry, you don’t need a Ph.D. in theoretical physics to understand and love the play, which is at Theatre Nova until Feb. 18.