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).

Expression Zone: Poetry Night in Ann Arbor gives teens a chance to open up in a supportive space

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Poetry Night in Ann Arbor 2018

Three years ago, I nervously walked on a warmly lit stage as the last performer, and only freshman, in Poetry Night in Ann Arbor. An annual tradition that returns Dec. 15 at the Mendelssohn Theater, Poetry Night is an outstanding opportunity for teen poets to bleed part of their written body out into the world.

The structure of this event was refined recently by the new Neutral Zone Literary Arts Director, Molly Raynor. What once was a mass performance of youths ranging from beginners to seasoned poets is now a nurturing and intimate evening of some of the best performers Ann Arbor has to offer.

Hey There, Sister Pie: Lisa Ludwinski's new book shares recipes from her Detroit bakery

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Lisa Ludwinsky's Sister Pie

Author photograph by E.E. Berger

A friend of mine once almost gleefully described her hometown as having a great shop for all her foodie needs. A place to get cheese. A butcher with local meats. A restaurant selling pies. All nearby and not big-box stores. I thought of her joy in this collection of local businesses when I first encountered Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit, a new cookbook by Lisa Ludwinski based on her bakery of the same name, Sister Pie. Ludwinski started the business in 2012 in her parents’ kitchen in Milford, Michigan, and joins the many excellent establishments in the Detroit area that provide baked goods. 

But not just any baked goods.

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. 

Tall Tales: Steve Hughes spins surreal stories in "Stiff"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Steve Hughes and his book Stiff

Longtime Hamtramck resident Steve Hughes is a force of nature in his hometown. For over half a decade, Hughes curated the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts’ Festival where artists opened up the studios in their homes and attendees went on an “art crawl.” Hughes is also a founding member of Public Pool, an art cooperative that formed in 2010 with the goal of creating and supporting a wide range of art experiences. A year later, Hughes then decided that a literary component of the visual arts events was needed and so he created the Good Tyme Writers Buffet.

The literary series began with a dozen authors reading for about 10 minutes; it has since cut the number of readers and added a DJ. Hughes received a grant through the Knight Foundation and shaped the project into what it is today: a space for audiences to enjoy an evening of reading based on a theme. “We get people from the neighborhood, friends of the authors, readers," Hughes says. "A good mix of people who come out on a Saturday to hear the readers, listen to music, eat and drink.”

The readings are connected to the visual arts show in the space. “This month the show is called Bread and Clutter,” Hughes says. “So our six authors will read about food.”

For each event, Hughes writes a short story that connects to the theme. “I give myself an assignment every month,” he says. “And the only constraint is that it has to be read within a 10-15 minute time frame.”

This series and these stories led to the book, Stiff.

"Ocean" View: Jazz bassist Rob Crozier discusses his new album

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble

Bassist Rob Crozier, keyboardist Keaton Royer, percussionist Aron Kaufman, saxophonist  Rafael Statin, and drummer Rob Avsharian explore the natural world through music on the ensemble's new CD.

The Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble’s new recording, Ocean Blue, explores the theme of nature in general -- and water in particular -- in a variety of settings and styles. The nine original songs benefit from the support of a rock-solid band: primarily bassist Crozier on bass, Rafael Statin on horns, Keaton Royer on keyboards, Rob Avsharian on drums, and Aron Kaufman on percussion.

The follow-up to last year’s Tall Trees, the new album features Crozier’s compositions and the band’s skilled playing, which make for a powerful combination. The slightly mysterious quality of “Autumn Moon” does indeed evoke its namesake and would make a good soundtrack for Halloween. “Ocean Blue” is built around a sweet and somehow sad flute line courtesy of guest artist Kelly McDermott, Crozier’s wife. “Water Snakes” gives Crozier the chance to show his chops on, of all things, a didgeridoo. 

While most of Ocean Blue is instrumental, the opening and closing tracks do feature vocals. On “Water,” Terry Jackson recites a poem that inspired the music. “Into the Gloaming” features a funky beat, atmospheric charming vocals from Emma McDermott, and a compelling bass solo.

On two occasions, the album departs from its nature theme. “Keaton’s Blues” sounds like it belongs in a smoky New York piano bar in the 1940s, highlighted by Royer’s swinging and shuffling piano. Meanwhile, “R Is For Richko,” with its sharp drumming and inventive sax solo, might have fit comfortably in that same bar a couple decades later.

Crozier took the time to answer a few questions about the new album in advance of a show on Friday, Nov. 16, at Kerrytown Concert House.

An excerpt from "Head Over Feet in Love," the first novel by Ann Arbor's Patti F. Smith

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Patti Smith's Head Over Feet

Patti F. Smith is the author of the history books "Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor," "A People’s History of the People’s Food Co-op," and the forthcoming "Forgotten Ann Arbor" (spring 2019). (She's also a regular contributor to Pulp.) Her debut fiction novel, "Head Over Feet in Love," comes out as an ebook on November 14 and as a print edition in February 2019. Smith gives us some background on the book, followed by an excerpt from the novel.

The first draft featured protagonist Rebecca Slater as a famous author who got six-figure advances, whose book was being made into a movie, who employed several assistants to help her with fan mail. The second draft saw Becca as a famous author who got six-figure advances but no mention of movie deals or assistants. The third draft found Becca as an author with a cult following; she still made a living from it but no more talk of hefty advances or net worth. The fourth draft presented Becca as a teacher who wrote books on the side, making money but not enough to live on.

In the final version, Becca hasn’t even gotten published yet.

Many things changed in the years that I wrote and rewrote Head Over Feet in Love  -- Becca and her friends went from flip phones to smartphones, DSL to wi-fi, having a million dollars in the bank to scraping by as a teacher. But through it all Becca lived with bipolar disorder and anxiety.

Just like me.

U-M’s "Passing Strange" follows a rocking journey of discovery

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Passing Strange

Justin Showell stars as the Narrator in U-M's take on the 2008 Tony Award-winning Passing Strange.

In the late 1970s, a young African-American with musical ambitions left his strict religious home in Los Angeles to set out on a journey to discover who he was, what he believed and where he belonged.

Years later, the rock songwriter and musician known as Stew turned his story of self-discovery into the unusual and critically acclaimed musical Passing Strange. The musical, with book and lyrics by Stew, and music by Stew and a former bandmate, Heidi Rodewald, received seven 2008 Tony Award nominations and Stew won the award for best book. Passing Strange also won the Drama Desk Award for outstanding musical. 

His story resonated with those who lived during those years and it resonates still with young audiences, which makes it a perfect vehicle for young actors. The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre will present Passing Strange Nov. 15-18 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

Black Thought: Ann Arbor hip-hop artist Jamall Bufford addresses life's daily opera on new LP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jamall Bufford

Jamall Bufford is one of the most influential hip-hop artists from Ann Arbor. He has influenced many MCs in town with his quick wit, lyrical wordplay, and open-minded stances on social issues.

Previously known as Buff1, he rhymed with the hip-hop collective Athletic Mic League and later helped start the performing arts group The Black Opera. For those unfamiliar with this hometown gem, The Black Opera calls itself "rap’s first performing arts group" and the duo dress as different characters each song during their live shows. Bufford is also a solo artist and his latest album, Time In Between Thoughts, continues in pushing past the typical boundaries in usual hip-hop subject matter by exploring themes like colorism and the dangers of social media.

Bufford, who has performed with Eminem and Mos Def, performs at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on Friday, November 16, at 7 pm along with fellow A2 hip-hop artist DaG. We talked to Bufford about how Ann Arbor has influenced him as an MC, whether he’s an activist, and more.

It’s the words that are scary in Brass Tack’s "Blithe Spirit"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Brass Tacks Ensemble's Blithe Spirit

Ghouls, goblins, zombies, and ghosts.

Ooooh scary

Well, not all ghosts are scary.

Take Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. The ghost is mischievous but also charming. What is scary is the sarcasm that the characters hurl back and forth at each other. 

Brass Tacks Ensemble will present Coward’s humorous take on all things ghostly Nov. 2-4 and 9-11 under the direction of Aaron C. Wade.

“It’s a haunted tale with a little bit of comedy and it’s that time of the season for a ghost story,” said Wade. “It a fun challenge to do this sort of theater.”