A2 Civic’s "Fahrenheit 451" draws parallels to our current political "catastrophe"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Fahrenheit 451

Luc Robinson stars as the book-burning fireman Guy Montag in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

In Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, firemen don’t put out fires, they start them with a temperature that burns book paper. 

An authoritarian government has decided that books just confuse people with too many ideas, too many alternatives. They prefer people who like to watch hours of mindless television while their minds gently drift away on drugs.

David Widmayer is directing Bradbury’s stage version of Fahrenheit for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. He said Bradbury’s fears may be more relevant than they’ve ever been. Fahrenheit, along with 1984, Brave New World, and a slew of modern dystopian stories have been in vogue in the last few years.

AADL's Fifth Avenue Press returns with five new books & a release reception on May 5

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fifth Avenue Press logo

The Ann Arbor District Library's Fifth Avenue Press helps local authors produce a print-ready book at no cost -- from copyediting to cover design -- and the writers retain all rights. In return, the library gets to distribute ebooks to its patrons without paying royalties, but authors can sell their books -- print, digital, or audio -- however they choose and keep all the proceeds.

Started in 2017, Fifth Avenue launches its third round of books on Sunday, May 5, with a free catered reception from 1-3 pm in the lobby of AADL's downtown location, featuring author readings from the imprint's five new titles.

Click the book titles below to read interviews with the authors:

Rock 'n' Roll Heart: JD McPherson at The Blind Pig

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

JD McPherson band

Photo by Jena Ardell

I was a fan of JD McPherson’s music the moment I heard his debut album, Signs & Signifiers, around seven years ago. This was high-energy rock 'n' roll that immediately brought to mind the early masters of the genre -- think Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochrane, Bo Diddley.  

Rural Oklahoma native McPherson specializes in original material, not cover versions, and he and his dynamite group -- together for eight years -- put a fresh spin on music too often thought of as golden oldies, something safe and nostalgic. McPherson’s discography is thoroughly listenable and also includes 2015’s Let the Good Times Roll, 2017’s Undivided Heart & Soul (my personal favorite), plus Socks, his delightful album of new Christmas songs released late last year.

McPherson and his band -- bassist Jimmy Sutton, keyboardist Raynier Jacob Jacildo, drummer Jason Smay, and saxophonist/guitarist Doug Corcoran -- were in fantastic form when they played in Ann Arbor last summer as part of Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch concert series, and they return to town this Wednesday, April 17 for a show at The Blind Pig. I caught up with JD McPherson by phone last week as he was getting ready for a concert in Calgary, Alberta and had a lively discussion about everything from favorite recording studios to Socks to the reasons behind his rock 'n' roll sensibility.

Busting Up the Boys Club: Ladies Laugh Night at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase

PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2 Comedy Showcase's Ladies Laugh Night comediennes

Clockwise from upper left: Connie Ettinger, Brandi Alexander, Kate Brindle, and Nicole Majdali.

John Belushi said it. Christopher Hitchens also said it. Jerry Lewis said it, too. They all said the thing that they likely would have never said about any other group: women aren’t funny.

If you need proof that women are funny -- and you shouldn’t, but in case you do -- come out to Ladies Laugh Night at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase on Thursday, April 11. The show features an all-woman lineup of Brandi Alexander, Nicole Majdali, Kate Brindle, and Connie Ettinger

Comedy Showcase owner Claudia Neeb includes more female comedians in the club’s lineup because “we believe in seeking out diverse types of comedians, including women. As a club, we try to ‘grow’ comedians by encouraging them to work on and strengthen their talent and then move onto the next level.”

U-M takes on Sondheim’s "Sweeney Todd," a musical challenge and a macabre story

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sweeney Todd

Artwork from the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd.

The musical theater students at the University of Michigan will take a walk on the dark side when they present their production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Power Center, April 18-21.

Sweeney Todd is an unusual show, combining dark humor, odd characters, a bit of the music hall, a bit of the opera and quite a lot of blood. 

Stephen Sondheim, the master of modern musical theater, has often taken on unorthodox musical theatre material from a survey of presidential assassins to a grim take on fairy tales to a bittersweet reworking of an Ingmar Bergman film.

But Sweeney Todd goes a few steps further into a grim story of revenge that balances horror with some deliciously off-kilter humor and some complex and compelling music.  

This Woman's Work: Camille Noe Pagan’s "I’m Fine and Neither Are You" tracks the troubles and radical honesty of a working mom

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Camille Noe Pagan and her book I'm Fine and Neither Are You

Author photo by Myra Klarman

The opening chapters of Camille Noe Pagan’s fifth book, I’m Fine and Neither Are You, communicate the struggles of the modern-day working mother. Penelope Ruiz-Kar is in it up to her eyeballs, “which is pretty much every woman I know these days," says the Ann Arbor-based Pagan.

The book follows Penelope as she juggles a full-time job, an underemployed husband, and rambunctious children as well as day-to-day adulting. Meantime, Penelope’s best friend Jenny seems to have the perfect life -- a wealthy husband, an enviable marriage, the luxury of not having to work, one child who always behaved impeccably. Jenny appears to have it all, have it made. But everything is not what it seems.

Harping Through Life: Peter Madcat Ruth celebrates his 70th birthday at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Peter Madcat Ruth

A breathtakingly brilliant harmonica player who’s been an essential part of the Ann Arbor music scene for decades, Peter Madcat Ruth will officially celebrate his 70th birthday on Tuesday, April 2. But his big birthday bash will happen two days later at The Ark on Thursday, April 4, when he’ll be joined by an impressive number of special guests for a roof-raising celebration. Joining Madcat at The Ark will be Howard Levy, Chris Brubeck, Joshua Davis, Corky Siegel, Shari Kane, Seth Bernard, Rachael Davis, Drew Howard, Michael Shimmin, Mark Schrock, Dominic Davis, William Apostol, Dick Siegel, and Joel Brown, with the proceedings emceed by WEMU-FM music host Michael Jewett. 

Madcat is understandably best known for his virtuosic harmonica playing, but he’s also a gifted vocalist and just as impressive on ukulele, guitar, and a host of other instruments.

Recently I spoke to the laid-back, always friendly American roots music practitioner about his career, his upcoming birthday bash, and some of the top artists he’s worked with over the last 50 years or so.

Polly Rosenwaike's stories give an intimate glimpse into the contexts of motherhood

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Polly Rosenwaike and her book Look How Happy I'm Making You

Author photo by Michael Lionstar.

Women who want babies. Women who do not. Women who try hard for a baby, and women who easily become pregnant. Women who lose a baby, and women who have one. 

These women populate the stories in Look How Happy I’m Making You, the debut collection by Polly Rosenwaike. Efforts to conceive and be mothers -- and the effects of those efforts on these women -- engage them. 

Rosenwaike’s stories, however, do not only center on the processes and acts of conceiving, birthing, and parenting. This collection moreover illustrates the complexities of the feelings and relationships surrounding motherhood and the wish for it. 

Rosenwaike draws inspiration from her own experiences as a mother and often works from branches of the Ann Arbor District Library. A resident of Ann Arbor, she is the fiction editor of Michigan Quarterly Review, is widely published in literary magazines, reviews books, teaches at Eastern Michigan University, and has two daughters with her partner, poet Cody Walker. 

Rosenwaike will read and discuss Look How Happy I’m Making You at Literati Bookstore Wednesday, April 3, at 7 pm. She answered questions about life in Ann Arbor and her new collection. 

Down With Blue Jeans: Tim Sendra talks bubblegum pop and the effort to preserve his brother's legacy

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Blue Jeans' Adult Hits LP and Down's Critically Acclaimed LP

Sometimes you're just too close to a situation to write a clever lede.

Blue Jeans features the married couple Tim Sendra (guitar) and Heather Phares (bass) with David Serra (drums). The Ann Arbor indie-rock trio's second album, Adult Hits, was produced by Fred Thomas and released on his cassette via his Life Like label.

Down MF featured Scott Sendra, Tim's brother, and a cast of friends and family members who helped the late guitarist and singer bringing his singular vision of strong-song-based noise-rock to hiss-filled vinyl. Last year, Thomas assisted Tim in bringing together Down's 7-inch singles for a compilation LP, Critically Acclaimed, released on the Loch Alpine label, named after the Dexter subdivision where the Sendras grew up. (Read an interview about Down's history here.)

I've known the Sendra brothers for 33 years, performed in bands with both of them in the early '90s -- I played bass on the first two Down singles and was in Veronica Lake with Tim -- and have recorded with everybody named in the preceding paragraphs aside from Serra (though it seems inevitable). I grieved intensely when Scott died of brain cancer in 2017. I was deeply thankful for Tim and Fred's efforts to honor Scott's sui generis talent by compiling Critically Acclaimed. There is no journalistic distance between me and these humans. I love them and their art -- and you should, too. That's it.

Blue Jeans rarely perform live, but the group will shake off the rust on Saturday, March 30 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti to celebrate the release of Adult Hits, which is also coming out on vinyl via the Spanish label Bobo Integral. I talked to Tim Sendra about Blue Jeans' sound, Down MF, and the future of his Loch Alpine label.

Tell 'Em It’s a Party: An Evening of the blues with Sugaray Rayford at Club Above

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sugaray Rayford

With two Blues Music Award nominations and a new album, Sugaray Rayford has made 2019 his year -- and it isn’t even April yet.

As part of a concert series supporting this year's Ann Arbor Blues Festival (August 16-19), the Texas-born, Los Angeles-based Rayford and his band will be making their first visit to Ann Arbor, promising a fabulous night of blues at Club Above on Sunday, March 31, in support of their recently released album, Somebody Save Me (Forty Below Records).

The entire album is the perfect vehicle for Rayford’s incredibly authentic voice and charisma. The record grabs the listener by her collar and takes her across the Mississippi Delta, through Chicago, to West Coast Swing, down to Texas, and back again. Described as having an “old school vocal style” reminiscent of such musicians as Muddy Waters, Otis Redding. and Teddy Pendergrass, Rayford seems tailor-made for the songs that appear on the album.