Encore Theatre's take on Stephen Sondheim’s fairy-tale mashup "Into the Woods" is filled with powerhouse vocals


Encore Theatre's Into the Woods

Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

It’s fitting that I watched Encore Musical Theatre Company’s new production of Into the Woods with my 12-year-old daughter.

Not just because the girl can sing every word of the show’s patter song (“Your Fault”)—she used to fall asleep listening to the show’s cast recording each night—but also because she now lives in that interstitial, fog-laden forest known as middle school, where preteens blindly fumble their way out of childhood.

And frankly, if I had to name one show that’s about the terrifyingly fraught and difficult process of growing up, it would be Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

A fairy-tale mashup that premiered on Broadway in 1987—long before the word “mashup” became such a regular part of our lexicon—Woods interweaves the stories of Cinderella (Ash Moran), Rapunzel (Lucia Flowers), Little Red Riding Hood (Sienna Berkseth), and Jack (Tsumari Patterson) and the Beanstalk

How? By way of a cursed baker (Marcus Jordan) and his wife (Jessica Grové), who can’t have children until they gather the four items requested by the old witch next door (Jennifer Horne). But even when the couple succeeds, and everyone—fairy-tale protagonists included—gets what they want, in its darker second act Woods dares to venture beyond “happily ever after” and ask, “OK, now what?”

Comic Duet: Theatre Nova's "Fortune" is a rom-com with expert timing


Russ Schwartz and Josie Eli Herman star in Theatre Nova's Fortune. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Russ Schwartz and Josie Eli Herman star in Theatre Nova's Fortune. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

This has been a chilly, wet, slippery, snowy winter, so it’s a perfect time to warm up with a rom-com—especially with Valentine's Day around the corner.

For Theatre Nova's production of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Fortune, director Carla Milarch brings two talented actors together in a comical duet. It’s a good choice for Nova's tiny, sometimes cramped space. There are some lighting special effects, but most of the fireworks come from the actors who play two lonely people looking for love.

Madame Rosa is a fortune teller, like her mother. It’s a family business and a curse. Unlike other “fortune tellers,” Madame Rosa actually can look into the past and predict the future, but she'd rather be a secretary. 

When not being Madame Rosa, she’s a lonely young woman named Maude who is afraid of what she can do and afraid to give up the business and do something about her life.

One day, a desperate young man demands that Madame Rosa read his fortune. He’s an awkward young accountant who has been regularly striking out in his attempts to find love. He wants to know what his future holds and doesn’t want it sugar-coated. 

For Love and Money: U-M professor Scott Rick explores how couples navigate finances in "Tightwads and Spendthrifts"


Scott Rick and his book Tightwads and Spendthrifts.

In my family, I’m the person who insists on setting apart the cans that can be returned for deposit, while my husband says, “What do you get, three dollars? Not worth it.”

Perhaps not. But different philosophies about money, at the macro and micro level, are all-too-common in marriage. I mean, there’s a reason that finances always make the list of “things couples fight most about,” right?

To address these differences, Scott Rick, a U-M Ross School of Business marketing professor, has a new book called Tightwads and Spendthrifts: Navigating the Money Minefield in Real Relationships. Billed as distinct from conventional self-help or personal finance books, the book instead uses behavioral science as scaffolding for a broader discussion of how spending plays into our sense of personal identity; why we’re sometimes attracted to people who are quite unlike ourselves (in terms of spending); and practical ways to work through money-related conflicts.

A Fair of Affairs: Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's "The Real Thing" is all about the dangerous game of love


Actors sitting on a couch. Chris Grimm (Henry), Kara Williams (Charlotte), Manny Abascal Jr. (Max), and Sara Long (Annie) in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's The Real Thing.

Four scores: Chris Grimm (Henry), Kara Williams (Charlotte), Manny Abascal Jr. (Max), and Sara Long (Annie) tend to affairs of the heart in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's The Real Thing. Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

A typical Tom Stoppard play features a whole lot of words just to get to a basic point. It can be intellectually stimulating—or a wee bit draggy if you're looking for more action on stage.

But the high-energy Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of Stoppard's The Real Thing that opened last Friday to a sold-out crowd flows at an excellent pace thanks to director David Widmayer and grips your attention throughout.

The play is set in 1980s London and focuses on two couples. Henry (Chris Grimm) is a playwright married to Charlotte (Kara Williams), an actress who frequently stars in Henry’s shows, including his current piece, House of Cards. They are good friends with Annie (Sara Long) and her husband Max (Manny Abascal Jr.), who is also an actor and starring in House of Cards with Charlotte. 

Deck Halls the Halls With Boughs of Corn: Encore Theatre's "White Christmas" hits all the right nostalgic spots


Encore Theatre's production of White Christmas.

Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

As a starting point, let’s just agree: White Christmas is pure, nostalgic corn. 

But ever since I was a kid, watching the 1954 Bing Crosby movie with my musical-loving mom, it’s always gotten me right in the feels. The world-wise romantic leads who initially dislike each other? The outwardly gruff but paternal General who’s deeply beloved by his men? The snow that refuses to fall in Vermont until conflicts are resolved, and love and goodness prevail?

Like it’s on the cob, ready to be shucked, people.

But recognizing how a story blatantly pulls on your heartstrings sometimes does little to defuse its impact, which is why I was all too happy to check out the stage musical adaptation of White Christmas at Dexter’s Encore Theatre.

This Is Your Song: Jeff Tweedy's New Book Makes Us Think About How We Connect With Our Favorite Music


Jeff Tweedy stands with April Baer of Michigan Radio's Stateside.

Jeff Tweedy hangs out with April Baer of Michigan Radio's Stateside. Baer spoke with Tweedy about his latest book, World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music, last month at U-M's Rackham Auditorium in partnership with Literati Bookstore. Photo taken from Jeff Tweedy's Facebook page.

Back in 2009, I actually heard Wilco for the first time.

It’s not that I didn’t know the band’s music, but it was the first time I had developed an emotional connection to one of their songs.

It was “You and I,” a heartwarming duet with Feist from the band’s self-titled album. The track addresses two lovers trying to preserve a relationship as Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy sings, “You and I, we might be strangers / However close we get sometimes / It’s like we never met.”

While I’ve never met Tweedy and or any of the other Wilco members, “You and I” emanates a comforting familiarity in terms of its memorable lyrics, bittersweet harmonies, and smooth bassline.

There’s an unexplainable pull I feel to it, and it’s something Tweedy easily masters after nearly three decades of writing Wilco songs.

“I’m much more fascinated by the blurry area between a song and the mind that receives it, puts it back together in a shape that fits their own life, and allows the heart to take ownership,” writes Tweedy in his latest book, World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music.

That statement nicely encapsulates the key takeaway from Tweedy’s third book, which highlights the memorable connections—both positive and negative—he’s made with 50 different songs throughout his life.

Much Ado: U-M Theatre's "Imogen Says Nothing" bears bizarre and haunting moments


Cast members of Imogen Says Nothing on the Power Center stage.

Photo by Peter Smith Photography

U-M theater professor Malcolm Tulip has long established a reputation for bringing challenging, provocative productions to local stages, going back to his days as a director (and performer) at the sadly defunct Performance Network Theatre.

So it was no surprise to find Tulip at the helm of the U-M theater department’s strange, darkly haunting production of Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Imogen Says Nothing, mounted at the Power Center this past weekend. Inspired by a character, Imogen, who has no lines, but is nonetheless mentioned in the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, the play imagines a woman who fights to perform on stage in Shakespeare’s time, when only men played theatrical roles (by law!), and campaigns to appear in the first written version of the play, too.

Plus, there are bears.

Imogen is a former bear (!) who has escaped the bear-baiting arena next to the Globe Theatre, which hearkens back to one of Shakespeare’s most famous stage directions, in The Winter’s Tale: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

While enmeshed with a troupe of actors, Imogen confronts her former peers, and the line that encapsulates the play, “It is a lonesome thing to be absent,” further expands its meaning.

New Day Rising: Penny Seats' "Sunrise Coven" tackles the opioid epidemic and second chances


Jeannine Thompson (Hallie), Allison Megroet (Winter Moon), David Collins (Ethan) in Penny Seats' Sunrise Coven.

Jeannine Thompson (Hallie), Allison Megroet (Winter Moon), David Collins (Ethan) star in Penny Seats' Sunrise Coven. Photo courtesy of Penny Seats Theatre Company.

It’s no secret the United States has a drug problem, and painkillers are at the top of the list. The Penny Seats Theatre Company’s Sunrise Coven tackles that conversation and then some.

Written by Brendan Bourque-Sheil, the show takes place in Buckstop, Texas, a small town where everyone knows everyone else and all their business. We meet Hallie Heaton (Jeannine Thompson), a diabetic nurse practitioner who has wound up in the hospital because she overdosed on Oxycodone. The doctor taking care of her is Annie (Inchai Reed), who reveals she has based her entire career on Hallie and sees her as an idol.

Hallie gets the unfortunate news that due to her OD, she has lost her nursing license. On top of that, her eyesight is starting to go bad and she's having visions she can’t explain. 

The Folds of Space: EMU’s "A Wrinkle in Time" was a quick-paced journey for the whole family


EMU's production of A Wrinkle in Time.

Time travelers: Laney Bass (Mrs. Which), Josi Middaugh (Charles Wallace), Lydia Tucker (Happy Medium), Annabelle Rickert (Meg Murray), Chandler Graham (Calvin) starred in Eastern Michigan University's production of A Wrinkle in Time. Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre.

Audiences at Eastern Michigan University’s Liberty Theatre traveled through time and hopped across realms over the weekend.

Tracy Young’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle, was a fast-paced family adventure that follows Meg Murry (Annabelle Rickert), an outcast at school who has trouble fitting in and making friends. The only people she’s close to are her mom (Amanda Bates) and her spunky younger brother, Charles Wallace (Josi Middaugh). Meg’s father (Jonathan Bias) has been missing for quite some time, and she’s still determined to figure out what happened to him.

One day, Charles Wallace convinces Meg they should check out the haunted house at the bottom of the hill. On the way they run into Calvin (Chandler Graham), who joins the siblings. At the house, they meet the eccentric Mrs. Whatsit (Brookelyn Hannah), Mrs. Who (Maura Doyle) who only talks in quotes, and the ominous voice of Mrs. Which (Laney Bass) whose presence is everywhere but isn’t seen by the kids. Turns out they are magical beings that can travel through space and time via a tesseract, a form of traveling by folding the fabric of space and time. 

"Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World" Explores the Challenges of Information Overload and Ubiquity


Javaad Alipoor holds a tablet in a dark room with network of connections projected on him.

Javaad Alipoor's Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World looks at how contemporary technology and digital culture interact with politics. Photo taken from The Javaad Alipoor Company's website.

When you Google the name of the Javaad Alipoor Company’s theatrical production Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, you learn this grandiose mouthful of a title was originally used by French philosopher René Girard for a book he wrote.

To learn a little more, you might read a brief overview of Girard’s mimetic theory, which posits that humans don’t know what to want, so we look to others and imitate their desires. 

Wait. You came here for a review of Alipoor’s show of that name presented by UMS this week at the University of Michigan’s Arthur Miller Theatre, right? Sorry!

Yet this classic Digital Age digression demonstrates precisely what’s at the heart of Alipoor’s innovative 90-minute show, which was written with Chris Thorpe. Though we know, and are constantly reminded, that almost any information we could possibly want is now at our internet-addicted fingertips. In response, we go online like a reflex with the idea that “facts” provide us with understanding, or that the two things are somehow synonymous, is a dangerous illusion.

Using the unsolved, brutal 1992 murder of Iranian pop star (and refugee) Fereydoun Farrokhzad—who fled Iran during the Islamic Revolution in 1979—as the show’s base of operations, Alipoor integrates video and an onstage, fictional true crime podcast (as well as some nifty theatrical sleight of hand) to explore the case, and more broadly, the link between contemporary technology and politics.