Encore goes "Crazy" for the Gershwins

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Crazy for You

Matthew Brennan as Bobby Child and Megan Grosso as Zangler Follies Girl in Encore Musical Theatre's production of Crazy for You. Photo by Michelle Anliker Photography.

“I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?”

If you do, put on your dancing shoes and head to the Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter for a feast of George Gershwin tunes and Ira Gershwin lyrics.

Crazy for You is a post-Gershwin, Gershwin musical. The 1992 Tony Award-winning best “new musical” brought light singing, dancing, and frivolity back to Broadway. Conceived by and with a book by Ken Ludwig, the play uses the Gershwins’ 1931 Broadway hit Girl Crazy as the framework and then adds numerous songs from other Gershwin stage and film musicals, a few tweaks to the story, and ample room for dance routines. The result is an appropriately bubbly, silly, charming tribute to a style of musical that lit the lights of Broadway in the 1920s and early '30s with great music that lingers on.

Jason DeMarte's "Garden of Artificial Delights" examines modern excess via fake still-lifes

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Jason DeMarte, Placid Propagation, 2018, pigment print. Courtesy the artist

Jason DeMarte, Placid Propagation, 2018, pigment print. Courtesy the artist.

Jason DeMarte's intimate solo show Garden of Artificial Delights mixes the domestic, the “natural,” and the artificial to create a room-sized simulacrum of a still-life at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

DeMarte takes over the space with his take on classic floral wallpaper, a foreboding gray background with a warm foreground containing peonies, poppies, and female cardinals. The stage of the exhibition is the entire ArtGym, a relatively cozy gallery space that houses DeMarte’s room-sized adhesive wallpaper, and six framed photographs. Each photograph is digitally manipulated and portrays what appears to be at first glance a traditional still life. The color palette and inclusion of floral elements in each photograph echo the wallpaper, with a gray, dreary fog contrasting against vibrant flora and fauna.

Except, it isn’t always flora and fauna featured in the frames of these photographs.

Instead, multi-colored candy floats through the dreary atmosphere, paint drips over a peony and covers a bird entirely, or perhaps canned whipped cream covers wilting flowers from which butterflies are attempting to feast. In the center of the gallery space, there is a square black bench that viewers may utilize in order to absorb the 360-degree immersive experience created by the wallpaper. 

Each photograph is a digital photomontage comprised of multiple images, edited to appear “hyperreal,” as UMMA’s Assistant Curator of Photography Jennifer M. Friess observes. The resulting works of art are seductive, pulling us into the dismal yet confusingly bright and vibrant world of the birds and their candy.

Susan Jane Gilman set "Donna Has Left the Building" partly in Michigan "as a valentine to being here"

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW INTERVIEW

Susan Jane Gilman and her book Donna Has Left the Building

Author photo by Guillaume Megevand

Being a culinary ambassador for cookware. Acting as a dominatrix. Facing search and seizure laws in Tennessee. Helping the refugee crisis in Greece.

These are all things that author Susan Jane Gilman had to have known or learned about to include in her new novel, Donna Has Left the Building, said fellow author Polly Rosenwaike in conversation with her at Literati Bookstore on Thursday, June 6. There, Gilman shared stories from her life and research that led to writing about these situations in her book. Within these experiences, Gilman’s characters may be flawed and behave badly, but they also display tenderness and sympathy, added Rosenwaike.

As a writer, “You want to have empathy for all characters,” Gilman said. “I’m all of them.”

This novel has strong ties to Michigan. Gilman wrote Donna Has Left the Building “as a valentine to being here” in southeastern Michigan at the University of Michigan for her MFA and then teaching at U-M and Eastern Michigan University. Gilman, who grew up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, found the Midwest to be a big contrast to the way she observed that people seemed to be constantly performing in New York.

Ann Arbor Art Center's "Peripheral Technologies" juxtaposes modern techniques with classic craft

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Ryan Molloy's Extremity

Ann Arbor artist Ryan Molloy hand prints each color in his asynchronous idiom series of complex letterpress works.

With Peripheral Technologies, curated by Thea Augustina Eck, the Ann Arbor Art Center continues its trend of bringing together a diverse group of voices who ask us, through their works, to reconsider the limits of fine art in an era when we are constantly being asked to do so.

The types of technology employed by the 12 artists -- and how they can be adapted for the creation of art -- are numerous, among them CNC (computer numerical control) machining, image scanning, computer-generated algorithms, and drone photography. Many artists pair emergent technologies with traditional or natural materials such as wood. These pairings create intriguing juxtapositions that ask viewers to consider our current technological moment in relation to manufacturing methods of the recent past. The artists come up with a different conclusion through methods, materials, and their finished works.

Sock It to Me: Bob Seger’s most crucial forgotten songs

MUSIC REVIEW

Bob Seger by Tom Weschler

Photo by Tom Weschler

On June 6, Bob Seger plays the first of his six final local gigs at the DTE Energy Music Theatre part of an extensive farewell tour announcing the rock icon’s retirement and delivering a victory lap after nearly 60 years of service.

You might be a die-hard Seger fan yourself, one of the millions who bought his records, filled his stadiums, or slow-danced to “We’ve Got Tonight” at prom. Maybe you rank Seger among the great troubadours of American pop music, call him the Michigan Springsteen, our state’s very own rock royalty. 

Or maybe not … for other, often younger listeners, the ubiquity of Seger’s classic hits on radio, film soundtracks, and truck commercials renders them as toothless background Muzak at best, pre-fab corporate pablum at worst, his tunes all past their sell-date and worthy only of ironic comment. 

There are no right answers when it comes to taste, but Bob Seger’s musical history is deep and wide enough to shake any preconceived notions about the man’s legacy. 

Seger spent much of his youth living here in A2, forming his first band in 1963, The Decibels, with some friends from Ann Arbor High School (now Pioneer) and going on to local renown in groups like The Town Criers and Doug Brown and the Omens. By 1966 he hung out his own shingle, releasing regional radio hits like “Heavy Music” as a solo artist backed by the Last Heard, and even charting nationally with the Bob Seger System’s immortal “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Both songs are staples of classic rock/oldies radio and retain a measure of respect within the man’s canon, but Seger’s formative era has been neglected officially, much of it out of print and actively suppressed by the artist for reasons both contractual and aesthetic.

For many years, Seger’s pre-Silver Bullet Band records were difficult to find outside of dodgy bootlegs or expensive original pressings, a sad state considering how vibrant, exciting and alive so much of his early material remains. The recent release of an officially authorized CD called Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967 filled in some of the biggest gaps, but there’s still a great deal of great music deserving of attention. The following are eight of Bob Seger’s most crucial forgotten sides:

The Music of Life: “Fractured History: A Solo Exhibit by Aaron Dworkin” at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Aaron Dworkin's Train Station

Train Station by Aaron Dworkin

Aaron Dworkin's Fractured History exhibition is art in the key of life. His 11 artworks in the Ann Arbor Art Center’s entry-level gallery gives us a revealing glimpse of this authentic Michigan institution as well as his view of the world around us.

It would be a step too far to say the display is autobiographical. Dworkin is a bit too cagey to be revealed in his art, but his choice of themes and topics in Fractured History compensate for the otherwise lack of biographical detail.

After all, this a man who has already had enough rarefied experiences to fill a handful of lifetimes.

Living While Black: Theatre Nova’s production of James Ijames' “Kill Move Paradise” is powerful

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's Kill Move Paradise

Photo by Golden Record Media Company.

The list is long, much too long.

Sometimes it seems like every few days a black American is gunned down by a police officer. They are often unarmed, unthreatening and involved in confrontations with the police that should have never escalated into deadly violence.

Sometimes the police officers involved go to jail, many times they don’t.

This tragic story of two American cultures in deadly conflict is the theme of James Ijames' play Kill Move Paradise, being presented in Michigan for the first time by Theatre Nova.

In a burst of blinding light, gunshots, and the cacophony of urban noise, a man is thrust on to a stage, a bare closed room from which he can not escape. It’s a sort of limbo, where he waits for a judgment about what it was that brought him here. He is a fatal victim of police violence. He is in turn followed by three other black men into this limbo. As one victim says, it reminds him of an episode of the old Twilight Zone TV show.

And they are in a show because the audience is visible to the four men. They comment on the audience and come to believe that the audience will decide their fate. In this case, and Ijames must have thought in most cases, the audience at Theatre Nova’s opening night was primarily white.

This message is for them.

Contemporary Collage: "Odds & Ends" at the Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

John Gutoskey

Juror and artist John Gutoskey at the opening reception for Odds & Ends. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Art Center.

Ann Arbor Art Center’s latest juried exhibition centers on the art of collage. Aptly named Odds & Ends, the show brings together an array of works that represent contemporary artists’ engagement with the tradition. From mixed media to digital collage, Odds & Ends offers a diverse collection of accomplished works.

Ann Arbor artist John Gutoskey juried this exhibition. Gutoskey works as a designer, printmaker, and collector. He currently owns JG Studio and the A2 Print Studio in Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor Art Center describes Gutoskey’s style of producing art and collecting by saying: 

In the 1990s, John returned to his studio with a newfound interest in making art on his own terms, and it resulted in an outpouring of new work. Exploring the media of assemblage (through found objects), collage, printmaking, and installation, he was inspired by the works of Joseph Cornell, Betye Saar, Lucas Samaras, outsider art, Art Brut, and religious art to evolve his own unmistakable style: a perfect mirror for his gregarious, highly animated personality. The obsessive collector in Gutoskey met the trained visual artist half-way.

Gutoskey’s background in assemblage and collage is a perfect match for the content of this exhibition, which includes 2-D collage work, sculpture, mixed media works, and assemblage. Gutoskey selected winners for Best in Show, Second Place, Third Place, and three honorable mentions:

Arrested Motion: “Helen Gotlib: Secret Beaches” at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Helen Gotlib, Sea Ranch Flower IV painting detail

Helen Gotlib, Sea Ranch Flower IV (detail), woodblock print, intaglio print, acrylic paint, palladium leaf.

Ann Arbor printmaker Helen Gotlib is a master of the art of slow motion. It’s there in plain sight in her Secret Beaches exhibit at the WSG Gallery.

Gotlib’s vision of such arrested motion is an integral aspect of her mixed-media printmaking. It’s an intricate element of her work that follows apace in her handful of prints from composition to completion.

In large part, this suspended movement is due to the sheer complexity of Gotlib’s art. In any single artwork, there are combinations of woodblock printing, intaglio printing, acrylic paint, India ink and gold or palladium leaf on her carved birch panels.

As Gotlib says in her artist’s statement:

Rapid, Radical Change: "The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene" at UMMA

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Hiding in the City, No. 95 by Liu-Bolin

Hiding in the City, No. 95, Coal Pile by Liu Bolin, 2010 chromogenic print on plex.

The day after I saw the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s current exhibit The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene, I saw this headline on the front page of The New York Times: "Report Details Global Shrink in Biodiversity."  It was accompanied by images of bleached coral and strangled sea turtles. On the same page, I saw a picture of Lady Gaga in black lingerie on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vamping for the cameras on the occasion of the annual Met Gala. 

I like to think I would have been shocked by this juxtaposition of the catastrophic and the trivial before I saw the exhibit, but I’m not sure. We live in an age of distraction and it’s easy for us humans -- famous for our short attention spans -- to lose sight of the enormous challenge posed by global warming. The World to Come makes the point, devastatingly, incontrovertibly, unforgettably, that we live in an era of rapid, radical, and irrevocable ecological change. 

The show, curated by Kerry Oliver-Smith of the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, hits you right between the eyes with images of humanity’s effect on the natural environment -- and it keeps on hitting.  Sections of the show are broken down into categories such as "Deluge," "Consumption," "Extinction," "Imaginary Futures," and the like, categorizing the environmental outrages to make the enormity of the subject (and the size of the show) comprehensible.  

It’s ironic that an exhibit devoted to destruction and climate disaster should be so very beautiful but ... well, there it is.