University of Michigan Theatre takes the musical "Spelling Bee" on the road to Encore in Dexter

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Performance photo of the cast singing and dancing during The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Photo by Peter Smith.

Can you spell collaboration?

Vincent Cardinal, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre Department and a board member at Dexter’s Encore Theatre, and Dan Cooney, Encore’s artistic director, see advantages for everyone in bringing a U-M production to the city, which they will do with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

“The Encore, with its intimate setting and commitment to producing Broadway-worthy productions, is the ideal venue for this collaboration,” Cardinal said in a press release. “Artistic Director, Dan Cooney, and I have been talking about a collaboration for quite some time now and we are thrilled that it is finally coming to fruition!”

Coming to fruition is what The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is all about. It’s a funny, goofy, but sensitive musical about a spelling bee. But it’s really about adolescence and the agony of growing up told through song, dance, humor, and spelling.

Cardinal is a director who gets the best out of his student casts. The spellers each have their quirks, anxieties, and troubles but for one shining moment, they get a chance to be in the spotlight. Cardinal and his cast balance the awkward humor of being young with spotlight moments that focus on the thoughts and worries of each character. 

The show, with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin, plays on the usual cliches of nerdy young people who are not in with the cool kids. But the play then gives each speller a chance to confront the terrors of growing up and their aspirations for the future.

Near, Far, Antics Wherever They Are: Jeff Daniels’ "Diva Royale" keeps the laughs flowing at the Purple Rose Theatre

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Kate Thomsen, Rhiannon Ragland, and Kristin Shields in Purple Rose's Diva Royale

Kate Thomsen, Rhiannon Ragland, and Kristin Shields star in Purple Rose's Diva Royale. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Jeff Daniels’ funny, silly, and embraceable comedy Diva Royale is—as the program announces—back by public demand at his Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea.

Three stay-at-home Michigan moms form a close bond with their devotion to Canadian diva Celine Dion and their discontent with home life. Dion is their anchor. They have all the albums, they know all the words to all the songs, they know the heartaches she’s endured and they also love (love, love, love) the movie Titanic, where Dion’s soaring voice gives lift to the love affair of poor Jack and well-to-do Rose.

When they discover that their goddess will be performing in the Big Apple, they are ready to set out on the adventure of a lifetime. As they tell us these events happened in 2019 BC—before covid.

The play is told in a fast-paced, frenetic style that keeps the jokes, the antics, and occasionally, the stinging truth at a high pitch. If one joke fails to amuse you, the next one will have you howling, as the audience was throughout the play at the press opening.

Staff Picks: Halloween Celebrations

REVIEWS REVIEW

Halloween is creeping up! This is the perfect time to spotlight some books to help decorate your house or yourself for this spooky time of year. Then curl up with some ghostly Michigan folklore stories...

Best of How to Haunt Your House vols. 1 & 2 by Shawn Mitchell Request Now

The cover of 'Best of How to Haunt Your House Volume 2' by the Mitchell Family.Enjoy these 2 volumes full of spooky ways to get your house or room Halloween ready. From the simple like creating potion bottles or personalized tombstones to the more complex like monster mud and animated props, there is something for every DIY Halloween maven here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh my Gourd! :  how to Carve a Pumpkin Plus 29 Other fun Halloween Activities by Jack Hallow | Request Now

The cover of 'Oh My Gourd!' by Jack HallowLooking to for some creative ideas for use of those pumpkins, look no further than Jack Hallow’s (yes, that is a pseudonym!) book. From carving some perfect, creepy pumpkin faces to the use of pumpkin puree in facial scrubs, or enjoy pumpkin in various recipes (pumpkin latte anyone?). Or maybe you want to go further and make a pumpkin punchbowl. Whatever use you get out of your pumpkin; this is definitely the time of year to experiment with these versatile gourds. Just want to know how to carve one, try one of these books.

 

 

 

 

Epic Cosplay Costumes by Kristie Good | Request Now

The cover of 'Epic Cosplay Costumes' by Kristie GoodAlthough touted as cosplay costumes, this a great book for some Halloween costumes too especially if you need simple, easy to follow sewing projects. This book also covers the very basics of how to use foam and thermoplastics to create armor. The costume ideas can be mixed with each other as well to create new characters. The patterns and tutorials are versatile enough that anyone can alter it to fit their needs, like a simple cape design. Perfect for those learning to sew their own costumes.  

 

 

 

 

 

Creepy Cross-Stitch: 25 Spooky Projects to Haunt Your Halls by Lindsay Swearingen | Request Now

The cover of 'Creepy Cross-Stitch by Lindsay SwearingenHave some cross-stitch familiarity and want more spooky projects? Then look no further than this gem for beginners to advanced. She provides full color patterns, list of materials, and color charts for both large and small projects. Most are done on black fabric. Pattern names include Lovers’ Graves, which features twin headstones and a heart-shaped weeping willow and Spooky Room with requisite black cats lounging.

 

 

 

 

 

Spooky Michigan by S. E. Schlosser | Request Now

The cover of 'Spooky Michigan' by S. E. SchlosserA perfect read for Halloween or any time of year really, if you love to read some scary Michigan folklore. Some of the 25 stories may be familiar to native Michiganders like the Nain Rouge, but others not so much like Loup Garou (a werewolf said to have roamed Grosse Pointe in the 1500s), or the Ada Witch legend that a ‘lady in white’ haunts the city’s cemetery. Curl up with this book on a cold night and enjoy these ghostly tales.

 

Deep in the Woods: "The Man Beast" is haunted, moody, and anxious

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Jonathan Davidson and Virginie Allard in Penny Seats' The Man Beast.

Jonathan Davidson plays the haunted Jean Chastel in Penny Seats' The Man Beast. Photo via The Penny Seats' Facebook.

’Tis the season for witches and werewolves.

Also—if the Penny Seats Theatre Company’s production of Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Man Beast is any indication—taxidermy, folklore, French accents, and skullduggery.

Set in 1767 France, The Man Beast unfolds in the secluded home of healer and taxidermist Virginie Allard (Brittany Batell), who’s all too aware of her local reputation as “the witch of the woods.” When fellow outcast Jean Chastel (Jonathan Davidson), injured while hunting a legendarily lethal wild beast, barrels his way into the widow’s workshop, Virginie tends to his wounds, and the two form an uneasy alliance.

Yes, the two become lovers, but they also hatch a plan to collect King Louis XVI’s generous bounty for the beast. Jean notes that there have been no deaths in the nearby village since his run-in with it, so, his argument goes, he may well have succeeded in killing the creature. In the absence of more tangible proof, though, he must travel to a far-off menagerie to procure the carcass of a wild, exotic animal, then bring it back to Virginie to prepare it for a dramatic presentation at court.

The pair’s plot succeeds, but as we all know, money can’t buy happiness, and the bond between the two starts to fray.

The Monster Within: Penny Seat’s "The Man Beast" exposes the demons inside us all

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Penny Seats' production of The Man Beast.

Jean Chastel (Jonathan Davidson) and Virginie Allard (Brittany Batell) wrestle with personal demons during Penny Seats' The Man Beast. Photo via The Penny Seats' Facebook.

On a rainy and ominous Friday night, The Penny Seats Theatre Company launched the fifth installation of its Penny Dreadful series with The Man Beast—a scandalous tale of greed, monsters, lust, and the human connection—at Ann Arbor's Stone Chalet Event Center. 

Set in the Gévaudan province of France in 1767, Joseph Zettelmaier's play opens with famed hunter Jean Chastel (played by the brooding Jonathan Davidson) stumbling into a cottage, arm bloodied and clearly in pain. The cabin belongs to Virginie Allard (Brittany Batell), a rumored witch of the woods. 

Chastel claims to have been bitten by The Man Beast, a mysterious creature that has murdered over 100 people in the last three years. Virginie cleans his wound, gives him stitches, and tries to convince him to stay for a little while. While they both live secluded in the woods, they rarely cross paths and Virginie admits to being lonely. 

Through cups of wine and conversation, we learn that Virginie is a widow and a talented taxidermist. Her cabin is full of animal pelts and her creations, including a bear mounted on the wall. 

Sure Bet: University of Michigan's production of "Guys and Dolls" can't miss

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

University of Michigan's production of "Guys and Dolls"

Photo via University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's Facebook.

Frank Loesser’s "Fugue for Tinhorns" sets the theme for Guys and Dolls with a funny, sweet mingling of voices in search of a winner: “I’ve got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere, can do, the horse can do.”

It’s all about the bet, on the horse race, the football game and, especially, the game of love, not to overlook the crap game. And here’s a sure bet, audiences will love the University of Michigan’s production of the ever-popular Guys and Dolls, October 6-8 and 12-15 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. 

Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Loesser and book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, brings Damon Runyon’s streetwise tough guys to life with memorable songs, sharp dancing, a unique Broadway language, and the bright lights of the big city.

UMMA's "Arts & Resistance" exhibits look at the role of creative works in fighting for cultural change

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Cannupa Hanska Luger, This Is Not a Snake

Cannupa Hanska Luger, Meat for the Beast, comprised by two works: This Is Not a Snake and The One Who Checks & The One Who Balances, 2017-2020. Photograph by Craig Smith for Heard Museum, 2020.

Artists resist.

They share unique visions, even those that run counter to cultural norms. And they resist attempts to shut down museums, to cancel productions of plays, to ban books.  

Artists also resist death by creating work they hope will outlive them. Shakespeare knew: “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme."

For the fall semester, the University of Michigan is exploring ways artists resist social ills and injustices with Arts & Resistance, a campus-wide partnership between departments and galleries organized by the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) and the U-M Arts Initiative.

UMMA's three exhibits for Arts & Resistance document a history of wrongs that include slavery, appropriation of Native American land, and systemic racism.

Tailored Feelings: "Intimate Apparel" sews together the relationships between a Black clothier, her clientele, and romantic interests

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Mr. Marks (Sammy Guthartz) and Esther (Myah Bridgewater) in U-M's production of Intimate Apparel.

Mr. Marks (Sammy Guthartz) and Esther (Myah Bridgewater) flirt with a relationship in U-M's production of Intimate Apparel. Photo via University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's Facebook.

Every day we wake up and get dressed. But we rarely think about the people who make our clothing. 

Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage focuses on the emotional life of a clothier in Intimate Apparel, which the University of Michigan's Department of Theatre and Drama is staging through October 8 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

Set in New York City in 1905, Intimate Apparel follows the story of Esther, played by Myah Bridgewater, a Black seamstress who is known for her superb sewing skills. Her clientele is wide-ranging, from wealthy white socialites to Black prostitutes, namely her best friend Mayme (Gilayah McIntosh), and she specializes in fine undergarments. 

Not only is she talented behind a sewing machine, but Esther is also known for being discreet with her customers and their secrets—specifically Mrs. Van Buren (Bella Detwiler), a rich housewife who is having trouble getting pregnant by her husband and is reminded constantly of her failure to do so. 

Spirit Animal: Theatre Nova’s “Mlima’s Tale" explores the costs of human greed

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Mlima's Tale

Mike Sandusky plays the spirit of the titular elephant in Theatre Nova’s production of Mlima’s Tale. Photo by Sean Carter.

At the start of Theatre Nova’s production of Lynn Nottage’s Mlima’s Tale, the four-person cast enters in a line, stomping and breathing deeply in unison, mimicking the movements of an elephant.

For that’s what Mlima is.

The old Kenyan “big tusker,” named after the Swahili word for “mountain,” lumbers onto the stage, at which point actor Mike Sandusky (who stands in for Mlima’s tusks, and spirit, through the rest of the play) speaks: of listening to the winds, and the love he feels for his mate, his family.

But it’s not long before Mlima—despite living within a preserve in Kenya—is felled by a poacher’s poison arrow. The animal’s enormous tusks simply garner too much money in the underground ivory trade to be resisted. 

Yet getting that money, because poaching is illegal, is a fraught process, so Mlima’s physical death is followed by a fairly predictable chain of interactions between corrupt authorities, smugglers, ship captains, shady art-world dealers and creators, and rich collectors who can’t be bothered with origin stories of “how the ivory gets made,” so to speak.

Previous critics have noted that a point of inspiration for Mlima’s Tale, which premiered in New York in 2018, is Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, which chronicles a linked series of sexual encounters across class boundaries. In Nottage’s piece, we follow the tusks, personified by the ever-looming Sandusky, as they change hands and enrich each person who briefly possesses them.

Insatiable Appetite: Encore Theatre serves up a delicious “Little Shop of Horrors”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's production of Little Shop of Horrors.

Seymour Krelborn (Tyler J. Messinger) wrestles with Audrey 2 (voiced by William Scott Davison) in Encore Theatre's production of Little Shop of Horrors. Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

Feed me!

The Encore Musical Theatre Company is serving up a feast of fun, a musical time trip to 1960, and a charming story about an odd plant who develops a taste for human blood.

Little Shop of Horrors is not your typical musical, and it wasn’t your typical horror movie when B-movie master Roger Corman directed the screwball movie that inspired a hilarious and oddly lovable musical.

Little Shop of Horrors opened off-Broadway in 1982, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken while Ashman also directed. The team went on to help rescue Disney animation with hit songs for The Little MermaidBeauty and Beast, and AladdinLittle Shop won raves off-Broadway and moved to Broadway for more acclaim. That led to another movie, the musical version.

The setting is 1960. A nebbish named Seymour Krelborn is laboring under slave conditions at Mushnick’s Florist at starvation wages and few prospects. He is hopelessly in love with Audrey, who also works at Mushnick’s, and is beginning to feel something for sweet, kind Seymour. But she’s currently going with a sadistic biker/dentist, a deadly combo.