John Gutoskey’s vibrant “Cake & Flowers for My People” exhibit preserves ephemeral arrangements denied to LGBTQ+ marriages and events

PULP VISUAL ART REVIEW

John Gutoskey stands near his floral bouquet monoprints at 22 North.

John Gutoskey features colorful floral bouquet monoprints in his Cake & Flowers for My People exhibit at 22 North. Photo by Lori Stratton.

John Gutoskey’s vibrant, kaleidoscopic Cake & Flowers for My People exhibit honors LGBTQ+ community members who have been denied these celebratory arrangements due to bakers and florists citing religious objections to same-sex marriages and queer events.

“I make a lot of work about queerness because a lot of stuff is happening around it in our country. You see the whole pushback now,” said the Ann Arbor artist-designer-printmaker, whose exhibit runs through October 30 at Ypsilanti’s 22 North gallery. “I just hope anybody who sees it … feels seen and knows they’re not alone.”

The welcoming aesthetics of Gutoskey’s exhibit run throughout the eight mixed-media cake sculptures and 39 floral bouquet monoprints. An electrifying spectrum of color elicits feelings of empowerment, unity, and hope for all who experience Cake & Flowers for My People.

“People are kind of overwhelmed with how hard the world has become, so I just wanted to do something that was fun,” he said. “There’s enough stuff to be down about. Let’s celebrate it, honestly, while it’s still legal for [us] to do so.”

Wynton Marsalis' "All Rise" stirred souls at Hill Auditorium—and his trumpet fired up The Big House crowd

MUSIC REVIEW

More than 200 musicians on stage at Hill Auditorium rehearsing Wynton Marsalis' "All Rise."

More than 200 musicians are shown rehearsing Wynton Marsalis' "All Rise" on stage at Hill Auditorium. Photo courtesy UMS. 

For nearly two decades, I've attended Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis concerts hosted by the University Music Society (UMS). The shows and attendant residency are an institution now in Ann Arbor, and under Marsalis' stewardship, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) is the current reigning G.O.A.T. of large ensembles.

But Marsalis' latest Ann Arbor production with the JLCO was the most ambitious undertaking of his 22-year association with UMS. 

You can always bank on Marsalis to deliver monumental projects like culturally and politically relevant recordings such as From the Plantation to the PenitentiaryThe Abyssinian Mass, and his 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Blood on the Fields. On Friday, October 14, at Hill Auditorium, Marsalis pulled off another massive undertaking: "All Rise (Symphony No. 1.) For Symphony Orchestra Jazz Orchestra, and Chorus." 

"Mummy" Issues: The Penny Seats Theatre Company's world premiere of "The Mummy Queen" wraps Ann Arbor in a spooky London tale

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Mummy Queen at The Penny Seats Theatre Company

Sergeant Daw (Tim Pollack), Margaret Trelawny (Allison Megroet), and Malcolm Ross (Jeffrey Miller) try to get to unravel the mystery of The Mummy Queen in The Penny Seats Theatre Company's world premiere of Michael Alan Herman's play. Photo by Josie Eli Herman.

There is a long list of plays and musicals that deal with monsters such as vampires, witches, and Frankenstein. Mummies, however, are scarcely represented on stage.

Michael Alan Herman's The Mummy Queen fills that void, and its world premiere run this month by The Penny Seats Theatre Company is quick, witty, and filled with great storytelling. It's perfect for the Halloween season, but it also tackles the ever-present issue of gender roles, and what (or who) men feel entitled to.

Set in Notting Hill, London, during the 1890s, the show opens with a lengthy monologue from Abel Trelawny—played by the captivating Matthew Cameron—an Egyptologist who has gone on a mission to find the long-lost resting place of Queen Tara. Trelawny tells the epic tale of how he found the queen, brought her back to London, and now has her coffin sitting in his study. While the speech is long, and all told from a past-tense narrative, Cameron does a wonderful job of keeping the audience engaged and wanting more. At the end of his diatribe, he goes to open the coffin and is attacked by an invisible force. He runs off stage, and now we are caught up to speed and in the present day. 

Jeff Daniels' “Pickleball” serves up intense characters and a faulty narrative

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Jonathan West and Kate Thomsen in Pickleball at The Purple Rose Theatre Company

Jonathan West and Kate Thomsen star in The Purple Rose Theatre Company's production of Jeff Daniels' Pickleball. Photo courtesy of The Purple Rose Theatre Company.

When I was 8, I performed at a dance recital with my tap classmates. As the girls around me on stage made a few mistakes, I glared at them (according to my amused parents), furious that they were ruining my moment.

This oft-repeated family story came back to me while watching Jeff Daniels’ Pickleball, now having its world premiere at The Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea.

Why?

Because the five absurdly intense, competitive adult characters in the play ultimately seemed like variations of my 8-year-old self, which is a bit problematic. But we’ll get to that shortly.

Myths and Legends: Guild Showcases Local Artists Through Folklore Exhibit at Ann Arbor’s Gutman Gallery

PULP VISUAL ART REVIEW

Marilynn Thomas shows her artwork during a Folklore exhibit pop-up session at Gutman Gallery.

Marilynn Thomas shows her artwork during a Folklore exhibit pop-up session at Gutman Gallery. Photo courtesy of Gutman Gallery.

Ann Arbor artist-photographer Marilynn Thomas interprets a migratory Baltimore oriole's transitory world in her layered watercolor painting called Oriole Unraveling the Universe.

She places the juvenile bird at the center of a tree while vivid red-orange hues and muted pastels color his mystical surroundings. Stenciled ferns and dragonflies provide momentary companionship as the oriole decides whether to stay or go.

Within his beak lies the familiar outline of the golden mean, which represents a magical portal that allows him to travel from one universe to the next.

“That’s his universe; that all belongs to him,” Thomas said. “I’ve done a lot of orioles simply because they only come through in spring and fall, and they’re kind of exciting. I like the migrant birds, and I’ve been painting birds for 20 years.”

U-M Department of Musical Theatre's "Sophisticated Ladies" is jumping with talent

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The cast of U-M Department of Musical Theatre's "Sophisticated Ladies" gathers on the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre with signs for the Cotton Club, Savoy, and Apollo in Harlem circa the 1930s.

The cast "Sophisticated Ladies" gathers on the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Photo courtesy of of U-M Department of Musical Theatre.

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!

And, man, is it swinging at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre during the University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre's sizzling production of Sophisticated Ladies. The musical revue is a tribute to Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington's ever-enduring music and the modern dance styles that it inspired.

Guest directors/choreographers Torya Beard and Ayodele Casel are dancers who realize the immense talent of U-M’s students and provided these future stars with the support and freedom they needed to excel. They also brought in dancer Mercedes Ellington to talk about her art form and to discuss her grandfather Duke and her father, band leader Mercer Ellington. The result is a production of almost nonstop energy, from the orchestra and the large company of dancers to the varied takes by several singers on Ellington’s beloved songs.

Under the musical direction of Maurice Draughn with Tyler Driskill at the piano, the orchestra is always on stage and performs in top form.

Chekhov's "Three Sisters" gets a risqué update in U-M’s "Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Six actors are on a stage in what is made to look like a large living room.

Photo via UMSMTD's Facebook page.

Playwright Halley Feiffer had the clever idea of taking Anton Chekhov’s play Three Sisters and kicking it into the 21st century. 

It’s one of those creations that begins with the question, “What if?” What if Chekhov were writing his play today using raw contemporary language with lots of profanity, slang, catchphrases, snarky attitudes, and even a few funny jokes backed by some hot early 2000s music?

The result is Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow being presented at the University of Michigan’s Arthur Miller Theatre. Director Ryan Dobrin takes the idea a bit further in his production at the university by setting Chekhov’s characters “in a more diverse context,” according to a program note. The result is a comic mashup that draws, again according to the program notes, on the affectations of Paris Hilton and the Kardashians as well as on gender-identity issues.

The playbill also comes with a warning that the play may be “upsetting, offensive, or triggering for some audience members” and advises caution. Some of those who might respond that way are fans of Chekhov who might not appreciate what Feiffer has done to his play.

Encore Musical Theatre’s Fats Waller tribute "Ain’t Misbehavin'" struts and swaggers

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore, Ain't Misbehavin'

Arielle Crosby sings as castmates Tammie Harris and Danté J. L. Murray listen in the background during Encore Theatre's production of Ain't Misbehavin'. Photo by John White.

Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was only 39 years old when he died of pneumonia but in that short life the effervescent showman, composer, singer, master pianist, and amiable comic packed in a lot of life.

The Broadway hit Ain’t Misbehavin’, conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horowitz, is not a musical biography of Waller but rather an infectious presentation of his music and a rollicking recreation of the pianist's uptown swing.

The Encore Musical Theatre Company is taking its audience back to a swank Harlem club to experience that other time and place. Director and choreographer Gerry McIntyre presents a polished, sassy, and moving production that swings from happy-go-lucky and downright sexy to a bit more reflective tone. That arc gives a portrait of Waller that explains his life more than a lecture ever could.

​​University of Michigan Museum of Art’s expansive "Watershed" exhibit flows through the political and social history of the Great Lakes region

VISUAL ART REVIEW

UMMA's Watershed exhibit

Inside the gallery at ​​the University of Michigan Museum of Art's Watershed exhibit. Photo courtesy of UMMA.

​​University of Michigan Museum of Art’s (UMMA) Watershed exhibition comments on the complicated relationship the Great Lakes region has with water. Despite the area's broad access to fresh water, cities like Flint have endured ongoing water crises, rivers like the Huron are impacted by contaminating spills, and the Great Lakes watersheds continue to degrade.

The exhibit brings together a diverse group of 15 contemporary artists whose works focus broadly on the Great Lakes area. Watershed offers wall text in both English and Anishinaabemowin (translated by Margaret Noodin and Michael Zimmerman, Jr.) in recognition of the Anishinaabeg (commonly referred to as Ojibwe) being indigenous to the Great Lakes region.

​​Watershed is complex and expansive. As curator Jennifer Friess states, it “immerses visitors in the interconnected histories, present lives, and imagined futures of the Great Lakes region.” The exhibition title refers to “the geographical network of the Great Lakes basin—the five lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior) and rivers, streams, and reservoirs that feed into them.”

The artists’ engagement with the concept of the Great Lakes regions’ rich and often exploited resources vary in scope and content, offering a wide array of responses to past, present, and future iterations of activism and justice related to these waterways. Friess notes, “Many sound an alarm about the pervasive and lasting effects of corporate self-interest and extractive pollution. … All demonstrate how art can contribute to and shape current dialogues on the critical problems confronting our region.” 

​​As noted, this exhibition features six new commissions from artists selected by the museum:

The musical "Hands on a Hardbody" explores class empathy, big personalities, and personal connections

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Actors Alexander Hernandez and Leah Gittlen stand side by side with one hand each placed on a red truck inin Penny Seat Theatre's production of Hards on a Hardbody

Alexander Hernandez as Jesus and Leah Gittlen as Heather in Penny Seats Theatre's production of Hands on a Hardbody. Photo courtesy of Penny Seats Theatre.

Some narrative setups just prove too irresistible to pass up.

In the case of the musical Hands on a Hardbodya group of down-on-their-luck Texans gather at a car dealership for the chance to win a new red Nissan pickup truck. To win, they must stand for days on end with one hand touching the vehicle at all times, and they each have their own motivations for committing to this grueling exercise—which means, of course, everyone has a unique story to tell.

Think of it as A Chorus Line for economically struggling Southerners.

This boiled-down assessment, as it happens, additionally hints at some of the inherent challenges of the show: how to toe the line delicately between caricatures and big personalities; between blue state talking points and red state realities; and between appropriation and a heart’s-in-the-right-place effort at inclusion.

But the play vacillates in its ability to pull off this delicate balance, and its structure makes the musical a series of character sketches more than a cohesive dramatic story arc with high stakes. 

Yes, each person has his/her reasons for wanting the truck so badly, but in the end, we know everyone will probably be OK if they lose this contest, too.

Inspired by a 1997 documentary of the same name, and now being staged by Penny Seats Theatre in Ann Arbor's Burns Park, the two-and-a-half-hour Hands on a Hardbody premiered on Broadway in 2013 and features a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife) and music by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green.