It’s six days before opening night and a group of young singers stand around the lobby of the Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter listening intently to musical director Cheryl VanDuzen lead them carefully through an ensemble number from Once Upon a Mattress.
Inside the theater, three actors are working on blocking a bit of stage business, getting used to a set that only became available a couple days before. It will be an intense few days for the young performers in preparation for a [https://www.facebook.com/events/1640198305996603|March 3 opening night].
For many stars of stage, movies, and television it was in theaters like this that a love of acting began -- in acting camps and after school programs. Thalia Schramm is casting and program director for Encore and directs many adult shows for the company and is the director of the youth theater production. She had worked as a camp counselor up north and “loved working with kids.”
“When I started working at Encore in 2009, when [the company] started, they didn’t have a summer program, so in 2010 I started a summer program, which has grown from four sessions and about 30 kids to 10 sessions and about 200 kids every summer,” she said.
Last year Encore started a winter youth program with a production of Seussical the Musical. The program is open to children up to 18 years old. This year 31 students are participating, ages 7 to 16.
This year’s show is called Getting to Know ... Once Upon a Mattress as a requirement of Rodgers and Hammerstein licensing for junior versions of established adult musicals. The additional intro is taken from the song "Getting to Know You" in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic The King and I.
When [http://www.harryallenjazz.com|Harry Allen] was a sideman for drummer Oliver Jackson on long European tours, Jackson introduced the up-and-coming tenor saxophonist to the local promoter in every city they played. “He would say, ‘Remember this name, you’re going to want him,’” Allen recalls. Thirty years later, some of the same people book Allen regularly.
Now an internationally acclaimed jazz artist, Harry Allen swings into town with his quartet to play the [http://www.kerrytownconcerthouse.com/index.php/events/event/harry_allen|Kerrytown Concert House] on Wednesday, March 1. They will perform audience favorites from the Great American Songbook as well as a few new songs Allen recently wrote. Joining him on this date are Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown and Ann Arbor veterans Paul Keller, bass, and Pete Siers, drums.
After graduating college and spending a year abroad in Ghana, Kahil El'Zabar came home to Chicago excited to tell his dad what he wanted to do with his life.
"I’m gonna play in a badass band," El'Zabar recalled telling him. "No bass, no piano, no guitar, no chromatic chordal instrument to set the tonic sensibility of the music."
His new vision called for a tonal center set by the "various rhythmic impulses" and "harmonic syntax of the music," African influences, and "urban contemporary expression" from his own experience.
"And he says, 'Man, it sounds hip, boy. But you’ll never make a living.'"
Because nearly 900 letters were exchanged between soldier-journalist Charles Kiley and his fiancee, Billee Gray, during World War II, Ann Arbor’s David Kiley has an amazing window into not only his parents’ courtship, and their lives as young adults, but also what it was like to live in that era, both on the front lines and at home.
For this reason, he collaborated with his sister (Anne Kiley) and brother-in-law (Thomas Pellechia) to edit their 2015 book, Writing the War: Chronicles of a World War II Correspondent. But because Kiley -- director of communication at U-M’s Ross School of Business and publisher/editor-in-chief of the professional theater website [http://www.encoremichigan.com|EncoreMichigan.com] -- is passionate about theater, he soon started thinking about how to adapt the material into a stage play.
The resulting show, I’ll Be Seeing You, will have its world premiere at U-M’s Arthur Miller Theatre this weekend, with performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. In the show, two actors play Charles and Billee as they write and read each other’s letters; plus, two radio singers perform music from that era, while a radio announcer -- played by Kiley, who’s also making his directing debut -- offers news from the front.
Guitarists Julian Lage and Chris “Critter” Eldridge have formidable track records in jazz and bluegrass, respectively. Lage has worked with Gary Burton, Fred Hersch, Nels Cline and more. Eldridge is widely known as a member of the innovative Punch Brothers.
So when [http://www.lageeldridge.com|Lage and Eldridge] play as a duo -- on their new album [https://freedirt.net/products/julian-lage-chris-eldridge-mount-royal|Mount Royal], their 2015 gem Avalon and their 2013 five-track EP Close to Picture -- there’s a whole universe of music open to them, a wide range of shared tastes and enthusiasms.
Playing rare Martin acoustic guitars from 1937 (Eldridge) and 1939 (Lage), they survey the varied lineage of acoustic music and Americana while pursuing their own contemporary aesthetic. The music is improvisational, lyrical, whimsical, textural, and highly virtuosic. While Eldridge sang on much of Avalon, [https://lageeldridge.bandcamp.com/album/mount-royal|Mount Royal] is mainly instrumental, though there are two vocal covers of bluegrass classics and even a reading of one of Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs. We caught up with them shortly before their [http://www.theark.org/shows-events/2017/feb/27/julian-lage-chris-eldrid…|February 27 gig at The Ark].
There’s a whole mess of influences on [http://www.facebook.com/HateUnbound|Hate Unbound]’s debut album, Plague, which came out on the Finnish label [http://www.inverse.fi/shop/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=619|Inv… Records]. Reviewers have mentioned brutal bands (Lamb of God, Gojira, Hatebreed) along with thrashier groups (Exodus) and death metal pioneers (Death) -- but not enough have acknowledged [https://hateunbound.bandcamp.com|Hate Unbound]’s occasional laser-sharp deployment of twin-lead guitars, evoking classic Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy.
“I actually wanted to be KK Downing when I grew up,” said guitarist Daryl Mitchell, naming the ax partner of Glenn Tipton in Judas Priest. ([https://twitter.com/HateUnbound|Hate Unbound]'s other guitarist, William Cundiff, is Mitchell's Tipton.)
But don’t mistake [http://www.reverbnation.com/HateUnbound|Hate Unbound]’s love of twin leads fool you: This southeastern Michigan group, which includes bassist Sean Demura and drummer Franklin "Foot" Hannah, is primarily about pummeling you with riffs, not tickling you with harmonized solos.
You'll be able to have your chest caved in by said riffs when Hate Unbound celebrates the release of Plague at the [https://www.facebook.com/events/164243227384020|Maidstone Theatre in Ypsilanti] on Saturday, February 18. We talked to Mitchell and vocalist Art Giammara about the Plague year, song meanings, and whether too many influences is too many.
While reading our chat, stream all of Plague at [http://www.ztmag.com/blog/news/zt-premiere-hate-unbound-stream-full-upc…|Zero Tolerance Magazine].
Trumpeter Dave Douglas prepared to play his mom’s funeral by arranging the hand-picked hymns and Bible verses she wrote down on a scrap of paper and gave to him.
“I didn’t do too much to them,” Douglas said, whose jazz can edge toward the avant-garde at times. “I thought these are pretty straight-ahead renditions of these hymns.”
Douglas’ [http://music.davedouglas.com/album/united-front|Brass Ecstasy] band -- with the New Orleans-type front line of trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba, plus drums -- was the group he picked to play his mother’s chosen hymns at the funeral, with the sung verses handled by the church’s congregation.
“We got to the service and we go through the first chorus,” Douglas said, “and I turned around to hand it to the congregation and they’re all just looking at me like, ‘Whaaat?’ It was way over their heads. We had to totally adapt and have the [church’s] organ player come help out.”
He laughs about the event now, but that was a tumultuous period for Douglas.
Shell-shocked people sit around a campfire discussing a favorite episode of TV series. They try to remember each detail to amuse each other and as a distraction from the problems all around them. The world has been thrown into darkness following a worldwide catastrophic event and stories are all that remain.
This is the premise of Anne Washburn’s [http://www.music.umich.edu/performances_events/productions/2016-2017/mr…|Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play], opening February 16 at the University of Michigan’s Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.
“It’s a postmodern play, a pastiche of forms and thematically it goes to the heart of what it means to tell stories, why human beings tell stories,” said Daniel Cantor, the play’s director and head of performance for theater at the university’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance. “Why they need stories, why stories evolve and change across time but have different meanings for people in different contexts.”
Art is everywhere in this town; you just need to know where to look. The [https://www.facebook.com/events/1865463850355805|Niceland art show], a pop-up exhibit that took place last weekend, is a perfect example of how tucked away spaces can be transformed into showrooms for painters and sculptors.
The Tiny Buddha Boutique was previously above [http://totoroannarbor.com|Totoro] at 213 S. State Street. But the shop, which specializes in yoga wear, recently moved to a new location inside [http://www.baboannarbor.com|Babo] in the Nichols Arcade, though Tiny Buddha still has rights at the moment to use the old space.
"We wanted to take advantage of the space while it is available," said artist Helen Gotlib (sister of Tiny Buddha Boutique owner Risa Gotlib) to display works by local artists.
That led to the Niceland art show, which ran February 10-13. The show featured work from local artists Dylan Strzynski, Lavinia Hanachiuc, and Gotlib.
When Lauren London started the [http://www.pennyseats.org|Penny Seats Theatre Company] in 2010, it was with the idea that Ann Arbor should be brimming with “high-quality, live theater that doesn’t break the bank.” That’s exactly what you’ll get if you see the new Kander and Ebb revue Sing Happy! -- Penny Seats' first show of its 2017 season -- playing in the Celtic Room of [http://www.conoroneills.com/annarbor|Conor O’Neill’s] pub and restaurant on February 9, 14, 15, and 16.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the work of Kander and Ebb, they wrote the musicals Chicago and Cabaret, among many others. The four women who star in this revue are remarkably gifted, and the songs and arrangements that director Thalia Schramm chose are consistently beautiful, moving, and show-stoppers.
I’ve now seen Sing Happy! twice and recently asked producer Lauren London and director Thalia Schramm some questions about the production and the Penny Seats Theatre Company's upcoming season.