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.

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.

Almost Like Being in Love: Encore’s "Brigadoon" is a must-see musical treat

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Brigadoon

Dale Dobson as Archie Beaton and José Martinez-Chavarria as Harry Beaton. Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

The Encore Musical Theatre has taken on a new look for its production of Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon. Seating has been arranged to create a theater-in-the round with a literal circle in the middle.

Director Matthew Brennan in his program notes writes that he was taken with the idea of a circle of community, love, commitment, and, since the play’s action occurs on the day of a wedding, the symbolic wedding band. So this classic, romantic musical comedy lends itself well to a center stage with action playing along all aisles, making the audience residents for a night in the close-knit community of Brigadoon.

We feel the magic of this town and its people in this near-perfect production.

A2 Civic’s "Fahrenheit 451" draws parallels to our current political "catastrophe"

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Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Fahrenheit 451

Luc Robinson stars as the book-burning fireman Guy Montag in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

In Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, firemen don’t put out fires, they start them with a temperature that burns book paper. 

An authoritarian government has decided that books just confuse people with too many ideas, too many alternatives. They prefer people who like to watch hours of mindless television while their minds gently drift away on drugs.

David Widmayer is directing Bradbury’s stage version of Fahrenheit for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. He said Bradbury’s fears may be more relevant than they’ve ever been. Fahrenheit, along with 1984, Brave New World, and a slew of modern dystopian stories have been in vogue in the last few years.

U-M takes on Sondheim’s "Sweeney Todd," a musical challenge and a macabre story

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Sweeney Todd

Artwork from the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd.

The musical theater students at the University of Michigan will take a walk on the dark side when they present their production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Power Center, April 18-21.

Sweeney Todd is an unusual show, combining dark humor, odd characters, a bit of the music hall, a bit of the opera and quite a lot of blood. 

Stephen Sondheim, the master of modern musical theater, has often taken on unorthodox musical theatre material from a survey of presidential assassins to a grim take on fairy tales to a bittersweet reworking of an Ingmar Bergman film.

But Sweeney Todd goes a few steps further into a grim story of revenge that balances horror with some deliciously off-kilter humor and some complex and compelling music.  

Theatre Nova’s "Mazel Tov, John Lennon" engages with an odd couple true story

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Mazel Tov, John Lennon

Forrest Hejkal stars as John Lennon in Theatre Nova's world premiere of David Wells’ Mazel Tov, John Lennon.

In 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono sought help from an immigration lawyer to extend their visas by six months so that Ono could continue to make her case in custody proceedings for her 8-year-old daughter.

They were put in touch with a mild-mannered, admittedly “square” immigration lawyer who had never heard of John Lennon, though he did know a little about The Beatles. Leon Wildes would find himself drawn into the muck and mire of the Nixon administration, a landmark immigration case, and a friendship with the mercurial, brilliant, and troubled rock star, cultural icon, and political activist.

Theatre Nova is presenting the world premiere of Mazel Tov, John Lennon, David Wells’ engaging take on this true story of an odd couple who became friends in a fight against government oppression.

Civic Theatre’s "Vanya" finds humor in sibling rivalry and Chekhov

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A2CT's production on Vanya

John Harrison as Spike, Denyse Clayton as Masha, Ellen Finsh as Sonia, and Thom Johnson as Vanya. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

Siblings always have issues.

Sometimes the older they get the testier they become, especially when their paths diverge. 

This idea became the inspiration for Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comedy about sibling resentments that takes some inspiration from Russian short-story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov.

Cassie Mann, who is directing a production of Vanya for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, March 14-17, said she fell in love with the play when she read it.

Theatre Nova’s Playwrights Festival lets the audience help writers find their voice 

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Michigan Playwrights Festival 2019

Playwrights begin with an idea. They imagine a setting, develop a cast of characters, and write a script. But that’s just the beginning. A director and actors will breathe life into the writer’s words. Only then can a writer get a feel for whether his or her play hits its mark.

That’s where the semi-annual Michigan Playwrights Festival at Theatre Nova provides an important service to playwrights and a great opportunity for theatergoers to see an original play in its infancy.

“Playwrights tell us how valuable it is to hear their play read out loud by professional actors in front of an audience,” said Diane Hill, producing artistic director of Theatre Nova, in an email interview. “They can see if what they thought was funny actually receives laughs or if what they thought might be a poignant moment falls flat. They also listen to the audience discussion that follows the reading concerning its positives and negatives which can sometimes lead to script alterations.”

Five new plays by Michigan playwrights will be presented March 6-10 in staged readings at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor.

U-M Musical Theatre offers hard-hitting drama "The Exonerated"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

University of Michigan's production of The Exonerated

The acting students at the University of Michigan’s Department of Musical Theatre will be shifting gears to perform in The Exonerated, a docudrama that reveals serious problems in the United States criminal system.

The Exonerated by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen tells the true stories of six wrongfully accused convicted survivors of death row in their own words. The script was prepared from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files, and the public record.

Encore Theatre presents an emotionally taut staging of “Next to Normal”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Next to Normal

Bipolar disorder is not the usual musical fare. But the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal joins such recent topical musicals as Avenue Q, Rent, Dear Evan Hansen, and Hamilton as a forum for dealing with current issues using music and words to drive home tough lessons.

The Encore Theatre production of Next to Normal, with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, will not send you home whistling a tune, but it will leave you with a better understanding of the pain, confusion, and challenges faced by those with bipolar disorder and the family and friends around them.