High School Musical: Civic Theatre’s "Heathers" tackles tough issues with satire

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Ann Arbor Civic Theater's Heathers

Some people remember the carefree days of high school when everyone pulled together as a family to learn and have a great time.

Yeah, and then there were the rest of us, sealed off into our little niches in the social pecking order. High school was a place of snobs, bullies, introverts, social misfits, swaggering athletes, harassed scholars, self-proclaimed social arbiters, and queen bees.

In 1988, Wynona Ryder and Christian Slater starred in a wicked comedy that exposed the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Heathers was a stew of sharp comedy and violent mayhem that still rings true.

In 2014, Heathers, The Musical with music, lyrics, and book by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, opened off-Broadway to excellent reviews and has been a popular choice for theater companies across the country.

Ann Arbor Civic Theater will present Heathers, The Musical at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, June 7-10, under the direction of Ron Baumanis.

Theatre Nova’s "Mrs. Fifty Bakes a Pie" is a smart comedy about a serious issue

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Theatre Nova's Mrs. Fifty Bakes a Pie

All eyes on the pies: Patrick O’Lear (John, Mr. Milk) and Jeannine Thompson (Marta), along with Sarah Burcon (Fiona), star in Theatre Nova’s Mrs. Fifty Bakes a Pie.

Fiona is 50 years old, a bit shy and retiring and married to an abusive, arrogant, and philandering husband, whose love she still craves.

She needs help and her friend Marta knows just what she needs to feel empowered.

Detroit playwright Linda Ramsay-Detherage’s Mrs. Fifty Bakes a Pie is a whip-smart comedy just right for the #MeToo moment.  The play is being given its world premiere at Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova under the astute direction of Daniel C. Walker. 

Playwright Joseph Zettelmaier takes center stage with three regional productions

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Joseph Zettlemaier

Joseph Zettelmaier is a busy man.

The playwright teaches at Eastern Michigan University, is executive director of a theater company, and will soon have three of his numerous plays on stage locally.   

Northville’s Tipping Point Theatre production of Northern Aggression opened May 17; The Roustabout Theatre Troupe production of All Childish Things opens May 31 in Milan; and The Penny Seats Theatre production of The Gravedigger: A Frankenstein Play opens June 14 in Ann Arbor. 

Zettelmaier has written more than a score of plays that have been staged regionally and as far away as Calgary, Alberta, and Dublin, Ireland. He’s written comedies, dramas, science fiction, mysteries, and horror.  

“I am an insatiably curious human being,” Zettelmaier said. “I have these little rules I’ve come up with for myself as a writer and one is never tell the same story twice and another is if you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not challenging your audience either.”

PTD presents a timely staging of "The Crucible"

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PTD Productions' cast of The Crucible

Photo courtesy PTD Productions.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible began with a class in America history when Miller was a student at the University of Michigan. The class included a segment on the Salem witch trials and Miller saw rich material for a drama that combined political, religious, and deeply personal conflicts.

He returned to the subject in the early 1950s, using the witch trials as a way to comment on the anti-Communist hearings of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. It was also an opportunity to show his rage at his friend and director Elia Kazan, who volunteered to name names of those who had any association with the Communist Party.

It’s a complex play dealing with a particular place and time while also exploring the broader view that we are not so far removed from the fanatics of Salem. Every few years offers up new examples of intolerance and repression, and an opportunity for theater groups to bring back Miller’s eloquent warning.

Brass Tacks' "39 Steps" has giddy fun with the Hitchcock classic

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Brass Tacks Ensemble's The 39 Steps

Daniel Bizer-Cox, Dory Mead, Isaac Ellis, and Maegan Murphy make the most of their invisible car in Brass Tacks' minimalist take on Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.

The bare-bones thrust stage in a playroom at the Children’s Creative Center is the perfect setting for the Brass Tacks Ensemble’s production of Patrick Barlow’s playful The 39 Steps

Barlow turns Alfred Hitchcock’s famous thriller into an imaginative comic romp. While staying true to Hitchcock’s script, the play lets four actors engage is theatrical play as giddy as many days of child’s play at the Creative Center. 

Art and science come together in Civic Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia"

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A2 Civic Theatre's Arcadia cast

L-R: Kate Umstatter as Hannah Jarvis, Laura Lilly Cotten as Thomasina Coverly, Chris Grimm as Septimus Hodge, and Russ Schwartz as Valentine Coverly in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. Photo by Lisa Gavan | Gavan Photo.

Melissa Freilich loves Tom Stoppard’s plays.

“Tom Stoppard always asks you to think and feel as well,” she said.

Freilich is directing the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Stoppard’s Arcadia, opening April 19 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

It’s a play that combines entertainment with thought-provoking discussions of everything from poetry and mathematics to thermodynamics.

Purple Rose Theatre delivers a hilarious send-up of Sherlock Holmes

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Purple Rose Theatre's Sherlock Holmes cast

Alternate Fictional Realities: Paul Stroili (Watson), Tom Whalen (Vincent van Gogh), Sarab Kamoo (Irene), and Mark Colson (Sherlock Holmes) mix it up in Purple Rose's Sherlock send-up. Photo by Sean Carter Photography

Arthur Conan Doyle purists may be shocked. But imagine an alternative universe in which Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes and “the woman” Irene Adler are lovers and live together at 221B Baker Street with Holmes’ trusted companion and chronicler Dr. John Watson.

That’s the set up for Detroit playwright David MacGregor’s hilarious Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear at the Purple Rose Theatre.

Kind of Blues: K Edmonds channels a sassy Bessie Smith at Theatre Nova

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Theatre Nova's The Devil's Music

“I hate to see de ev'-nin' sun go down.”

When Bessie Smith sang those opening lines of "St. Louis Blues" the world took notice. Here was a voice to be reckoned with -- deep, resonant, and profoundly emotional.

Smith proclaimed herself "The Empress of the Blues" as a taunt to Ma Rainey’s "Queen of the Blues" title. No one would ever dispute Smith’s right to the crown. But popular music’s first great diva lived out those blues in a life that was both a celebration of free living and a reckless disregard for the dangers of that freedom.

The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith is part cabaret show of Smith’s music and the alternately comic, melancholy, angry, and defiant story of Smith’s life from a shack in Tennessee to become one of the first major recording stars of the 1920s, as told by the irrepressible Smith herself.

Civic Theatre musical will take audiences on a "First Date"

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First Date at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre

Musical chairs: Drew Benson and Sarah Mazurek star in the pop- and rock-centric First Date.

Awkward!

Even terrifying at times.

That first date can make you sweat.  

That’s the premise of the chamber musical First Date, book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner.

Aaron C. Wade will direct the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of First Date, March 8-11, at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the north campus of the University of Michigan.

PTD’s "Disgraced" explores tensions in multicultural USA

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The cast of PTD Productions' Disgraced

Present, tense: Neel Vaidya, Ryan McGriff, Lisa Coveney, and Angelicia Morton star in PTD Productions' take on the Pulitzer-winning Disgraced.

Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced begins slowly but builds into a fierce confrontation and a hard breakdown in social and political correctness. This 2012 drama is hot-wired with themes that still rattle American society at all social levels.

Ypsilanti’s PTD Productions dares to jump in with a generally compelling production of an emotionally and intellectually difficult play. Director Joe York gets fine performances from his cast, even though some are a bit miscast for the roles they play. This is a topical play that is also personal and deserves an audience.