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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In England, the panto (short for pantomime) is a Yuletide tradition. A familiar fairy tale is retold as an excuse for a light-hearted vaudeville of jokes, well-worn comic routines, and song and dance.
Theatre Nova has adopted the idea as an annual holiday treat. This year a new take on The Elves and the Shoemaker gets reimagined into a Jewish-centered The Elves and the Schumachers, just in time for Hanukkah.
The plot of Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis’ retelling keeps to the basics: elves help a desperate shopkeeper and save the day. But, oy vey, do they wander far and wide into the surreal and the totally silly.
After all these years the adventures of New York City matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi are still going strong.
Dolly is now working her magic at the Encore Musical Theatre, where Hello, Dolly!’s jaunty style, catchy title song, and lively dances make it the perfect sprightly bauble for the coming holiday season.
Hello, Dolly! was a hit right from the start. The original 1964 New York production starring Carol Channing became the longest running musical on Broadway up to that time, with numerous leading ladies filling the role that Channing made famous. The title song became a mega-hit record for Louis Armstrong, briefly toppling The Beatles from the top of the charts. The musical has been revived numerous times on Broadway, most recently last year with a smash hit staging starring Bette Midler.
In the late 1970s, a young African-American with musical ambitions left his strict religious home in Los Angeles to set out on a journey to discover who he was, what he believed and where he belonged.
Years later, the rock songwriter and musician known as Stew turned his story of self-discovery into the unusual and critically acclaimed musical Passing Strange. The musical, with book and lyrics by Stew, and music by Stew and a former bandmate, Heidi Rodewald, received seven 2008 Tony Award nominations and Stew won the award for best book. Passing Strange also won the Drama Desk Award for outstanding musical.
His story resonated with those who lived during those years and it resonates still with young audiences, which makes it a perfect vehicle for young actors. The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre will present Passing Strange Nov. 15-18 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.