It’s all about the dancing in U-M’s "Sweet Charity"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Sweet Charity

You don’t have to be a big spender to enjoy the University of Michigan’s engaging, dance-happy return to the 1960s, Sweet Charity.

Sweet Charity is a lighter, thinner adaptation of Federico Fellini’s film Nights of Cabiria. The Neil Simon book changes the prostitutes of Rome into New York City taxi dancers at the Fandango Dance Hall. And the story is a mere pretext for the often-exhilarating dance numbers and clever songs.

With music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, Sweet Charity is always on the move from the minute that Nevada Koenig struts on stage as the ever hopeful and usually disappointed Charity Hope Valentine. This is a musical about frustrated romance, but it’s also a musical about dance and movement.

Encore’s "A Little Night Music" takes a rueful look at love

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's A Little Night Music

Sebastian Gerstner stars as the obnoxious Carl-Magnus and Leah Fox is his exasperated wife, Countess Charlotte, in Encore Theatre's production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

Encore Musical Theatre continues its love affair with Stephen Sondheim with A Little Night Music, Sondheim’s wistful and rueful look at love.

Night Music, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, was, as the Encore program notes “suggested by” one of Ingmar Bergman’s rare comedies, Smiles of a Summer’s Night. The setting is still Sweden at the turn of the 20th Century. A successful lawyer has recently married a much younger woman who has remained virginal during their eight months of marriage. She has developed a growing attraction to the lawyer’s seminarian son, who is wrestling with deep sexual conflicts of his own.

Things become complicated when the lawyer, Fredrik, comes home with tickets to see the noted stage actress Desiree Armfeldt, an old flame for whom the embers are still glowing. Desiree has started to grow weary of life as a touring actress and her affair with the obnoxious and married Count Carl-Magnus. Fredrik’s troubled married life and his love triangle with Desiree and Carl-Magnus eventually play out in the pastoral setting Desiree’s mother’s country house.

This might sound very serious, and it is, but it’s also serious comedy.

Civic Theatre’s "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" plays the con game for laughs

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Civic Theatre's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

After directing seven serious dramas in a row, including Jean-Paul Sartre’s vision of hell, No Exit, Glenn Bugala was ready for some laughs.

Bugala is directing the musical comedy version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.  Bugala, who has a Master of Fine Arts in acting from Purdue University, has performed and directed numerous productions at Civic since he became involved with the theater in 1997. His credits include directing Rent, Chess, Tommy, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and Front Page.

Scoundrels, with book by Jeffrey Lane and music by David Yazbek, is based on the 1988 movie starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as an odd couple of conmen engaged in fleecing rich women on the French Riviera. Caine played a smooth-talking gentleman who cons wealthy women to Martin’s rowdy, lowbrow who is happy snagging $20 from anyone he can.

“I think these days, with the news cycle, we could all use a comedy,” Bugala said. “I’ve known the movie since it came out, and I’ve kept a VHS tape of it since then.”

PTD finds the magic in "Humble Boy"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Humble Boy by PTD Productions review

Felix Humble is a troubled man. At 35, he’s made only small progress in academia as an astrophysicist; he’s overweight and stutters when under pressure; he’s worn out; and he’s very angry about the missing bees.

Charlotte Jones’ dramatic comedy Humble Boy opens with Felix searching with rising frustration for the colony of bees tended by his father, a gentle but distant biology teacher in the rural Cotswolds of England. It matters because Felix is home for his father’s funeral and the bees seemed to be everything to his father.

Ypsilanti’s PTD Productions presents a warm, gently funny and sometimes magical staging of Humble Boy at the Riverside Art Center.

Riveting Riveters: Purple Rose’s “Willow Run” tells the story of four strong women

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Purple Rose Theatre's Willow Run

Southeast Michigan was in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt “the Arsenal of Democracy” as the area’s auto manufacturers moved from making cars to making planes, tanks, jeeps, and other machinery needed to fight the Axis in World War II.

The heart and soul of that arsenal was Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti as it was transformed from auto production to production of the B24 Liberator bombers. Willow Run was more than just a factory, it was a place where national necessity created profound social change.

Women began to fill jobs once held by men and proved their value time and again. The image of Rosie the Riveter became iconic for the emergence of women as a key part of the wider workforce.

The Purple Rose Theatre is staging the world premiere of Jeff Duncan’s Willow Run, an affectionate portrayal of this local and historic story of social change.  

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

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

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"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

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

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

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.