Encore offers a charming, thoughtful "Camelot"

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Basso profundo: Stephen West voices King Arthur with a rich baritone in Encore's Camelot. Photo by [https://micheleanlikerphotography.pixieset.com|Michele Anliker Photography].

In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Camelot, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, was a powerhouse 1960 follow-up to their masterpiece My Fair Lady. It gave the Kennedy Administration a theme and sent audiences away happily whistling the tunes of several memorable songs.

The title song paints a vivid utopian vision of King Arthur’s domain of medieval England, but dark shadows are the musical’s real theme. Based in part of T.H. White’s humorous account of Arthur’s rise from innocent farm boy to king, Camelot is not a boy’s adventure of knightly derring-do. Instead, it’s a bittersweet tale of a romantic triangle, uneasy betrayal, and lost dreams.

The [https://www.facebook.com/Encore.Musical.Theatre|Encore Musical Theatre] production is charming if somewhat constricted by the limits of the theater’s stage. Director Daniel C. Cooney brings the elements together with a nice balance of romantic yearning and soft comedy. The romantic leads spark nicely as they should. The stage doesn’t allow for the wider expanse of a more elaborate setting but set designer Sarah Tanner uses props and a simple castle courtyard to suggest the royal life.

Redbud’s "Prodigal Son" will draw on fine-tuned acting for intimate drama

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Redbud Productions, Prodigal Son

Liam Weeks stars in Redbud Productions' Prodigal Son. Photo by Jason Page.

When Loretta Grimes saw an off-Broadway production of John Patrick Shanley’s Prodigal Son in January 2016, she realized it had all the basic elements for a Redbud Productions staging. The cast was small, the story intimate, and the emotions intense.

She is directing the [http://redbudproductions.com/prodigal-son|Redbud Productions]' staging June 1-3 at the [http://www.kerrytownconcerthouse.com/index.php/events/event/redbud_prod…|Kerrytown Concert House].

“For me, I loved the play in general, the characters were well-drawn, and the writing was excellent,” she said. “But I was mainly drawn to the main character, Jim Quinn, who is John Patrick Shanley as the play is autobiographical. I think what I like is that the character is such an underdog and I think we can all relate to that. He’s this rough, tough kid from the Bronx who goes to this prestigious Catholic school in New England, but it’s like fitting a round peg in a square hole.”

The audience will decide "whodunit" at "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The Session Room on Jackson Road was in a festive mood May 9.

The front of the restaurant/beer hall was taken over by what appeared to customers like a troupe of English music hall performers.

In truth, they were actors from the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre trying out their jokes, songs, patter, and various English accents in preparation for their upcoming presentation of Rupert Holmes’ musical [http://www.a2ct.org/shows/the-mystery-of-edwin-drood|The Mystery of Edwin Drood], June 1-4, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

The show's director, Ron Baumanis, said the setting was perfect for getting his cast in the mood.

“Here we have this show with great musical numbers that can be lifted right out and done as an evening of entertainment,” he said. “Sessions is a beer hall and essentially music halls started out as beer halls then moved into theaters. But instead of seats, people sat at tables with their tankards of beer and did business or whatever they wanted to do.”

Crime novelist Steve Hamilton returns to AADL for his second Nick Mason novel

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Steve Hamilton

Exit Strategy is U-M grad and Michigan native Steve Hamilton's second Nick Mason novel.

Last year [http://authorstevehamilton.com/books|Steve Hamilton] took a u-turn.

The award-winning author of the popular Alex McKnight detective series introduced a new series with a very different main character in [http://www.aadl.org/catalog/record/1473292|The Second Life of Nick Mason], a New York Times bestseller and multi-award winner that is being developed as a major motion picture.

McKnight was a straight arrow ex-Detroit cop, who left Detroit after his partner was killed and he was seriously wounded in a confrontation with a mentally ill man with an Uzi. McKnight escaped to rent cabins in tiny, isolated Paradise on the shores of Lake Superior in the U.P. But soon he was reluctantly being drawn into one case after another as a private detective.

By contrast, Mason is a tough kid from the south side of Chicago, a career criminal. He and two of his buddies began stealing cars as teenagers and then moved on to a series of minor crimes. Mason tried to give it up for his wife and daughter, but he and his pals became involved in a dock heist that went seriously bad, leaving one friend and a policeman dead. Mason took the rap and refused to rat on his associates, one his best friend. He was given 25 years without parole.

PTD’s "August: Osage County" mines rich humor and strong drama

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PTD Productions takes on Tracy Letts' 2008 Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, August: Osage County.

Violet Weston is the sharp-tongued, nasty piece of work at the center of Tracy Letts’ brilliant family dissection August: Osage County. Violet can be awfully unpleasant, but she has her reasons, as do all the others in this play that is rich in symbolism but played with a tough realism.

Any good production of this Pulitzer Prize-winning play starts with a ferocious, vulgar, and yet sympathetic Violet, the matriarch of an Oklahoma family in transition. Janet Rich is all of that and more in Ypsilanti’s [http://www.ptdproductions.com/PTDAugustOsageCounty.html|PTD Productions] presentation of Letts’ play. She grumbles, complains, coos, and rages in the face of a tragedy that briefly unites her broken family.

Older actors take center stage in Civic Theatre’s "Mornings at Seven"

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Civic Theatre’s Mornings at Seven

Barbara Mackey King and Melissa Stewart read from scripts during rehearsals for Civic Theatre’s Mornings at Seven.

Youth will be served.

In popular music, movies, and theater, young adults are usually the center of attention. Older actors will land roles as wise elders, cantankerous villains, or doddering comic relief. But the roles are sometimes few and far between.

That’s one reason why Thom Johnson wanted to stage Paul Osborn’s gentle, Midwest 1939 comedy Mornings at Seven for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

“I did this play 10 years ago with another group and in the intervening years, looking at shows I wanted to be in, I noticed a real lack of parts for older people,” Johnson said, “and this show except for the two ‘youngsters’ who are in their 40s, it’s all about older people. I think that’s what really sparked me into wanting to do it, an opportunity for older actors to get out there on stage and do their thing.”

Encore helps develop new musical take on ‘Into the Wild’

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Conor Ryan, as Christopher McCandless, sets off Into the Wild at the Encore Musical Theatre. / Photo by [http://www.micheleanliker.com/|Michele Anliker].

The Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter is participating in an exciting creative collaboration. Encore is offering its space and many of its talented actors and musicians in the “developmental premiere” of a new musical based in part on Jon Krakauer’s best-selling non-fiction book “Into the Wild” and in part on “Back to the Wild,” a photographic history of Chris McCandless’s journey by the McCandless Foundation.

Krakauer’s book told the story of Chris McCandless, who took off after graduating from Emory University on a cross-country tour in search of adventure and his soul. The adventure ultimately led to the wilds of Alaska and a brutal death and left more questions than answers about McCandless and his quest.

The book was later adapted into a critically acclaimed movie under the direction of Sean Penn.

Janet Allard wrote the book and lyrics for the new musical with music and additional lyrics by Niko Tsakalakos. Mia Walker is the director. She has worked as director or been assistant director on Broadway, off-Broadway, and touring productions.

Smooth Sailing: U-M’s "The Little Mermaid"

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U-M's production of The Little Mermaid

Under the sea, you and me: Ariel (Halli Toland) and Prince Eric (Trevor Carr) take a dramatic pause in U-M's The Little Mermaid. Photo by [http://petersmithphoto.com/|Peter Smith Photography].

The seaway to true love is full of perils in Disney’s The Little Mermaid but, of course, the young lovers bridge land and sea for a happy ever after. And the magical production of the University of Michigan Musical Theatre Department carries us smoothly along to that expected Disney end.

The Little Mermaid production at the Power Center for the Performing Arts is light, airy, expertly performed and a fine display of how imaginative staging can turn fluff into gold. The production continues 8 p.m. April 14 and 15 and 2 p.m. April 15 and 16.

U-M looks for the human story In Disney’s iconic Little Mermaid

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U-M's production of The Little Mermaid

That's why it's hotter under the water (slugs cutting rugs not pictured). / Photo by [http://petersmithphoto.com/|Peter Smith Photography].

In Copenhagen’s harbor a [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Mermaid_(statue)|statue of a mermaid perched on a rock] has become an iconic symbol for Denmark and a tribute to Denmark’s most famous writer, Hans Christian Andersen, author of the fable [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Mermaid|The Little Mermaid] in 1837, among many other stories.

In 1989, [http://www.aadl.org/catalog/record/1494086|The Little Mermaid] became an icon of another kind for young girls everywhere when Disney Studios transformed Andersen’s grim tale into an animated romantic musical with a lighter touch. The Broadway-ready score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman, the energetic heroine, Ariel, and a renewed emphasis on quality animation helped turn Disney Studios around and launched several more hit animated films.

In 2008, Disney’s The Little Mermaid was transformed into a Broadway musical. The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre will present its take on Disney’s version, April 13-16, at the Power Center on the central University of Michigan campus. It’s a big change from last year’s musical offering, as intended, to give students an opportunity to work in a broad range of styles.

“Every year we try to balance,” said Linda Goodrich, stage director and choreographer. “In the four years, we try to give them everything from Disney to last year we did Green Day’s American Idiot. So a full range, from the golden age to contemporary, and we try to get a large selection of each offering.”

Goodrich found much to like about the Disney movie.

“I really love the music. Alan Menken is a master of musical theater. It’s contemporary. The song construction of the songs is light, golden age,” she said. “It’s well crafted, a beloved film.”

But her first experience with the theatrical version was a disappointment.

Purple Rose’s Vino Veritas finds humor and pain in the middle class

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Vino Veritas

Aphrodite Nikolovski lets the truth be known to Alex Leydenfrost and Kate Thomsen / Photo by [http://petersmithphoto.com/|Peter Smith Photography].

[http://www.purplerosetheatre.org/|The Purple Rose Theatre] has made its mark as an outstanding professional theater company with smart, contemporary comedies with a sting.

So it’s appropriate that the Chelsea theater founded by Jeff Daniels would mark its 100th presentation with a new production of Detroit playwright David MacGregor’s Vino Veritas, which had its world premiere at the Purple Rose in 2008. It is a fine example of the plays that the company has premiered over the years. It’s contemporary, witty, fast-paced but also biting, brutally honest, and perceptive about the worries and frustrations of middle-class Americans.

Vino Veritas is set in “an upper middle class living room” on Halloween night. As the play opens a couple are waiting for their neighbors to come for a drink before they all head off for their annual appearance at a costume party.

The couple has recently returned from a trip to Peru. This was a rare adventure for the two studio photographers who had once been daring photojournalists. It was, it seems, an attempt to re-spark a troubled relationship. While there, the wife is given a bottle of wine made from the skin of blue dart tree frogs. The wine is alleged to be a truth serum.

The wife wants to share the wine with their neighbors; the husband is horrified by the idea. The madness ensues when the wine flows.