Review: Civic Theatre embraces the absurd in 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern'

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and their flipping coin.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and their flipping coin.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern--or is it Guildenstern and Rosencrantz? No matter, even they have trouble knowing who's who.

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre takes on Tom Stoppard's absurdist comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with good humor and a respect for Stoppard's more serious intentions.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet, friends from his youth who become minor pawns in Hamlet's battle with his Uncle Claudius. Stoppard imagines the agony of the bit player, waiting his moments on the stage and always a little clueless as to what his role is about or why it matters. The play borrows knowingly not only from Hamlet but also from Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The theme applies, of course, not just to actors but to all of us who imagine we are but bit players in someone else's story.

As the play begins, the two are endlessly flipping coins and discussing probability. Guildenstern is the verbose one. James Ingagiola saunters about the stage discussing all the important questions of journalists and philosophers: who, what, where, when, and why. Guildenstern is never sure about anything and always hesitates a bit too long. Ingagiola is a humorously pompous Hardy to Isaac Ellis' twittery Laurel as Rosencrantz.

Rosencrantz is a nervous but playful man, who enjoys a good game of coin flipping or anything else that is suggested. He's malleable and a bit slow on the uptake. Isaac's face is constantly mugging awe, fear, childish delight, or childish terror. His voice also rises higher as his confusion grows.

These two amiable clowns have a hard time remembering who they are, why they're in Elsinore, and exactly what they have to do with the actions around them. They are constantly reminding each other of how it all began and what it is that they are supposed to do.

As they wait, a whole gaggle of bit players arrive, the Tragedians, the players hired by Hamlet to expose his uncle's guilt in the murder of his father.

Joseph McDonald is boldly expressive as The Player, the group's leader with a taste for blood and vulgarity. He tries to explain how theater works to the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He does so by having his players display those elements of theater that the audience expects, like a good death well played. The players are a boisterous crew who give it their all.

The player who gets the most attention is the lovely Alfred, who plays the female roles. Daniel Bizer-Cox has fun sashaying about the stage in stockings and diaphanous clothes and, yet, he never over plays it.

Through this fog, the story of Hamlet runs on, off stage somewhere, until it's time for our two heroes to do their small part and then return to existential agony. In another gender switch, Hamlet is played handsomely by a woman, Suzy Culbertson.

David Widmayer makes his directorial debut at the Civic, and he's chosen a difficult play. Absurdist comedy is not for everyone. Tedium is one of Stoppard's themes and the play itself is sometimes tedious as Guildenstern goes on a bit with his musings. Still Widmayer clearly understands the core of this play and has three key actors who deliver on making their absurd characters come to comic life. Some of the Shakespearean scenes might have been played a little more formally and precisely to contrast more sharply with the protagonists' hazy world.

The play's title comes from a line near the end of Hamlet, when Hamlet's fury has left a stage full of dead bodies, worthy of the Player. A message arrives from London that in addition to all this mayhem, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead." But, of course, the point is that they live on, forever, in Shakespeare and in Stoppard.


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead continues 8 pm Friday-Saturday, March 11-12, and 2 pm Sunday at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the North Campus of the University of Michigan, 1226 Murfin Ave, 48109. Tickets are available online at www.a2ct.org, by calling the office at 734-971-2228, at the A2CT office at 322 W. Ann St., or at the door. Additional information is available by visiting www.a2ct.org.

Preview: Stratford Festival Offers Variety at a Good Exchange Rate

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

A small sampling of the many plays that will be performed at this year's Stratford Festival.

A small sampling of the many plays that will be performed at this year's Stratford Festival.

The Stratford Festival, an annual, Canadian theatre festival, is set to begin in April and this year's lineup is typically wide ranging, with 13 plays at four venues.

As always, Shakespeare is the heart of the festival. This year, the Bard is represented with productions of Macbeth, As You Like It and a reworking of Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1 and 2, and Henry V into two plays under the title Breath of Kings. The presentation was conceived and adapted by Stratford veteran Graham Abbey.

Shakespeare, himself, is the lead character in a new stage version of the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love. The comedy sets the young playwright in an Elizabethan setting that is not too different from our own.

The two musicals both have theatrical themes. A Chorus Line is a tribute to modern troupers and Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night, with the hit song "Send in the Clowns."

Every year, Stratford presents a production geared for families. This year it's a stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis's popular fantasy The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Arthur Miller's All My Sons is a modern Shakespearean tragedy of blind betrayal in the story of an airplane manufacturer who cuts corners to save money during World War II.

Other works are Moliere's comedy The Hypochondriac, Henrik Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman, and the world premiere of two contemporary plays, Aeneid, a modern take on Virgil's epic poem, and a comedy, Bunny.

This is a good year to check out the festival at bargain prices. The value of the Canadian dollar has been falling. Recently the U.S. dollar was worth $1.40 Canadian. That's good news for thrifty theatergoers for tickets, hotel rooms, and restaurants.

The season begins in April and runs through the end of October.


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.


For more information, check out the Stratford Festival website or call 1-800-567-1600.

Review: U-M's Clybourne Park Finds Deep Humor in Our Sad Racial Dance

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Maid Francine (Blair Prince) in Bruce Norris’s comic drama Clybourne Park

Maid Francine (Blair Prince) in Bruce Norris’s comic drama Clybourne Park.

It's still an awkward dance. When it comes to the subject of race, we seem to invent new language just to avoid the blunt words and ingrained feelings that are simmering just below the surface.

There are few places where that is more true than southeastern Michigan with a long, bloody history of racial animus. Flint and the Detroit school situation are just the most recent examples of the unresolved prejudices that politically correct speech can never hide.

The University of Michigan's School of Music, Theater and Dance couldn't have picked a more relevant and powerful play than Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park. But be warned, anyone expecting a sermon on race relations will find instead a hilariously serious comic drama. This is a play that exposes that awkward dance with sharp wit and a rare ability to understand the real complexity of the issue. The play has won the triple crown of theater awards, the British Olivier, Broadway's Tony, and the Pulitzer Prize and this U-M production is brilliant at making us laugh while unpeeling the many layers of code words that separate us.

406 Clybourne Street is the house in a white Chicago neighborhood that a black family moved into in Lorraine Hansbury's 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun. The first act of Norris' play set in 1959 centers on the white couple who have sold this home and are anxious to move out to escape the pain of the death by suicide of their Korean veteran son. The second act takes place in 2009 as an upscale white couple are meeting to discuss plans to modernize the now ravaged home in what has become a low-income black neighborhood.

This is serious stuff. But even in this first act director John Neville-Andrews uses Norris' stylized speech moving at a brisk pace, perfectly capturing the various anxieties at 406 Clybourne. The second act moves at an even faster pace, with more laughs but also more direct confrontation. His cast handles this very precise language skillfully, capturing every nuance of meaning and wringing every bit of the humor that dulls the deeper pain. In addition, each actor in the play has two distinctly different characters. That transformation is awesome.

In Act One, Jack Alberts is Karl, a leader of the community association, who comes to warn Russ and Bev that selling their house to a black family will lead to the end of their tight, white community. Alberts' Karl is a tightly wound, nerdy accountant type. He can't let a bad argument go, he can't let anyone else get a word in to dispute his notion that mixing races is a bad idea. His tight suit and undersized fedora perfectly highlight Alberts' performance. In Act Two, Alberts is Steve, a modern, hip guy, a real urbanite who wants to come back to the city and make it new again. This is where Alberts really nails the character, a slick guy who thinks he's post-racial, until he finds out he's not.

Lila Hood plays Karl's sweet, deaf wife Betsy, a victim of another kind of mindless patronization, and Steve's very modern wife Lindsey, an urban woman who claims at one point "half my friends are black." Again, Hood plays two characters who couldn't be more different and captures the sadness and isolation of Betsy and the whip-smart intelligence and total cluelessness of Lindsey.

David Newman goes from depressed father Russ in Act One, to broad comic punctuation as a construction worker in Act Two. His performance as Russ explodes as he makes a case that not all decisions hinge on the issue of race, even in Chicago. It is a plea for the personal over the social and political. His comic turn is a complete turn around.

Madeline Rouverol is the center point of Act One as Bev, a woman with high anxiety over the death of her son and the increasing depression of her husband. She talks a blue streak, she fidgets, she gushes. And when it comes to relating to her black maid, she displays the easy bigotry that passed/s for liberalism. She thinks she and the maid are friends, how quaint and how sad. In Act Two, Rourverol is a real estate lawyer, Albert and Betsy's daughter, who also thinks she's free of prejudice. Rouverol gets some very funny lines here that she places with pinpoint timing.

And about that maid, Francine. Blair Prince is devastating in this pivotal role. She presents herself as a dutiful employee, even as she is about to lose her job. But she's not one to be pushed around and she disdains Bev's phony liberal overtures (bribes), with looks that would wither a forest. When confronted by Karl to stand in for her race and answer his absurd challenges she dances to avoid and not offend while clearly showing that she is deeply offended. In Act Two, the tables have turned. She is the educated, tart tongued Lena, defending her community against its impending gentrification. It was her family who moved into 406 Clybourne. But here again, she dances around the issue until push comes to shove. Prince shows all of this in her expressive face.

Aaron Huey is Francine's kindhearted husband Albert, who shows that slowly dying deference to whites that makes old movies so uncomfortable. But Huey's Albert also shows his real feelings in his face and when things get a little too insulting he reacts with quick wit. As Lena's husband Kevin, he is a young professional at ease with whites, sharing similar interests, knowing the same people, sharing the same good life in Chicago. But as Act Two goes on, the bonhomie gets thin and then explodes and Huey masters that slow burn.

Jordan Rich plays Jim, a minister in Act One, who tries to straddle two contradictory ideas at once and do it with Christian charity. The temptation to overplay this sanctimony is avoided and Rich makes the character real. In Act Two, he's a building inspector who acts as a referee as the conversation moves from funny to dangerous. He gets one of the night's funniest lines.

The set design by Gary Decker is superb. In Act One, the house is a solid, old Chicago house, real wood trim, plaster walls. It's untidy only because the moving boxes are scattered about. In Act Two, fifty years of increasing poverty and the neglect poverty causes are evident in the home that is also in the early stages of demolition. The change is eye-popping.


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.


Clybourne Park continues 8 pm Friday and Saturday, Feb. 19-20, and at 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 21, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater on the central campus of the University of Michigan. Tickets at the League Ticket Office, (734) 764-2538.

Review: Sondheim on Sondheim Soars at Encore

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE

The company of Encore Theatre's Sondheim on Sondheim

The company of Encore Theatre's Sondheim on Sondheim.

Imagine you've been invited to a sophisticated party at the Manhattan apartment of the dean of American musical theater, Stephen Sondheim. In the course of the evening, guests will perform from Sondheim's rich vault of musical theater pieces that brought a new irony, maturity and depth to Broadway. And Sondheim, himself, will explain his craft, his artistic growth and his sometimes troubled life.

And it's all happening magically on Broad Street in Dexter at The Encore Theatre.

This is the set-up for Sondheim on Sondheim, a musical revue conceived by Sondheim's frequent collaborator James Lapine. A wide-range of beautiful music from the Sondheim catalog is presented by live performers while on a large screen videos show Sondheim in interviews and documentaries covering his career from his early success as a lyricist for Leonard Bernstein and Jule Styne through his career as the most successful Broadway composer of recent history. Sondheim is an engaging, witty and insightful host, willing to share the "secrets" of his trade, learned at an early age from another master, Oscar Hammerstein II. He is also quietly reflective about a lingering sadness in his life.

Four men and three women arrive on stage dressed for a cocktail party. A man sits at a grand piano going through the finger movements of a piano lesson and we're off for an evening of laughs, tears and much in between, because this is a cast that understands Sondheim.

Director Daniel Cooney was a little nervous on Feb. 5 because a cast member was unable to perform, so he was a singer short. Not to worry, with the help of a few index cards, the cast members rose to the occasion and filled in the gaps. Talk about troupers!

Cast members Peter Crist, Leah Fox, Daniel A. Helmer, Kelsey Pohl, Thalia V. Schramm, Jim Walke and Adam Woolsey make a fine ensemble around music director Tyler Driskill's skilled piano accompaniment. But they also shine on their special moments, the kind of theatrical moments that are almost exclusive to Sondheim's repertoire.

Kelsey Pohl brings sass and brass to "Now You Know" and sexual energy to "Ah, But Underneath." She has a commanding voice and energy.

Jim Walke is a big guy who gets to handle the more dangerous songs. As the mad baker from Sweeney Todd, he roars through "Epiphany" and as a potential killer from Assassins he ruminates sadly and madly on the power of a gun in "The Gun Song."

Daniel A. Helmer gets the spotlight as a feuding songwriter on "Franklin Shepard, Inc." and is fierce and funny, as he is in several ensemble pieces. He takes a quieter turn on Sondheim's best reflection on art itself in "Finishing the Hat."

Adam Woolsey offers a slow, quiet reading of Sondheim's concluding statement in Company, "Being Alive." Woolsey's version is powerfully sad with just a hint of positive self discovery. Peter Crist gets the spotlight on "Is This What You Call Love," which he sings with the right note of wounded confusion.

Thalia V. Schramm and Leah Fox perform a counter rendering of sad love-maybe songs "Losing My Mind" and "Not a Day Goes By" with all the wistful weight intended.

Schramm is also excellent on two of Sondheim's most complicated songs. On "In Buddy's Eyes," her near tears performance underlines softly the song's bitter regrets. And on Sondheim's most famous song "Send in the Clowns," Schramm delivers all the poignancy of love lost that has made the song so beloved.

Cooney's staging and Driskill's musical direction make the complex blending of video and live performance flow effortlessly. The ensemble pieces are crisp and natural. The solos are well defined. And all of it keys nicely off the Sondheim videos, which are a series of revelations.

Set designer Sarah Tanner has created an eye-popping rendering on a Manhattan apartment, meticulously decorated with show biz photos, old posters and playbills, a display of game boards and bric-a-brac. The room is appropriately furnished and looks out on a city skyline. Andy Galicki handles the complex lighting design and the precise video presentation.


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.


Sondheim on Sondheim continues Thursdays through Sundays through Feb. 21 at the Encore Theatre in Dexter. For tickets, call the Encore Theatre box office at (734)268-6200 or visit the website at www.theencoretheatre.org/tickets/

Review: Kickshaw Theatre goes bold with The Electric Baby

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE


The cast of Electric Baby. / Photo by Sean Carter Photography

The new Kickshaw Theatre is kicking off with a bold promise that it will be presenting theater with a bite by staging Stefanie Zadravec's The Electric Baby as its first production.

The Electric Baby is a play with drama, humor and a social conscience. But it is also burdened by its shifting styles, its dips into magic realism and its central symbolic image, a baby that "glows like the moon."

In choosing to take on this particular play, director Lynn Lammers dares to challenge her audience to give in to the playwright's excesses to mine for the moments of gold. She has the benefit of directing an outstanding and dedicated cast that shares her sensitivity and seriousness to material that often seems too fragile.

An immigrant mother in a rundown apartment is our guide. The Romanian immigrant, Natalia, talks directly to the audience, suggesting helpful folk remedies or telling fanciful folk tales, all while rocking her baby. The baby is hope in an unusual form.

The action begins with a middle-aged couple engaged in a fierce argument while waiting for a valet to bring their car after visiting the husband of their deceased daughter. The woman becomes enraged and hurries into the night.

Nearby, an immigrant African cabdriver picks up a young man and woman who have just dramatically stormed out of their low-paying restaurant jobs but become embroiled in their own argument about the woman's side job as an "escort."

The taxi and the running woman collide, setting off a series of encounters. In the process Zadravec explores a myriad of social issues from the impact of loss on a longstanding marriage, the problems of aging in an economic downturn, the problems of the young forced into dead-end jobs, the problems of immigrants trying to make it in a less than friendly America. To do this, she moves back and forth from realism to folk tale and mysticism. But the Kickshaw cast makes it work.

Vanessa Sawson's Natalia is earthy, confiding, at times romantic. The accent sounds very credible. She is especially effective at drawing the audience in as she cajoles them with her old country remedies. She is also good at portraying the bitter struggle in her once hopeful life in America.

William Bryson as the cabdriver, Ambimbola, also has a credible accent that booms with authority. He also has a sardonic chuckle and a face that animates a hundred different emotions. This character is a beacon of hope that depends on Bryson's charm to work.

The married couple groping to repair a badly damaged marriage are played sharply by Julie Glander and Peter Carey. Glander at first is a bundled of nerves as Helen, grieving and blaming for too long. Gradually she learns how to channel her grief and Glander handles the transition beautifully. Carey's Reed is a difficult character hiding a secret and holding down his own grief until it boils over. Carey's rich voice gives special weight to Reed's attempts to evade and then accept his responsibilities.

Mary Dilworth plays the foul mouthed young prostitute, Rozie, with a perfect combination of childlike vulnerability and defiant brass. Dilworth snaps off a torrent of vulgarity while retaining that hint of the young girl she once was.

Michael Lopetrone rounds out the cast as Dan, Don and David. He makes each a little different. His stuttering Dan is never played for laughs or sympathy.

This is a strong beginning for a new company that might have played it safe the first time out. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.


The Electric Baby continues through Sunday, February 21 at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth, 704 Airport Blvd, Ann Arbor, MI 48108. For tickets, visit kickshawtheatre.org or call Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006.

Review: Purple Rose's Odd Couple Has Humor and Heart

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Guy Sanville's Oscar figures out that FU is David Montee's Felix Unger in the Purple Rose's production of  The Odd Couple.

Guy Sanville's Oscar figures out that FU is David Montee's Felix Unger in the Purple Rose's production of The Odd Couple. / Photo by Sean Carter Photography

Oscar and Felix are back.

The most famous stage bromance, The Odd Couple, is as hilarious as ever at Chelsea's Purple Rose Theatre, where the jokes just keep coming but the play's underlying humanity rises to the top.

Neil Simon had a long, prolific and successful career, but The Odd Couple is probably his most enduring and most produced work. Following its box office success on Broadway and as a hit movie, it is produced regularly across the country and has even inspired a female version.

The Purple Rose makes their production special with an excellent cast in top form, hitting each zinger with perfect timing, while finding the play's heartfelt take on what it's like to be lonely in a big city.

The neat-freak, fuss budget Felix Ungar has been given the boot by his wife and his poker-playing buddy Oscar Madison, an uber masculine slob, reluctantly offers him temporary residence in his Manhattan apartment. The apartment has been too big and too empty since Oscar's divorce.

At the heart of this story are two men of opposite personalities who find a way to complement each other. Guy Sanville is the gruff, slovenly Oscar but with a look in his eyes that suggests a sensitivity befitting one of New York's top sports writers. He's funny in a sly, deadpan way. David Montee is a sweet-natured Felix, the slightly prissy man who enjoys cooking and can't stand a mess. Montee doesn't overdo the effeminate qualities as some actors would and instead emphasizes Felix's gentleness along with his irritating, but funny, perfectionism.

Lauren Mounsey makes her professional directing debut and does a fine job of keeping the mood droll and funny but also low key. The jokes are there and the audience laughs but they come out of real conversations. All of her actors are in sync which keeps things moving along hilariously.

The poker gang played by David Bendena, Jim Porterfield, Chris Lutkin and Tom Whalen kibbutz and razz each other with easy rapport. Porterfield is especially funny as the excitable cop Murray, whose agitation rises to a boil of nervous energy.

Oscar and Felix, of course, find female companionship in the form of the ever lovable Pigeon sisters, Gwendolyn (Michelle Mountain) and Cecily (Rhiannon Ragland). They twitter and fidget about as their surname suggests and all in sparklingly twitty English accents. Their scene with Felix is both funny and endearing.

The intimate Purple Rose setting is perfect for The Odd Couple, drawing the audience into Oscar's Manhattan apartment. Set designer Bartley H. Bauer does a good job of presenting a well-appointed apartment that has somewhat gone to seed under Oscar's disregard.

These are characters we all know so well from stage, movie and a hit TV series, but the Purple Rose gives them bright new life.


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.


The Odd Couple continues through March 26 at the theater, 137 Park Street in Chelsea. Tickets range in price from $19 to $43 with discounts for students, seniors and groups. For more information or to make reservations, call the theater box office at (734) 433-7673 or go online to http://www.purplerosetheatre.org.

Review: Civic Theatre Cast Brings out Their Best for 'Company'

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Civic Theatre cast brings out their best for 'Company'

Two's company, but seven is...also Company.

Intimate relationships are complicated, contradictory, and baffling.

Company is a musically and lyrically intense exploration of love and marriage, at times rueful, funny, bitter and hopeful. The musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth, is musically challenging, lyrically intricate, and emotionally draining. The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre has taken on the challenge with an outstanding ensemble who seem to relish the rich variety and tonal changes of Sondheim's music.

Director Rachel Francisco notes in the program that the play has an odd structure. The center of attention is Bobby, an aging man-about-town who has reached his 35th birthday without settling into a serious relationship. He is surrounded by married friends who both envy and worry about him. Bobby visits these couples and struggles with who he is and who he is supposed to be. Francisco notes that the action seems to play out in Bobby's head, a meditation on life, ending with a desperate affirmation.

Company is well named as the play provides spotlight moments for many in the cast, each song keying in on some aspect of love and marriage. Francisco and musical director Jennifer Goltz keep it fluid, moving easily from moments of slapstick humor to quiet introspection. Sondheim draws on jazz, the blues, and musical theater models. His multi-voiced settings, complex lyrics at breakneck speed, and his shifts in style are a challenge. Goltz gets the best from the singers and leads a small combo in a solid musical accompaniment.

At the center is Robby Griswold as Bobby. He is our guide through this mid-life crisis. He is charming, boyish, but also visibly aching for something else...or is he? Griswold is the glue that binds everything with his nuanced performance and his rich, intelligent singing. He wonders about the limits of intimacy in the reflective "Marry Me a Little." His rendition of "Being Alive" is strong, sad but triumphant.

But, of course, Bobby is not alone. He is surrounded and sometimes smothered by the affection of his friends.

Harry and Sarah seem happily married, even as they engage in a little karate. Jodi-Renee Giron's Sarah is tough and funny. Harry may not be all that happy as he sings "Sorry-Grateful," one of the most mature reflections on marriage. Paul Clark as Harry has a strong voice that captures the rueful mood.

Marta, a bohemian girl, is one of three people with whom Bobby has off-and-on relations. Kate Papachristou has a voice that seems to rise above the others. Her Marta offers one explanation for Bobby's reluctance to get involved, the teeming, stimulating, maddening city of New York, in the frantic song, "Another Hundred People."

Another frantic song is from a bride in panic as the ceremony nears. Marci Rosenberg is hilarious as Amy, a woman in a longterm lesbian relationship who feels too much pressure to get married. Sondheim's "Getting Married Today," is a rapid fire musical stand-up routine that Rosenberg blazes through, while flailing across the stage hilariously. Her sweet-tempered, kind intended, Paula, is well played by Amanda Bynum.

April is another of Bobby's tentative love relationships. She's a stewardess, more noted for her beauty than her intellect, a definite bad mark from Bobby's female friends. Kimberly Elliott is funny and a little goofy as April and she and Griswold do a nice comic duet on "Barcelona".

A knock-out moment in Company is always Joanne's bitter observations on "The Ladies Who Lunch." Joanne and her third husband are a bit older than the crowd. As played by Amy Bogetto-Weinraub, she is a bit of a cougar, always on the hunt but more than a little sad about her situation. Her performance on "The Ladies" builds slowly to a savage, emotionally draining declaration that is more about self-loathing than gossip.

Others of note are Trisha Fountain as the square Jenny, Chris Joseph as the bisexual Bobby's sometimes boyfriend Kevin, and in the musical quartet, Greg Simon on trumpet and flugel.


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.


Company continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Arthur Miller.Arthur Miller Theatre, 1226 Murfin Ave, 48109. Tickets are available online at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's website, by calling the A2CT office at 734-971-2228, or at the door. Additional information is available by visiting the theater's website.

Review: Henry IV, Part I, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance

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UMSMTD gives the devil his due in their production of Henry IV

UMSMTD gives the devil his due in their production of Henry IV

Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I isn't really about King Henry IV. It's about the rivalry between Henry's son, Prince Hal, the future Henry V, and the heroic and headstrong Harry "Hotspur" Percy.

The play is full of jolly roistering and clashing swords, but its theme of delayed maturity seems to fit well for a university production. And the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance offers a perceptive and action-packed production.

The heir to a much-disputed crown is happier in a tavern than on a battlefield and his father worries that Hal will never assume his proper role. Meanwhile, the son of one of his allies, Hotspur, has won acclaim for his daring. Hotspur and his father and aunt (a change of gender for the role) will soon change allegiance and lead a rebellion. Will Hal meet the challenge?

Not if an old, soused knight named Falstaff has any say in the matter. Falstaff is of course one of Shakespeare's great creations. He's a lecher, a drunk, a buffoon, a coward, and a great party animal. He's a "bad influence" but closer to Hal than his own father and something of a modern day cynic.

Director Priscilla Lindsay pulls all these elements together in a rousing, traditional staging of one of the Bard's most popular works. The production moves smoothly from the bawdy confines of the Boar's Head Inn to the royal court to the bloody fields of battle. Shakespeare's language is a challenge for young actors and the clarity of some of the actors is less than it should be. But Lindsay gets some excellent work from her three major actors.

Robert M. O'Brien is a handsome, charming, and playful Hal. He speaks the language well, he moves gracefully and, crucially, he makes a convincing move from party boy to a leader of men. He conveys some of the sadness and loss that that move will cause him.

The plum role in any production of this play and its sequel is of course Sir John Falstaff. Graham Techler may need padding to fill the obese profile, but he is a superb Falstaff. He handles both the rapid verbal wit and the complex physical comedy excellently. He's hilarious, but in his famous comments on "honor," he also conveys a deeper understanding of what he's saying.

But, the real find here is Caleb Foote. His Hotspur is a raging revelation. He is fierce, rapid-tongued, and physically athletic and on-edge. Foote's command of Shakespeare's language is amazing. He understands perfectly that the best approach is to speak it naturally as your own and in this case he even gives it a rough north English accent. When he is on stage, he commands the stage. He bears himself like a young Jimmy Cagney, which is perfect for the reckless if honorable warrior he plays.

Key roles are played by Larissa Marten as Hotspur's ambitious aunt, Matthew Provenza as the title character, Elyakeem Avraham as a Welsh lord and Jesse Aronson, Samuel Bell-Gurwitz, and Sten Eikrem as Hal's Boar's Head companions.

The complex battle scenes are excellently staged by fight director Robert Najarian. Costume designer Christianne Myers helps define the players by putting the king's men in golds and tans and the rebels in silver and gray.

The production concluded Sunday at the the Power Center on the central UM campus.


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

Review: The Light in the Piazza, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance

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A talented cast brightens the stage in The Light in the Piazza

A talented cast brightens the stage in The Light in the Piazza / Photo by Peter Smith

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance loves to boast about the many graduates who are making a name for themselves on Broadway and in regional theaters across the country.

A new production of The Light in the Piazza at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the UM North Campus just might add significantly to that list. An uniformly outstanding cast gives life to a musically challenging work that is at times comic, romantic, and richly melodramatic.

The musical with book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel is base on a 1959 novella by Elizabeth Spencer about a mother and daughter trip to Italy. The time and lush setting suggest the romantic, Technicolor movie melodramas of the 1950s in which a family secret creates a tension that can only be resolved through love.

The UM production on the intimate Miller stage leaves the splendor of Florence, Italy, to the audience's imagination (for how could it ever be presented on a stage). The stage is bare except for chairs, a table and, in one key scene, a bed. These are moved about fluidly by the ensemble cast who remain on stage as a chorus of Florentines. The small orchestra is also on stage. Up front a common story plays out. Mother and daughter go to Italy, where once upon a time the mother and her husband had a carefree holiday before the realities of business and life intruded. The pretty but fragile daughter finds romance with a passionate young suitor from an equally passionate Italian family.

The "secret" is a childhood injury that has left the young girl mildly developmentally impaired. But this is the 1950s, and her parents want to protect her, or is it control her. A mother-daughter struggle ensues.

This is not your typical musical comedy. The music is rich and varied, moving from the lift of a jazz combo to the complex drama of grand opera. Music director Catherine A. Walker leads a five member orchestra through the score superbly. Walker also plays beautiful piano from boogie-woogie to rising romantic flourishes. This is not the kind of show in which you leave whistling a tune, but the songs musically and lyrically capture the range of emotions that are at the heart of the show.

The cast is challenged in unusual ways. The songs are in English and Italian. Some cast members must sing and speak in Italian and in the halting English we associate with Italian immigrants. They must also move easily from operatic passion to quietly tender emotion to joyful humor. Guest director Brian Hill makes it all work seamlessly. He has his young cast performing beyond their years and capturing every nuance of a richly nuanced play.

Christina Maxwell plays the delicate, charming daughter Clara. She perfectly captures the sweet innocent early on and the fierce young woman trying to make a life of her own as the story develops. He voice is sweet but, even in the tight confines of the Miller, needs more projection.

The Naccarelli family are a joy, even as they embody a variety of well-worn Italian stereotypes. Luke Steinhauer as Fabrizio, the suitor, is magnificently over the top in love. His "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" is at once passionate but outrageous and the reactions of his more knowing brother and father are hilarious. Ben Bogen is the philandering brother Giuseppe, quick and lively, who distracts his brother with a little jazz. Liesl Collazo is Giuseppe's tart-tongued, jealous but passionate wife and family translator, who also believes in love. David Barnes is suave and precise as the family patriarch who falls to the charms of Clara's mother and has a sweet duet with her. Kalia Medeiros brings spark to a giddy scene where she provides an explanation for what's going on when a family argument ensues in raucously rapid Italian.

But in this uniformly fine cast, one member stands out. Kaity Paschetto gives a star performance as Margaret, Clara's caring but tense mother. Paschetto resembles a young Angela Lansbury and seems to move as easily from comedy to drama to musical expression as that esteemed actress does. Her singing voice is bright, expressive, and emotional. She expresses excellent comic timing in her efforts to put off the suitor without causing a scene. But her best scenes are her sad encounters with her angry daughter and her long-distance conversations with an estranged husband (Charlie Patterson).


Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.