REVIEW (Pulp): The TEAM’s ‘RoosevElvis,’ presented by UMS

Screen Shot 2016-09-30 at 1.59.17 PM.pngOne unforgiving truth of fame is that when you become larger-than-life, you’re also conversely diminished, so as to seem elusively inhuman.

Brooklyn-based The TEAM’s experimental theater production RoosevElvis, now playing in Ann Arbor by way of University Musical Society, begins with a scene that illustrates this very point. Theodore Roosevelt (Kristen Sieh) and Elvis Presley (Libby King) sit next to one another in director’s chairs, sharing a microphone between them as they take turns voicing odd autobiographical facts and anecdotes.

Significantly, the back-and-forth doesn’t feel like two competitors trying to one-up each other – yes, Roosevelt stridently brags, but Elvis isn’t intimidated, blithely contributing his more modest memories with a laid back slouch. In this way, the exchange illustrates key differences between the two icons of American masculinity. READ THE REST HERE


My latest WEMU ‘Art & Soul’ segment with Lisa Barry

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 10.07.57 AMThis month, on WEMU’s Art & Soul segment, Lisa and I talked with Matthew Brennan, director/choreographer of Encore Theatre’s new production of “The Full Monty” – fully clothed, I assure you – and chatted about upcoming shows at Chelsea’s The Purple Rose Theatre and U-M, and UMS events (like Kamasi Washington and Dorrance Dance), and how locals will have to choose, on October 21, between celebrity appearances by bestselling author Margaret Atwood and “Parks and Rec” star Nick Offerman. Click the link to listen to the 8 minute segment!

My Pulp review of ‘Liberty’s Secret’ premiere

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Cara AnnMarie and Jaclene Wilk in “Liberty’s Secret,” left; the film’s producer/writer/director, U-M prof Andy Kirshner, at Thursday night’s premiere screening at the Michigan Theater. (Right photo by Jenn McKee)

“This is like the bar mitzvah I never had,” U-M art and music professor Andy Kirshner joked while standing on the Michigan Theater’s stage on Thursday evening, hosting the premiere screening of his locally made, original feature film musical, Liberty’s Secret.

Indeed, the quip aptly described the event’s affectionate, enthusiastic, communal atmosphere. (Kirshner’s last words at the mic were, “Could my wife please raise her hand, so I can find my seat?”) Approximately a thousand people turned out to see Kirshner’s film about an unlikely romance that blooms between a jaded, Jewish Presidential campaign communications manager (Nikki, played by Chelsea native and U-M grad Cara AnnMarie) and a sheltered, small-town pastor’s daughter (Liberty, played by Oakland University grad Jaclene Wilk) whose angelic singing voice makes her not just America’s viral sweetheart, but the picture of “family values” wholesomeness that Nikki’s moderate Republican candidate, Kenny Weston (Williamston Theatre co-founder John Lepard), needs to win.


My review of ‘Wiesenthal’ at the Berman Center

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Tom Dugan wrote and stars in “Wiesenthal,” which played at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts.

A pivotal moment in the 1993 film “Schindler’s List” happens near its end, when Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson), who saved 1,200 Jews during the holocaust, collapses with regret and says, “I could have done more.”

A similar (though more emotionally muted) scene happens in the final minutes ofWiesenthal, now being staged at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts. Simon Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor who famously hunted down and identified 1,100 Nazi criminals, sifts through the pile of medals and commendations and awards that he’s received, noting that because 1,100 only equated to about five percent of the Nazis that should face punishment, he considers himself only a five percent hero.

Wiesenthal – written and starring Tom Dugan, who performed the show Off-Broadway before taking it on tour – is a 90 minute, intermission-less one-man show that allows Simon to tell his own story. With the audience standing in as the last tourist group to visit Wiesenthal’s base of operations, Vienna’s Jewish Documentation Center, before the famous Nazi hunter retires at day’s end (and the space is converted into a museum) in 2003, he offers clear-eyed, unflinching accounts of his mother being captured; his wife attempting an escape to Warsaw, and their unlikely reunion; Simon bouncing around between concentration camps; the cost of keeping his family in Austria after the war; and hunting down Nazis both famous and unknown. We even get to see the latter in action, as he makes and receives phone calls about a Nazi hiding in Syria. READ THE REST HERE

My Michigan Alumnus ‘Fast Chat’ with Laith Al-Saadi

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 9.01.35 AMBefore “The Voice,” Laith Al-Saadi was a beloved local guitarist. Now he is nationally known for his love of classic rock and soulful blues.

Last Spring, fans across the country discovered the rock, blues, and soul music of Laith Al-Saadi, ’03, the fourth-place winner of NBC’s hit reality talent show “The Voice.” But in Ann Arbor, the powerful sounds of the 38-year-old guitarist have been reverberating for decades. Al-Saadi, a native Ann Arborite, performed in local theater productions as a child and has played music professionally in the area since he was a teenager, sometimes as many as 300 shows a year when he hits the road. Michigan Alumnus was fortunate to catch up with the newly minted star, who is now in even greater demand, upon his return home from Los Angeles. What follows are some little-known facts and insights he shared shortly after performing a sold-out show at the Michigan Theater in July. READ THE REST HERE

Sneak peek at renovated Ann Arbor home featured on HGTV’s ‘Urban Oasis’

As many of you know, I’m a mere, humble free-lancer these days; but because I’ve been working on a story for Michigan Alumnus magazine about the Ann Arbor-based building/development company Maven – run by 3 former U-M athletes – that oversaw the HGTV “Urban Oasis” house renovation this year, I got to take a peek today inside the Ann Arbor home that will be given away via sweepstakes.

The “Urban Oasis” episode that will chronicle the transformation of 730 Spring St. will first air on Wednesday, October 5 at 11 p.m., with encore showings on Friday, October 7 at 8 a.m.; Monday, October 17 at 11 a.m.; Wednesday, October 26 at 1 p.m.; Tuesday, November 1 at 8 a.m.; and Friday, November 18 at 11 a.m. The sweepstakes entry period will be October 4-November 22, and entrants may apply up to twice a day online at The grand prize winner will receive the remodeled and furnished home, plus $50,000 from Quicken Loans.

How many people already living in Ann Arbor will enter regularly? I’d bet a high number – and I’ll be entering multiple times myself. But in the meantime, let’s dream together and take a look at this gorgeously resurrected house. (Keep in mind I’m no photographer – I’m just a blogger schmuck with an iPhone – but I thought it would be fun to share these nonetheless.)


Upstairs master bedroom. The original house had no “upstairs” – this is an addition. (Photo by Jenn McKee)

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My Detroit Free Press Q&A with ‘Hamilton’ producer Jeffrey Seller

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Jeffrey Seller at Detroit Homecoming 2016. (Photo by Jenn McKee)

Tony Award-winning “Hamilton” producer and Oak Park native Jeffrey Seller returned to Michigan this week to receive the 2016 Creative Many Governor’s Arts Award “for bringing to life compelling theater the world embraces and making Michigan proud of its native son.”

The award ceremony, scheduled for Thursday evening at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, is part of the third annual Detroit Homecoming event,  for which Crain’s Detroit Business gathers nearly 200 “expats” back to Detroit for three days in order to showcase the city’s contributions to technology, music, art, entertainment, fashion and architecture.

Seller may struggle to find room on his mantel for his new Guvvy, though, because the celebrated producer has also won best musical Tony Awards for “Rent,” “Avenue Q,” and “In the Heights.” Plus, the University of Michigan grad is credited with inventing Broadway’s first rush ticket and lottery ticket policies.

Seller, who was also scheduled to speak on Thursday to Detroit’s University Prep Academy High School, talked to the Free Press Wednesday during a break in a Detroit Homecoming event. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview for UMS’ & Ann Arbor Skatepark’s Falling Up and Getting Down

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Professional skateboarder Andy Macdonald. (Photo by Morgan Andrew Somers)

Both athletes and musicians must be able to improvise, but they rarely do so in tandem.

That will change on Sunday, when the University Musical Society and Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, in collaboration with City of Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation, present a free-style show that combines professional skateboarding with live jazz music.

“Falling Up and Getting Down” takes a concept originated by jazz pianist/composer and MacArthur “Genius” Grant winner Jason Moran – who kicked off the UMS season in 2013 with a Fats Waller Dance Party at Downtown Home & Garden – and brings it to Ann Arbor.

Previously, Moran helped put together a similar event at the Kennedy Center and at the San Francisco Jazz Center, but Ann Arbor’s show will be the first to take place at an in-ground, permanent skatepark. READ THE REST HERE

My review of Slipstream’s ‘Love is Strange’

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 10.05.29 PM.pngCritics who saw a previous production of Sean Paraventi’s Love is Strange – now being staged by Slipstream Theatre Initiative – consistently noted that “it’s not for the squeamish.”

Color me squeamish, then. I’ll confess, I avoid horror movies because I have intense, visceral responses to depictions of violence and cruelty, especially when the victims are young women/girls. So, perhaps I’m not the “right” audience for Love is Strange; regardless, I tried going into Slipstream’s opening night performance with an open mind.

The play, directed by Bailey Boudreau, is set in the shabby home of a trucker named Carl (Ryan Ernst), who lives with 15 year old Megan (Grace Joliffe), a runaway he kidnapped from a truck stop when she was 12. Carl keeps Megan on a short leash, imprisoning her in a small closet – where she spent her first years with him – when she steps out of line, and giving her more freedoms when she proves herself worthy of his trust.

Megan suffers from Stockholm syndrome, playing house lovingly with her captor (when she’s not closeted), as if they’re a frisky young couple. But the audience soon learns that the pair shares an even darker, more violent connection, making them a kind of weirdly domesticated Bonnie and Clyde. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp review of Theatre Nova’s ‘Dear Elizabeth’

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Carrie Jay Sayer plays Elizabeth Bishop, and Joel Mitchell plays Robert Lowell in Theatre Nova’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s “Dear Elizabeth.”

While watching Theatre Nova’s lovely new production of Sarah Ruhl’s play, Dear Elizabeth, drawn from 30 years of correspondence between poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, the phrase “alone together” comes to mind often.

Why? Because although they both experience love off-stage – Bishop with a woman in Brazil named Lota, Lowell with three different wives – their true first love is words; and like a jealous, possessive lover, words, when you’re a professional writer, demand that you spend most of your waking life alone with them, and only them.

So it’s not surprising that Lowell and Bishop – who lived a similarly isolated artistic existence, and consequently understood each other deeply – flung letters to each other as if they were life preservers. READ THE REST HERE