REVIEW (EncoreMichigan.com): Encore Theatre’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ rocks

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The cast of Encore Theatre’s “Million Dollar Quartet.” (Photo by Michele Anliker)

After seeing the opening night performance of Million Dollar Quartet at Dexter’s Encore Musical Theatre , I’m thinking an equally apt name for the show would be “Nostalgia Dance Party.”

And I don’t say that dismissively. No one loves a good dance party more than I do, believe me. But there’s also no getting around the fact that the small bit of narrative that’s embedded among performances of monster hits like “Hound Dog” and “Great Balls of Fire” – Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux wrote the show’s book – feels like a pale afterthought.

Inspired by a historic meeting-of-the-greats that happened on December 4, 1956, when “Blue Suede Shoes” scribe Carl Perkins (Alex Canty) was scheduled to have a recording session at Memphis-based Sun Studios – backed by up-and-coming piano madman Jerry Lee Lewis (Marek Sapieyevski) – Million Dollar Quartet invites you to imagine sitting in the recording studio that day, when not only Johnny Cash (Stephen Shore) stopped by, but also the future King himself, Elvis Presley (Josh White), with his then-girlfriend (Kaitlyn Weickel) in tow. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (We Love Ann Arbor): Becca Blackwell’s solo show ‘They, Themself & Schmerm’ offers big laughs and perspectives

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Trans actor Becca Blackwell shares bits of their life story in the solo show, “Me, Myself & Schmerm,” presented by UMS.

When I spotted trans performer Becca Blackwell’s photo in University Musical Society’s 2017-18 season program, I recognized them (Blackwell’s preferred pronoun) immediately as one of the performers who appeared in Young Lee’s “Untitled Feminist Show,” which UMS brought to Ann Arbor early in 2016. Though that show had almost no dialogue, red-haired, non-binary, charismatic Blackwell had left a strong impression.

So when I learned that UMS was now bringing Blackwell’s solo show “They, Themself and Schmerm” – an autobiographical, one-person show with elements of stand-up comedy – to the Arthur Miller Theatre for its No Safety Net series, I was really excited to see it.

And my anticipation was rewarded at Wednesday night’s opening performance. READ THE REST HERE

My We Love Ann Arbor preview of Burns Park Players’ ‘Kiss Me Kate’

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Burns Park Players’ “Kiss Me Kate” opens February 2, 2018. (Photo by Myra Klarman)

The Burns Park Players – a company (made up of more than 100 Burns Park students, parents, teachers, and neighbors) that stages one musical each year – look to hit their marks this weekend with the community theater group’s 35th production, “Kiss Me Kate.”

With a hit-packed score by Cole Porter, “Kiss Me Kate” made big waves on Broadway when it premiered in 1948. Between enduring tunes like “Another Op’nin, Another Show,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “Wunderbar,” and “Too Darn Hot,” “Kate” tells the story of a divorced pair of actors who are constantly feuding while starring in a touring musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s war between the sexes, “The Taming of the Shrew.”

With a cast and crew that ranges in age from six to 98, BPP’s “Kate” will donate this weekend’s proceeds to performing arts programs and students in the Ann Arbor Public School system, and the show will be the first directed by professional theater artist and Eastern Michigan University professor Phil Simmons.
“It has been lots of fun to getting to know this amazing group of people who are professors, doctors, lawyers, and judges, but who all just love doing theatre,” said Simmons. “There are some families who have been doing this annually for 37 years, so there are moms and dads doing the show with their children – a cool family tradition!” READ THE REST HERE

I’m starting to review books on Goodreads. First up: ‘The Accidental Buddhist’

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 2.54.02 PMI’m not a religious person, but because, post-layoff, I’ve found myself feeling utterly lost in the midst of middle age, I decided I’d start exploring meditation and Buddhism.
So I scanned my shelves, and sure enough, Moore’s “The Accidental Buddhist,” had been on my shelves for years, not-yet-read, so its moment had finally arrived. (I had met Moore just a few years after the book’s release, since he taught creative writing at Penn State Altoona, and I was working toward an MFA in fiction at the State College campus.)
Like me, Moore – who’s charmingly witty and honest – was feeling restless and unsatisfied in his 40s, so getting the chance to follow him on his quest to learn about Buddhism was exactly the kind of take-me-by-the-hand book I was looking for. He explores three different types of Buddhism, gives some basic background, visits a retreat in the tradition of each, and chronicles his struggles, failures, and successes within the practice.

In a way, the book is like your best friend going on a quest for you, and then giving you the no-holds-barred low-down over coffee upon his return. I got some good, rudimentary info about Buddhism, including basic terminology, and I also took away ideas for which books to seek out next (in addition to a local zendo or meditation group). A great, accessible primer for those looking to take their first step on the path to Buddhism. (Follow me at goodreads.com/criticaljenn!)