My latest WEMU-89.1 FM Art & Soul segment with Lisa Barry and artists from Wild Swan Theater

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 6.36.12 PM.pngSandy Ryder, co-artistic director of the Wild Swan Theater, and Michelle Lanzi, WST’s company manager, talk about an upcoming adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, written by their resident playwright Jeff Duncan with original music by Brian E. Buckner.  It will be playing in early May at the Towsley Auditorium on the Washtenaw County Community College campus.

Lisa and I also discussed Vincent York’s Jazzistry appearance on Sunday, April 29th, which also happens to be International Jazz Day.  Rhiannon Giddens will be at the Michigan Theater on May 18th and the Moth GrandSLAM at the Ark on May 23rd. Listen to the whole segment here.

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PLATONIC THEATER DATE REVIEW: Matrix Theatre’s ‘Kayak’ takes you on a provocative ride

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Dan Johnson, Kez Settle, and Claire Jolliffe star in Matrix Theatre’s “Kayak.”

The mom who can’t stand her son’s girlfriend (and vice versa) is a pretty well-worn narrative, yet Canadian playwright Jordan Hall puts a new, politically-minded spin on it via “Kayak,” now on stage at Matrix Theatre Company.

Annie (Kez Settle), the play’s central character, sits in a kayak for nearly the entire show, smearing on sunscreen; eating s’more ingredients; and telling the story of her grown son’s (Peter, played by Dan Johnson) love affair with ardent student activist Julie (Claire Jolliffe). Tension festers as Peter finds himself caught between the comfortable, conventional middle class life of his parents and the risky, altruistic life of sacrifice modeled by Julie. But why is Annie riding in Peter’s kayak? What’s happened, exactly, to put her in this unlikely situation?

Annie reveals the answers, which feel both surprising and inevitable, over the course of Hall’s 65 minute play. And Matrix’s production, directed by Amanda Grace Ewing, makes the play’s questions all the more immediate by thrusting Annie’s kayak into the seating area, so that we’re along for the ride on this sometimes funny, mostly harrowing journey.

As part of our (Don Calamia and Jenn McKee’s) new Platonic Theater Date review series, we attended the same performance of “Kayak” on Friday, April 20, and followed-up with a conversation about the show. Here is our joint review. Continue reading

My Pulp interview with ‘Will & Grace’ star Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt, a/k/a Nancy And Beth

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 10.44.08 AM.pngMost of us know Megan Mullally as boozy, unapologetically solipsistic Karen Walker on Will & Grace, and also perhaps as Parks & Recreation star Nick Offerman’s real-life partner, but not as a former dancer and Broadway performer.

This is likely why you’d be surprised to learn that Mullally, in recent years, has teamed up with another multi-talented artist, Stephanie Hunt (who played lesbian bass-player Devin on Friday Night Lights), to form a music duo called Nancy And Beth, which will perform at The Ark on Monday, April 23.

Where did the arbitrary names Nancy And Beth come from (complete with a capitalized And)? The answer will tell you a great deal about the two women’s soulmate-like friendship.

“The ether,” said Mullally.

“I was going to say ‘the ether’!” cried Hunt.

“We were in a restaurant in Austin with Nick one night, and we said, what should we call the band?” continued Mullally. “I wrote down in my phone all the names we picked. … It was a long list. I couldn’t narrow it down, so I emailed it to Stephanie, but in the interim, I’d thought of the name Nancy And Beth. It just came to me in a vision. I could’ve just buried it in the middle of the list, but then she immediately emailed back Nancy And Beth. … It’s just one of those symbols of the thing that we both understand intrinsically about the band.” READ THE REST HERE

Catch ‘Big Fish’ at Dexter’s Encore Theatre

30772453_10100301149068854_1477184615_o.jpgThis may sound hard to believe, but the stage musical adaptation of “Big Fish” – originally a 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace before Tim Burton directed the 2003 film version – will soon play on Encore Theatre’s blackbox stage.

Why would that be so hard to fathom? Because the short-lived, 2013 Broadway premiere production (book by John August, music and lyrics by ’87 U-M grad Andrew Lippa) epitomized an over-the-top, splashy, all-the-bells-and-whistles approach to musical theater that could never be duplicated in an intimate space.

So instead, Encore is presenting a scaled-down, small cast version of the show (called the “twelve chairs” edition) that shifts focus from spectacle to story.

Namely, the strained relationship between Will Bloom, whose first child will soon be born, and his father, Edward Bloom, a terminally ill man who’s always been prone to telling fantastical stories. As Will prepares to become a dad, he longs to know whom his dying father, practically a stranger, really is, and the truth of his past life.

“There’s something everybody can relate to in this, because everyone’s had a moment when they felt like they didn’t understand what their parent was doing, and got frustrated, or the same kind of situation with not understanding where your kid is coming from, or what they’re thinking,” said Billy Eric Robinson, who plays Will. “The show is about this father and son who just speak two different languages. … There’s a conflict between these two characters, but there’s no bad guy.” Continue reading

My We Love Ann Arbor preview of Ubiquitous Theater’s ‘Kissing the Witch’

kissing.jpegIronically, you may not have heard of the Ubiquitous Theater company yet.

But you can get acquainted this weekend, when the company presents Emma Donoghue’s play “Kissing the Witch” at Ypsilanti’s Dreamland Theatre.

“I first did a production of the play fifteen years ago in Buffalo,” said UT’s founder and “Witch” director Margaret Smith, who previously worked as artistic director for Buffalo’s HAG Theatre before moving to Michigan. “I loved the play. Emma Donoghue took these fairy tales – mostly middle Europe fairy tales – and re-wrote them with feminist endings. So there’s no rescue by some guy on a white horse. … Instead, these women find new identities for each other and themselves.”

In “Witch,” Irish writer Donoghue – most famous for her bestselling novel “Room,” which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film – reimagines the familiar stories of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumpelstilskin.

“What’s great is, with each one, you think you know where it’s going, but it’s not going there at all,” said Smith. And in this #metoo moment, the show’s production team is almost entirely made up of women. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Kickshaw Theatre’s ‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ focuses on long friendship between troubled souls

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Doug (Michael Lopetrone) and Kayleen (Dani Cochrane)flirt with romance and self-sabotage in Gruesome Playground Injuries. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Fittingly, Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, now being staged by Kickshaw Theatre at Ann Arbor’s trustArt Studios, starts in a parochial school’s infirmary, where a deep, lasting friendship takes root between a girl and a boy who recognize in each other a common compulsion toward self-destruction.

The boy, Doug (Michael Lopetrone), is a reckless, thrill-seeking daredevil, while the girl, Kayleen (Dani Cochrane), suffers from stomach problems and later develops a serious cutting habit. The 80-minute play shows glimpses of these two characters at several different ages, between 8 and 38, but it jumps around in time, inviting us to piece together the puzzle of Doug and Kayleen’s intense connection by shifting from childhood to adulthood and back again.

Indeed, Lynn Lammers’ scenic and props design, Shelby Newport’s costume design, Rita Girardi’s lighting design, and Lammers’ and Aral Gribble’s sound design all work together to execute the play’s structure, with a rising line drawn on the back wall, and coat hooks (marked with different ages) holding different costumes for each scene. In addition, Lammers — also the production’s director — provides a bit of choreography as connecting tissue, with music and coolly colored, dim lighting, so that the costume change transitions have an emotional component as well.

Despite Doug and Kayleen’s soulmate-like affinity, they only flirt with romance, despite their obvious, years-long love for, and attraction to, each other. Perhaps on some level they realize — while visiting each other in the hospital, at a recovery center, at a funeral — that their self-sabotage makes each of them both a ticking time bomb and a walking heartache. Even so, Doug firmly believes Kayleen has the power to heal him with her touch; and while Kayleen remains skeptical, over the years, she comes to think it might be true. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW: U-M’s ‘Me and My Girl’ offers up vaudevillian comedy and terrific choreography

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Elliott Styles as Bill Snibson and Sophie Madorsky as Sally in the U-M Department of Musical Theatre’s production of Me and My Girl playing at the Power Center April 12-15. (Photo by Peter Smith Photography)

While the 1937 British stage musical “Me and My Girl” – staged this past weekend by U-M’s musical theater department – isn’t well-known in America, theatergoers who saw it at the Power Center may have been put in mind of a show that is pretty famous in these parts: “My Fair Lady.”

For while that Lerner and Loewe classic focuses on a young Cockney woman who’s trained to speak and act like a society lady, “Me and My Girl” – with book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber (revised by Stephen Fry, with contributions by Mike Ockrent), and music by Noel Gay – tells the story of a Cockney man, named Bill Snibson (Elliott Styles), who must go through a similar process in order to claim his hereditary right to the title Earl of Hereford.

Bill’s added wrinkle, however, is that he must not only change himself, but leave behind his lovably sweet Cockney girlfriend, Sally (Sophie Madorsky), which he doesn’t wish to do. But because the title’s executors – Maria, Duchess of Dene (Emilie Kouatchou) and Sir John Tremayne (Griffin Binnicker) – must be satisfied in order for Bill to become Earl, Sally tries to do the honorable thing and step aside.

Unless “Me and My Girl” audience members happened to remember Herman’s Hermits’ cover of Gay’s “Leaning on the Lamppost,” which became a minor hit in America in 1966 (long before it was added to “Me and My Girl” in 1985), or had seen the show’s first and only Broadway production (’86-’89), they likely didn’t recognize any of the songs from “Me and My Girl” – though the show produced a number of hits in Britain.

Not to worry, though. Those who attended this past weekend’s production will likely now be humming its signature act one closer, “The Lambeth Walk,” for days and weeks to come. Continue reading

REVIEW: Purple Rose Theatre revisits an iconic sleuth in ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear’

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Paul Stroili, Mark Colson, and Sarab Kamoo in the world premiere production of David MacGregor’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

The real mystery now unfolding at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre is how tried and true Sherlock Holmes fans will take to David MacGregor’s new theatrical riff, “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear.”

For although the comic drama (now having its world premiere at the Rose) is set in Holmes’ Victorian era London flat – at 221B Baker Street, presumably – it playfully explores all-too-timely questions about the gap between the private and the public self; touches on the sexual and economic lives of its familiar characters; and features things like swashbuckling women and “The Princess Bride” references.

“Ear” begins when a lazy morning spent among compatriots Dr. Watson (Paul Stroili), Holmes (Mark Colson), and Holmes’ secret lover Irene Adler (Sarab Kamoo) is interrupted by a visit from not-yet-famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (Tom Whalen), who has no money but wishes to hire Holmes for a case nonetheless. Soon, however, a mysterious, veiled woman in mourning named Marie Chartier (Caitlin Cavannaugh) also arrives at the flat to retain Holmes’ services, and in the course of Holmes discovering a link between these two clients, Oscar Wilde (Rusty Mewha) drops in.

Because, well, why not?

Obviously MacGregor knows his stuff regarding all-things-Holmes-ian – you hear the sleuth’s violin-playing off-stage early on, and mentions of his expensive cocaine habit come up more than once – but instead of writing something solemnly reverent, the playwright opted for something far more fanciful and fun.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few bumps in the road – we’ll get to those in a bit – but in the end, “Ear” (running time, 100 minutes) aims to give audiences a good time, and for the most part, it succeeds. Continue reading

My Pulp preview of U-M’s musical theater department production of ‘Me and My Girl’

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Elliott Styles as Bill Snibson and Sophie Madorsky as Sally in the U-M Department of Musical Theatre’s production of Me and My Girl playing at the Power Center April 12-15. (Photo by Peter Smith Photography)

It feels a bit like director/choreographer Linda Goodrich, a professor in U-M’s musical theater department, has long had a date with destiny regarding the 1937 British musical Me and My Girl.

For although the show had long been one of Britain’s biggest home-grown stage musical hits, it didn’t make its Broadway debut until 1986 — the same year Goodrich moved to New York.

“I remember seeing it on a marquee, but I never did see it,” said Goodrich. “In fact, I’d never seen it on stage before we started rehearsals. I’d always been familiar with the music and been curious about the show, but it just never crossed my path again.”

For the 1986 Broadway production, Stephen Fry (with contributions by director Mike Ockrent) revised Douglas Furber’s and L. Arthur Rose’s original book for the show and added composer Noel Gay’s song “Leaning on a Lamppost” to the catchy score.

The show tells the story of an aristocratic family seeking a legitimate male heir to become the next Earl of Hareford. The search unearths a Hareford man’s secret, brief past marriage to a Cockney girl, which yielded a son named Bill Snibson. To claim his inheritance, though, Bill must satisfy the executors by adopting aristocratic speech and manners — and possibly leave behind his beloved Cockney girlfriend Sally. READ THE REST HERE

My We Love Ann Arbor story about Penny Seats Theatre’s ‘Matt & Ben’

30073901_10156213275730135_837576264_o.jpgIn the pantheon of celebrity bromances, longtime friends and collaborators Matt Damon and Ben Affleck rank pretty high.

So it’s hardly a surprise that when Mindy Kaling (“The Office,” “The Mindy Project”) and Brenda Withers wrote their 2002 New York Fringe Festival comedy “Matt and Ben,” now being staged by Penny Seats Theatre as a dinner theater production (at Conor O’Neill’s), the pair’s first names sufficed to give audiences an idea of precisely what they were in for.

What was more of a surprise, however, was that Kaling and Withers had winkingly played the titular roles themselves, so local actresses Allison Megroet and Allyson Miko are now doing so for Penny Seats’ production.

“It’s harder to truly compare people to Matt and Ben when they’re not the same gender, so having women play them helps people to go into the show with a clean slate,” said director Mat Pecek.

Set at the time when the two men co-wrote their Oscar-winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting” (1997), “Matt and Ben” is set in motion when the script literally falls from the sky into their apartment, demanding their attention. And while it may launch the two struggling actors into super-stardom, it also threatens to end their friendship. READ THE REST HERE