My preview of Encore Theatre’s ‘Assassins’ for We Love Dexter

assassins.pngEven though Matthew Brennan is directing, choreographing and performing in Encore Musical Theatre’s new production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” – which focuses on nine men and women who have tried (sometimes successfully) to kill a U.S. President – he’s having trouble convincing his Aunt Eileen to give the show a chance.

“I recently saw her in Louisville, and she said, ‘What’s next?’ and I said, ‘Assassins,’ and she said, ‘Oh, I’ll sit that one out,’” said Brennan. “ … But (the show’s) not at all a glorification of these people. It does not apologize or make light of what they did, and it’s not un-American in any way. (The show’s) just been misconstrued, … and really, it’s written in such an even-handed way. The show doesn’t vilify these people – they do that to themselves. Yet we still find a way of relating to them.”

“Assassins” first premiered Off-Broadway in 1990; and while the show has since become a favorite of many Sondheim and non-Sondheim fans alike, it initially received a lukewarm critical reception.

“It wasn’t that it was groundbreaking in terms of structure, or the piece itself, but the material is not your usual fare for a musical,” said Brennan. “ … And the more modern assassins have a different significance for the audience. It’s more difficult to see Squeaky Fromme or Lee Harvey Oswald on stage if you lived in that time and remember seeing them. With something like ‘Sweeney Todd,’ we can laugh it off as a penny dreadful Victorian myth or folklore, but this is our American folklore. Yes, it’s pretend, because there’s singing and dancing, but we all also have a more visceral response to it.” READ THE REST HERE

Things to do around Ann Arbor this week: Water Hill Music Festival, ‘Purple Rain’ and more

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A special screening of Prince’s film, “Purple Rain,” has been scheduled at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater on Saturday.

Several theater productions continue this week, including the world premiere of Matt Letscher’s “Gaps in the Fossil Record” at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre, and the new, original musical “Irrational” at Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova (housed at The Yellow Barn on Huron St.). At Dexter’s Encore Theatre, “Always … Patsy Cline” continues, and at Huron High, “Drop Dead” finishes its run this weekend. For more entertainment options, read on!

“Rock of Ages” at Pioneer High School Theater Guild. Will Branner directs students in Christopher D’Arienzo and Ethan Popp’s Broadway musical comedy, set in L.A. in the 1980s, about an aspiring rocker who encounters friendship, deception, and love on his road to stardom. The score is comprised of iconic ’80s songs, such as “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “The Final Countdown,” and other songs by Journey, Poison, Styx, and Bon Jovi. Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (through May 7, 2016) at PHS Schreiber Auditorium, 601 W. Stadium in Ann Arbor. Tickets cost $15 (seniors age 65 & over and students, $10), available in advance at showtix4u.com.

Ark highlights. Heywood Banks is the stage name of Howell native Stuart Mitchell, a very animated comedian known for his silly musical spoofs, goofy prop humor, and sight gags. Since adopting the nerdy, quietly psychotic Banks persona in the mid-80s, he has risen from a regional favorite to a national star. Friday at 8 p.m. at The Ark; tickets are $25.

On Saturday night, you can check out The Ben Daniels Band. You’ll hear artful, dynamic rock and roll by this Chelsea quintet, led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Daniels, whose influences range from Robert Johnson to Dylan to Jack White. Saturday at 8 p.m.; tickets cost $15.

Both shows happens at The Ark, 316 S. Main in Ann Arbor, and show tickets are available in advance at mutotix.comtheark.org, or 734-763-TKTS. Continue reading

Purple Rose Theatre highlights the warmth in Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’

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Guy Sanville and David Montee in the Purple Rose Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Over the years, some shows that become classics get reduced in our minds to their most basic premise. Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” – now being staged at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre – is a prime example. We hear that familiar title, and we think of two very different men, comically struggling to live under the same roof.

This isn’t wrong, of course; but it’s also not the whole story. You forget the backdrop of male friendships and warmth; the grief of divorce that sets the story in motion; and, well, the two British sisters who find one man’s sad-sack, vulnerable state irresistible.

But the Rose’s production brings it all back, in a highly polished production directed by Lauren Mounsey. At the play’s outset, fastidious news writer Felix Ungar (David Montee) is a no-show at his friends’ weekly poker game. Felix’s sportswriter friend and poker host Oscar Madison (Guy Sanville) soon learns that not only is Felix’s marriage over, but Felix left his home saying that he was going to go kill himself.

Obviously, when Felix finally appears at Oscar’s, the friends all hold their breath, watching him for signs of self-harm. But as this initial threat passes, Oscar tells Felix he’s welcome to move in, despite the ways that Oscar’s slob bachelor lifestyle conflicts with Felix’s obsessively neat and controlling ways. And when Oscar makes a double date for them with a pair of flirty sisters living in the same building, Felix can’t keep himself from showing them pictures of his children and his soon-to-be-ex-wife – much to Oscar’s annoyance. The ill-fated date brings Oscar and Felix’s differences to a head, and the friends find themselves at a crossroads. Continue reading

Dexter’s Encore Theatre presents an evening with Sondheim

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 1.45.40 PM.pngWant to spend an intimate evening in iconic musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim’s living room, hearing stories and insights from the man himself?

That might be a tall order, but Encore Theatre aims to come close to giving you this experience by way of “Sondheim by Sondheim,” a show, conceived by James Lapine, that marries performances of several of Sondheim’s songs, spanning his long career, with video clips of the composer discussing his life and work.

“It’s like Sondheim is giving this master class on technique and process,” said director (and Encore Theatre co-founder) Dan Cooney. “ … I didn’t see this on Broadway, but I saw a production in Chicago, in this tiny, small space, … and I thought, ‘Oh, it doesn’t need to be a Broadway revue thing with big costumes and kicks and spins. It can just be a night with the man.”

Continue reading