My Concentrate feature story: As arts coverage fades, how will local arts organizations attract audiences?

oddcouple.jpg

The cast of The Purple Rose Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

After having launched my career as an arts reporter at The Ann Arbor News in 2004, I had become, over the course of nearly 12 years, the only long-term staff entertainment writer left standing in Ann Arbor when MLive Media Group announced a round of layoffs on January 6, 2016.

This time, though, my name was on the list, too.

Beyond my own personal circumstances, the layoff meant that artists/local arts organizations would take yet another hit in regard to press coverage, and thus find it even harder to share their triumphs, struggles, ambitions, and events with the community. Yes, the rise of social media has made it possible for arts organizations to be in regular contact with their subscriber list – but how, without minimal press coverage, will they now reach beyond that?  READ THE REST HERE

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

Sanville_Montee

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

My EncoreMichigan.com review of Kickshaw Theatre’s ‘The Electric Baby’

electricbaby

Julia Glander and Peter Carey in Kickshaw Theatre’s “The Electric Baby.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

If you see Kickshaw Theatre’s inaugural production, Stefanie Zadravec’s ethereal drama The Electric Baby, you just might wonder where the company will go from here – because wow, is the bar already set high.

Baby tells the story of a handful of people whose lives intersect when Helen (Julia Glander), a mother grieving the death of her grown daughter, storms off into traffic and causes a cab to crash into a pole. Rozie (Mary Diworth) and Dan (Michael Lopetrone), fresh from impulsively quitting their crummy restaurant jobs, are the cab’s passengers, driven by Ambimbola (William Bryson), a man who loves buying lottery tickets as much as he hates swearing and lovers’ quarrels.

Helen, despite warnings from her concerned, protective husband Reed (Peter Carey), can’t stop herself from visiting those affected by the accident; and a Romanian woman, Natalia (Vanessa Sawson), offers home remedy recipes to the audience while also narrating stories to the mysterious, glowing baby she’s watching over.

While other dramas have used a similar, tragedy-as-point-of-connection premise – Robert Hewett’s play, The Blonde, the Brunette, and the Vengeful Redhead, the 2003 film 21 Grams etc. – Baby’s humor-infused, wholly engrossing scenes somehow make it feel new again. READ THE REST HERE

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