“JAKE’S WOMEN” OPENS STRONG AT FENTON VILLAGE PLAYERS

Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler

After a delay, The Fenton Village Players opened its production of Neil Simon’s Jake’s Women with a strong performance Thursday.

The delay occurred when the lead, Steve Shelton, had to have major surgery a week before the originally scheduled opening. Judging by Shelton’s performance Thursday, one would have never suspected he’d just had major surgery.

Neil Simon’s Jake’s Women is about a writer who is afraid to make a commitment to a woman especially after the tragic death of his first wife. Jake is a writer who needs to control everything. The writer is always at work. He conjures up various women who plague him. His second wife decides to move out because he can’t let go or trust women. But the women of his life appear because he conjures them up, and once here, he cannot always control them making for an extremely funny play. Judging by the audience on opening night, it was quite successful.

As Jake, Shelton is the writer. He was on fire from beginning to end playing the emotional rollercoaster with great precision and ease. More than up to the task, Shelton ranted and raved, cajoled and pontificated, stomped and stormed his way through the entire play. His energy was infectious. (I have seen Steve in other productions and he is always good, but he surpassed those Thursday.)

The show’s actresses were equal to the task and kept up with him at every turn. They came and went without problems. The play was seamless and the cast had good chemistry on stage.

As Maggie, Carla Feamster played Jake’s “real wife. She gave a strong performance dealing with all of the emotional turns with ease. These two were a good match for the couple. The last scene between Maggie and Jake was beautifully done.

Sara Sanger played Karen, the writer’s sister. He would conjure her up whenever he was in trouble. Sanger was very versatile on stage. Her one long monologue in the 1st act was beautifully presented. She brought energy and mirth to the stage.

As Edith, the writer’s shrink, Karen Craner was a hoot on stage. Her one-liners and comebacks were extremely well done. She brought energy and a sense of humor to the stage. Craner and Sanger were quite the pair that Jake could never control once he brought them out. The scene with these two standing on the landing eating popcorn and commenting on the argument between Maggie and Jake was great.

Ashley Cremonte plays Julie, Jake’s first wife. He always brings her back at the age of 21. In the midst of all that chaos on stage, she brought a different perspective. She was more than equal to the task. The scene between Ashley and the older Molly was wonderfully done.

Two women play Jake’s daughter, Molly. Gwen Feamster is Molly at 12 and Maggie Hodgkin plays her at 21.   Both gave good performances.

Kate Rundell played Sheila, one of Jake’s girlfriends. She wants more of a relationship, and he doesn’t commit. Sheila gets caught in the crossfire between Jake and his conjured wife. She can’t see the wife of course, and what happens as a result is hysterical. Rundell gave a good performance and played the scene very well.

Jake’s Women moved smoothly, and, even though it is long, it never bogged down. The cast performed with great energy and precision.

Director Mary Powers deserves kudos for a good production in spite of the problems. The set had black walls and strange picture frames. The floor design represented the convoluted nature of the play. Conjured up women cleverly came through various sheltered openings in the walls and not through the door.

I strongly recommend this production. You can’t go wrong if you attend a performance.

Jake’s Women continues with performances on 10/24, 25, 26, 31, 11/1 & 2. The Fenton Village Playhouse is located at 14197 Torrey Rd., Fenton MI 48430-0531. For Tickets call 810-750-7700.

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FLINT YOUTH THEATRE’S FIRST STAGE PRESENTS “HARRY THE DIRTY DOG”, BROUGHT TO LIFE ON STAGE FOR MID-MICHIGAN AUDIENCES

Flint Youth Theatre’s First Stage series presents ArtsPower’s production of Harry The Dirty Dog for young children and their families on Friday, November 7.

Harry The Dirty Dog has everything a little white dog with black spots could want, but he hates taking baths. To avoid bath time he runs away and spends the day playing in the dirt. He gets so grubby that when he returns home looking like a little black dog with white spots, his family doesn’t recognize him! This new musical, based on the classic book by Gene Zion with illustrations by Margaret Bloy Graham, captures both the whimsical humor and touching dedication to family.

This popular play has been delighting audiences around the country and is in mid-Michigan for one day only, on stage at FYT on Friday, November 7, at 7:00 P.M.

Tickets for Harry The Dirty Dog are $10 per person and are available at Flint Youth Theatre, by calling 810.237.1530 or online at FlintYouthTheatre.org. This play is best suited for ages 3 and up.

First Stage series sponsors are Dr. Venkat Rao and Dr. Rama Rao. Media sponsor for the First Stage series is
WCMU Public Broadcasting.

For more information about Flint Youth Theatre or to reserve tickets to Harry The Dirty Dog, call 810.237.1530 or visit FlintYouthTheatre.org.

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“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” SPINS MAGIC AT MEADOW BROOK THEATRE

Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler

Meadow Brook Theatre opened its 49th season with a thrilling production of Around the World in 80 Days adapted by Mark Brown from the Novel by Jules Verne.

Mark Brown is an award winning actor, playwright, and screenwriter. His credits include: The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge, China the Whole Enchilada, Tom Jones the Musical, and more. He has also worked on TV productions. Around the World in 80 Days is one of his best-known pieces.

Around The World in 80 Days starts with Phileas Phogg, a British mathematician and scientist, who takes a bet while at the Reform Club that he can go around the world in 80 days. IF he wins he gets 20,000 pounds. Phogg is a man of action. No problem is too big to deal with. So the race is on, but there are problems. Trains and boats that break down, romance, typhoons, Indians, and a persistent policeman. Will he make it?

This was a great production. Five actors played all of the parts. This required speed and precise timing on their part. The play is non-stop. Characters come and go as Phogg continues his journey. A combination of good luck and logic, okay, maybe a little magic, keeps the journey going.

The set was a two-story structure that looked like the inside of a steam machine and allowed the actors to move and perform in a variety of areas. Phileas Phogg/Rusty Mewha gave a great performance. He played the typical British stuffed shirt person, who couldn’t be bothered with little details. Mewha played this part to perfection. He stood straight and emanated power.

Passepartout & John Sullivan/Mathew Schwartz was Phogg’s servant and was wonderful. He was full of energy, and full of devilment. He was the opposite of Phogg, but he kept things moving. Schwartz was funny to watch and he had great chemistry with the other actors.

Detective Fix et al/Ron Williams. The action between the Detective and Passepartout was extremely well done. They played each other like fine machines. Their timing was flawless. The detective pursues Phogg around the world.

Peter C. Prouty played at least 16 different characters. Changes were made flawlessly and each character was distinguishable. He added much to the movement and humor of the play. Aouda et al/Kara Kimmer who was saved by Phogg and his servant while they were in India follows them the rest of the way around the world. She was also masterful in changing characters and as the romantic interest.

The set looked like a machine with various parts and a huge clock. One of the most fascinating set pieces was the elephant that was made of a rope ladder, two canes and the upper deck. When they mounted the elephant, you were sure it was an elephant. The cast and crew used technology to help move the play to its conclusion. The typhoon scene was the most dramatic. The video of the rolling seas added a great touch to the scene. Impressive was the way everyone reacted to the jerky motions of the train. The actors motions made you feel as though they were actually on a train or a ship.

This is a strong production where all of the elements of theatre and technology meshed perfectly. There are a number of great scenes in this play. You will enjoy all of it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the Director Travis Walter. He always comes out before the show and talks to the audience. Travis came out in a small hot air balloon costume. It was something to see.

I highly recommend this play for all audiences.

Around The World in 80 Days runs through October 26th at Meadow Brook Theatre, 207 Wilson Hall, Oakland University, Rochester MI 48309. Tickets can be purchased by phone at 248-377-3300.

 

 

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FYT and UM-F Alliance Produces Yummy “9 x Nourished”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Something amazing is happening these days at the Flint Farmers’ Market as a theatrical production titled 9 x Nourished unfolds on the site. Considered a site-specific theatre piece, the effort behind this play is clearly to celebrate the ways the market nourishes the community, but it accomplishes much more.

A truly home grown effort, it was conceived and is directed by Janet Haley, UM-Flint Associate Professor of Theatre, and was written and devised by Michael Rohd and Flint Youth Theatre. The alliance of these two exceptional programs in this production only adds to the marvelous punch this show delivers.

Be prepared to move about the space during the ninety minutes playing time but also to be sometimes seated in a small group with a facilitator who is there to both usher and guide you through the story.

Interestingly, this play’s origination began back before the current market site was announced. So one source of nourishment is the sense of place and belonging felt by folks who have frequented the market over the years. It has been a meeting place with what some describe as an aura of familiarity and belonging. This new larger space just does it better and for more people, young and old alike.

Other sources of nourishment provided by the market and demonstrated in the show include Love, History, and Memory. We were treated to a story by Connie Cowper, our Sunflower group interpreter (audience members are assigned a group when they arrive) about how she met her special fellow at the market, and then shown all the spots they stopped on their first “date” there. Love nourishes for sure.

Arriving at a vegetable stand, we found some of the Then Chorus (period clad folks characterizing the old days of the market) ready to entertain us with a History lesson about the town and the ground below us. A tale weaving Flint history and the way it has nourished the area with the ongoing presence of the market is told with humor, passion, and an occasional comic bit of heckling from Current Chorus member Mark Vukelich. Knowing one’s history, can definitely nourish the spirit.

We ascended to the second floor overlook where we were asked to remember a time that we felt we were in the right place with no fear and complete acceptance. We leaned over the rail to watch the Choruses dance their way through an ethereal sort of fete that could have been anytime in the past century, or yesterday. Memory nourishes magically.

Other types of nourishing at the market emerge from the vendors, all local businesses striving to provide products and services that will benefit their customers. However, they are also often unseen promoters who find it their mission to uplift their city and to somehow empower those with whom they interact. We heard some of their stories and were impressed and yes, nourished.

So what about food? Of course, food nourishes. We much enjoyed the comical and tasty smelling moments spent with Andrew Morton and his demo kitchen crew as they prepared a healthy snack to counteract Layla Meillier’s unhealthy chips!

But overwhelmingly the most nourishing aspect of the market would be the people; the familiar faces, the friendly strangers, the musicians, the jovial vendors, the old and young all gathered in this beautiful space each market day.

Portrayed and performed with the audience as part of the action all the way, 9 x Nourished is itself a labor of love and totally unique in the way it serves as a sort of dedication of the space. It celebrates the new, honors the old and exalts the future as Flint strives to inaugurate a second rebirth of community and purpose led in no small measure by the Flint Farmers’ Market.

A large cast of FYT and UM-F performers did an incredible job of moving this piece along with nary a hitch Saturday night. Mark Gmazel’s overall narrator stint is terrific as are Brionna Allen’s and Mary Paige Rieffel’s renditions of Kevin O’Donnell’s original music. A couple youngsters, David A. Guster in the demo kitchen and Leah Dunlap in the vegetable stand, stood out and were a lot of fun to watch.

9 x Nourished continues at the Flint Farmers’ Market through November 2. Please call ahead or check online for performance times and days – 810-237-1530 or FlintYouthTheatre.org

 

 

 

 

 

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Clio Cast & Crew Open Slowly with Family Comedy “Over the River and Through the Woods”

Reviewed by Shelly Hoffman

Clio Cast and Crew opened its 2014-15 season at a sparsely attended Theatre 57 Friday night with Joe DiPietro’s Over the River and Through the Woods. This quaint comedy about the importance of relationships and the tug of home is an apt undertaking for this family-oriented theatre troupe.

The focus of Over the River and Through the Woods is Nick, a single, career-minded twenty nine-year-old, who, each week, visits the Hoboken, New Jersey home of his Italian immigrant grandparents Frank and Aida.  They are joined there by Nick’s other set of boisterous grandparents, Emma and Nunzio. Broad ethnic stereotypes, as well as broad (and mostly poorly executed) accents abound.

As the lights go up, Nick (played competently by Rick Spangler) dutifully arrives one June Sunday at Frank and Aida’s to share the news that he has been offered a promotion at work which, if he accepts, will necessitate a move to Seattle. Nick’s news doesn’t go over so well and the grandparents set in motion a plan to entice him to stay.

The opening of this production is slow. Jim Waner, as Frank, sets the tone early with lengthy pauses between lines and a general stiffness. With the entrance of Emma (Sandy Turner) and Nunzio (Ron Fournier) a little life and warmth is apparent on the stage. They are sweet together.

Co-directors Pat Blondin and Cheryl Blondin do little, though, to help convey the overbearing nature of two-sets of Italian grandparents who want nothing but to feed their grandson and see him married.   Emma and Nunzio are described by Nick as “the loudest people [he] has ever known”, yet they are never actually loud. Additionally, there are several instances in the script when people are told to be quiet, yet not a sound is being uttered.

The pace is quickened a bit in the second act, especially when everyone enjoys a game of Trivial Pursuit while the grandparents struggle in a comical way to remember the name of “the guy with the ears” (Gary Cooper) who was in High Noon. Then Nunzio relates the heartwarming story of how he met his wife. These moments are the highlights of the show.

Unfortunately, in a piece that is all about family, this ensemble cast projects no semblance of a familial bond. Attention to pace, the addition of overlapping dialogue, and actors actually looking at, and connecting with one another, would all help to tease out more laughter from this charming comedy and to make the more touching moments stand apart.

The set design, by Pat Blondin and Rick Doll includes a cleverly placed, and used, front door and a well-constructed box set with lovely trim. A masterful touch was a window air conditioner that could be seen actually blowing into the room.

The show called for several asides and these were framed with isolated lighting from an extremely clunky follow spot. With such a rudimentary lighting grid, one might have found a more elegant and seamless way to execute these moments.

There are a few laughs as well as touching moments here that remind us that with the love of family comes both joy and sorrow.

Over the River and Through the Woods continues at Theatre 57 (2220 W. Vienna Rd. Clio, MI 48420) October 11, 17, and 18 at 7:30 pm and October 12 and 19 at 2:00 pm. For tickets, call (810) 687-2588 or visit http://www.cliocastandcrew.com.

 

 

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FLINT YOUTH THEATRE’S “9 x NOURISHED” CELEBRATES THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF THE FLINT FARMERS’ MARKET

9 x Nourished is the second production in FYT’s 2014-2015 Signature Series and is perfomed onsite at the new Flint Famers’ Market from Friday, October 17 through Sunday, November 2.

Through SONG and DANCE, A LOVE STORY, a COOKING LESSON and more, FYT examines the unique place the Flint Farmers’ Market holds in the community. Located at the new Flint Farmers’ Market, this dynamic new play celebrates the Market’s value to the community’s past, present, and future.

9 x Nourished performances are October 17 and 18 at 7:30 PM, October 19 at 2:30 PM, October 24 and 25 at 7:30 PM, October 26 at 2:30 PM, October 31 and November 1 at 7:30 PM and November 2 at 2:30 PM. An Opening Night Reception will follow the October 17 performance. A conversation with the creative team will follow the October 19 and 26 matinee performances and the November 1 evening performance. The October 17 performance will be ASL interpreted. Performances are at the new Flint Famers’ Market, located at 300 East First Street, Flint, Michigan.

Advance tickets for 9 x Nourished are $12 for children, $14 for teens, senior citizens and Veterans and $16 for adults and are available at Flint Youth Theatre, by calling 810-237-1530 or online at FlintYouthTheatre.org. Day of performance tickets are $14 for children, $16 for teens, senior citizens and Veterans and $18 for adults.

9 x Nourished Director, Janet E. Haley, commented on the creation of the play, “This production began with the idea to tell a positive story about Flint, and to celebrate how the Flint Farmers’ market nourishes this community. Market vendors, employees, and patrons have shared their stories, insights, and experiences with the cast and producing team. Over the last two and a half years, we have designed a theatrical experience that travels the audience through the market while exploring nine different ways it engages and nourishes this community. It also asks questions about places, and what makes us feel like we belong in a place.”

Scenic, lighting and sound design for 9 x Nourished are by FYT Executive Artistic Director, Jeremy Winchester and costume design is by Guest Artist, Katherine Nelson.

9xNourished is an alliance production with the University of Michigan-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance. The company includes 15 artists connected to the university as students, faculty or alumni.

9 x Nourished is sponsored by Susan D. Wood, Pete Hutchison, Dr. Daniel J. and Mary C. Ryan, Dick and Betty Ramsdell, Jeremy Winchester and Janet Haley, MLive/The Flint Journal.

Flint Youth Theatre’s 2014-2015
Signature Series
is sponsored by 

Health Alliance Plan. FYT’s Building Bridges Community Partner for 9 x Nourished is Genesee Intermediate School District – Health, Safety and Nutrition Services. The Building Bridges Community Partner Program is made possible in part by the Ruth Mott Foundation.

Harvest Benefit
FYT invites the community to celebrate the opening of the Flint Farmers’ Market’s beautiful new downtown space with FYT’s Harvest Benefit on Saturday, October 18. The renewed hope found during the harvest season inspires this annual event. Guests will sample Fall’s famous bounty, and toast the season with its grapes and grains. Hors d’oeuvres, featuring fair from the market, beer and wine are followed by a performance of 9 x Nourished. The Harvest Benefit starts at 6:30pm with a performance of 9 x Nourished at 7:30pm. Proceeds benefit the Theatre Mentoring Program, providing opportunities for young people to peform in FYT’s professional Signature Series. For More information, please contact Tina Immink at 810.238.2030 or timmink@thefim.org.

Harvest Benefit Title Sponsors are John and Janie Fleckenstein, Olivia Maynard and Olof Karlstrom and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.

About Flint Youth Theatre
Through public performances, school matinees and acting classes, Flint Youth Theatre’s resident professional company serves students age 2 through college, and audiences of children and families, teens and adults.
Imaginative, daring and insightful, the main-stage Signature Series of plays for all audiences are drawn from literature, folklore, fantasy, history and social issues.

For more information about Flint Youth Theatre or to purchase tickets to 9 x Nourished, call 810.237.1530 or visit FlintYouthTheatre.org.

STUDENT CAST AND CREW
On September 6, open auditions and technical interviews for 9 x Nourished were held for area students in grades 7 through 12 from Flint and Genesee County. Of the students who auditioned and interviewed, 16 were selected to be part of the 9 x Nourished student company. The selected students are part of a cast and stage crew totaling 38 people. Selected students learn from professional theatre artists from across the country. The students and their hometowns are:

Brionna Allen – Flint
Jewel Brown – Flint
Syd Brown – Flushing
Sam Carter – Waterford
Sandy Doll – Birch Run
Leah Dunlap – Flint
Colin Edwards – Bainbridge, GA
Jozlen Gabera – Davison
David A. Guster – Flint
Isaiah Hill – Flint
Tahjuanna Jones – Flint
Jianna Lanza – Lapeer
Layla Meillier – Flint
Liam Sharkey – Fostoria
Kate Spademan – Flint
Sydney Szumowicz – Davison


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New McCree Theatre Brings Back “The Wiz”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

The New McCree Theatre opened the 2014/15 season this month with the Tony Award winning musical about Oz, The Wiz. This isn’t the first time this group has produced William F. Brown’s script, but it is the first time on this larger, better-equipped stage.

A seven-piece orchestra located just in front of the stage provided the musical accompaniment led by Dr. Phillip Young. This group was very good, but they made it necessary for the singers to be amplified. The microphones worn by most of the cast worked almost too well Friday night however, as the volume was excessive and even caused lyrics to garble. Still, these vocalists are very accomplished. We wondered if some of them were not powerful enough to soar over the band without the microphone.

So, of course the show started with Dorothy being blown away to Oz. This dance number included spinning the porch she was huddled on across the stage – a nice effect. What seemed odd was that nothing really changed visually once they landed in Oz. The set was still almost the same – black background with yellow steps.

Whitney Frierson did a nice job as Dorothy; her voice is powerful and her demeanor believable. Her discovery of the Scarecrow was adorable, as was young Myckal Powell in this role. His floppy legs, raggedy, straw-stuffed suit, and terrific voice made him someone fun to watch.

Soon they were joined by Willie Short as the Tinman in his silver suit bedecked with CDs and carrying a huge hatchet. We liked the repeated renditions of “Ease On Down the Road” as these three set off to find the Wiz.

Reprising his role from the previous production, Daniel Lopez was outstanding as the cowardly Lion. He was funny and perfectly bombastic as this fraidy-cat fellow. Unfortunately he also was way too loud, especially with his signature ballad, “Be A Lion”.

The Wiz (Lawrence “Chris” Young) managed to make everyone angry with his demand for “power, prestige and money”, but redeemed himself in the end – well almost.

Others brought comedy to this funny show beginning with Addaperle (Jessica Wilson) as the first witch on the scene. But the best witch was the bad one, Evilline. Cassandria Harris first performed at McCree in the 2008 version of this show, so she knew exactly what to do to bring this character to life. Her evil cackle alone is worth a trip to this show!

Finally, Glinda the good witch (Tahirah Gaines) was lovely and perhaps the best modulated and understood of the whole troupe. Gaines alternates with Frierson in the role of Dorothy, so pay attention to the program, if you go, to see who is in these roles.

Director Billie Scott Lindo does a good job of moving folks around on the stage. She has a lovely green, glittery skyline that appears as the Emerald City. And the choreography by Sheila Miller-Graham works most of the time. The Monkeys and the Yellow Brick Road dances are fun. The tiny dancers, probably from this show’s affiliation with Northridge Academy, were adorable.

Overall, we missed the color. Oz should be colorful as opposed to Kansas, not dark and foreboding. Turning down the microphones just a tad would help tremendously as these singers are powerful and the amplification puts the decibel level over the top.

The Wiz continues at the New McCree Theatre through October 11. For more information and tickets call (810) 787-2200 or online at www.thenewmccreetheatre.com

 

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