FYT’s “Alice in Wonderland” Delights the Senses

Reviewed by Shelly L. Hoffman

To see a show on the now underutilized Bower stage is a treat in itself, but Flint Youth Theatre doled out a big bag of eye candy Friday night with its deliciously vibrant production of Sharon Holland’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved children’s book Alice in Wonderland. It is a cleverly staged romp through this classic tale of the girl who falls down a rabbit hole, drinks a shrinking potion to fit through a very small door, and encounters many curious inhabitants of a strange universe.

Director Samuel J. Richardson’s cast, composed of many youngsters and anchored by some veteran adult actors, perform at a frenetic pace creating incredible energy and a great deal of fun. Sometimes, though, this works to the detriment of the show, as it became difficult, at this clip, to discern, at times, what some of the youth were actually saying.

Elsa Harchick assumes a commanding presence as the Narrator. In addition to her vital role of keeping the thread of the story moving, she serves a more utilitarian purpose as well, delivering an expertly rehearsed curtain speech, which blends nicely into the start of the show, and guiding traffic during scene shifts.

Kate Spademan exudes joy and confidence as she portrays a bewildered Alice. Her intelligibility, though, is a victim of the fast-paced dialogue; much of what she was saying was garbled and lost.

Alice is guided to Wonderland by the White Rabbit, played with great physicality by Matt Coggins. There’s no hookah-smoking caterpillar here but, rather, a rainbow clad one who blows bubbles to relax. Layla Meillier handles this role with aplomb, while Enrique J. Vargas is clear and strong (Dare we say “eggscellent?”) as the ill-fated Humpty Dumpty.

The tea party is visually stimulating and made all the better by William Irwin’s presence as the bombastic and pleasingly comical Mad Hatter. Irwin pulls double-duty and appears later as the White Knight. He possesses perfect comic timing and sports separate but equally outrageous mustaches for each role. As the White Knight, though, he becomes touchingly human and he and Alice share a very sweet scene. The White Knight implores Alice to remember him and she notes she may remember him best of all. We suspect audiences may as well.

The shrill Queen of Hearts (Deirdre S. Baker) drolly orders a multitude of beheadings while the King of Hearts (Mark Gmazel) presides over court. Gmazel is simply hilarious and creates an indelible impression as the lisping and posturing King. The courtroom scene, as a whole, is a highlight.

Richardson has assembled an outstanding technical team to help bring these memorable characters to life. Adam Dill’s costumes and Andrew Layton’s scenic design create a wonderfully cohesive and whimsical motif. While the set pieces are spartan and include many cardboard-like cutouts, each is smoothly moved in and out and used to great advantage. The proscenium arch façade is a particularly nice touch. The costumes, with an eclectic mix of patterns, perfectly capture each of the characters and subtly suggest the traits of some of the animals portrayed.

Sadly, Thursday’s show was plagued by sound problems (caused by a seemingly needless microphone on the Narrator) that we hope will be sorted out for the remainder of the run. All in all, though, this is a delightful production that is certain to bring smiles and laughter to both the young and the young at heart.

Alice in Wonderland runs this Friday (7:30 pm), Saturday (2:30 pm and 7:30 pm), and Sunday (2:30 pm), as well as Thursday, August 14 (2:30 pm), August 15 (2:30 pm and 7:30 pm), August 16 (2:30 pm and 7:30 pm), and August 17th (2:30 pm). For tickets, which range from $12 – $18, call 810-237-1530. Performances take place at Flint Youth Theatre’s Bower Theatre in Flint’s Cultural Center.

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“MAN OF LA MANCHA” ROCKS THE STAGE AT STRATFORD

Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler

Man of La Mancha reigns at Stratford, Ontario, at the Shakespeare Festival. This is a moving, rousing and energetic production. Actually, the word stunning works better.

Man of La Mancha is the story of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes died at a young age after being a soldier and then a slave for five years. Don Quixote’s story lives on through the book and the musical. In the story Cervantes is arrested along with his servant. They are imprisoned waiting the inquisition. In prison, the inmates proceed to rob him only to discover what he possesses is his written story. They are going to burn it and he begs them to try him. That is where the story begins.

The musical Man of La Mancha was written by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh, and lyrics by Joe Danlon.

We all go on quests. The most important thing about a quest is that we must finish no matter what happens. Don Quixote is an excellent example of this idea. Go after it, no matter what. We don’t have to stick with tradition because it is easier; we can break from it and go in a different direction. Everyone tilts at windmills from time to time.

The set greeted us first as we entered the theatre. A massive set depicts the nasty environs of a dungeon. Behind the set, and much larger, stands a windmill that actually works. It is captivating because it is always present and almost always moving. The prison is dingy, nasty, and has a cast of characters one can only wish never to meet. The Governor, played by Shane Carty, who also plays the Innkeeper, runs this prison.

Cervantes/Don Quixote/Alonso Quijana are all played by Tom Rooney. He is a gem to watch. Transformations to each character are flawless and breathtaking. Excellent is the only way to describe his performance.

Aldonza played by Robin Hutton is a ball of fire throughout the musical. She plays the noble woman Don Quixote loves even though she is not one. Her dancing and singing were spectacular. When the inmates attack her, the dance scene is a wonder and a horror to watch. Coupled with the fight scene where Don Quixote, Aldonza, and Sancho take on the inmates has no match.

Sancho played by Steve Ross also gave a strong performance. He gives us the other side of Don Quixote. The cast of Man of La Mancha deserved and received a tremendous standing ovation. The play moved in unison from start to finish. They took the audience to the heights and then dropped us only to do it again and again.

“The Impossible Dream” was clearly a favorite number with the audience. The play ends with the song as Don Quixote is taken to the Inquisition.

The orchestra was wonderful; the choreography was brilliant. Some of the dances were extremely complicated but were flawlessly done by the cast. The director, the cast, and the crew earned a rousing, sustained standing ovation.

I rate Man of La Mancha a 5+ and recommend it if you are going to Stratford. If you have never been to Stratford and are an avid theatregoer, you should consider a trip. They have four theatres and shows are performed every day, but Monday. They perform a variety of plays other than Shakespeare. There are also a lot of good restaurants for dining and plenty of places to stay.

Man of La Mancha runs until October 11 at the Avon Theatre. Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival is north of London, Ontario. You can find out more by calling 1-800-567-1600 or 1-519-273-1600. Their website is stratfordfestival.ca, and they are on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

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“CHRISTINA, THE GIRL KING” OPENS STRONG AT STRATFORD

Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler

            Michel Marc Bouchard’s Christina, The Girl King opened at the Studio Theatre at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, on 7/29/2014. The opening performance was very impressive.

Bouchard is a Canadian Playwright with numerous plays and awards to his name. One of his plays received the Critics Award in Venice in 2013. He also received the National Centre Award, the Betty Mitchell Award, the Prix du Journal de Montreal, and many others.

Christina, The Girl King is based on the story of a Swedish girl who ascends to the throne at the age of six in the 1600s in the midst of the religious upheaval caused by Martin Luther. She is obsessed with learning and freedom. As she grows older she finds herself at odds with her stepfather and advisors. She wants to break from the past and move her country forward.

Christina doesn’t want to be married or have any children, but the court demands an heir. Her views on peace differ from other leaders who see war as a good thing. Sweden is a Lutheran Country that has vanquished its enemies. In the end, she is forced to make a decision of serious magnitude. Her decision surprised everyone.

The set was minimal and stark, contributing to the mood and tenor of the play. The backdrop was a collection of interlocking reindeer antlers that also served as a door. Several small benches and bedding comprised the entire set. The costumes were austere reflecting Luther’s beliefs at the time.

Christina played by Jenny Young was powerful and energetic in her characterization. She did a superb job of moving in and out of the emotional forces buffeting her throughout the play. Her expressions, gestures and body language were all in sync. We were riveted on her throughout the performance.

Karl Gustave played by Ryan Wilkie also gave a strong performance. He is in love with Christina and has to deal with being constantly rebuffed by the Queen. He gives several monologues protesting, begging, and whining about her rejection of him and his love for her.

Countess Ebba Sparre played by Claire Lautier does an effective job as the lady-in-waiting who the queen is in love with. The queen showers Ebba with gifts, and she does what is expected because it is the queen.

Rene Descartes played by John Kirkpatrick is the agent of change who is feeding the queen with new ideas and interpretations. He is the opposite of Gustave and gives a strong performance.

Count Johann Oxenstierna played by Graham Abbey is the queen’s stepbrother and is funny to watch as he preens and praises himself on stage. His speech about his body and its wonderful parts brought the house down. Wayne Best played Count Axel Oxenstierna, the stepfather. He portrays this frustrated father, advisor, and bully well.

The entire cast gave a strong performance and earned a thunderous standing ovation.

I would rate Christina, The Girl King very highly and heartily recommend it if you are going to Stratford. Christina, The Girl King will be performed until October 21 at the Studio Theatre during the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. For more information or to reserve tickets call 1-800-567-1600 or 1-519-273-1600, or access them on the web at http://www.stratfordfestival.ca. The festival is also represented on Facebook.

 

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Kearsley Park Players’ “Pirates of Penzance” is a Winner!

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

A sold out Crossroads Village Opera House greeted the Kearsley Park Players Friday to view their rollicking production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Beyond the terrific performance, experiencing the play in this venue was like taking a step back to a time when both the show and the building were the grandest entertainment offered.

Director Kay Kelly has once again assembled an incredibly talented troupe. The show is glorious to hear and tons of fun to watch as a band of softhearted pirates scheme to plunder then marry a bevy of beauties they happen onto in search of an errant apprentice.

Mike Davis leads this swashbuckling group as the Pirate King. His voice is strong, even stentorian. He has a twinkling eye and sets the tone throughout the show, keeping the tempo sturdy and the comedy dynamic.

As Frederic, the apprentice accidentally let go but now pursued, Zac Wieber is hearty and stern in his adherence to his duty. His story illustrates the branding of this show as a comic opera as he sings about his duty, his curiosity about women, and his enchantment with the lovely Mabel.

Caroline Collins brings an amazing vocal talent to Mabel, the eldest daughter of the prolific Major General Stanley (Michael Kelly). Indeed, the whole flock of girls are claimed to be his daughters, which saves them from certain capture by the pirates.

Mabel and Frederic fall instantly in love, much to the chagrin of Ruth, Frederic’s long time nurse who had her eyes on him as well. As Ruth, Jessica Himstedt offers strong vocals and superb comic timing.

As for the Major General, Kelly struts and storms to save his daughters by telling the pirates a story that he knows will appeal to their gentle nature. Later he regrets his lie and unable to sleep is joined by his daughters (all of them) who, led by Edith (Natalie Rose Sevick), try to console him.

Suddenly the police arrive to subdue the pirates who have skulked in unseen. The pirates intend to subdue the police. It doesn’t look good for the gals or the cops, but an opportune intervention by the Sergeant (David Bailey) changes everything. He demands the pirates yield in Queen Victoria’s name – they do – and the day is saved.

The pirate band is incredible – they sing with great gusto and they dance that way as well. We must mention the ladies chorus too, which is vocally powerful, pretty and quite properly comical. The Opera House is small but the cast uses all of the available entrances and exits including the aisles, so mind your elbows!

Music is key; this is an operetta after all, and while we couldn’t always understand each and every word, we caught the overall drift and enjoyed the sound above all. Kudos to Nada Radakovich for her amazing musical direction, and to James Cech, pirate Samuel, for his rumbustious and exciting choreography.

Congratulations to Kearsley Park Players for taking on the challenge that is Gilbert and Sullivan. This one’s definitely a winner!

The Pirates of Penzance continues August 2 and 3 at Crossroads Village Opera House at 7:00 pm and reservations are strongly advised. August 8, 9 and 10 the show moves to Kearsley Park with performances at 7:00 pm Friday and Saturday and 3:00 pm on Sunday.   http://www.kearsleyparkplayers.com

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Fenton’s “Shrek the Musical”: Entertainment for the Whole Family

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

The hero’s an ogre with a distressing past, the heroine’s been imprisoned for over 20 years, the grouchy villain is barely three feet tall, and the woods are filled with irate, albeit normally beloved, fairy tale characters! What is it? It’s the hysterical story your kids love about a gassy, green monster named Shrek!

Fenton Village Players opened their delightful interpretation of Shrek the Musical Thursday evening to a most appreciative audience including youngsters so caught up in the story they were calling out encouragement and advice. Although it sounds tricky to convert an animated film to an effective live stage production, FVP did a fine job.

Set in a Swamp and the nearby town of Duloc, director Rick Spangler’s cast is terrific. Vocally and dramatically, there are many standouts in this production, which simply serves to offer a wonderfully colorful, tuneful and entertaining show.

Let’s start with Shrek himself. Steve Morgan, painted green and with a fitted helmet complete with horns (?), is stellar throughout. He manages to convey both the angst and the strength of Shrek who must be seen as a loveable scary guy. His voice is strong and just gravelly enough to fit his persona perfectly.

Shrek’s unlikely sidekick is the Donkey played with incredible drollness and wit by FVP newcomer Corey Nichols. Never out of character for a moment, Nichols is vocally adept as he prances, preens, pushes and even punches Shrek while working to become the ogre’s accepted best buddy. His facial expressions are a clinic.

Jennifer Clancy is also a newcomer to FVP in the role of Fiona. Her voice is magnificent and her characterization of this confused young maiden is both funny and sweet. Clancy handles the lovely ballads, but also shines on the upbeat and hilarious “I Think I Got You Beat”. This duo between Shrek and Fiona over who has the saddest backstory and its culminating contest over the emission of the most effective bodily noise is a hoot!

And then there’s Farquaad, the pint-sized Lord of Duloc played by yet another new face, McKinley Shaw. Incredibly, Shaw does this entire role on his knees in order to project the diminutive size of this clearly angry character, and he still manages to spew Farquaad’s quirky vitriol quite well.

The chorus is large and made up of a whole passel of fairy tale characters angry at their expulsion from the town for being freaky. One voice in particular stands out here – Shayna Shaw (Wicked Witch) is powerful as the voice of the Dragon (an amazing puppet, by the way!). She’s not the only combo character as many of the fairy tale folk join the chorus in other ways as well.

Two notable vocals include Jonathan Smith’s high-pitched Pinocchio and Rafeal McDaniel’s stellar Humpty Dumpty. Credit for all these fine performances should also go to musical director Frank E. Pitts.

Instrumental music for this show is prerecorded. This probably makes it easier for vocalists to prepare songs, but occasionally seems to disrupt the flow as singers wait for the proper point to begin. We wonder why this option was chosen over live accompaniment.

Sets are pretty minimal, but effective, with a number of swinging flats and set pieces brought on and off as needed. Generally the stage is fairly free to accommodate the large cast of both adults and children. (We loved the little ones – they were fiery as the flames!)

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable production that really shouldn’t be missed. Take the kids; they’ll love it!

Shrek the Musical continues at the Fenton Village Theatre, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton on weekends through August 17. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:00 pm and Sunday matinees are at 2:00 pm. For information and tickets connect online at www.fentonvillageplayers.org

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Clio Cast & Crew Opens a Roaring and Jazzy “Chicago”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Vaudeville and Prohibition form the core of Savie Productions and Clio Cast & Crew’s terrific rendition of the acclaimed 1920s musical Chicago that opened Thursday evening at Theatre 57 in Clio. If you were driving by, maybe you heard it! The music was loud, non-stop, and sported a variety of rhythms, beats, and spirited dance numbers.

This Bob Fosse piece was written with Fred Ebb and based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. (Interesting side note: Watkins was a crime reporter during the 1920s in Chicago and based her play on two actual murderesses incarcerated in Cook County.) Ebb and John Kander wrote the music for this revue-style show with many numbers crafted in the form of famous vaudeville stars.

The time is the 1920s when jazz was “hot”, lawyers were crooked, and violence sold newspapers. First on the scene, Velma Kelly is an accused murderess and jail inmate, played with torchy sophistication by Ericka Lyons. Her opening “All That Jazz” definitely sets the tone for the evening. She is soon joined by the entire ensemble (nearly 30!) dancing and singing in perfect synchronization.

This is a good time to offer kudos to director Evie Zilinski for managing to stage this play and its large number of folks with the smooth precision displayed throughout. Entrances and exits in this minimal offstage venue could have been tricky but flowed smoothly and quickly.

Next, we are privy to a murder committed by Roxie Hart. Played with fire and naiveté by Michelle Hayes, she angrily guns down her lover for fooling around, then pins her hopes on her drab little husband Amos (Tim Ruwart) singing the torchy “Funny Honey”.

The gals in the jail seem never really worried about their hanging offenses since they have Billy Flynn, a sleazy lawyer played by Mike Odette, to argue for them and win their freedom for a price. Odette’s “All I Care About Is Love” is something to see with the Ziegfeld-style fan dancers aiding and abetting.

Also getting ahead from the corruption in the legal system is jail matron Mama Morton. Musical director Sue Mackenzie belts the “Cell Block Tango” ala Sophie Tucker, and brings style and swagger to the role as she pockets bribes right and left.

The press conference scene is excellent as Billy sits Roxie on his lap like a ventriloquist dummy for “We Both Reached for the Gun”. It’s a showstopper! And also watch for the reporter Mary Sunshine (J. Bertrand) who sings the operatic “A Little Bit of Good”. There’s definitely more here than meets the eye.

One other favorite we must mention is Ruwart’s white-gloved “Mr. Cellophane” sung with comically melancholy resignation.

Choreography is pristine, as we’ve come to expect in Savie shows. There’s just something wonderful about seeing so many dancers move in such awesome precision. Congratulations to Sandra Brewer and Kathleen Slezak.

Onstage throughout, the music team of pianist Gary King, percussionist Delaina Oberman and electric bass player Owen Ananich perform impressively. They are never too loud, a trick as none of the singers in this show use microphones.

Rick Doll’s set for Chicago is sparse but workable and highly colorful. The musicians are center stage at the back framed perfectly by the lighted paned window. There is a single broad step unit across the back allowing for maximum egress in and out and an intriguing spiral staircase down left that is also used creatively.

If we had any concern, it might’ve been the slightly low level of energy detected. We were very impressed overall, but now and then wanted to find the tempo/volume knob and turn it up a bit. Still, this troupe puts out an incredible performance with non-stop music, dance and creativity.

Chicago continues at Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Road, Clio, July 18,19,24,25, and 26 at 7:30 pm and July 20 & 27 at 2:00 pm. For tickets and information contact the box office at 810-687-2588

 

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Kearsley Park Players’ “Snow White” Delights a Forest Full of Children

Reviewed by Shelly L. Hoffman

The Kearsley Park Players, under the nurturing direction of Kay Kelly, reprised Megan Donahue’s cleverly scripted Snow White Thursday to a jam-packed pavilion. On blankets (lovingly added by Kelly for the youngest of theatre-goers) at the foot of the stage were veritable droves of youngsters (including many princesses and even a pirate, presumably gearing up for the upcoming production of Pirates of Penzance) who were, for the most part, mesmerized by the story that unfolded right in front of them. The adults and older children who sat on the more comfortable chairs also seemed to thoroughly enjoy the evening’s offering (all 21 minutes of it).

Donahue’s adaptation of this age-old tale of the princess Snow White (played wistfully by Ella Thorp), cast away by an evil queen who then murders the princess with a poisoned apple all because a magic mirror told the queen Snow White is more fair than she, offers witty dialogue, a meaningful relationship between Snow White and the Prince, as well as a rational explanation of how (spoiler alert!) the prince’s kiss brings Snow White back to life.

The narrative is propelled and sustained by the Magic Mirror (Amber Dillard) who, at first, reassures the Evil Queen that she is the fairest in the land. When the mirror proclaims Snow White to be fairer still, the Queen, who is always humorously accompanied by her sassy ladies in waiting, orders her killed. Snow White, though, is left alone in a forest, asleep. While in the forest she encounters a bevy of woodland creatures. Here, Kelly utilizes small children (including, incredibly, three sets of twins) to play foxes, mice, rabbits, and other furry creatures as well as disarmingly adorable butterflies. Seven Lumberjacks then take center stage to adopt and care for the abandoned princess.

Snow White also meets the handsome prince (George Marzonie) in the forest and they build a loving friendship as she rebuffs his daily proposals of marriage. Marzonie’s interesting dance moves brought much laughter to the opening night audience.

Jessica Eldredge portrays the Queen with, at first, mild haughtiness. She then becomes downright menacing, yet comical, as she disguises herself as a peddler to cajole Snow White to take the poisoned apple with the promise that it’s not poisoned, “not even a little bit.”

When the prince sees Snow White dead on the forest floor, he yearns to give her one last kiss. We learn that “the tilting of her head dislodged the apple from her throat” and that is what brings our princess back to life. And, of course, there is a happily ever after.

Kelly uses the space to paint a very pretty picture, even if it was obscured for a bit by the sun in the patrons’ eyes. As always, the show is beautifully costumed with lavish gowns, inventive animals, and Snow White looking as if she walked straight out of the well-known animated film of the same name. (Many of the children lined up after to have their photos taken with her and for autographs.)

What is always so striking about the Kearsley Park theatre experience is the vast diversity of participants and attendees alike. It’s thrilling to see so many people come together, in the heart of Flint, for a night of entertainment. Additionally, the fairytale is, quite often, the very first play a youngster attends. With such a wonderful experience for the little ones, it likely won’t be the last.

Snow White continues Friday, July 11th at Linden’s Clover Beach; 3 pm Saturday, July 12th at For Mar Nature Preserve and 7 pm at Flushing County Park. It closes on Sunday, July 13th with a 3 pm performance in Flint’s Mott

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