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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Kearsley Park Players Mount Powerful “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Kearsley Park Players wrap up their season this weekend at the historic Crossroads Village Opera House with a superb presentation of Tennessee Williams’ classic Pulitzer Prize winner, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. If we had to sum up this production with one word, it would be simply, “Wow!”

Williams wrote this play in 1955 – 60 years ago – and yet it still speaks to issues and angst, emotions and fears that are just as raw and real today. Death, greed, depression, addiction, sexual desire and hypocrisy haunt a wealthy Southern family just presented with the news that their patriarch, Big Daddy (Michael Kelly) is dying. Or is he?

Central to the story are Big Daddy’s favorite son, Brick (Matt Szukhent) and Brick’s outspoken wife, Maggie (Ella J. Thorp). Tension between these two is high throughout. Limping on a sprained ankle acquired trying to relive his glory sports days, Brick is a brooding alcoholic clearly at odds with his wife and himself. Szukhent is outstanding in this role. With never much to say, he still makes clear his feelings and reactions with flashing and emotional facial expression and a physical carriage portraying his desperation with his life.

Thorp is the perfect foil as she tries to convince him to stop drinking, give her a child and step up to the head of the family. This character may have more lines than anyone else in this script, but she never missed a beat, Southern accent and all. Thorp is truly Maggie the cat and a fitting opponent of her sister-in-law, Mae (Kari Kilpela).

Hugely pregnant with her sixth “no-neck monster” (so dubbed by Maggie), Mae sees the potential to inherit this huge plantation. Kilpela brings that jealous nastiness to the role. She’s the pushy woman we all love to hate, with just the perfect amount of snarly behavior. And her children are terrific, but more about them later.

It is Big Daddy’s birthday and the family has decided to spare the dire diagnosis and allow their parents to believe that Big Daddy is not dying. So both he and Big Mama (Laura Friesen) rejoice while the rest try to put on a happy face.

Kelly is incredible as Big Daddy. Sure that he will live much longer, his brush with death has him looking at things with a more self-indulgent eye. His second act conversation with Brick is spellbinding as these two dance around the points of contention between them. Kelly is bombastic, exuding an earthy vitality that will force his favorite son to reveal multiple truths. “Mendacity” is the byword here that binds these two, as they talk of death, latent homosexuality and the life denying self-disgust that may malign them both.

As for Big Mama, Friesen is perfection as this sweet, loveable, but generally discarded character. Her ability to allow this desperation to bubble up and out is hard to watch but gut wrenching in its truth.

Second son Gooper (Ian Thomas) is married to Mae and more than aware that he is not his father’s favorite. Thomas handles this character with appropriately overactive zeal, frustration and anxiety as walks a fine line between his father and his brother.

The “no-neck monster” grandchildren are welcome comic relief even in their horrible behavior. Totally honest and believable, they rant, chant, run and pout their way through Big Daddy’s party until even he has had enough. Kudos to them all! (Griffin Hansz, Noah Hansz, Sawyer Hansz, Jacob Kilpela, and Katie Kilpela)

The doctor, Victor Galea and the reverend, D.J. Trela, along with various house staff, Shelli McCormick, Hank Reed and Kendra Carlock, along with the field hands, Crystal Dillard, Gary Hansz and Justin Wetenhall, are all on the periphery of the tale but with important roles to fill that they do quite well.

Director Kay Kelly has earned the highest praise for bringing this hefty script to life. Not a detail is missed, the characterizations are indelibly imprinted, and a very large portion of the credit for that must go to this director.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will only be here through Sunday, so act quickly as seats are limited. It continues tonight and Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2pm. Reservations can be made by calling 810-736-7100 (ext. 6).

 

 

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FLINT COMMUNITY PLAYERS OPENS SEASON WITH MEL BROOKS MUSICAL COMEDY

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Flint Community Players is off to a pretty good start in this 86th season with a happily hysterical production of the Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan musical Young Frankenstein. The show opened to a hearty crowd Thursday night garnering lots of chuckles and even some outright guffaws.

Director Frank Pitts III was again able to attract a talented slew of newcomers to the FCP stage led by Matthew Graham in the title role as Dr. Frederick Von Frankenstein, that’s Steen, not Stine. Graham brought a strong singing voice and a flexible demeanor to this role of the pompous-physician-turned-wacky-scientist. And don’t expect a Gene Wilder copy – Graham’s characterization is all his own – and it works just fine.

But the real star of this show is FCP veteran Patrick Munley as the faithful servant, hump-backed Igor. Aside from totally looking the part of this macabre and clearly too-long-in-the-laboratory fellow, Munley’s timing, expression and overall gruesome glee nearly stole the show Thursday.

Right behind Igor in the quirky servant department is the castle’s long time housekeeper, Frau Blucher, played with uncommon comedy by another FCP vet, Rose Adams. Her song “He Vas My Boyfriend” cannot be endured without a raft of chuckles.

Dr. Frankenstein, although devoted to science at first, still manages to entertain the affection of two quite opposite tempered ladies. First his uptown socialite Elizabeth (Leah Lynch) preens and evades his advances singing the oddly pompous “Please Don’t Touch Me” as she sees him off on a ship to Transylvania Heights. Her guard comes down eventually when she shows up for a visit at the Frankenstein castle.

The gal who really captures the doctor’s heart, and then some, is his voluptuous lab assistant Inga (Carrie Hayes). Hayes has a soaring voice and a sense of humor to match. She has one of only a couple solos in this show with “Listen To Your Heart”. We should mention the other strong solo sung by the quirky blind Hermit, Rafeal McDaniel. His “Please Send Me Someone” sets up one of the funniest encounters with the Monster.

As for that Monster, Travis Carson is truly grand and another near show stopper as this giant green fellow raised from the dead but with an abnormal brain. He ranges about roaring and semi-smiling a goofy grin as he spreads fear, and occasional folly, amongst the townsfolk.

Everyone comes together with the whole ensemble for the best number of the show – “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. Choreographer Karen Whittaker does a very nice job here of coordinating the whole cast onstage for this funny, slightly long, but intricately executed dance.

Just one more kudo must go to youngster Griffin Grabowski who plays Ziggy and a few other characters. His characters serve as a sort of narrative thread, and his stage presence is terrific.

Mention is also due the coordinators of the fairly vast and complicated set required in this show. Jesse Glenn’s design includes a secret passage, a spinning wall, a working laboratory, a live portrait, and more!

As in the past, Pitts has chosen to use recorded music rather than a live orchestra in this show, but this time it works just fine. Overall, this show is musically fit, comically fun, and filled with subtle humor that will have you chortling all the way home.

Young Frankenstein continues at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2352 S. Ballenger Hwy. through September 28. For exact dates and tickets contact the box office at 810-235-6963 or online at http://www.flintcommunityplayers.com

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Kearsley Park Players cap season with “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

The 10th Anniversary Summer Season of the Kearsley Park Players culminates with a production of the classic American drama “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams. One of Williams’ best-known works and his personal favorite, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Kearsley Park Players production will be presented for one weekend only at the Opera House in Crossroads Village at 6140 Bray Road. Performances will be at 7:30 pm on Thursday, September 25, Friday, September 26, and Saturday, September 27, with the only matinee at 2 pm on Sunday, September 28. Tickets are $5.00. Reservations can be made by calling (810) 736-7100 (ext. 6) during daytime business hours.

Directed by Kay Kelly, the experienced cast includes Ella J. Thorp as Maggie, Michael Kelly as Big Daddy, Matthew Szukhent as Brick, Laura Friesen as Big Mama, Ian Thomas as Gooper and Kari Kilpela as Mae.AAA PR PHOTO

Of particular interest is the fact that Michael Kelly and Laura Friesen (Big Daddy and Big Mama) are reprising roles they played together in a 1977 production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” while students at the University of Michigan-Flint. As Kelly relates, “It was a very successful production back then but I was a 26-year-old playing Big Daddy. Today, I understand who Big Daddy is much better than I did then.”

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” features several recurring motifs, such as social norms, greed, hypocrisy, decay, sexual desire, repression, and death. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is the story of a Southern family in crisis, especially the husband and wife Brick and Maggie and their interaction with Brick’s family over the course of one evening gathering at the family estate in Mississippi. The party is to celebrate the birthday of patriarch Big Daddy, “the Delta’s biggest cotton-planter”, and his return from a health clinic with what he has been told is a clean bill of health. All family members (except Big Daddy and his wife, Big Mama) are aware of Big Daddy’s true diagnosis: he is dying of cancer. His family has lied to Big Daddy and Big Mama to spare the aging couple from pain on the patriarch’s birthday but, throughout the course of the play, it becomes clear that the family has long constructed a web of deceit for itself.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” will be the final production of this season’s schedule for the Kearsley Park Players and is part of “2014 Theatre in OUR Parks”, a collaboration between the City of Flint Parks and Recreation Department and Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission with funding from the Ruth Mott Foundation.

The full list of performances is as follows:

Thursday, September 25 – Crossroads Village – 7:30 pm

Friday, September 26 – Crossroads Village – 7:30 pm

Saturday, September 27 – Crossroads Village – 7:30 pm

Sunday, September 28 – Crossroads Village – 2 pm (only matinee)

More information at kearsleyparkplayers.com.

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