Sondheim’s 90th Virtual Birthday Celebration Brings the Feels

At the writer’s request and because we are all missing live theatre right now, THIS!

Reviewed online by Mary Paige Rieffelsondheim

On Sunday evening, via YouTube, presented a star-studded live-streamed extravaganza to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. Titled Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, the event was also a fundraiser for ASTEP, a program that brings the arts to children in poverty all over the world.

The event displayed how we can utilize technology to fill the void of live performance in the current times, which is really an amazing thing. However, it was not without technical difficulties. The live stream began a full half hour late, and the first six minutes consisted of the host, Raul Esparza speaking…without audio. It was not until after 9 p.m. that things finally started rolling. One of the evening’s performers, Judy Kuhn said after the event, “This is why nothing can replace live theatre…” While I do wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment, once the show really began, it gripped me in an immediate and totally different way than any live show I have ever seen.

The show begins with two instrumental selections, absolutely appropriate for a celebration of Sondheim. While every layer of Sondheim’s work is impressive, his orchestrations are second to none. Stephen Schwartz plays the prologue to Follies, displaying how beautiful the melodies are just on their own. Next was the overture from Merrily We Roll Along. It was such a delight to see the faces of the conductor and the musicians. It sparked a real and sincere sense of respect to well up in me for musicians everywhere.

Another solid critique of this virtual format that I cannot omit from this review is advertising. ADS. The first half of the show had an ad in between every single song. Alas, realizing full well that ads are what make this sort of thing free to watch, I will leave my dismay there.

As an artist it was hard not to feel emotional as each guest spoke on the influence of Sondheim. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly intimidated reviewing the roster of talent and musical selections that I am set to reflect upon. Sondheim is often compared to Shakespeare, and with good reason. There is a certain complexity and subtext to this body of work that nearly makes it it’s own genre. It takes a deep-seated love of musical theatre and a somewhat sophisticated ear to digest the work. It takes an even greater level of skill and talent to perform it. Technically, yes (Sondheim’s orchestrations are notoriously difficult for musicians and vocalists alike) but to speak the speech that is Sondheim is a unique skill that is hard to explain. You just feel it.

The performances were (pre-recorded) and submitted by Broadway heavy hitters from start to finish. There were no Hollywood stars thrown in to cast a wider and more appealing net as this was an event for theatre lovers! It was so great to see these stars in their home studios, bedrooms, and bathrooms even, with headphones in, emoting their faces off. For me, the greatest thing watching this as a performer was that it felt like a master class. Sondheim has a way of easily wringing out melancholy and longing, but to see the faces of experts up close, laser focused, telling a story, uvulas wagging, and perfect embouchure on display was fascinating and inspiring. If you have young performers at home or are currently studying voice or theatre, plan to watch this and take notes.

The first 45 minutes were full to the brim of the earnest ballads of Sondheim. Selections from lesser-known musicals seemed to be a popular choice for many of the artists, and I took many names down to further explore some titles. There was also a high volume of selections from Sunday in the Park with George, a very well loved musical by Sondheim purists, and while I understand why it is so cherished, it is not one that I personally hold so dear. Of course, this is coming from someone that would have been very content with two hours full of songs from Sweeney Todd and Assassins, selections from those musicals being smartly sparse and carefully chosen. I will say, though, not being a particular fan of Sunday in the Park… Mandy Patinkin casually singing “Lesson #8” acapella, outside, in a field, was pretty spectacular. In the back half of the show Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford’s duet of “Move On” was breathtaking and immediate. While everything was so expert in the front half of the show, at this point I was ready for a change of pace.

No sooner had I jotted down in my notes “ready for a change of pace” did Randy Rainbow burst into a delightful rendition of “By the Sea” from Sweeney Todd. There was also a back to back, one two punch of comic relief from Linda Lavin performing a nearly unknown spoof of sorts of “Girl from Ipanema” titled “The Boy From…” (listen to the song you’ll understand the ellipses) and “Buddies Blues” from Follies performed in a rolling office chair by Alexander Gemigani.

Arguably the climax of the entire event was “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company, performed by Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, and Audra McDonald, which I am sure you have seen shared once or twice on your social media since Sunday if you surround yourself with theatre folk.

The event ended, appropriately with Sondheim’s muse, 72-year-old Bernadette Peters singing the all-purpose tearjerker, “No One is Alone” from Into the Woods…acapella of course.

As I mentioned previously, reviewing this incredible display of musical theatre talent, became increasingly daunting the more I sat with the work. But that is because it was all so accurately emotional. Sondheim has a way of writing songs that bring specificity and universality, at the same time. And that’s why we love it, study it, and produce the shows over and over again.

Take Me To the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration is available for free on YouTube and runs approximately two and a half hours, with an intermission whenever you like!

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Reviewed by Joseph M. Mishler

86724322_10156879953431629_5250544897420689408_o            The Flint Community Players production of Love, Lies, and the Doctor’s Dilemma opened Thursday March 12. Considering all of the problems we are facing, a good comedy can provide relief for a couple of hours. Seating was limited to 100 because of the virus epidemic.

Love, Lies, and the Doctor’s Dilemma starts with Joan and her gardener who in love. Within a few minutes Vinnie the Enforcer shows up looking for her son who owes money. Her sister-in-law shows up and oh, yeah, she’s a movie star. Joan has no desire to see the movie star relative. Then, the one woman walking disaster who lives next door shows up. Of course, they all like Joan’s brownies that happen to have some “pot” in them. Then the son shows up. There are more lies in this play than you can count which fuels the chaos.

Comedy requires good timing and spontaneity. Laura Kline plays Joan Scheller, the Mother. While she does a good job of keeping the show going, she is a bit off through most of the play. Matt Bach plays Sandy the gardener and Joan’s boyfriend. The chemistry between these two was sketchy.

Bach did a great job as Sandy playing the shrink. The characters lay on the couch and he just asked them what they thought. A couple of times he gave advice on a particular matter which then lead to hilarious consequences.

Brett Smith played Vinnie “the Enforcer”. Smith needed to be a bit tougher looking. He did a good job with the comedy routines. Vinnie finds himself in a house where nothing goes right. He eventually falls for Olivia St. Claire played by Taylor Boes. You remember – she is the movie actress. Boes could have been stronger, but as it is she did a good job and did bring energy to the stage.

Samantha Tadajewski played Rachel, the neighbor woman.  Tadajewski was a whirlwind and truly a one woman, walking disaster who brought great energy to the stage. She ended up with Joan’s son Chris played by Jason Brownfield. Chris has a secret as he falls in love with Rachel.

            It should be pointed out that Olivia and Rachel really loved Joan’s brownies and couldn’t get enough of them. The scenes where they disguised Chris to outwit Vinnie were quite funny.

            Bertha played herself and was very imposing when she appeared on stage. The characters thought she was Vinnie’s girlfriend. As I said, there were more lies in the play than you can count. Vinnie never gives up the secret about Bertha.

Director Zachary Wood picked a good cast. They just need to tighten things up and then the comedy will really roll. The set by Rick Doll and crew was well designed, and the actors used it well. Costumes were also well chosen.

I recommend you go see this play and laugh a lot.

Love, Lies, and the Doctor’s Dilemma will be performed March 13, 14, 20, 21 at 7:30 pm and March 15, 22, at 2:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased online or by phone: 810-441-9302 or The main phoneline is 810-235-6963.

Flint Community Players is located at 2462 Ballenger highway, Flint MI 48507.



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“Cinderella” – Beautifully Updated Musical is Magical, Relevant & Funny

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

59998720_398419284346826_1305595291193311232_n-1            Fairy tales are all about magic, or at least that’s what we’ve always thought. And we were right most of the time. However, if you’ve ever doubted slightly or perhaps supposed such tales were aimed only at children or were lacking in substance, think again and head to Owosso!

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella with revised new book by Douglas Carter Beane and currently playing at the Lebowsky Center for Performing Arts is a beautiful, magical, funny, and yes, up to date rendition of that most venerable story.

Opening with a set that could put Into the Woods to shame, a forest becomes the center of action as Cinderella (Claire Ladaga) strolls between the towering trees where she will ultimately meet all those folks that change her life. Ladaga is marvelous throughout in this role. Her clear vocals and her command of this character’s sweet yet strong demeanor is mightily well done.

One such change agent is Prince Topher (James Debenham), a strong vocalist who presents this royal as a bit unsure at first. He will come around before long however.

In this version, it is Madame (Mandy Bashore) and her two quirky daughters, Gabrielle (Sarah Hayner) and Charlotte (Grace Rosen) who rule the roost at least for a time. What will surprise some and delight others is the decided lack of overall nastiness on the part of these three. We loved this foursome as they sang about their evening – “A Lovely Night” and “When You’re Driving Through the Moonlight”.

So where’s the Fairy Godmother, you ask? Played beautifully by Amanda DeKatch and herein called Marie, this character begins as a scruffy beggar woman clothed in heavy rags. Her transformation to a beautiful fairy princess before our very eyes is worth the price of admission! Her “Impossible/It’s Possible” is terrific and only exceeded by her late Act Two “There’s Music in You”.

We must mention the hilariously crooked regent sort Sebastian played with angst and a slight whine by Michael Windnagle. His character reveals that politicians may have been being influenced for a very long time. In this case, it took a girl from the woods to open the Prince’s eyes.

Also, Josh Holliday’s portrayal of Lord Pinkleton is fun to watch especially early as he shows off his wonderful voice in his town crier role – “The Prince Is Giving a Ball”.

A new character appropriately inserted here is Jean-Michel (Vinnie Lindquist), the town revolutionary who along with Cinderella is trying to champion the plight of the poor. He will ultimately engage the support of Gabrielle proving that stepsisters are not always evil!

Now, about those costume conversions – we hesitate to call them merely changes because they are so instantly performed as to be nearly magical! And there’s more than one of them! Cinderella transforms twice! Major kudos to the costume crew!

Dirk Rennick and Dan Wenzlick’s sets for this production are amazing. Besides the forest, the palace steps and ballroom (complete with three chandeliers) are glorious as well. Cinderella’s elegantly lighted pumpkin coach is also a beautiful addition as “driven” by her two forest friends-become-a-real-life Footman (Miles Hayes) and Driver (Joe Gill).

The Lebowsky Center musicals are among the few these days that use live accompaniment and this one is outstanding. Musical Director Jillian Boots’ 18-piece orchestra is in the pit downstage and provides the precision and direction that moves the production smoothly.

Erica Duffield must be congratulated for the many choreographed numbers in this show. Dancers are not in short supply in Owosso if this play is any indication!

Finally, Garrett Bradley’s direction is impeccable. This large cast moves about with ease and fluidity. Musical numbers flowing effortlessly become part of the story and every actor exudes a confidence and seriousness of purpose that is to be commended.

This is community theatre at it’s finest. If you’ve never been to the lovely restored Lebowsky Center for Performing Arts, 122 E. Main St., Owosso, it’s time you made the trip. Cinderella continues today and March 6, 7 & 8. For more information call the box office at 989.723.4003 or visit them online at





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FVP Presents Classic Tale of Friendship, Survival and Sacrifice in “Of Mice and Men”

Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins80709951_2849009018463005_2055507035025309696_n

As a fierce wind blew and temperatures plummeted this intrepid reporter braved the elements and icy roads to view Fenton Village Players latest offering in their 2019/20 season – John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

The audience, although on the smallish side, was nonetheless totally involved and committed to this story. I’m certainly not a Steinbeck scholar, but there are common themes that run through some of his plays; desperation, the search for a better life, striving and not succeeding, the plight of the downfallen and the poor, segregation, racial strife and the horror of our Great Depression. This is true for The Grapes of Wrath and this show – Of Mice and Men. Through words and actions both subtle and blatant, Director Mary Smith-Powers brought this show to life and the audience – including myself – was immersed and vested in the tale of George and Lenny.

To begin with – the set was amazing. The stage at FVP is smallish and not very deep. Smith-Powers’ design (and I understand she also did a lot of the extraordinary painting) first unfolded to show a bucolic country scene equipped with a roaring campfire and a stream with drinkable water! Later the set became a fully realized bunk house with a yard (there was an ever present yet unseen horseshoe game being played) and a barn which in turn opened to show the inside of the barn as well as the segregated Negro Crooks’ room. He wasn’t allowed in the bunkhouse. This was a truly amazing set. Lights, including a setting sun in the first scene, and sound effects were also well planned and well used.

Now either you know the story – and I don’t need to reiterate or you don’t so I won’t spoil anything. Suffice it to say it’s a story of survival and friendship and making the ultimate sacrifice. The friends of course are George, a frustrated yet earnest man intent on finding Shangri-La and protecting his friend Lenny, a beast of a man with a child’s heart and mentality.

Longtime theatre vet Larry LaFerriere who exudes confidence, bravado and intensity with a softer compassionate side plays George wonderfully. Larry brings George to life and he wins the audience over by the end of the play.

Lenny is a simple yet complex man/child that loves animals, soft things to rub, bunnies and George. Nick Carter plays him admirably. Carter plays this troubled being with aplomb, confidence and self-assurance. He is naïve, tender, soft spoken, violent and yes, dangerous. I can’t emphasis enough how talented this actor is. This is the second show where I’ve seen Carter play a disturbed man – he was Chief in FVP’s fine production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and he has performed tremendously!

Other cast members of note – and they were all wonderful – include Mike Dietz as Candy. A one handed man left to perform the drudgery of life on a ranch as he awaits death. Candy helps move the narrative forward. He is sickly, thin, and haggard and resolved to a meaningless life and death. Dietz does a wonderful job and Candy eventually buys into George and Lenny’s dream hoping beyond hope to join them. He was a bit hard to hear at first, but he gained confidence as the play moved along.

Curly, the boss’s son provides the drama/antagonism. He is impatient, mercurial and extremely jealous as played by Jacob Gurnsey who went for stereotype in this role. I’m not sure this is a bad thing or a wrong choice. The role demands bellicosity, anger, a severe temper and bad judgement. Gurnsey made the role work.

Slim played by Kevin Emmons was the soft-spoken philosopher in the bunkhouse. Immediately accepted by the audience and George, he helps move the story along. He is smart, inquisitive, thoughtful and caring. Well done.

Dennis Sykes, an old friend and longtime theatre vet plays Crooks, the lone and segregated Negro on the ranch. He is bitter. He can’t use the bunkhouse; he is lonely (the rest of the guys won’t mingle with him except for on the horseshoe pit) and is seemingly resigned to life as a minority in the Depression era. Sykes brings Crooks alive, and we all sympathize with him. Well done.

Another fly in the ointment/antagonist is Curley’s wife. She is beautiful, scared, probably abused, certainly dissatisfied with her life and a dangerous flirt. Played tremendously by Laura Strong, she eventually decides to run away to Hollywood sparking the climactic downfall of all. No spoilers here but her last scene left the audience in – drop a pin – silence. What an incredible moment.

The balance of the cast – and again all were wonderful – included Carlson played by Matt Osterberg, Whit played by Tony Nelson, The Boss played by Geno Essenmacher and Sam a farm hand with a tremendously large pistol played by Ben Sampson. Oh, and lest we forget the old dog – played with confidence by Sally the dog. The audience let out a collective “Awww” when she made her entrance. She was even in the receiving line greeting her fans after the show. Good girl!!

Troubles were slight and fixable. There was tongue tying across the board (slow down a bit) probably due to opening night jitters. There was some too quiet dialogue that also improved as the night progressed.

Still, the story moved through highs and lows with many touching and exciting scenes. From the tender opening to the tragic ending, Mary Smith-Powers presents a wonderful show. Of Mice and Men continues at the V. Sibyl Haddon Auditorium in Fenton February 28th through March 8th. Call 810-750-7700 for details and tickets. Take the time to see this wonderful locally produced and performed take on a classic American Tragedy.




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REP’s “Packrat” is a Feast for the Senses

Reviewed by Karla Froehlich

Packrat: The name of a rodent that gathers junk and sticks to packratcreate a huge mound in which it nests. Also native to North America is the packrat person who gathers junk (sometimes even sticks) at their nest. And now, also native to North America is a brand new puppet play called Packrat created by Concrete Temple Theatre, hailing from New York City and co-produced with Flint Repertory Theatre. What’s “native” about a play from NYC? The company’s Co-Artistic Director, Renee Philippi, is a Kearsley High School and University of Michigan-Flint graduate.

In Packrat, we witness the splendor of linear visual effects, blended with music and appropriate sounds to punctuate actions, subtle and effective lighting, a transformative set, and of course, simple and clear puppets in a beautiful dance with their handlers. Like a feast for the senses, this fable, written and directed by Philippi, amalgamates every aspect of this theatrical spectacle with a sweet and gentle story of friendship, perseverance and love. All this stuff is brought together in fabulous packrat style…and it’s beautiful.

The production uses six puppeteers who dance between puppets, sometimes operating the wee arms of the characters, sometimes moving grasses that twirl to become trees or sagebrush, sometimes being a mountain. There are three puppet versions of each main character that help tell the story: a “real” puppet, a misty kind of see-through puppet for dream sequences, and shadow puppets for distant scenes. Each puppet moves by different means, challenging the puppeteers and holding the attention of young and old. The action was seamless and breathtaking, athletic and relaxed, smooth and energetic.

Packrat is about the interconnectedness of all beings, the interdependence of all beings, the redemption, rebirth, and renewal of all beings, including the earth itself. Packrat brings every eclectic element together and makes it simple and beautiful…somewhere you might like to nest.

In the eyes of a child, Packrat could be spoken of simply. A packrat stole too many things that are forbidden, his community sends him away, he comes back to help his community. Circles are meant to be unbroken and the creatures of the world can find a way to live in peace and harmony.

Packrat is about an hour long and the trip was massive. Adults were delighted and children thrilled by the opening night performance that was followed by a brief talk back where audience members were handed the puppets to examine and operate. These are not your Mother’s socks with button eyes!

Packrat continues for three more performances only at The REP: 2 pm and 7 pm today and 2 pm on Sunday. Come for an enjoyable time, stay for an informative time. Contact them at the box office 810-237-7333 or online at




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New McCree Takes a Walk Back in Time

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

For long time residents of Flint, the current musical offering at the New McCree Theatre is a walk back in time. The Saints of St. John Street is an original play written by McCree Executive Director Charles H. Winfrey. This version, an encore production imagesof the same script first presented ten years ago, is true to the history of this close-knit but long gone African American neighborhood.

Set in 1955, the story focuses on four youngsters, The Saints, who in addition to being good friends are all members of a losing baseball team in need of a coach. Winfrey’s own recollections of the St. John Street area come to life in these kids. Showcasing the neighborhood as well are the parents and siblings of the Saints along with a few quirky local denizens.

This was a simpler time, but it was not without stress. The fight for civil rights was only just beginning and there was fear generated by radio broadcasts reporting first the Mississippi lynching of young Emmett Till and later the arrest of Rosa Parks.

Director Cathye Johnson moves her large cast around the stage quite nicely. Three front porches serve to define the neighborhood and provide a setting for all the action. An audience member sitting behind us spoke to the authenticity of the production as he pointed out the radio in the window of the center stage house. He remembered that all the houses on St. John had music playing from a window radio.

First we met the young ballplayers led by Stick (Isaiah Grays) and chuckled at their give and take conversations about a “hideout” and the team’s losing record. It is through these youngsters that we came to know the neighbors, including the resident eccentrics.

Folks like the wild woman, Slap-God-A’mighty (Patricia Enright), and the mysterious Pawn Shop Shorty (Ulysses “BT” Bailey) are slightly curious while Darius Smith, who reprises the role of Jomo, could be anyone’s favorite dad.

Tension builds when young Esther (Amari Robinson) decides to see where the boys go off to all the time. She follows them but doesn’t return. When the police can offer little help, the whole neighborhood joins in the frantic search. Interesting lessons emerge as folks begin to blame Pawn Shop Shorty, whom they perceive as different, for the girl’s disappearance.

Music is central in this show and serves as background to all the action. Much of it consists of recorded oldies, but five street corner crooners known as The Cavalcades (David Lott, Phillip Young, Linwood Peacock, Fredrick Fife, and Clifford Sykes) produce some wonderfully close acapella harmony. A highlight that delighted Thursday’s opening night audience occurred when young Stick joined them with his terrific Frankie Lymon sound.

Some technical issues surfaced Thursday with a screechy microphone feeding back once or twice and a dim spotlight not really highlighting well on the Cavalcades. Surely these will be remedied in future performances.

There is a host of talent in this cast. The youngsters are genuine and the adults sincere. So, although this production had a couple hiccups, the story is heartwarming and the nod to Flint history is intriguing and hard to resist.

The Saints of St. John Street runs until February 29, 2020. For more information, dates, times and tickets call the box office at 810-787-2200 or access them online at











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CCC Present’s a Valentine’s Day Gift

Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishlerindex

The Clio Cast and Crew’s production of Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s A Foot or Holmes for the Holidays, although set at Christmas, was a great Valentine’s Day gift to Friday night’s theatre goers. If you’re looking for good comedy, you will like this production.

Ludwig’s play is full of twists and turns and more. He is a master of comedy. The play starts out with an actor being shot on stage who then goes to his mansion in a remote area to recover. While there, he hosts a Christmas gathering of actors. One surprise attendee is a theatre critic, who at one time or another has had relationships with more than one of the actors. She has trashed them all in reviews, and she is killed at the end of Act One.

The injured host, William Gillette (Justin Wetenhall) fancies himself to be Sherlock Holmes.   Wetenhall was convincing in this role. The scene with the body and trying to hide it was well done. He and Shane Wachowicz as his long time friend Felix Geisel were well matched.

The scenes with Gillette and the female Detective Inspector Goring (Susanne Goettel Helfrich) were a lot of fun. She reminded me of Columbo. In spite of her ditzyness, she did manage to really put things together.

Aggie Wheeler (Jessi Jeane) and her husband Simon Bright (Gil Hall) were also well matched. He was over the top and quite the drama queen, and she was Miss Perfect in theory.

Drama critic Daria Chase as played by Rebecca Norris, was very convincing. From her entrance until after her death, she was in control of the mansion as she managed to bully everyone equally.   The séance scene was a hoot.

Martha Gillette, played by Sandra Turner, was William’s mother. Her costumes were different. She managed to create tension and gave a strong performance. She ended the play with a line that was not in the script when she tripped over the fireplace poker and said, “We didn’t need a poker to kill the critic,” or something to that effect. That line brought the house down and ended the play.

A tip of the hat to the two cops who made their entrance eating donuts, a nice touch.

Director William Kircher and his assistant Jim Waner put together a good cast. The sound effects were excellent. Storm effects were scary and quite effective, but the female costumes were not accurate for the period. The set was well done and well used by the actors.

Comedy requires good timing. While the first act had some minor timing and spontaneity issues, the second act turned around as there was a lot of action and they moved the play right along. I am not going to give away who did it; you have to go see the play if you want to know what happened.

I heartily recommend Clio Cast and Crew’s production of Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays. Go ahead! Treat yourself to mayhem and a lot of fun!

The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays runs February 15, 21, & 22 @ 7:30pm, and February 16 & 23 at 2:30pm at Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Rd, Clio MI 48420. For tickets and more information call the Box Office at 810-687-2580 or access them online at




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UM-Flint’s “Antigone” Melds Past and Present

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

a1b35e5eb43e690861affa0bc701df6251d4b9caaea9c949fde1fcaada5a177f-rimg-w526-h296-gmirIf the idea of going to see an ancient Greek tragedy seems slightly stodgy, even dull think again! The UM-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance launched an amazing production of Sophocles’ Antigone Friday night that flies in the face of those fears. Translated by Elizabeth Wyckoff, it’s the same ancient story but with a nod to now and a hip-hop beat that brings what was old to vibrant life today.

Director Janet Haley relates this production to the hit musical Hamilton and its “story about America then, told by America now”. Indeed, although the setting is ancient Greece, the street people using microphones to speak in rap and poetry slams while drumming and strumming may reverberate this story right back to its original impact.

Shannon Cody plays the title role with grit and conviction. A daughter of the former king Oedipus, she stands her ground as her principles are challenged over the forbidden burial of her brother. Her sister, Ismene (Rachel Keck) isn’t as stubborn but will ultimately stand by her sister as this family feud threatens the entire town.

Two alumni of UM-Flint Theatre are integral to this production. Because the story of Oedipus is important to the understanding of the strife here portrayed, Haley enlisted permission from 2012 grad Joshua Clark to use his opening Prologue Rap, which is a piece he wrote for the American Shakespeare Center’s production of this play, to bring the audience up to date. And playing King Creon, 2012 grad Vaughn Kelsey Davis exudes power and confidence as he forbids the burial of his nephew thus engendering both the wrath and horror of Antigone.

With nary a weak performer on the stage, there was still some difficulty understanding everything that was said due to occasional volume and diction problems. However, one young citizen chorus member, Student Activist David A. Guster, was clear and crisp in every delivery. Others of interest were Austin Kimbrell as the seer, Teiresias, Giovanni Moore III as A Freestyle Prophet and the two often comic Palace Guards, Leonardo Clark and Enrique Vargas.

Hannah Erdman’s scene design is impressive and provides a perfect playing space complete with various levels and even a running water stream. A two story house sits center stage and allows for interesting glimpses in the windows. A wall of graffiti is backdrop to a street band.

Doug Mueller’s lighting spans the set from intriguing ghostly visions in the sky to torch-like vases lighting corners.

Sound was a bit tricky Friday as power problems caused microphones to fail occasionally and music to come in with too much gusto. Designer Aaron Weeks did have his work cut out for him with some of this music live and some recorded.

In case it isn’t clear, this is a most intriguing treatment of a classical Greek play. Only 75 minutes long, it flies by with action happening at every turn in this message “from the Past told by People of the Present”.

Antigone continues at UM-Flint Theatre, 327 E. Kearsley St., Flint, MI 48502 Jan. 25-26 and Jan. 31-Feb. 2. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810.237.1530 or online at



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FCP’s “Chicago” – a Roaring Musical Treat

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbyuntitled-design_orig

Continuing the successful dynamic we saw in their recent Mamma Mia!, Flint Community Players currently is presenting a bang-up production of the now classic Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse and John Kander musical, Chicago.

Still a popular show nearly 50 years after its debut, its appeal most probably lies with the jazz era’s 1920’s music. But there’s more. Based on actual events played out in the windy city back then, the action swirls around the murderous women awaiting trial and the notoriety they crave and receive from the local press.

Light on dialogue, this one serves up one marvelous musical number after another, which accentuates the success of that dynamic we mentioned. The orchestra is hidden away but is still very much live and connected to what’s happening on stage. Congrats go to Rafeal D. McDaniel and his seven musicians for handling this aspect with such panache and expertise.

So who are these murderous gals? Well, the whole show is set in the county jail so, of course the show opens there with “And All That Jazz” sung with gusto by Rolecia Looney as Velma backed up by an ever-present ensemble of gals and sometimes guys.

Suddenly there is action in the background when Amber Woollcott as Roxie Hart shoots her lover before our eyes. Don’t worry, she doesn’t use a real gun but the effect is the same. These two gals become the focus of this story. Both are extremely talented and fun to watch as they strive to garner the attention of the press to further their singing careers. Woollcott and Looney truly anchor the show.

Musical numbers prevail and highlights Friday night included “Cell Block Tango” where the gals explain in their defense that “He had it comin’!” and as Matron “Mama” Morton (Erika Odykirk) rebuts with her system, “When You’re Good To Mama”.

The gals need an attorney and Billy Flynn (Aaron Furman) is the apparent go-to guy. Furman was impressive with his “All I Care About” and later with “Razzle Dazzle”. His impact is strong and his dances are terrific.

Speaking of dance, we cannot overlook the fact that the fabulous Bob Fosse wrote this script and had to be behind the precision and intricate movement that this large group brings to number after number. The recreation of these dances here is impeccable.

Kim Heath Streby is comical as her newswoman Mary Sunshine sympathizes in “A Little Bit of Good” and also joins Furman, Woollcott and the ensemble for the amazingly well done “We Both Reached for the Gun”.

We also feel we must mention one favorite number in this show – “Mister Cellophane” sung by Andrew Eisengruber as Roxie’s long-suffering husband Amos. Eisengruber brings a poignant comedy to this terrific bit.

Director Shelby Coleman also collaborated on a set design that is perfect for this production. Three jail cells elevated on a broad two-step platform are all that is needed throughout. It’s a large cast but this set accommodates everyone perfectly.

Indeed, there isn’t a lot of distraction visually so the focus remains on the story and the folks involved. Much is accomplished with lighting. Ex. Poor Amos literally disappears at the end of his song!

Technically, this Chicago benefits from the know-how UM-Flint Theatre Department grads and students bring to sound, lighting, costume and design. Many UM-F folks are on the stage as well and this talent contributes mightily to the overall effect.

If there was a weird moment Friday, it was at the very end when oddly no one in the audience stood to applaud. Possibly we weren’t sure it was complete because the show did seem to just stop rather than end with a flourish. I for one was sorry that I didn’t jump up and applaud!

Chicago continues through January 26 with an extra show today at 2:20 pm at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. For more info contact FCP online at or by phone at 810-235-6963.

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Beautifully Intimate “Passing Strange” Serves up a Heaping Bowl of “The Real”

Reviewed By: Stephen Bleau-Visser

Passing StrangeFriday night, a group of incredibly talented independent artists collaborated to bring forth a powerful, thought-provoking rendition of Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s Passing Strange. This Tony – Award winning musical can be challenging to produce because of its extremely ambitious score, and the physical and mental endurance it requires of its actors. Yet if Artistic Director Harvey’s brilliant rendition of this trip on existentialism were any indication, it would appear this troupe was more than up to the task.

Passing Strange follows a boy who is on a trip of self-discovery across Europe and who learns much about himself on the way. His story is told through a perfect combination of song and speech. The Narrator (Melanie Jones) was positioned on the stage left side of the stage segregating the narrator perfectly from the action. Jones provided stellar vocals and the perfect amount of swagger to bring this rock and roll storyteller to life.

We certainly appreciated the subtle parallelisms between the Narrator and The Youth (Harvey) with their matching bright yellow Keds, suggesting that our Narrator is more than just someone telling this story but someone who has lived it. Harvey, a veteran of the Flint Theatre scene couldn’t have portrayed this character more completely. Every movement was executed with beautiful precision. Her chilling vocals will leave you vulnerable, and her stunning characterization makes it look effortless.

Then there is the pivotal character of Mother (Carmen Brown). This character is difficult because most of the actions of The Youth are based solely on the dynamic between him and his mother. Brown does this role absolute justice. She is starkly funny in the role, and embodies all the caricatures the script has laid out for her perfectly. Seemingly able to capture all of the tenderness, Brown brings such an authenticity to the role that she may make you cry in this character that so many of us can relate to.

Rounding out the cast is an incredible ensemble consisting of Jonathan Mateen II, JoJo Bee, Re- C, and Lewis Clay. They work together flawlessly to set up the many difficult characters that must transform The Youth into the Narrator. While they were all phenomenal talents, notable scenes first included JoJo Bee, incredible as Mariana, and displaying significant acting prowess. Also, as Desi, Re-C was perfect. Maybe it’s the feminist in me, but the book has written some very powerful female characters, and the actors were up to the challenge. Jonathan Mateen II was especially notable as Frederick, the closeted preacher’s son who led the choir, and Lewis Clay as Christophe. The core was never more entertaining than in their huge ensemble song “We Just Had Sex”. This upended the entire audience at the extremely quaint Local 432 venue in the heart of Flint, Michigan.

If you are impressed by real theatre, and you wish to be moved by some pretty heavy art, get down to the Local 432 this weekend to see this incredible troupe accompanied by a remarkable ensemble of musicians (Anthony Fiemster, Ethan Martin, Tyler Robinson, and Tarrence Smith). The troupe and their band will blow your socks off. Bring tissues, and maybe a chair. Standing room only!

Passing Strange continues this weekend at the Local 432! Warning: The language is strong. There are also strong sexual themes present.








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