CCC Spices Up the Season With “The Mousetrap”

Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins50013032_10156191462562198_8323074899371360256_n

On this brisk February evening Clio Cast and Crew opened their latest offering, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. This play first opened in London’s West End in 1952 and has been running continuously since.  It is and has been an oft-used community theatre staple.

Let’s get started. The set was magnificent. The English Cottage guesthouse offered many levels, nice color scheme and a lot of exits and entrances. There were no scene changes and few light cues. Costumes were incredible. I’m certainly not an expert on costuming, but they all seemed period and personally correct. (That is they worked for the character so costumed)

The setting, as mentioned above, was an old English Country guesthouse just after WWII. Eight people from different backgrounds and different locales find themselves stranded here by a fierce snowstorm. A murder is committed. An investigation and fun begins. Christie is the master of the red herring, the subtle clue, and the surprise ending. This show has it all.

As with any theatrical production – the key to success lives and dies with the cast. With his usual aplomb, director William Kircher has assembled an excellent ensemble. Everyone shined. Characters were developed and consistency was observed.

The play begins with the entrance of Mollie Ralston, the lady of the manor, as she sets about getting ready for their first batch of travelers. Played nicely by Rebecca Norris, Mollie was tough, resolute and kind. Gracious to her boarders yet not afraid to get her hackles up. Accents were a mixed bag, though all – right or wrong – were consistent. Rebecca’s accent was fine.

Close on her heels was hubby Giles Ralston, her one-year married mate. Played by Jeff Rogner, Giles had the best and purest accent. He was a staid, strong and comforting host and also not afraid to speak his mind. This character tends to anchor the cast and Jeff handled it well.

A crowd favorite – Preston Sannicolas – playing the peculiar Christopher Wren, was sprightly, energetic, disheveled and delightful. My companion for the evening called him “creepily mysterious”.

Hot on his heels was Mrs. Boyle, played by Karen Fenech. Boyle was a widower, traveling around Europe after the war and seemed a lost soul. She was stiff, arrogant and had an air of faux nobility. Though Fenech played this character very well, I had a hard time hearing her voice. The teacher in me suspects her vocals were coming from her throat and not her diaphragm.

The next suspect – er – I mean cast member was Nick Weiss, as Major Metcalf. Weiss had a booming voice (which I suspect was a put on) and played the deprecating consort to Mrs. Boyle. He kept in the background, loved architecture and thoroughly explored the Manor. He was another fine casting choice.

Next up was Miss Casewell played by Pam Beauchamp. She was cold, aloof and of course mysterious. Her accent was indeterminate as befitted the character. Casewell was another audience favorite with her droll observations and stinging bon mots. My one complaint/concern was her face. Was the startlingly white complexion a character choice or bad make-up? Beauchamp’s hands were a healthy pink belying the stark white complexion.

The last guest to arrive, unplanned and with no reservation, was Mr. Paravicini, delightfully played by Bill Vanaman. This character helped to move the narrative along and on several occasions summed up the crisis to date. Vanaman was extremely animated, had a terrific accent and as my seatmate summed up – crazy mysterious. His manner, makeup and backstory made him a tremendous red herring. Or did it??

The last cast member to arrive was Sergeant Trotter played by Shane Wachowicz. Trotter was sent to the manor, on skis as all roads were blocked, to investigate the nearby murder. Wachowicz struts around, interrogating the guests and hosts as he tries to solve the murder and prevent additional mayhem. His accent was off, though I understand he’s been under the weather. Still, he played Trotter to the hilt.

Also noted in the cast was Kevin Proffitt – the radio announcer who kept us abreast of the storm and the murder investigation.

A couple of oddities before I reveal the ending: in the beginning there was no wood in the wood basket although a huge fire was aglow. Also no one had any snow on them, even coming from outside in a fierce blizzard.

And now the big reveal – the killer was ____________________________.   PLEASE, you don’t think this humble reviewer would give away the ending! If you want to see a great show in a swell venue, go see Clio Cast and Crew’s The Mousetrap.

A tried and true theatre classic, it is handled very nicely by William Kircher and company. It continues through this weekend and next – February 16, 22, 23, at 7:30 pm and February 17, 24 at 2:30 pm at Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Rd. Clio. For more information contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com

 

 

 

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The REP Opens 2019 With “The Wolves”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbywolves

The U.S. women’s soccer team has won the highest challenge – the FIFA World Cup – three times, most recently in 2015. Girls and young women across the country are playing soccer in increasing numbers, so Flint Repertory Theatre’s decision to bring Sarah DeLappe’s award-winning first play The Wolves to life is clearly timely. It’s also a look into what drives female players to excel at such levels and how their individuality works for and against them.

Director Kathryn Walsh has done a masterful job with this ensemble of nine gals who are nearly always on stage together and seem to never stop moving. The setting is an indoor soccer field on successive Winter Saturdays. The girls gather to practice and to compete against other teams. There is non-stop chatter as they stretch and warm-up that often leads to conversation that ranges rapidly – Cambodian atrocities, Harry Potter, weekend escapes, the coach’s drinking and of course the latest gossip about whoever isn’t present at the practice.

The ensemble nature of this production is intriguing. It allows for no lead characters – they are all leads. Each has a unique identity – quiet, angry, bubbly, growling, loud, bossy, excitable, chatty, and calmly observant. With all of these differences, they seem to swarm like birds or bees between ideas and beliefs, between moods and finally to collision with a reality they had only touched blithely on before.

Walsh refers to these young women as warriors. Their team name gives them an even more distinctive spot in time and space. They move and speak with strength and their words often collide and spill over one another. They exhibit a desire to win and to excel both in the game and in life. They are at their best when they bow to team spirit – as when one is hurt and another is a newcomer still on the outside looking in. Their ability to accept and forge ahead in the face of loss and adversity is clearly a result of their interconnections with each other. They are a pack; much like wolves.

We won’t single out any players for special attention as they were all pristine in their portrayals. Indeed, this is an unusual situation where a group can toss such a diverse amount of sentiment and personality into a pot and emerge with such bold awareness.

We must mention the unique set design – we were in the “bleachers” at the indoor soccer field – and give credit to the entire technical team that provided just the right lighting and sound to augment the action on the stage.

The Wolves is an amazing first play for DeLappe and a show worth seeing if you have any interest in soccer and young women who play it or many other sports. We will caution that this show is recommended for teens and adults. It contains mature language and explores sensitive topics.

            It continues through February 17. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at FlintRep.org

 

 

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UM-Flint Presents Stunning “My Children! My Africa!”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbymcma

My Children! My Africa! launched the New Year Friday as the University of Michigan-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance presented Athol Fugard’s stunningly moving story about the violence that raged in South Africa in the mid-eighties. It features a mere three players, but the impact of this trio is immense and amazing.

Set in the fall of 1984 in a small town, the setting is the school. Classroom One is how characters refer this venue overseen by a venerable teacher known as Mr. M. In this role Jason Briggs brings strength, kindness, understanding, and an amazing intensity as he strives to reach his students. His character is a tribute to all teachers who deal with strife in the lives of their pupils and go the extra mile to both keep them safe and at the same time infuse a sense of intelligent comprehension that will allow them to be a positive force.

Two students open the play with a clash of beliefs, ideas and tempers as they discuss a debate topic. What is uniquely disquieting about these two is their differences. They are of different races, genders, social backgrounds and schools.

Thami is a student in Mr. M’s classroom. Edward Giovanni Moore III brings an endearing quality to this role. He clearly portrays Thami’s intelligence and love of learning even as his slide toward a darker environment brewing in the town begins. He is also obviously Mr. M’s protégé, a role he enjoys but resents as well.

Isabel is a student from a white, all-girls school. Ava Pietras couldn’t be more different from Thami and yet she manages to ease into the atmosphere of this very different classroom and to actually enjoy the fun and freedom she senses exuding from Mr. M. She and Thami respond enthusiastically to Mr. M’s idea to place them together as a debating team and grow to admire and understand each other as they move toward the contest.

The first act is sweet and enjoyable, even comical at times with the relationships developing so well between these divergent three. But there is a storm brewing outside the classroom and it will eventually take over and destroy most of what could have been.

We must congratulate all three of these performers and their dialect coaches for the marvelous diction and assimilation of the South African speech patterns. Even with this so well in place, we were able to understand and comprehend everything said. This is an especially grand achievement given the long speeches often delivered as each character reminisces and/or explains their life experiences and struggles.

Director Janet Haley’s coordination of this piece is to be congratulated. We were not only struck by the integrity and strength of the players, but the line of sand and rock downstage that allowed a change of venue is very clever. And the sound is masterful with only slight street noises at first that eventually explode into the violence that Mr. M has been trying to keep Thami away from all along.

Based on a true story that the Fugard read in a newspaper during these terrible times, this story doesn’t end as happily as we’d wish. Still, it is a riveting and impeccable production as well as a stirring tribute to all dedicated teaching professionals.

My Children! My Africa! continues today 2:00 pm and February 1 & 2 at 7:30 pm and February 3 at 2:00 pm. For tickets contact online at umflint.edu/theatredance or phone 810-237-1530.

 

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Music and Comedy Kick Off 2019 at FCP

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbyi-love-3_orig

Flint Community Players chose a comedy to salute the new year with their production of the Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Rodgers musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Thursday’s opening found a decent crowd ready to brave the frigid temps for which they were rewarded with songs and laughter in this fast-paced revue.

With a theme centered around dating and relationships, the show unfolds as a series of vignettes that begin in Act I with all the aspects of meeting the right guy or gal and the snags that can surface in that attempt. Act II serves up the whole marriage experience from the wedding to parenthood all the way to life after spouse.

Director Todd Clemons brings a cast of twelve to the stage and mixes them up from bit to bit. It’s cute and it works well. There is a theme of blue that pervades the show as it opens and closes with the cast dressed in various colorful shades. These moments also bring opportunity for full chorus harmony, nicely done and deftly handled.

We won’t speak to every scene (there were a lot), but there were standouts that we don’t mind raving about a bit. Setting the pace and tone from the jump are Christopher Dinnan and Rebecca L. Pauli as they decide on their first date to fast forward through to the end of their relationship all in one meeting. They end with “We Had It All” – clever!

Next we really chuckled as two wallflowers, Gil Hall and Lauren Kondrat, bashfully tried to schmooze with each other while imagining themselves as “A Stud and a Babe”.  And Dinnan and Brienna Hickmott were adorable and funny as they watched a “Tear Jerk” movie he really didn’t want to go to.

The chorus entertained us again at the end of Act I with the musical number “Scared Straight” (into marriage!)

As Act II began we were treated to a hysterical rendition of “Always a Bridesmaid” as Kondrat decides that maybe bridesmaids have it better, aside from the awful dresses!

Parenting bits were cute with “The Baby Song” featuring Alex Weiss, Dinnan and Pauli as their vocabulary with a friend began to sound like nursery school. Very cute! Plus, the car trip was covered pretty accurately as Jason Brownfield and Jessi Jeane Eldredge took the kids for a ride “On the Highway of Love”.

“I Can Live With That” highlighted a sweet and slightly poignant moment as Eldredge and Gene Pincomb II met in a funeral home. Although both had lost a spouse, the idea of taking on a new companion featured nice harmony.

Desmond Sheppard on keyboard and Piaras “Peter” Kent on violin provided amazing musical accompaniment for this show. Where has this combo been?!! They are terrific! We surely hope to see them team up more in the future!

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change continues at FCP January 10, 11, 12, 18, & 19, 2019 at 7:30 pm and January 13 & 20, 2019 at 2:30 pm. Go see it! It’s cute, vocally strong and instrumentally awesome. You can contact the box office for more information and tickets – 810-235-6963 – or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

 

 

 

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ARSENIC & OLD LACE AUDITIONS!

Flint Community Players

January 14 (Monday) January 15 (Tuesday) 7:00pm

Needed: 3 female, 11 male  – ages 20s – 70s

Director: Sam Di Vita • Producer: Rusty Thomas

Wear comfortable clothes! We will start with some improv and then do cold readings from the script. Hate cold readings? Bring a funny monologue instead.

Flint Community Players • 2462 S. Ballenger Hwyflintcommunityplayers.com

The Story

Brooklyn, in the year 1941, two elderly sisters, Abby and Martha Brewster, are perfect examples of charity and kindness. No one would ever suspect them of harboring a dark secret. Their nephew, Mortimer Brewster, has recently become engaged to the girl next door and when he visits his aunts to tell them the happy news, he discovers their hilariously evil secret. The aunts have, out of pure charity and kindness, been poisoning lonely old men with elderberry wine (laced with arsenic) to ease the their suffering! Now, Mortimer must decide what to do with this enormous discovery as his insane brothers, exasperated fiancée, and neighborhood cops loom ever closer to discovering the secret!

Character Descriptions  (all ages approx.)

ABBY BREWSTER is a sweet little old lady who has a habit of poisoning lonely old men — for charitable purposes, of course! She and her sister Martha are a little out of step with the modern day world of 1941, but she knows her manners — and serves a killer batch of elderberry wine. The older of the two sisters. Aunt to Teddy, Mortimer and Jonathan. 60 – 70s.

MARTHA BREWSTER is Abby’s younger sister. She, too believes in charity. She’s very neighborly and regularly takes broth to those who are sick. “She has a real knack for mixing things!” The shier of the two, Martha’s still very proper. She wears a high lace collar to hide an acid burn she’d gotten in her father’s laboratory when she was a girl. Aunt to Teddy, Jonathan, and Mortimer. 60 – 70s

MORTIMER BREWSTER is the nephew of Abby and Martha (and their pride and joy). Despite not liking theater much, he works for a New York newspaper as a drama critic.  Mortimer is a bit of a cynic, but his fiance Elaine doesn’t seem to mind. He is all set to start a new chapter in his life until the rug gets pulled out from under him. 30s

TEDDY BREWSTER  is Mortimer and Jonathan’s brother. He lives with his aunts in their Victorian mansion and is convinced that he is President Teddy Roosevelt. When he’s not charging up San Juan Hill, he’s burying yellow fever victims in the Panama Canal. A very fun role. 30s – 40s.

JONATHON BREWSTER is Mortimer and Teddy’s creepy brother. The family haven’t seen him in years and barely recognize him when they do see him, thanks to Dr. Einstein’s handiwork. Jonathan’s latest face resembles Boris Karlof – a fact that makes him very angry. Of course he wouldn’t need plastic surgery if he didn’t go around killing people. 30s – 40s.

EINSTEIN is a German plastic surgeon, with the accent to prove it. Right hand to Jonathan, Dr. Einstein is mousey and submissive. He should be viewed as a good guy whose life has gone bad. He has a somewhat scruffy appearance due to the fact that he’s usually under the influence of alcohol. 40s – 50s.

ELAINE HARPER is the daughter of Rev. Dr. Harper, and Mortimer’s fiance. She is surprisingly wise in the ways of the world for a minister’s daughter. We witness Elaine run a gambit of emotions — from lovesickness to stark terror then back again. 20s – 30s

THE REV. DR. HARPER is Elaine Harper’s father. The Brewster sisters have seen many ministers come and go over the years, but they seem to be particularly fond of Dr. Harper and vise versa. Dr. Harper displays a sense of polish, refinement, and mild mannered sensitivity towards others. He is not in favor of Mortimer and Elaine’s relationship. Small role 50s to 70s.

OFFICER BROPHY is the first police officer we meet in the show, Brophy is a thoroughly likable sort of fellow and is making his rounds collecting Christmas toys for the needy. 20s – 50s

OFFICER KLEIN is a flatfoot Brooklyn police officer who makes his rounds with Officer Brophy collecting Christmas toys. 20s – 50s

OFFICER O’HARA is the quintessential example of an Irish-American police officer: Full of life, good natured and played big, O’Hara is a would-be playwright, and, once he discovers that Mortimer is a famous dramatic critic, he decides to tell him his plot.  20s – 40s

GIBBS is an elderly gentleman who wishes to rent a room from the Brewster sisters. He is a little gruff, but he warms up fairly quickly upon being offered a treat he hasn’t had since he was a child. Small role 50s – 80s.

LIEUTENANT ROONEY is the man in charge at the local police precinct. He has very little patience for blunder and mistakes. He is loud, decisive, and clearly in-charge. 40s – 60s

WITHERSPOON is the superintendent of Happy Dale Sanitarium. Very mild mannered and kind. Small role 40s – 60s.

 

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Deep Thoughts Provoked by “The Little Prince”

PrinceReviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel

Flint Repertory Theatre opened what may become a new holiday classic Friday with their young audiences production of The Little Prince. This magical tale first came to life as a 1943 French novella by poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery, where in its original language it is known as Le Petit Prince. It is a fantastical story of a boy that finds himself stranded on Earth in the Sahara with an aviator and separated from his most beloved flower. He encounters an array of creatures that provoke many deep thoughts within the little prince and in turn, the audience.

This work was adapted for the stage by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar with striking ease and charm. The original work, though a narrative, is marbled with beautiful poetic phrasing and imagery, and this production found immense success in every element of design and performance by keeping things positively radiant in its grounded and fluid simplicity.

The cast was made up of an ensemble of just four talented individuals, two of whom played multiple characters. Dalton Hartwell, a fifth grader hailing from Davison, leads the cast as the titular character with lovely innocence and earnest compassion. Brandon A. Wright plays the aviator, serendipitous companion to the little prince. Wright plays this part heart first and endeared Friday’s audience into listening very closely to his powerful and understated words. Josh Popa (Fox and Men on Planets) and Emily Hart-Lopez (Rose and Snake) round out the cast in physically demanding roles executed with precision and grace. Both move exquisitely about the stage in several different styles. Hart-Lopez captivates as The Rose, and Popa enchants us as The Fox. A highlight of the production for me was the silent, not-quite-a-dance, performed between The Prince and The Fox as they get to know each other and become “tame”.

As stated before, the design elements were kept simple and crisp but also warm and exciting. The set, designed by Andrew Licout, is a mostly empty stage, which leaves a lot of depth for performers to play with spatial relationships, but when the large scrim that had been used for shadow-play throughout the show is lifted at the end to reveal “the universe”, the sense of magic is palpable. Alexander Ridgers’ lighting is dramatic and sharp, and Tom Whalen’s sound design creates a subtle and gripping pulse to the scene work. Costumes are designed with Adam Dill’s signature touch of whimsy.

The subject matter may seem a little deep and at times heavy for children, but I absolutely do not feel it is too much for them to digest. To hear poetic language, follow a narrative, and ask questions if they want or need to is the very reason to expose young people to the arts. This story explores not simply what it means to love, but to completely love something.

The use and care of such details as tempo and shape elevated this production to the next level. Director Alex Bodine, along with the entire team, was able to craft a professional show that Flint is lucky to have upon its stages.

The Little Prince is playing at The Flint Repertory Theatre on the Bower stage this weekend and next and is simply not to be missed! A perfect outing for a young family or as a date night, it can be appreciated by all ages and even though it is not a holiday themed story, it will warm your heart just as well as any Christmas Carol.

Catch The Little Prince December 15th-23rd (2:00 pm matinees Saturday and Sundays, 7:00 pm shows Friday’s and Saturday’s). Tickets can be purchased at flintrep.org or at The Whiting Ticket Center 810-237-7333

 

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Flint Repertory Theatre’s “Assassins” Hits the Mark

Reviewed by Stevie VisserAssassins

It was an extremely exciting night at the Flint Repertory Theatre Friday as many anxious faces anticipated the opening of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Tony Award-winning musical Assassins. As the first Signature Series performance of their inaugural season, Sondheim’s thought-provoking musical, staged in Flint Repertory Theatre’s Elgood Theatre, perfectly captured the intimacy required for such a heavy piece.

While we waited for the performance to begin, we listened to many people fawning over the intricacies of the set and lighting. After all, Shane Cinal’s scenic design and Chelsie McPhilimy’s lighting design was absolutely breathtaking. I’m not sure if it was the incredible hand-painted backdrop that lined the back of the stage, or the hand-crafted letters that exclaimed “Shoot the Prez” all individually lit and exuding a burlesque-grade spectacle. Perhaps it was the backlit antique-paper quality portraits of past Presidents with bulls eyes on their temples. It must have been a little bit of everything.

Director Michael Lluberes has assembled an incredible ensemble cast to tackle this extremely ambitious piece. The actors worked extremely well together, and it was evident that they did not take the task of bringing these Assassins to life lightly. Lluberes should be commended on his sensational cast of scary little freak killers.

Chris French (AEA) played the role of John Wilkes Booth. His perfectly crafted accent coupled with his beautiful singing voice and villainous demeanor brought this character to life. Every movement and every facial expression was so intentional. We really enjoyed his performance. The formidable Jason Briggs portrayed Charles Guiteau flawlessly. His characterization of the legendary psychopath was incredible. His fiery eyes and exaggerated physical movements were the perfect recipe for portraying this character who suffered from grandiosity. The tonality of Briggs’ beautiful voice coupled with his impressive acting chops complimented each other very well.

While every member of this company played their roles impressively, the female characters were especially impressive. Let’s begin with Beth Guest (AEA) as Sara Jane Moore. Guest was absolutely tremendous in this role. Sometimes it’s so difficult to access these ordinary human characters, and yet she does it in such a wholesome way. Her timing is impeccable, and her “Charlie” scene with Mary Paige Rieffel nearly brought down the entire house. Speaking of impressive women, Rieffel’s portrayal of Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme is some pretty scary stuff. Her Fromme is dark, stunningly beautiful and absolutely terrifying. If Rieffel’s inspiring scene work doesn’t catch your attention, her gorgeous singing voice will leave you weeping. Her performance was among one of our favorites throughout the night.

Paul Nelson portrayed the role of the proprietor with much precision. We appreciated every single movement and every single choice. Nelson is after all a showboat. He commands the stage in a powerful way and brought such an incredible authenticity to the role.

Now, I am a sucker for a beautiful tenor voice, especially when matched with powerful presence on stage. So if anyone caught my attention it was Scott Anthony Joy (AEA). He had a beautiful voice. When he first opened his mouth in “The Ballad of Booth”, there was a noticeable aura in the room of complete respect for this amazing vocalist. And of course he transitioned well from the Balladeer to his portrayal of Lee Harvey Oswald. Very well done. Mark Gmazel, Michael Pacholski, Alexander Trice and Zachary Wood rounded out this cast all providing tremendous vocals, and very well crafted scene work.

Congratulations to Director Michael Lluberes and Music Director Frank Pitts III on an impressive opening at the Flint Repertory Theatre. If you enjoy heavy theatre that makes you think and ask questions, we highly recommend this incredible piece of art right in the heart of Flint.

Assassins continues through November 18th at the Flint Repertory Theatre’s Elgood Theatre. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-1530/810-237-7333 or online at www.flintrep.org

 

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