“Memphis the Musical” Coming to McCree Theatre

The New McCree Theatre presents Memphis the Musical October 3rd – October 19th. This play is about a white radio DJ who wants to change the world and a black club singer who is ready for her big break. Experience this incredible journey filled with soaring emotions! Tickets are available at McCree Theatre’s new location –  G-2138 West Carpenter Road inside Flint Jr. High School (Northwestern Campus). All tickets are only $5.00. To reserve tickets call 810-787-2200.

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Flint Repertory Theatre Brings Hope and Marigolds To Life

season_2Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

We have to believe that it took some gumption to decide to bring The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds to the stage in this day and age. Still, to their everlasting credit, Flint Repertory Theatre (REP) launched this emotionally charged story Friday with a cast and crew of professional and well-seasoned individuals who hurled this tale at the audience with all its pain, desperation, and abuse, and yet ultimately managed to infuse a semblance of hope.

Playwright Paul Zindel’s Pulitzer Prize winning play debuted in the early sixties but gained popularity in the seventies. The set speaks volumes about the family residing there. Lauren Nigri’s design took us into an aging wooden structure with newspaper covering the windows, faded paint, dilapidated furnishings and volumes of clutter strewn everywhere.

This is the home wherein Beatrice Hunsdorfer (Janet Haley) has resided most of her life, leaving only very occasionally, and where her father once operated a vegetable store. Her husband left years ago causing her to distrust men and to stridently miss her late father. Her hostility often overflows onto her two girls, Tillie and Ruth, in pointed and cruel outbursts. Haley creates an incredible characterization as she takes Beatrice through a maze of emotions ranging from angst over her state in life to pure evil as she strikes back at the world through her children.

Arising out of this disorder, Beatrice’s youngest, Tillie (Ava Katharine Pietras), is framed in a spotlight to speak to the cosmos about her belief in a future filled with promise through science. She becomes a sort of narrator for good, for hope and for dreams. Pietras portrays this youngster with a sweetness and innocence backed up by understanding and a willingness to forgive. She offers hope and resilience where not much abounds.

Ruth (Claire Jolliffe) is Tillie’s older sister. She is an anxious girl under a lot of stress both at home and at school. She is prone to seizures brought on by worry about not fitting in and about being embarrassed at school by her younger sister who is something of an outcast there. Ruth seems destined to become much like her mother with her constant need to fit in and her quirky connection to Beatrice. She snaps insults, whines when denied and even smokes with her mother.

Madelyn Porter plays the boarder, Nanny, who was dropped off at Beatrice’s house for her to care for. Nearly blind, she shuffles about with a walker. With never a line to speak, Porter exudes the helplessness of this character along with a delight at simple things. She evokes a bit of wry humor from Beatrice, which is a side of her we rarely see with her children.

Zindel seems to have taken much of the insight here from his own life experience with his absent father, his bitter mother, and her experience as a private duty nurse.

Congratulations to director Kathryn Walsh. Her ability to bring this emotionally deep story to life was incredible. She also managed the thrust stage confines well making the central staircase quite interesting as it positioned players up, down and on its various levels.

Friday night’s audience seemed transfixed by the play, by the close quarters afforded in the Elgood space, and by the astonishing portrayals that unfolded before them. There is smoking onstage but it’s not offensive and seems vented well. This is a heavy story – but it offers an insight into the negative impact life can have on some while others grow strong instead. Overall, it is a play about triumph, about hope, and about the ability to see past what IS to what ultimately can BE.

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds continues at Flint Repertory Theatre through September 22. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at www.FlintRep.org

 

 

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FCP Opens 91st Season With Rollicking Production of “Mamma Mia!”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Drawn possibly by the music of ABBA, or maybe the brand new comfy seats, or just because it was the popular musical Mamma Mia!, a sold untitled-design_origout house greeted the debut of Flint Community Players’ 91st season Thursday night! And they were not disappointed as this amazing troupe presented a polished, well-organized and totally energetic tale of love, old and new, lost and found.

The plot is pretty simple. Set on a Greek island, young, engaged Sophie (Amber Woollcott) has read her mother, Donna’s (Rebekah Emmerling) diary and discovered that one of three men may be her father – Bill Austin (Steve Harris), Harry Bright (Graham Parker) or Sam Carmichael (Don Brewer). Sophie invites all three to her wedding at her mother’s taverna and hopes she will know immediately which of them is her father.

Woollcott sets the tone with a vocal power that is stunning. We looked forward to her singing all night! Still, she is joined by a company of incredible vocalists who clearly enjoy what they’re doing whether on or off the stage, because when only two or three are on stage singing, the whole chorus sings backup from offstage with their voices augmented by microphones.

Adding to this, the orchestra is handled incredibly well with music director Rafael McDaniel’s musicians (William Mintline, Warren Lissner, David Boze and Russ Sauter) located out of sight but also amplified by microphone allowing their sound to blend perfectly with vocals.

Interestingly, all three “dads” show up at the same time and the tests begin to see who will walk Sophie down the aisle. We can give kudos to all three of these fellows as each has a unique quality about them and a comic reaction to their situation. We won’t reveal the changes that have come about in the 20 years since they’ve been to this place, but they make for some funny moments. Their rendition of “Mamma Mia!” with Emmerling and the rest of the company is a show-stopper!

Sophie’s friends, Ali (Reagan Shook) and Lisa (Audrey Dupuis) sing “Honey, Honey” thus paving the way for Donna’s two long lost cronies, Tanya (Kristie Brahce) and Rosie (Lelia Miller). These three reminisce about their long ago singing gig with a rendition of “Dancing Queen” that is terrific. While Emmerling’s Donna is strong and independent, her two long-lost friends bring a sense of comedy that is welcome and even somewhat startling at times.

Choreography for a troupe of 25+ is no small undertaking. Rebekah Brewer has produced an accomplished, strong and energetic dance component for this musically dense production.

Director Delynne M. Miller brings a level of expertise to this production that we haven’t seen here in a while. Her cast is talented and vocally adept, and they move about the area with ease and clearly organized direction. Her set design leaves lots of room to move this large cast about without seeming cavernous when only a few remain. Sets are seamlessly switched by cast members with nary a glitch.

Often a problem, sound was handled perfectly Thursday, and diction was never a problem as vocals and music were synchronized very well.

We loved this show. It introduced a rich new group of performers who mesh beautifully and blend well vocally. Okay, the story seems to be written to accommodate the songs of ABBA, but for the most part, it works! Highlights Thursday included “Gimme, Gimme Gimmie”, “Voulez Vous” and, of course, the clever encore medley that recapped the best of the show’s numbers.

Tickets are going fast and some performances are sold out, so call soon if you want to take advantage of this amazing, fun, and very well done production. Mamma Mia! continues thru September 22. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at flintcommunityplayers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flint Theatre Guild Hits Pinnacle With “Painting Churches”

64260502_1204116353089971_7021913075284443136_nReviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Well, we have to admit that the newest kid on the block, The Flint Theatre Guild, hit their pinnacle Thursday evening. They did it with their smashing production of Tina Howe’s Painting Churches, a comical and touching story about family, the issues of aging and the changes that can occur.

Fanny and Gardner Churches, here played impeccably by Kay and Michael Kelly, are preparing to move from their cherished Beacon Street home. They have long been among Boston’s elite residents with Gardner a prize-winning poet in league with Robert Frost and the like. Now, with Gardner’s memory slipping and his income disappearing, they are selling the house to move to a tiny cottage.

In contrast, their daughter Margaret (Mags), played with astonishing depth by Katie Young, arrives with news of her upcoming gallery display. Mags is an artist and her career is just taking off which presents an interesting juxtaposition to what her parents are facing. And while her parents believe she has come to help them move, she explains she mostly wants to paint their portrait.

Director Shelly L. Hoffman had a boatload of talent to work with here and still managed to infuse intriguing elements of staging and tech. The set is a beautiful Boston townhouse under attack as boxes stack up and pictures come down leaving their marks on the Wedgewood blue walls. A moment of mother/daughter cohesion centered on a lamp crafted by Fanny showcasing the Venice Grand Canal with light showing through the windows. It’s one of the only times the two found common ground.

In his obvious decline, Gardner is still an imposing figure right up to the end. He spouts poetry from memory and his character’s slip into dotage is comically expressed with facial quirks and expressions as well as his penchant for piling on clothing to keep it from being packed away.

Both the Churches are generally dismayed at their situation, but Mags is both shocked and angered by her mother’s treatment of her father. This sets up a first act wherein Gardner is viewed kindly and Fanny is seen as uncaring. Act 2 hits a reset button with the depth of Fanny’s love as well as the enormity of her burden emerging.

Mags does ultimately paint the portrait. It emerges from a wealth of interaction with these two people she hasn’t seen in a year and who she thought raised her without appreciating her talent. Her anguished description of her crayon sculpture is intense and clearly drawn. Still, her switch from anger to deepening sorrow over the state of her parents’ life is a highpoint of the story.

With all of that said, the ending of this show is a climax to cherish. All of the love that was tossed about and the anger that had emerged now dissolved as this family drama brought many to tears. It is so worth the effort. Don’t miss it.

Painting Churches continues at the University of Michigan-Flint Black Box August 9, 10, 16, 17 and 18. Tickets are available online at FlintTheatreGuild.Eventbrite.com

 

 

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“A Bright New Boise” Shines at Flint Theatre Guild

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel                                                         A Bright New Boise.jpg

In it’s inaugural season, The Flint Theatre Guild has taken on some great new work to showcase in the Flint area. A Bright New Boise, by Samuel D. Hunter, first debuted in New York City in 2010. It is a harsh and riveting look into the break room of a Hobby Lobby craft store set in the present.

In this fairly normal break room space of a retail store, we get a small slice of a larger drama unfolding around the main character, Will (Jesse Glenn). This kind of show is difficult to inclusively review because the plot unfolds so deliciously that as each secret is uncovered it becomes a moment of excitement for the viewer. But, let me try!

Will is a quiet, religious man who gives the impression that he would never want to ruffle any feathers. However, this  proves not to be the case as he disrupts the already dysfunctional inner workings of this retail hell hole by revealing his shocking connection to a teenage employee, Alex (Nathan Schwartz). Glenn and Schwartz play in wonderful opposition to one another, and both actors ramp up to their character’s climax in effortless unison. Glenn is an expert at calm and effective acting and really earns his character’s big moments.

The remaining three characters orbit around the main plot while pulling spectacular performances individually. Sarah E. Jarret plays Pauline, a hard ass manager who has succeeded in bearing down and surviving this soul-sucking career by doing what she has to and keeping it together. Jarret’s dry yet sharp comedic timing really adds interest to an already compelling story. Steven Sherman plays Leroy, the out of place, very intense and aggressive, overqualified artist and protective older brother to Alex. It feels as though Sherman was really able to dig into this role and to commit wonderfully to the posturing of what is at the core of such an intense character. Felicia Hall is positively charming in her portrayal of Anna, a quirky (understatement!) fellow Hobby Lobby employee. Hall is consistently and sincerely engaged in the world of the play and is a joy to watch.

There was an overall sense that the cast knew they had a winner on their hands with this production. Under the direction of Tomoko Miller, they were able to put together an extremely strong show. With a single location and Glenn’s simple yet crisp set design, the actors were allowed to shine as brightly as they are. It was apparent that the audience truly was there to ride the wave of this script’s energy, and it was most refreshing to see a new work and see it done well.

This show is not to be missed regardless of whether you are a casual or serious fan of the theatre. Let’s make going to the theatre in downtown Flint something anyone can think to do on the weekend and diversify the options of fun things to do in our area.

A Bright New Boise plays this weekend only – July 26th at 8 pm, 27th at 7 pm and 28th at 3 pm. (Please note the variations in curtain times) It is being performed inside the BlackBox Theatre at the University of Michigan-Flint. Tickets for all Flint Theatre Guild shows are available online at FlintTheatreGuild.Eventbrite.com.

 

 

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FVP Features Gershwin Classic Musical – “Crazy For You”

Reviewed by Bethany Lesliecrazy-for-you

Whenever someone mentions the names of George and Ira Gershwin, there is a nostalgic connection to the early sounds of America. From George’s classical pieces of “Rhapsody in Blue” to the two of them writing An American In Paris and so many songs, like “I Got Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”, the Gershwins are a staple in music history. In 1992, Ken Ludwig paired up with the Gershwin estate and Mike Ockrent to create a new musical that would echo elements of the previous 1930s Girl Crazy musical. This Tony Award-winning show for best musical became Crazy for You, the show currently playing at the Fenton Village Players.

This romantic comedy centers around Bobby Child (Dante Justice), a want-to-be dancer. Finding it quite hard to impress Bela Zangler (Donovan Leary), the owner of Zangler Follies, Bobby instead leaves New York and his day job when his mother calls him, as heir to the family bank, to foreclose on a failing theatre in Deadrock, Nevada. While there, he meets Polly Baker (Kendall Niestroy), postmistress and the only female in Deadrock, who also happens to be the daughter of the theatre’s owner. What follows next is an entertaining mix of mistaken identities, changes in love interests, humorous puns, the crossing of cultures, and of course, singing and dancing.

Fenton Village Players’ challenged themselves with this extensive musical consisting of twenty-five cast members and an eight-member orchestra. With the limited playing space, director Mary Collins and her production team came up with creative and unique ways to communicate the story. These included project location titles and the use of curtains and furniture set changes. They also worked to have the orchestra piped into the sound system since there was no room for the musicians themselves. At first, this canned-like balance, especially of extreme high and low tones, was hard on the ears. However, as the production went on, the sound quality improved, and we came to realize just how good the orchestra was!

A highlight of this particular production was the ensemble. From the choice to have an inclusive cast to the wonderful energy each showgirl and cowboy gave, it was a delight to see how this group worked together as a whole.

On the flip side of this was Choreographer Karen Whittaker’s choice to repeat elements of Susan Stroman’s Tony award-winning moves. Though, for particular moments, it is understandable and hard to stray away from the iconic steps such as basses made from strings and showgirls. But most of the time, the original choreography elements did not work for this production. Chalk it up to the small stage or various dancing levels, but the preference would have been to see Whittaker create a brand new take on all the pieces not just a few.

Moving on to Justice and Niestroy, it was their singing that was the strongest. At times, Niestroy’s voice had the tonality of the original Broadway Polly, Jodi Benson. Though not strong dancers, they found some beautiful acting chemistry together, notably during “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” However, it was scene-stealers Sam Di Vita as Lottie Child, and Leary as Bela Zangler that stood out among the named characters. One just cannot help smiling, and laughing with Zangler in the song “What Causes That?”

For a community playhouse to tackle this size of a show, the audience responded well with a standing ovation. Audience members walked out happy to have had this walk down musical memory lane while also enjoying a new storyline. Many of them left with a song in their heart and a skip in their stride or at least an appreciation for all the hard work.

Crazy for You continues at Fenton Village Players,14197 Torrey Road, Fenton, 48430 through July 28th. For more information or to purchase tickets call 810-750-7700 or go online to www.fentontheatre.org .

 

 

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A Full House Greets The Flint Theatre Guild’s Inaugural Production

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

images

A bright new light hit Flint’s theatre scene Thursday evening, and we were privileged to attend the inaugural performance. Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound opened this first season for The Flint Theatre Guild with a full house in the University of Michigan’s intimate Black Box stage. The play is funny, convoluted, exciting and even slightly puzzling when it comes to defining whodunit!

Set in London, it all begins with two theatre critics taking their seats to watch a new mystery play. They seem to have already decided what their review will say even before seeing a moment of the show. Moon (Jason Garza) is filling in for the usual critic and is understandably a bit unsure or nervous in the company of Birdboot (Christopher Dinnan), a seasoned and well-known rival critic. Much of the verbal comedy in this piece evolves from these two as they discuss the show and their own antics relative to the job.

With the play set in the drawing room of Muldoon Manor, a country house far removed from any town, the show begins with Mrs. Drudge, the Help (Marie L. VanHorn) appearing, feather duster in hand, to tidy up. She turns on the radio and hears that there is a murderer on the loose nearby. (The dead body on the floor, which she apparently doesn’t see, could certainly attest to that!) VanHorn is a hoot as she adopts a limp wrist and a slightly domineering posture to play this role. It works well!

Soon a stranger enters and introduces himself as Simon, a friend of Lady Muldoon. George Marzonie is dapper, well dressed and sporty as he balances the affection of both Lady Muldoon (Ella J. McAndrew) and her young friend, Felicity (Samantha Tadajewski). Two women romanced by the same man cannot end well.

McAndrew brings a sense of entitlement to her role even as she laments the disappearance long ago of her husband, and Tadajewski is sweet but also tart as she takes offense at Simon’s sudden decision to drop her and move to her friend. Simon’s role here is slightly confusing. Is he the crazed murderer?

Finally the group is gathered to play a round of cards. They are joined by Magnus (Brian Haggard), a wheelchair-bound, obviously disguised, older fellow who claims to be related to Lady Muldoon’s missing husband.

Later, during a second card game, they hear a howl in the wind signaling the arrival of Inspector Hound (Philip Kautz). He enters dressed for the weather complete with foghorn and boots that he takes off immediately. And finally, it is he who quite literally stumbles upon the dead body on the floor. Odd, but no one noticed it before.

Now the play becomes really complex. We won’t go into all of it – it’s better if you see it for yourself. Suffice it to say that the two critics, Moon and Birdboot, delve much further into the play than they had planned; even to finding the identity of the “body” is someone they both know well! They are hilarious as they are inadvertently immersed into the “reality” of the play. We’re not going to tell you who the ultimate culprit is either – don’t want to spoil the pudding, you know!

Tech crews handle the lights, sound (the phone rings a lot!), very well. Also, the design crew has masterfully made this tiny stage look spacious if only slightly grand. The large paintings of the Muldoons are splendid and definitely keepers!

We do want to offer Director Shelly L. Hoffman a bushel of congratulations on this show and also her incredible accomplishment that is this troupe! We look forward to the rest of the season this summer and to many more entertaining Guild evenings in the future!

The Real Inspector Hound has a short run, so hurry to UM-Flint’s Black Box tonight, Saturday or Sunday (July 12, 13, 14). Get tickets online at FlintTheatreGuild.Eventbrite.com

 

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