McCree Tells the African American Story in Drama and Song

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

The New McCree Theatre has another winner on their hands with the currently running musical Give Me That Old Time old-time-religion784x407Religion. Unfortunately, today is the final day of the run, but if you hurry, you can still catch it twice at 2:00 and 7:00 pm. Written and produced by the group’s executive director, Charles H. Winfrey, the play’s mission – “To tell the African American Story in the African American Voice” – is accomplished with passion and polished style.

Veteran McCree director Cathye Johnson returned from Missouri specifically to direct this production. Her stamp and style is all over this wonderful show as the eleven players sing, move, dance, emote and generally never miss a beat as they bring various characters to life with ease.

Beginning with chorus numbers of “Old Time Religion” and “Go Down, Moses”, the first solo “Wade in the Water” found Sunkaru Clifford Sykes emerging as a stunning character player. He would do more and be more as the show progressed.

Three women and eight men made up the cast and most were onstage throughout as one song followed the next with short transitional conversations linking them to their place in history. “Slavery ended, but the singing never did.” Terrific numbers like “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “Amen” marked the end of one era, the emergence of gospel groups, and what is described as the Gospel Highway.

“People Get Ready” launched the quartet style vocals of Sykes, Charles Brown, Fredrick N. Fife and David Lott who first sang as the Pilgrim Travelers. They demonstrated the acapella style known as Jubilee (harmony without instrumental accompaniment) with their pristine rendition of “Shine On Me”.

Barbara Armstrong held her own with two linked songs by Dorothy Love Coates, “Every Day Will Be Sunday” and “You Can’t Hurry God”. She was supported and often gave the floor to the clear vocals of LaToya Massey and Alverine “Motown” Simpson.

Although only appearing in the second half, Dwayne Towns was well received by the Friday audience with his Johnny Taylor rendition of “The Love of God”.

As the show drew to a close, Terence Grundy brought passion and gusto to “Straight Street” and Fife’s wonderful falsetto-style shined with “Walk Around Heaven”.

Friday night’s audience reacted with enthusiasm and delight as this talented cast, abetted by the casual narration of John Vincent, told the Black history story through the music that defined the progressively evolving cultural genres.

Give Me That Old Time Religion performs twice today at 2:00 and 7:00pm. For tickets and information contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or online at http://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com/that-old-time-religion.html

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FCP Closes Season With a “Leap of Faith”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Flint Community Players winds up their 89th season with this week’s opening of a Leapmusical comedy with a message, Leap of Faith. Based on the 1992 film of the same name, this musical stage version takes an in-depth if slightly disturbing look at the old-fashioned tent revivals. Augmented by song and dance, Alan Menken’s music and Glenn Slater’s lyrics provide some rousing gospel songs as well as a few lovely ballads.

With another play originally scheduled for this spot, Leap of Faith was a last minute replacement. It’s a thought-provoking show with a complicated and interesting cast made up of newcomers and veterans sprinkled liberally about in roles big and small. Still, be aware that, for some, it might be disquieting.

Although used to performing their phony faith-healing revivals in major cities, where large donations flow freely, bogus Christian evangelist Jonas Nightingale (Jason Briggs) and his “choir” find themselves stuck in remote Sweetwater, Kansas. With their fancy Mercedes bus broken down, the troupe decides to stay, take these locals for all they can, fix the bus and scram!

Briggs introduces the action and cast with the enthusiastic mood lifter, “Rise Up!” and is joined with gusto by the choir director Ida Mae (Rolecia Looney) and his sister, Sam (Ava Pietras). Still, we immediately get a strong sense that there is tension in these ranks.

Marla McGowan (Marie Van Horn) arrives to admire the tent and schmooze a bit with Jonas before revealing that she’s the sheriff and he’ll need a costly permit to continue. Her duet, “Fox in the Henhouse”, with Briggs is fun to watch and cleverly sets her character as one to reckon with.

As the story continues, a definite attraction develops between the sheriff and the “preacher” but there’s a glitch that may be difficult to overcome. Marla’s son Jake (Audrey Dupuis) is in a wheelchair and believes Jonas will miraculously cause him to walk again. Dupuis may be the most impressive voice in this show with her clear, crisp delivery of “Like Magic”.

Speaking of musical delivery, this was an ongoing problem in this production Thursday. The offstage live musicians are terrific, but the singers were all wearing microphones set apparently at either “heavy bass” or “ear splitting”. For example, we loved the perkiness and vitality that Pietras brought to her performance, but her songs were problematic. She had no problem with pitch or style, but the mike amplified her voice to the rafters and beyond. This was evident in both “I Can Read You” and even more strident in “Are You on the Bus?”

A voice of reason intrudes as Ida Mae’s son Isaiah (Rafeal McDaniel) arrives to protest his mother’s involvement with the charlatan, Jonas. We loved his “Dancin’ in the Devil’s Shoes” but with his powerful voice, the microphone tended to muffle diction.

McDaniel wasn’t the only one with the diction problem we are blaming on the amplification. Looney was often difficult to understand also. In a heavily sung show, diction is crucial to moving the story along.

We’re not going to tell you where this story of love and corruption ultimately ends, but we will extend kudos to Briggs’ strong performance on “Soliloquy” near the finale, plus applause for Van Horn and Pietras singing the sweet ballad “People Like Us”. Finally, we really must mention the townspeople – best described as a gaggle of theatre veterans and newcomers who add at least a half-gallon of rural spice and gullibility to this “Leap”

Director Delynne M. Miller moves her large cast around with ease even using the aisles and other offstage areas to good advantage, while Musical Director Frank E. Pitts joins a fine ensemble of seven musicians to anchor this show.

Now, should you decide to take a leap yourself, you must head over to the Flint Community Players’ Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. Flint 48507. Leap of Faith continues today and May 12, 18 & 19 at 7:30 pm and May 13 & 20 at 2:30 pm. For more information and tickets call the box office at 810-441-9302 or find them online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

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FYT’s “The Geranium On The Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On” – a Landmark Premiere Musical

Reviewed by Kathleen KirbyGeranium

Does anyone remember those fearful days of elementary school when the teacher seemed to loom over your life, struck fear in your heart over the smallest thing and rejected every reasonable request with a resounding “NO!”?

Well, those days returned Saturday as a full house greeted the opening of Flint Youth Theatre’s amazing musical premiere, The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On. Based on the book by Albert Cullum, FYT’s Artistic Director Michael Lluberes wrote both the script and lyrics in collaboration with Jared M. Dembowski who composed the music. What emerges here is 90 minutes of song, skit, comedy and incredibly special youthful performances.

Several aspects make this special, not the least of which is the fact that all nine of the performers are youngsters in either elementary or middle school, and seven of them are in their first show ever with FYT. They perform 21 songs, one after the other, with no less than eight solos, maybe more. Each song points up a moment in the school day beginning with the transition from carefree summer to September and the return to rules that define “Good Boys and Good Girls”.

With every personality represented, each character is unique. As Bobby, Dalton Hartwell sets the tone with his hysterical “Normal” wherein he details how difficult it is for him to just sit still and write. More issues around writing time emerge from Allie MacDonald as Amy. In a strong and lovely voice she sings about the pressures of being considered the smartest with “In The Very First Seat”. Meanwhile, the blackboard comes intriguingly to life as Aidan Allan Riggs (Nick) sings about penmanship in “ABC’s”.

Reading hour prompts a lovely ballad when Katie (Edith Pendell) sings about “The Sound of the Rain”. She puts the first real focus on the Geranium at the back of the classroom – Adrienne Robinson dressed in bright red, and clearly a living thing even if the teacher doesn’t think so.

As Jacob, Joshua Beauchamp finds himself bored with the assigned reading and makes up a story wherein he is a princess while he sings “Jacob’s Story” with wonderful gusto.

Gaby Bader is adorable with her multiple facial expressions and generally exasperated demeanor. She delivers a satirically delightful moment in math class with “You Talk Funny”. Not to be outdone, Joey Urgino (Matthew) cleverly fights with himself after being relegated to the corner where he examines the science of “Good Me/Bad Me”.

Tests bring pressure, but the worst stress might be not being noticed at all. Yasmine Searcy (Olivia) brings this issue plaintively to light with her sweetly sad rendition of “Invisible”.

Performed in the Elgood Theatre, the audience is on three sides of the action and that proximity affords a singular intimacy that can bring those long ago school days back for adults and will surely resonate at least in part with youngsters today.

Just as a side note, while we don’t believe that all teachers are as grouchy and uninvolved with their students these days, the feelings that can be dredged up by an uncaring person in authority are worth examining.

Lluberes, who also directed this effort, and music director David Lindsey both deserve congratulations for bringing this young and often inexperienced troupe to a remarkable level of performance art. They sing nearly the entire show, plus move set pieces, react to projected teacher silhouettes as if they are real, and respond to each other with terrific timing and concentration. The only issue that bothered us a bit was the volume of the piano accompaniment that too often overcame the non-amplified young voices.

Overall, this production is without a doubt a landmark for Flint Youth Theatre. It is impressive, entertaining, pleasing to look at and listen to and, above all, a real emotionally positive moment in time for nine special young people.

The Geranium On The Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On continues through May 6. For more information and tickets please contact the box office at 810-237-1530 or online at www.theFYT.org

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Fenton Village Players’ “Calendar Girls” is Frisky and Fun

Reviewed by Stephen Visser

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Thursday night Fenton Village Players opened Tim Firth’s classic play Calendar Girls, a story built around a group of women who go the extra mile to raise money to honor the memory of one of their late husbands. The script is incredible leaving room for both laughter and tears many times throughout the night. Director Geno Essenmacher has offered up a charming rendition of this extremely relevant title.

We would like to applaud Fenton Village Players for producing Calendar Girls as part of their Main Stage Season. Many of our local community theatres often find they have to make the difficult choice between producing important theatre and producing well-attended theatre due to financial constraints. This season we are seeing many theatres take risks on important theatre and it’s extremely refreshing. Fenton Village Players has tackled Calendar Girls, Clio Cast and Crew will produce Avenue Q this season, and Flint Community Players continues to build endurance with their Ghostlight Series. Enough on that for now.

Essenmacher has assembled a strong ensemble to take on the powerful characters of this piece. Mary Powers plays the role of Chris Harper, the ambitious organizer, flawlessly. We see Powers’ Harper go through this tumultuous struggle between honoring a fallen friend, and being propelled into the dangers of the spotlight. She handles this struggle organically as she comes to terms with her own motivations. She has fantastic timing and comes off as extremely believable.

Pamela Mordie (Annie Clarke) plays the grieving widow effectively. Mordie’s Clarke must endure many breakdowns throughout the show (the news of her husband’s illness, his death, his memory), and although she generally comes off as authentic, her breakdowns do flirt with caricature at times. Overall, she handles the role well.

Judie Santo (Celia), Maryann Pietrzyk (Cora), Sandra Turner (Jessie) and Patty Bracey (Ruth) comprise the other women of the Women’s Institute Alternative Calendar. These actresses work extremely well with each other and had the entire audience in stitches during the, let’s say, revealing photo shoot scene. Santo captures the fun, golf-club socialite impressively. Her characterization is strong, and timing is impeccable. Pietrzyk’s Cora hilariously leads the cast in several singing experiments throughout the show. Turner’s Jessie is spot-on. I am sure that Turner has never met an audience she couldn’t command. She is starkly funny and could teach lessons on timing. (But most importantly, “No Front Bottoms”!) Finally, Bracey’s elastic facial expressions will impress everyone. A true veteran of the stage, Bracey brings an incredible element of comedy to this production. Together the troupe blossomed.

Also worth noting is Ron Barrett (John Clarke) and his portrayal of the dying husband. Barrett is strong and believable, with many beautiful, tender moments as we see him struggle through his disease. Unfortunately, one of these moments (where he passes away) was marred by the choice to have him just get up and leave after his death scene. We would like to have seen his departure handled a little less abruptly.

Overall, Fenton Village Players’ Calendar Girls is extremely entertaining. It has fun costumes, singing, and bread rolls. Did we mention the bread rolls?  It is definitely worth the trip out to Fenton.

Calendar Girls continues at Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road Fenton, MI 48430, through next weekend. For more info and tickets contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at www.fentontheatre.org

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CCC Brings Sweet Enchantment to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel27972750_10155428918947198_2560779884925816175_n

It was a dreary, rainy Friday the 13th as Clio Cast and Crew opened their production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, once the chilled audience shuffled into the small theater, they were greeted by a colorful lobby strewn with candies and filled with opening night excitement. All of it alluded to the whimsical and sugary treat we would witness once the curtain slid open. Most of us are familiar with either the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl, or even more likely the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder. This production, directed by Stevie Visser, is creative in maintaining the backbone of the story we know and love while splashing in new and interesting aspects, such as steampunk Celtic dubstep dance breaks. More on that later.

The cast is made up of an impressive showing of young talent. Things kick off with a marathon expositional monologue delivered strongly by Sarah Falardeau. We then meet four children, all with their own unique foulness. They are the very hungry lederhosen-clad Augustus Gloop played by Carter Kimes, the television obsessed Mike Teavee played by Alia Dunning, the small yet sassy Veruca Salt played by Jenna Wells, and Violet Beauregarde, gum’s number one fan played with extreme commitment and great timing by Zoe Simmerman. Next we meet the Bucket family led by the innocent and charming Charlie played by Austin Harrington. Golden tickets in hand, they eagerly line up to tour the factory of the legendary confectioner, Willy Wonka. Dawn Sabourin brings appropriate kookiness to this iconic character with a flair of anxious, well timed comedy.

All the while the action between scenes is being broken up with choreography brought to the stage by the large troupe of Oompa Loompas. This ensemble afforded the opportunity for as many as 30 school aged kiddos to polish their stage presence and dance skills even as it added an interesting element to this stage version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was originally without any musical components. These dance breaks (choreographer Terry Holden) also provided an opportunity for costuming and lighting to make a strong showing (Adam Laquinta and Visser).

It did feel as though the show had yet to find its pacing and timing through some stretches of action, but it no doubt will find its legs as the young cast becomes accustomed to the energy of a lively audience.  Friday’s audience even cheered as Charlie declared that he had found his golden ticket, engendering a rush of excitement at being in the midst of strangers celebrating the victory of a fictional boy.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a delightful little show that I highly recommend for families with school-aged children. It continues at Clio Cast & Crew’s Theatre 57, 2220 W Vienna Rd, Clio on April 14, 20 & 21 at 7:30 pm and April 15 & 22 at 2:30 pm. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com/buy-tickets

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Flint Youth Theatre presents a World Premiere Musical – “THE GERANIUM ON THE WINDOWSILL JUST DIED BUT TEACHER YOU WENT RIGHT ON”

GeraniumFlint Youth Theatre – Michigan’s Professional Theatre for Young Audiences presents a world premiere musical – THE GERANIUM ON THE WINDOWSILL JUST DIED BUT TEACHER YOU WENT RIGHT ON – Book and Lyrics by Michael Lluberes, Music by Jared M. Dembowski, based on the book by Albert Cullum. Performances begin Saturday, April 21 and run through Sunday, May 6. Tickets are now on sale.

Based on the best selling book by Albert Cullum (subject of the documentary A Touch of Greatness), this avant-garde musical explores the inner thoughts and feelings of elementary school students as they navigate their way through the trials and tribulations of an ordinary day at school.

The show received a developmental reading at The Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, an ASCAP/Dream Works Musical Theatre Workshop with Stephen Schwartz at DreamWorks Studio in Los Angeles and an ASCAP/Grow A Show Workshop at The Lied Center for the Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The world premiere is directed by FYT Producing Artistic Director, Michael Lluberes (The Boy in the Bathroom), Musical direction by Nada Radakovich and David Lindsey, Scenic Design by Daniel Pinha, Costume Design by Ryan Park, Lighting Design by Chelsie McPhilimy, Sound Design by Gene Oliver and Projections Design by Alison Dobbins.

The all child cast includes: Joshua Beauchamp, Gabrielle Bader, Dalton Hartwell, Allie MacDonald, Edith Pendell, Aidan Riggs, Adrienne Robinson, Yasmine Searcy and Joey Urgino.

Performances are: Saturday, April 21 at 7:00pm, Sunday, April 22 at 2:00pm, Friday, April 27 at 7:00pm, Saturday, April 28 at 2:00pm and 7:00pm, Sunday, April 29 at 2:00pm (ASL Interpreted). Friday May 4 at 7:00pm, Saturday May 5 at 2:00pm and

7:00pm, Sunday May 6 at 2:00pm. Tickets are $18 for Adults, $16 for Seniors, Veterans and Teens, children (12 & under) are $14 and $8 for college students. Tickets may be purchased through The Ticket Center at 1241 E. Kearsley St., Flint, 810.237.7333 or through www.TheFYT.org. Recommended for ages eight and up.

THE GERANIUM ON THE WINDOWSILL JUST DIED BUT TEACHER YOU WENT RIGHT ON is sponsored by Olof Karlstrom, Olivia Maynard and Howard and Rita Shand. The musical was commissioned by Ole Zupetz and Tom Nordyke.

 

 

 

 

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Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbylendmeatenor.ddver_

We needed a good laugh Friday night, and we got more than we bargained for as the UM-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance opened Ken Ludwig’s hilarious farce, Lend Me A Tenor. The house was moderately filled, but we spotted many theatre-loving folk clearly not wanting to miss this classic – nearly vintage – comedy. They were not disappointed!

Set in a Cleveland, Ohio hotel suite in 1934, the action began with the eagerly anticipated arrival of world famous, Tito Merelli (Gage Webster), the greatest tenor of his generation. The Cleveland Grand Opera Company has invited him to appear for one night only as Otello, but he’s late, and general manager Henry Saunders (Josh Cornea) is about to blow a gasket! Taking the brunt of Saunders’ wrath is his long-suffering assistant, Max (Paul Gregor).

The singer finally does appear and through a series of wildly comical mishaps is given at least a double or triple dose of tranquilizers causing him to collapse and be taken for dead. Now what?! Well, Max can take his place of course! Really? Yes! And he does, doing such a magnificent job, so they say, that no one suspects he is not Morelli. Still, you know folks don’t really die in comedies, so Morelli wakes up and dresses to sing and now there are two bearded fellows in tights running around totally confusing the issue!

We could go on, but you really need to see the show and get entangled with the zany web that makes for such a wonderfully funny and yes, intriguing show. Director William Irwin’s cast is uniformly able to carry out the intricate comic timing required to move this script along. Their nearly flawless precision enhances believability and inhales the audience into the action.

Every actor is outstanding, so we really must at least mention them all. Gregor’s Max moves from a shy, not so sure of himself introvert in love with the boss’s daughter to a confident winner by play’s end. As for that daughter, Devon Marinco is adorable as Maggie Saunders as she coyly flirts with Max/Tito.

Webster is perfection with his accent and his Italian bravado as he befriends Max and disappoints his wife, Maria (Andrea Orpinel). His overstated grief when Maria leaves launches him into an episode of epic sorrow compounded by the efforts of Cornea to revive him!

Orpinel is stern-faced and haughty, but truly in charge when necessary. Two other women pop in and out in search of a short audience with the star. First Julia (Hannah Erdman), every inch the wealthy matron, gives it her all to connect with Tito, and later the opera’s diva, Dian (Lindsey Briggs) arrives to garner the star’s critique of her vocal performance opposite him.

As if Cornea wasn’t enough with his short-tempered tantrums, the hotel Bellhop (Jordan Kinney) brings any number of comic interruptions in his desire to sing for Tito.

All in all, this troupe exudes comic timing and slapstick perfection. Their efforts are enhanced by the set with its many entrance and exit doors, all of which slam wonderfully and the detail with which it is designed. Even the slight glance we could see of the bathroom revealed a tiled half wall.

Costumes are also a boost, especially the Otello get- up with its wig, beard, tights, boots and cavalier hat. Indeed, Gregor and Webster were nearly identical in this costume thus increasing the believability of this wacky plot. And they weren’t bad singers either!

Lend Me A Tenor is well worth the trip to UM-Flint. Remember, laughter is the best medicine, and we all can use a healthy dose of that! This show continues March 24-25, 30-31. For more information contact the box office at 810-237-6520 or online at www.umflint.edu/theatredance

 

 

 

 

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