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


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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“Beauty and the Beast” Enchants Families

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel

Summer has just begun and with it the fun of summer time productions. What better show to shake off the dreariness of the rain filled past few months than Disney’s Beauty and the Beast produced by Spark Theatre Company.

Disney’s version of this 1740 French fairy tale was first made into an animated movie in 1991, the first animated movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture at The Academy Awards. The fantastic score by the iconic team consisting of Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and Howard Ashman also won the Oscar for best score, making the film’s jump to Broadway an immediate and natural success in 1994. It has since remained one of the most popular Disney franchises, being made into a live action film in 2017 starring Emma Watson as Belle.

Before I dig into the performance at hand, I must say that this company’s signature pre-curtain tradition, a nod to its namesake, is a very nice touch. If you haven’t seen one of their shows, go to one and see what I mean!

With a wide range of fun and endearing characters paired with near perfect musical theatre storytelling, it is no wonder that Beauty and the Beast has become a staple of high school and community theatre programs. The show begins with an ominous narration that lays down all the exposition. Instead of having actors act out the narration, this production utilized a large screen with quite lovely original animation by Alysia Mentula. Her work can also be seen on the sharp looking programs and posters around town.

This large cast consisted of a wonderful mix of ages and choruses, as it were. There is everything from a quartet of “Silly Girls” (Starla Clark, Andrea Gates, Shannon Montgomery, Audreanna Symon), who brought a dose of welcome energy to the village, to a herd of adorable sheep (played by a cast of small children at the top of the show). Kat Kaza as Belle and Aaron Furman as The Beast demonstrated a great range of dance and vocal abilities in their leading roles. The absolute standout performances of this show go to Amber Taylor as Lumiere and Tessa Watson as Cogsworth; dialect, posturing, stage presence, chemistry, all tens across the board from me to these two ladies. Great work!

With such a deep and large stage to fill, the set designs for different scenes varied greatly. The lighting and set design for scenes within the enchanted castle were certainly satisfying. A selection of costumes were really wonderful, especially Mrs. Potts (Ann Oravetz), a lovely rotund and decorative teapot. Oravetz also did a solid performance of the titular song during the memorable ballroom dance.

With such a large space and large cast and the use of musical tracks as opposed to a live pit, timing and sound levels were unfortunately off at times. As an actor who has had to perform with canned music, I understand what a challenge it is to work with, but it is often a matter of necessity to use. If there is any way more sound could be pumped out to the house without causing feedback, the audience and the performers might feel more at ease and surrounded by the music.

I remember fondly the summers I spent performing in shows like this one, and to know that kids, of all ages, are getting to have that kind of fun on stage is pretty neat and certainly makes for an entertaining show.

Beauty and the Beast by Spark Theatre Company is being performed at the Swartz Creek Performing Arts Center this weekend only. It is 100% perfect for families, especially ones with little princesses or Disney fans!

You can purchase tickets online (https://www.ticketpeak.com/Findyourtix) or at the door.


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Owosso Community Players Present Riveting Production of “Cabaret”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbycabaret

There is a sort of mystically sinister spell that seems to reside in the depths of the musical Cabaret. We’ve seen this show numerous times over the years, and it always sparks a sense of foreboding. We saw it again Friday evening and this time, in our current world climate, this vintage musical hit spectacularly close to home.

When first performed in 1966, it was a complete departure from traditional musicals. Written by Joe Masteroff with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret harks back to Berlin, Germany around 1930 just as the Third Reich was creeping to power. The horror of what was happening as the Nazis began to infiltrate was masked for a while by music and merriment.

Owosso Community Players (OCP) transformed their Lebowsky Center Theatre space into the Kit Kat Klub thus enticing the audience into participation with the action. As director Garrett Bradley explains, to transport his audience back to 1930 Berlin they have built stairs and platforms that enlarge the stage and move it forward into the house. They have even built spaces for audience members to sit at cabaret tables within the Klub onstage. All of this effort adds immeasurably to the total effect.

Setting the tone was the slimy and insidiously provocative Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub played flawlessly by Adam Woolsey. Sleazy, sexy, even demonic, Woolsey’s baby face belied the torment this asexual, symbolic character endured. Representing the rampant oppression of the time, he was a clear metaphor for both sides. He was everywhere; dancing in the chorus, a piece of “furniture”, or looming over the scene from the second story bandstand. His final symbolism provided a shocking climax.

As Sally Bowles, headliner at the Kit Kat Klub, Megan Mitchell brought truth and a dark sincerity to this role of an English girl caught up in a political climate she neither cares about or understands. Her rendition of the title song was an emotional highpoint sung not in triumph but as an anthem of despair.

Sam Sommer brought innocence and truth to the role of the American writer Clifford Bradshaw. Confused about his place in this climate, he is also unclear about his sexual identity as he falls in love with Sally while having an affair with a boy from the Kit Kat. Still, Sommer is emotionally steady throughout.

There is a subplot at work that stands to foreshadow the strife on the horizon. Anna Owens and Bill Henson handle two strong performances here with care and compassion. As Fraulein Schneider, Owens is the landlady of Clifford’s rooming house. Her growing friendship with the local fruit seller, Herr Schultz (Henson) is sweet to watch. It will come to a sad end as the Nazis grow in power.

The Kit Kat Klub boys and girls are amazing to watch as they dance and pose often as backup to Woolsey. Spinning through many costume changes, this large troupe is scattered onstage and up and down the staircases throughout the show.

The orchestra is located on the second level of the stage and partially out of sight. Conducted by musical director Carl Knipe, this large ensemble provided impeccable accompaniment to this talented and vocally sound cast.

Actually, we were seriously impressed by the expertise not only in performance, but also in lighting, costumes, sound, scene design and set manipulation. Actors were found performing up and down levels both onstage and just outside the proscenium with not one technical glitch.

This was a totally riveting production as it moved with powerful precision to recreate this historically unnerving time. Friday night’s audience reacted appropriately with a stunned silence at play’s end for a few seconds before the applause began.

We highly recommend you get out to Owosso this weekend or next before this one goes away! Cabaret continues at the Lebowsky Center Theater, 122 E. Main Street, Owosso, MI 48867 June 15, 16, 21, 22, and 23. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 989.723.4003 or online at www.owossoplayers.com








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Flint REP Celebrates Its World Premiere of Wally Pleasant’s “Songs About Stuff”

Reviewed by Stephen Visser   1547565851424_songs

Last night, we had the privilege of attending The Flint REP ‘s dynamic, World Premiere opening of Songs About Stuff, based on the music of Wally Pleas ant (a Michigan native). Conceived by Michael Lluberes; this one of kind theatrical event will leave you in stitches. No, really. It’s dangerous. There was a healthy amount of choking. And Friday night’s quaint, but receptive audience was here for all of it.

As befits a show about love, life, and all the weird stuff that happens along the way, Lluberes has created the perfect atmosphere for his wildly talented troupe of four to awaken the audience with short vignettes about the “moshpit of life”. Shane Cinal’s scenic design is simple, and absolutely stunning. The stage is small, but workable for this cabaret-style performance space. The space in front of the stage was festooned with adorable cocktail tables for our more intimate theatregoers.

Lighting designer, Chelsie McPhilimy’s eye-catching design pairs nicely with Cinal’s breathtaking set. McPhilimy has beautifully crafted special-focus lights that provide this show with an undeniable intimacy that it deserves. Between her Michigan-themed special fixed lighting that serves as a backdrop of sorts, and her perfectly lit focused lighting, McPhilimy’s design allowed for seamless transitions from vignette to vignette. Which of course, is so important to this kind of show.

Lluberes has assembled an incredible cast of players, all of which have strong, beautiful voices. Individually, they are able to capture these different characters perfectly; together they are able to offer one-uniform voice as any strong troupe does.

Let’s begin with Gage Webster, the resident pretty-boy tenor with a voice like butter. Webster is a powerhouse in this show. His rendition of “I Wanna Be A Popstar” will make you belly laugh. Between his salacious dance moves, and his strong, beautiful voice, he commanded the stage perfectly. While Webster had so many memorable moments, his “Two For One Coupon” was a real crowd pleaser. Without giving away too much, he plays the role of the cheap, self-centered boyfriend perhaps a little too well.

Next, we had the incredibly talented Amanda Kuo. While Kuo provided impressive vocals throughout the night, her impeccable timing in “My Psycho Roommate” left the audience in a laughing fit! It was second only to her rendition of “The Day Ted Nugent Killed All The Animals”. Lluberes staged this number as an open mic night, and Kuo’s performance was perfection reminiscent of Idina Menzel’s “Over The Moon” in Rent. But this was much, much better. She had a real opportunity to show off her acting chops with this one and did so flawlessly. Keep an eye out for this upcoming senior at The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.

Another player with many memorable moments was Joshua Cornea. This young man is a natural comedian, and he committed to every single character he portrayed completely. This commitment seemed especially tangible in his rendition of “I Want A Stalker”. Cornea assaulted some front row audience members with his highly elastic facial expressions. The audience loved him. Another great moment for Cornea was his version of “Small Time Drug Dealer”. Cornea had a strong presence onstage, and is obviously a seasoned comedian.

Finally, Mary Paige Rieffel rounded out this troupe with extraordinary vocals throughout the night. Rieffel had the audience rolling with her rendition of “Hippies Lament”. Rieffel was charged with imitating the many stereotypes of hippies, and she hit it out of the park. Another memorable moment for Rieffel was her duet with Webster in “Let’s Play Life” where she gave us a small glimpse of the young love that we have all experienced. Her performance was fun, and read so authentically. Finally Kuo, Rieffel and Cornea were simply hysterical in their rendition of “That’s Evolution” (inclusive of a super fun dance break).

These players worked flawlessly together. This truly was a refreshing night of theatre. The players were accompanied by a highly energetic on-stage live band (piano, guitar and percussion). The musicians provided the perfect balance between vocals and accompaniment. Kudos to Musical Director Brian Buckner for captivating Friday night’s audience with some immensely beautiful harmonies. The harmony in “If I Were” was absolutely sensational.

Overall, The Flint REP should be congratulated on an incredible world premiere of such a relatable show! Songs About Stuff continues at the Flint Repertory Theatre through Sunday, June 9th. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for teens & seniors and $8 for college students. Genesee County residents receive a 30% discount on all performances and subscriptions. Tickets may be purchased through the Whiting Ticket Center at 1241 E Kearsley St., Flint, Michigan. Tickets may also be purchased by phone at 810.237.7333 or online through www.FlintRep.org



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