FENTON VILLAGE PLAYERS LAY OUT A RED CARPET TO THE RENAISSANCE

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby182902714_4154135984616962_3783494174734306470_n-1

If you are a musical theatre buff, you will love this one! Written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell with music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, Something Rotten! opened Thursday to a lively crowd of folks enjoying this 16th century send up of all things musical theatre. Filled with comic references and a host of energetic dance numbers, including tap, it is easy to see how it was up for so many awards when it opened on Broadway in 2015.

The story centers around the brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom (Daniel Ragan & Joe Hostnik), both theatre hopefuls who, alas, must compete with the hit of the century, Will Shakespeare (Perry Quarker, Jr.) who proves to be a somewhat less than honest opponent. Ragan portrays the older of the two with a bit of older brother style pomp and pushiness while the younger, Nigel, displays an amazing knack for writing the iambic poetry of the day even though he isn’t aware of his talent.

These three are central to this show both in song and dance as well as portrayals that offer a range of personalities. Indeed, we get to know them so well, it is a polished surprise when Shakespeare appears to steal the day. Quarker brings a flamboyance and bravado that works for him most of the time.

Finally, Nick consults a soothsayer (Donovan Leary) begging him to predict what Shakespeare’s next hit will be. A bit on the kooky side, Leary’s character looks into the future and predicts the Tragedy of Omelette. He also sees Cats and even singing nuns.  Often bringing a slight but comical off-centeredness to his predictions, he is always a treat whenever he appears to assist as the fellows work to triumph over the Bard.

Given this information, Nick and Nigel set out to put a bit of a quirky show – the world’s first musical, The Omelette. Of course, there is love interest afoot here with Nick’s wife, Bea Bottom (Laura Strong) and the strong connection that is growing between Nigel and Portia (Alexandra Cross). While a hearty song and dance chorus supports this show, these two gals are unique and talented on their own. Both Strong and Cross bring a sense of feminine determination to their roles that probably wasn’t there in 1499!

We must give credit to Frank Pitts for a terrific job directing both the stage and the music production here. The show moves well with set changes done smoothly. Although song and dance numbers are set to recorded accompaniment, they are perhaps the most well integrated we’ve heard in a long while.

Overall, Something Rotten is a unique, fun, comical and clever show that will surely entertain audiences. Opening night’s viewers loved it, laughed continually and applauded heartily often and loud!

Something Rotten continues at Fenton Village Players Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Rd, Fenton, MI 48430 – July 16th, 17th, 23rd 24th, 30nth and 31st at 7:00 PM and July 18th, 23rd, and August 1st at 2:00 PM. For more information contact www.fentontheatre.org

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BEACHWEAR SUGGESTED; SHOES OPTIONAL

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

            Clio Cast and Crew kicked off summer with Michael Parker and Susan Parker’s comical production of Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses. The title derives from the motto given the hotel long ago by the owner to promote it as a wedding venue thus reaching a specific style of guest. While more than just wedded bliss is on the table here, there is lots of intrigue and fun to be had as well.

            We first meet Candy (Jessi Eldredge), the new hotel receptionist who, among other responsibilities, also manages to make her share of mistakes often sending guests and the hotel into mix-up’s and mayhem! Eldredge plays her character with a bit of a daft look that often explains her penchant for mistakes and comic repentance.

            We find that Audrina Brown (Paula Price) has inherited the Lovers’ Landing Beach Hotel from her recently deceased father. It will be her unfamiliarity with the place that will lead her Uncle Bubba to take center stage in running this place. Price brings a sweet Southern belle style to this role even if her accent causes her to slow the tempo a bit.

As Wilberforce “Bubba” Brown, Larry Stecco has a good grasp of his double role first of handyman and then as extravagant female stand-in for the absent wedding planner. His transitions are pretty smooth and comical even if the womanly role is well over the top!

            With a wide reputation earned over time, the hotel has no trouble attracting the wealthy and entitled Beatrice Rutherford-Smythe (Mary Smith Powers) to check out the place for the wedding of her daughter, Traci Rutherford-Smythe (Dawn Sabourin). Unimpressed with her daughter’s choice of a husband however, she immediately begins finding reasons to call this wedding off.

            Powers is properly prim at first even as she begins to emerge from her proper shell. She is fun to watch as her struggle to maintain her decorum gives way to her true feelings after all.

            Of course the simple wedding squabble won’t hold the comedy long. It isn’t until the arrival of a gentleman named Doug (John Dunning) who is assigned to the room Traci had reserved for her fiancé that things begin to get dicey.

           Soon followed by Peter (Alex Weiss) who is the actual fiancé, the plot begins to unravel as poor Peter is placed in a different room. Of course, the two are mixed up, and we begin to think we’re watching a Shakespearean comedy with all the crossed wires and conundrums!

            Also, Sabourin was great as she steamed back and forth deciding whether her lover is to be trusted or not. Her enthusiasm is terrific!

            Written by British writers Michael and Susan Parker, the Bard’s comedy fits in quite well. Director William Kircher managed to keep his stage pretty flexible even with a lot of folks to deal with at times. We found the set design to be charming with its turquoise and coral motif and flower bedecked Tiki bar, exits and entrances.  

            The tempo is slow at times, especially in the first act with all the new folks being introduced. Overall, this show should pick up steam with time and will be even more rollicking than Friday’s audience found it to be!

            Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses continues at Theatre 57, June19, 25 & 26 at 7:30 pm and June 20 & 27 at 2:30 pm. For more information contact the website at

www.cliocastandcrew.com or find them on Facebook at Clio Cast and Crew, Inc.

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FLINT COMMUNITY PLAYERS OPENS THEIR DOORS TO LIVE THEATRE ONCE AGAIN!

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

It was leap day, 2/29/20, the last time we set foot inside a theatre to view a live production. So Friday’s venture to see Flint Community Players’ production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was highly anticipated. Funny and wholly satisfying, it signaled a return to the familiar even if some aspects retained remnants of 2020’s isolation

A comedy, this play was perfect for this moment in time. We all need reason to laugh and to remember when, and Earnest gave us that opportunity. Much was different – only an audience of 30 or so were seated with some arranged in three up front rows while others were at various tables for two. It definitely was comfortable even with everyone wearing a mask throughout the evening.

The cast were wearing windowed masks. They were also wearing microphones which helped the sometimes muffled speech that can happen in a mask.

Director Shelby Coleman has assembled a quite competent cast for this society piece set in late 19th century England. Two good friends, John Worthing, also known in some circles as Earnest, (Jordan Climie) and Algernon Moncrieff (Dakotah J. Myers) come together in Algernon’s home where Worthing reveals his intention to propose to his friend’s cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax (Taylor Boes). Moncrieff has his reservations and suspects his friend of ulterior motives. After some give and take, and the exposure of Worthing’s supposed wastrel brother Earnest, Algie agrees to help his friend propose.

Gwendolen arrives escorted by her mother, Lady Bracknell (Rolecia Looney). Boes prances and snaps her fan at all the right moments generating more than a few chuckles Friday. Looney carries her role as a society matron of pompous stature well. Each entrance brings a warning that the real decision maker may be in the house.

The proposal happens but there is the odd determining factor as she insists that her attraction is largely because his name is Earnest. The plot twists.

As he learns more about Worthing’s family, Algernon is attracted to Cecily Cardew (Lindsey Briggs), John’s ward who lives in the country. Pretending to be John’s “brother” Earnest, he abandons his bubbly Algernon persona and ultimately proposes to Cecily who eagerly accepts him. She too is enamored of fellows named Earnest!

With everyone pretending to be someone else, the comedy increases in Acts 2 and 3 while the plot takes even more curious twists and turns.  Who is John Worthing really? Is there a brother Earnest? How might Cecily’s prim governess, Miss Prism (Joy Bishop) figure into the mystery?

Three other cast members do figure comically beginning with Lane (Zachery Wood) the manservant in Algernon’s house who sets the comic if slightly frustrated tone right from the start.  The Butler (Richard Neff) is the height of patience and elderly competence as his orders change frequently. Finally, the Rev. Canon Chasuble (Philip Kautz) humbly strives to please everyone and winds up finding a friend.

Aside from some mask muffled speeches, most are clear enough to carry the dialogue nicely.  As Director Coleman describes the Rick Doll designed sets, they are very like a children’s pop-up book. The cutout style of hand painted flower bushes in Act 2 is especially fun. They are a further reminder that this show is meant to be unrealistic, fun and imaginative.

Kudos to FCP! It was a great way to reintroduce us, the quarantined masses, back into a evening of fun, conversation and of course, theatre!

The Importance of Being Earnest continues May 15, 21, 22 at 7:30 pm and May 16 & 23 at 2:30 pm. For more information contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

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CLIO OPENS STRONG WITH SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE ADVENTURES OF THE ELUSIVE EAR!

Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler

         Clio Cast & Crew opened their new season with a strong performance of David MacGregor’s Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Elusive Ear.  They had goodCovid protocols in place including taking everyone’s temperature.  No one seemed to mind.

            The cast wore plastic masks and they used body microphones.  The masks didn’t distract from the performance and the drinking of various liquids was handled well.  We had no problem hearing or understanding what was said.

Playwright MacGregor always takes some small item and expands it into a play.  You never really know what is going to happen in his plays.  He really keeps the audience guessing.

            Director Jim Waner did a great job of casting the show. The cast looked comfortable working together, and there was a lot of chemistry. The give and take between the characters was fun to watch.  They were energetic and kept things moving along.  They were all very believable.

            The set was well done and was well used by the cast. 

            Jeff Rogner in the role of Dr. John Watson was spot on with his performance.  He and Sherlock were well matched.  His whining about their lack of money was well played.  His Victorian attitude about the relationship of Holmes and Irene was also good.

            As Sherlock Holmes, Jordan Reed played this character in a more relaxed manner which was done well.  There was considerable chemistry between him and Irene.  When it was necessary, he slipped smoothly back into the traditional Sherlock character.

            Jessi Eldredge played her two roles, Mrs. Hudson and Irene Adler, extremely well.  She looked like she was having fun.  Her fencing scene with Marie Chartier was well choreographed. 

            Rebecca Norris gave a strong performanceas Marie Chartier.  She and Irene were well matched.   

            Seth Reed as Vincent Van Gogh gave such a good performance that he could have been the painter, and Kaiser Henning’s Oscar Wilde added much to the chaos and mayhem on stage.

            The Ear, the main topic of concern, made a grand entrance at the end of the play.

            Overall, it was fun to watch.  There were several small issues.  When the gun was introduced both Marie and Oscar held it in their downstage hand thus limiting their range of movement.  There were also a couple of minor blocking issues involving Holmes at the fireplace. 

            The costumes for the most part were well done.  Marie had a problem unbuttoning her outfit for the fencing part, and the green dress did seem a bit large for her.

            I strongly recommend that everyone go see this play.  It’s a strong production.  To find out how Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve this mystery, you have to see a performance.  Performances of Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Elusive Ear are:  May 8, 14, 15 at 7:30 pm, and May 9, 16 at 2:30 pm.

Tickets maybe purchased online at ClioCastAndCrew.com or by calling the box office at 810-687-2588. Theatre 57 is located at 2220 West Vienna Rd., Clio, MI 48420

Due to pandemic restrictions, seating is limited, mask wearing will be required at all times, and social distancing will be observed in all areas of the theatre. Temperature checks and other safety measures may also be used.

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FVP Presents Convent Comedy

Reviewed by Karla Froehlich

Fenton Village Players bravely took the stage in clear face shields to deliver their first live performance since the pandemic began and brought some good-humored pandemonium with their irreverent production of Drinking Habits Thursday evening. A limited live audience provided well-deserved laughter and interaction for the actors.

Like any great farce, the set includes several options for characters to conceal themselves, because nearly every character has something to hide. Some are seekers, some hiders, but all harbor secrets. Many set pieces in this sparse convent setting are also cleverly utilized. We noted the opulent stained glass windows in contrast to mismatched doors one might find in a struggling relic of the Catholic Church.

Director Daniel Ragan had his actors utilize the entire space well throughout most of the show. However, near the end, when every character is on stage, it got a bit claustrophobic. That is the nature of farcical theatre when all is revealed. The layers in this piece are realized as the plot thickens. Mistaken and purposely concealed identities abound, as well as a plethora of secrets. This cast is diverse in experience and Ragan did excellent work in melding these talents into a cohesive and fun adventure in this less than two-hour long production.

This cast includes giving actors who could have, but didn’t, steal the show. These actors were so gracious with each other, it was like they were tithing. “Evenly yoked” springs to mind. Great theatre was provided by (in order of appearance) Jennie Ross, as Sister Augusta; Judi Santo, as Sister Philomena; Jacob Riley, as George; Joy Bishop, as Mother Superior; Nolan Splavec, as Paul; Shannon Cody, as Sally; Megan Morey, as Sister Mary Catherine; and Richard Hingst, as Father Chenille. The cast met the challenge of projecting their voices past their masks and should receive a separate round of applause for that alone.

Fenton Village Players are offering this production to a small in-person audience or online. While there is still much to be learned in this technical endeavor, I enjoyed viewing from the comfort of my couch and don’t feel I missed the feel or energy of the show. (There’s even a bit of humor regarding the provided intermission!) Support local theatre and your actor friends in the community…it’s always a pleasant surprise!

Drinking Habits continues at Fenton Village Players, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton MI today through February 28th and March 5 through the 7th. You can attend either safely in-person (masks required) or virtually via Zoom! For more information contact the box office at (810) 750-7700.

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Clio Cast and Crew Presents Unique Approach to Holiday Classic

Reviewed online by Mary Paige Rieffel

The year is 2020 and live theatre has been on pause for about 10 months. The performing arts community has valiantly shown its perseverance and passion for continuing to create from the get-go by utilizing the virtual world to share creative content. It is a testament to our own community to see people at a local level make art happen and distribute it (in this case for free even). 

This morning I masked up and braved the outside world for last minute stocking stuffers and libations for the coming Christmas holiday. The whole while I found myself giddy to have to be home by a certain time in order to see a show. As much as I miss performing, the pangs I feel for being an audience member do rival it. 

I made myself a cocktail, sat on my bedroom floor, and brought Joseph Zettelmaier’s Ebenezer by Clio Cast and Crew right to my television via YouTube. 

The play begins with Ebenezer Scrooge (Jordan Reed) years after the events of A Christmas Carol, ill and under the care of nurse, Alice (Rebecca Norris).  We learn he is indeed a changed man from the events he is famous for in A Christmas Carol. Reed did very well playing a character well above his own years and remained engaged throughout the very long and wordy exchange with Norris who also displayed her acting chops by remaining measured and grounded as well as being able to characterize three different characters through the action of the play. We learn that Ebenezer saved her life many years ago, and we are transported to the past to watch how the story unfolded. 

Alice was caught picking a pocket by the now charitable Ebenezer and a familiar character, now a grown man and apprentice to Ebenezer, Tim Cratchit (Jeff Rogner). 

I must truly say that the clear face shields they used were not distracting to me (other than possibly causing the wonky audio on Ebenezer’s microphone). The full facial expressions were clear and there was enough expression physically and vocally from the actors to keep the story up and moving. 

We flash back to the “present” and the weighty discussion on virtue, fate and leaving a legacy continues. Tim, now, Timothy, even more grown than before and a Royal Naval Officer, arrives in the Christmas Eve hospital bedchamber. During this scene a fun exchange concerning Americans from a faux Dickensian point of view occurs that I quite enjoyed. 

Ebenezer goes into another fit nearly throwing himself out the window calling and hoping for the famed spirits to once again appear. He then tells Cratchit the story of his famous journey many years ago for the very first time resulting in an emotional outburst from the troubled Timothy. 

Finally, this very interesting script arrives at a point where Timothy and Alice are seen as possessed by the Spirits of Christmas Present and Christmas Past. They proceed to convince Ebenezer to take up the mantle of The Ghost of Christmas Future. He reluctantly accepts as long as he can be a harbinger of hope rather than doom, which the previous incarnation that he met at his own grave at the climax of the original tale proved to be. 

He passes peacefully.  Alice and Timothy lament his death but rejoice in the lesson of his legacy.  

Director William Kircher is to be applauded for this unique effort. The camerawork and editing was very tight and the costuming and set designs were clean and effective. It all assisted the story telling very well.

Although the energy and laughter of a live audience would have helped the nuggets of potential humor in this piece, I found this production to be just great. I commend anyone putting in the time to make and produce art this year. Theatre is a vibrant and tenacious art form, and I can’t wait for all theatres along with Clio Cast and Crew to continue to create, whether it’s online or live. 

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Sondheim’s 90th Virtual Birthday Celebration Brings the Feels

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

Reviewed online by Mary Paige Rieffelsondheim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FLINT COMMUNITY PLAYERS PRESENTS A LIGHT HEARTED COMEDY

Reviewed by Joseph M. Mishler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins80709951_2849009018463005_2055507035025309696_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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