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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FVP’s “Almost Maine” Sparkles This Weekend

Reviewed by Karla Froehlich Almost-Maine-Fenton-Village-Players-192x108

Almost, Maine is an adorable vignette-style show that has been mounted this weekend by the Fenton Village Players for their first Second Stage production. All puns intended, this fresh cast brought out the splendors snowflakes bring; each with a unique quality and beauty, that sparkle for a moment and fade quickly, leaving very little trace and impacting like an avalanche. Set in a town that is – almost, we get a glimpse into characters who have found themselves – almost.

There are some definite maybes in these relationships, but most certain are the “almost” situations throughout this community. We, as an audience, ultimately decide to where these stories lead, as the author leaves only clues. A small ensemble of actors rendered two or three characters each, bringing life and expectations to these almost fully realized humans. Just about the time you think you have a situation in hand and know where the author is taking you, a rug is slipped out and you’re waffling and wondering what is next, till you are reminded, gently, that this is a sweet telling of love in many lights – including the Northern kind.

Twelve lovely young actors brought us nine scenes about love and romance and discovery and disappointment; truth and lies and things we make up in our heads that have nothing to do with the actual situation. The scenes clipped along like they knew exactly where they were headed, and still, the actors let us choose for ourselves, rather than telling us what to think or how to react.

The sets were simple and had only what was absolutely needed to convey the stories, as the show is usually done. There were a couple sightline troubles, and the thrust stage and cabaret tables and seating lent them to that and, by contrast, to feeling very inviting and relaxed. I loved being able to eat and drink a bit during the show; very laid back.

Each actor left a piece of themselves onstage, but two performances stood out Friday evening: the elastic emoting of Samantha Campbell in the Prologue/Interlogue/Epilogue, and Matthew Sokoloski playing Steve, a man who feels no pain. While all the performances were edible, these two were delicious. A bit of dessert was dished up by Daniel Ragan in scene seven – a Story of Hope. With a dash of salt, only the dog would lick this dish. The richest dish of this sweet meal was served up last by Mr. Sokoloski and Brooke Caldwell, and while all is revealed eventually, it takes a bit to peel away the layers of protection.

This organization really has a grasp of keeping community in the theatre. Some names came up in several areas of volunteering, and there were still over twenty people involved in this small, but mighty piece. This is undoubtedly a nicely meshed group, all feeding the monster that is community theatre.

Almost, Maine plays this weekend ONLY, so get your tickets right now! It continues at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton, MI today at 7 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. Contact the box office at 810-750-7700.

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Flint Community Players’ “Dial “M” for Murder” Rings Beautifully

Reviewed by Stephen Visser27164841_10155204306501629_8254240288283841954_o

While we seemingly cannot escape this frigid Michigan weather, we can find solace in the warm (maybe a bit too warm) Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall. Last night, Flint Community Players opened their dramatic-thriller for the season: Dial “M” for Murder. This stage- play was written by Frederick Knott, and most notably adapted for the silver screen under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock. It has everything a dramatic thriller could ask for: adultery, murder, blackmail, and an undeniable motive.

Margot Wendice (Samantha Tadajewski) and her villainous snake of a husband, Tony (Philip Kautz), seem to have worked out all the problems of their once troubled marriage. Margot ended her love affair with Max Halliday (Zachery Wood), an American television writer, and she seems to be focused on being an ideal, loving wife.

However, there’s so much that will come to light. And I will not give it away; but I will say that this household may still have their share of problems.

Knott’s clever writing and character development is so thought-out and precise, that it will certainly have you sitting on the edge of your seat. (If his writing doesn’t do it, then the chairs definitely will. They are not so easy on the back). And this beautiful, well-assembled cast and crew have executed his work nearly perfectly. Director Jon R. Coggins should be commended for both his vision and casting.

Philip Kautz is incredible as Tony Wendice. He is charming, calculated, and a real jerk. Kautz has many long speeches; and if executed poorly could have affected the pacing of the show fatally. He handles them seamlessly. Much like this script, Kautz is precise. His portrayal of Wendice is very understated and eerily mild-tempered, which make his psychopathy even more disturbing.

Similarly, Tadajewski’s Margot Wendice was breathtaking. We were truly enamored by this young lady. Not only was she stunningly beautiful, but she brought an incredible depth to the character. There were so many times we witnessed that internal turmoil central to her character. The interactions between her and Max are intimate and beautiful. And those interactions make that struggle so clear. While she is traditional, and believes in making it work with her husband, Max provides her with undeniable electricity that is oxygen for her. Don’t believe me? Watch her eyes.

Speaking of Max, Wood’s Halliday is brilliant. He is the perfect contrast to Kautz’ Wendice. We certainly see the attraction of this guy. He’s wildly charming, funny and sensitive to Margot’s needs. Wood has great timing; and perhaps, this is what makes him come off so believably. You’re going to want to watch out for this talented young man. Let’s hope he becomes a fixture with the Flint Community Players.

We just loved Alex Weiss in the role of Lesgate…. or was it Swann? Either way, we just loved him. Weiss captured the adaptable quality of the con artist flawlessly. When we first meet him, he is charming and funny. However, we quickly see how adaptable he is as he strikes fear into us when he attacks Margot. This fight scene was well executed and really impressive. Kudos to both the actors and directors for this flawless execution.

J.R. Nunley played the role of the Inspector. The role requires a considerable amount of depth because he is responsible for unraveling the mystery. We don’t believe we have ever seen Nunley in a role that we didn’t love. And this time is no different. He is so specific, so calculated. He is organized, and his expressions (sometimes subtle, sometimes not) are always so intentional. Nunley’s Hubbard is three-dimensional and completely authentic. We cannot imagine a better choice for this role.

Todd Clemons and Richard Neff rounded out the cast with a variety of different roles. These parts were necessary, and brilliantly specific. Each character was noticeably different from the last. We loved Neff’s bit with the purse. All we’ll say is “He wears it well”. You’ll have to see the show to find out what we mean.

The lighting design was striking. If anyone has ever seen Scott Auge’s work, this should not come as a surprise. And the lights and sound were quite impressive throughout the night. This well-thought out design really improved the atmosphere, and it also paired nicely with Rick Doll and Bill Mackenzie’s beautiful set. It was truly eye-catching. Diane Boonstra Ray’s set painting really made the difference.

In an attempt to be thorough, there were a few things that were distracting. While Laura Williams Kline’s costume designs were stunning, several of the costumes were very wrinkled at times, and it was the slightest bit distracting. Still, we know how actors are about hanging up their costumes (sigh). We suspect this will be an easy fix. Additionally, the microphone that projected the phone calls (there were many) seemed a little clear for purporting to be on the other line. We would have liked to see those voices be a bit more muffled to corroborate the authenticity of the times. Finally, the placement of the intermission was a bit odd. Act I ran about two hours, and Act 2 was only about twenty minutes. Perhaps we could have found an earlier time to break (Did I mention the chairs?). The audience was left wondering when we would break, as there were no scene breakdowns in the program. This in no way detracts from the production, but is a small distraction worth noting.

Overall, we very much enjoyed our evening at The Flint Community Players. Although the attendance was scarce, it was great to see almost every board member in attendance at last night’s performance. It’s truly wonderful to see an organization so supportive of their productions. And after all, they have much to support. So don’t miss your opportunity! Dial M for Murder continues through March 11th at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall. For more info and tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

 

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