“The Matchmaker” Brings Vintage Comedy to Clio

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Vintage farce with a modern nod to the issues of the few “haves” versus the many “have-nots” is on tap at Theatre 57 this week and next as Clio Cast and Crew presents Thornton Wilder’s comedy, The Matchmaker. This inspiration for the hit musical Hello, Dolly! will be familiar to fans of that show, but this play offers interesting, in depth and often hilarious situations that kept Friday’s opening night audience involved throughout the whole three hour running time.

Set in 1880’s New York and Yonkers, the story involves a wealthy merchant who has decided to marry and employs a matchmaker to find him an appropriate candidate. In fact the show opens with Horace Vandergelder getting a shave from Joe Scanlan (JR Nunley) in preparation for his trip to New York to meet “the lady”.

Director Jon R. Coggins does heavy double duty by also playing this irascible character to the hilt. He begins by forbidding the marriage of his niece, Ermengarde (Jennifer Lynn) to an unemployed artist, Ambrose Kemper (Alex Weiss). Instead he will send her away to her aunt in New York and demands that she be accompanied by a hired man, Malachi Stack (Wayne Tagg) and watched over by both Stack and the Cabbie (Pam Beauchamp).

As the irrepressible Mrs. Dolly Levi, Sandy Turner is wonderfully bubbly, crafty, and maternal as she sets out to improve her own situation along with a few others. Turner is cute and conniving and brings a steady hand to her comedy as she tricks her way to her goal.

Two of Mr. Vandergelder’s seriously overworked employees decide to take advantage of the boss’s absence and head to New York themselves for an adventure. Shane Wachowicz plays Cornelius Hackel, the older of the two, and Noah Beauchamp is his young helper, Barnaby Tucker. These two shoulder much of the responsibility for this story’s comic situations.

Act two opens in the millinery shop belonging to Mrs. Irene Molloy (Mattie Speed), the lady Horace is planning to make his wife. This scene trumps Act one with its wealth of slapstick mix-ups and general hysteria caused when Cornelius and Barnaby duck into the shop to escape their boss and are then forced to hide when he approaches. Of course, these two gents ultimately fall in love with Mrs. Molloy and her young assistant, Minnie Fay (Briana McDonald).

On to act three which takes place in an upscale restaurant where Nunley’s portrayal of the “French” waiter Rudolf takes some droll and comic turns. It is here that all of the couples arrive for dinner at the same time and are separated only by a screen. The confusion swirls around the loss of Horace’s wallet (he is unaware) which is then found by Cornelius (to his great delight). There are also some comical exchanges here as Dolly refuses to marry Horace, even though he hasn’t asked her.

Finally, act four takes us to the home of Ermengarde’s aunt, Miss Flora Van Huysen (Kim Norrington) where she and her cook (Samantha Beauchamp) await the niece’s arrival. Aunt Flora has already decided to promote the union with Ambrose, not discourage it, so when Cornelius and a still-disguised Barnaby show up she assumes they are the young couple. More slapstick and confusion reigns aided not a little by the hysterical over-indulged reactions of the Cabbie and Stack as they loll about in the background.

It all works out in the end, of course, and a lesson or two is taught about the impact of money on happiness.

Not at all a small undertaking, this play requires four complete and detailed scene changes. These breaks seemed a bit labor intensive Friday. The final effect each time was impressive, but the time to implement each seemed excessive.

Other technical aspects were well handled. At various times a character steps out to speak directly to the audience and lighting defines these moments nicely. One glitch did occur during the restaurant scene Friday when all of the lights in the theatre suddenly went out – clearly not a planned event. Fortunately, Levi/Turner was quick to comment that the “lights in New York seem to have gone out”. They came back on quickly, and the house roundly applauded her impromptu filler.

Okay, it’s long, but The Matchmaker is good fun and worth spending an evening in Clio to enjoy. It continues at Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Road, Clio, MI today and May 6 & 7 at 7:30 pm and May 1 & 8 at 2:30 pm. For tickets and information call the box office at 810-687-2588.

 

 

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FYT Premiers “The Most (Blank) City in America”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Flint Youth Theatre has once again teamed with University of Michigan-Flint’s Andrew Morton (now FYT Playwright-in-Residence) to produce another show with both its roots and its heart in Flint. The Most (Blank) City in America opened Saturday and invited its audience to contribute adjectives to describe this place we all call home. It was a decidedly intense and often profound exercise.

Audience members were given small cards listing the play’s title and an invitation was immediately extended to write an adjective on the blank line. Later in the performance, we were asked to write another descriptor on the flip side of the card. We suspect many of those second adjectives were more in-depth and emotionally inspired.

Tim McMath’s set design is quite impressive. An enormous and colorful reproduction of a Flint postcard takes up the entire backdrop. In front of it stands an almost life-sized version of the “Rock” emblazoned with “Flint Lives Matter” and surrounded by dirt, sand and scruffy plant life. And in front of that is a stream of flowing water representing the Flint River where the story begins.

Using life sized Indian puppets, each with two operators, a small fire is lit by striking stones together. Much of the beginning of this piece is without dialogue and makes for an interesting and personal interpretation of Flint’s early days.

Time moves forward propelled by sound effects and period music. Then a grandfather and his two grandchildren arrive to do some fishing. Alfred Bruce Bradley is wonderful in this paternal role as he sits amid his poles and tackle boxes telling his grandchildren stories of Flint. Masai Clayborne and Leah Dunlap are perfectly scrappy as Michael and Bettina slightly bored by this trip to the river with only one fishing pole amongst them.

When the two representatives of “Lily White” show up to enlist the aid of locals in redefining the city, we admit to being amused by Layla Meillier’s suit and wild blond wig, and by George Lieber’s frenetic attempts to chart “citizen” responses. While clearly a caustic look at outsider opinion, the interlude was loudly interrupted by Alazsha Donerson’s rage at the unfairness being portrayed.

Donerson’s frenzy was an emotional highlight that brought some audience members to tears as she railed against the injustice being foisted on her hometown. Her outpouring culminated in a call for fury that was roundly answered by the troupe.

Fast forwarding to the end we were once again treated to Grandfather fishing with his now grown granddaughter played this time by Alexis Harvey. She is a positive symbol through her ability to overcome adversity and hardship and emerge on top of things. But her guilt in wanting to leave Flint is something to which many can relate.

Mention must be made of the contribution music makes to this performance. Dan Gerics and Mark Gmazel infuse a rhythm and song into this ethereal story both with voice and various percussives. Enrique Vargas is also to be complimented on his final soliloquy from atop the “Rock”.

Director Jeremy Winchester’s troupe consists of folks from all over the area, but young people are prominent. The show draws inspiration from a number of local youth endeavor groups including Tapology, Raise It Up! Youth Arts and Awareness, Fly-town Puppet Theatre at Mott Middle College High School, and Alliance between FYT and UM-Flint Theatre.

We greatly enjoyed this production. It is a fitting cap on Andrew Morton’s previous FYT collaborations that also reference Flint – Bloom and 9XNourished. There is no doubt that most of Flint’s citizens experience a somewhat love/hate relationship with our town. Events here can make us very happy and then very sad, frightened, even angry. We would urge folks to go see this production. Decide what you will write on the card to describe Flint. What would you write on the “Rock” if you could? Here’s your chance.

The Most (Blank) City in America continues through May 1 for ten performances – Fridays at 7:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. For more ticket information contact the box office at 810-237-1350. Tickets for all performances are also available online, http://tickets.thewhiting.com/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=6452, or at the door.

 

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“The Matchmaker” Coming Soon to Clio Cast and Crew

What: The Matchmaker

Where: Theatre 57 – Clio Cast and Crew

When: April 29, 30 – May 6, 7 at 7:30pm and  May 1, 8 at 2:30pm

Tickets/info: 810-687-2588

Clio Cast and Crew proudly announces the next show in their 2016 season – The Matchmaker by American playwright icon Thornton Wilder.

This hilarious comedy – billed as a “farce in four acts” is directed by Jon R. Coggins and was the basis for the Musical “Hello Dolly”.

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975), born in Madison, Wisconsin, and educated at Yale and Princeton, was an accomplished novelist and playwright whose works explore the connection between the commonplace and the cosmic dimensions of human experience.

The Matchmaker is a farce in the old-fashioned sense. It uses such time-honored conventions as characters hidden under tables and in closets, men disguised as women, a complex conspiracy to bring young lovers together, and a happy ending in which three couples are united with plans to marry.

The plot includes an irascible, penny-pinching store owner, Horace Vandergelder, who refuses to let his niece marry the poor artist she loves, although he himself plans to remarry. Dolly Levi, the matchmaker of the title, pretends that she is helping Vandergelder find a suitable bride, but she actually schemes to marry him herself, and she works to help the young lovers gain his approval. Vandergelder’s beleaguered clerk, who is longing for excitement, also meets the woman of his dreams, although she happens to be the one Vandergelder intends to marry. Throughout the play we see mistaken identities, scheming females, characters put in unfamiliar situations, cranky barbers and restaurant hosts, exploding tomato cans, disappearing funds, and snuff snorting gentile ladies. It is a wild ride full of fun where in the end; everyone is happy and just a little smarter.

The cast is anchored by longtime local theatre vet Mrs. Sandra Turner. Said Director Coggins, “I knew last year when I was chosen to direct this piece that Sandy was my Dolly!”

A local favorite JR Nunley plays a couple of roles with amusing results. Stage vet Shane Wachowicz plays the recently promoted head clerk Cornelius Hackl whose desire for adventure sends him and his workmate Barnaby, played with wonderful naïveté by Noah Beauchamp, into NY and the matchmaking frenzy. Jennifer Lynn plays the pure of heart Ermengarde who is sent away to NY to keep her from marrying her love Ambrose Kemper, Alex Weiss. Additional cast members include: Mattie Speed as Irene Molloy, Brianna McDonald as Minnie Fay, Kim Norrington as Flora VanHusen and Wayne Tagg as Stack. Also featured are Samantha Beauchamp, Mary Bontumasi-Coggins and Pam Beauchamp. Jon R. Coggins rounds out the cast as the put upon Horace Vandergelder.

The Matchmaker is produced by Cindi Hubbard and Patrick Hubbard and is presented by special arrangement with the Samuel French Company. Love is in the air – IT’S SPRING!! Make plans to come to Clio and see love bloom on stage in The Matchmaker.

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“TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” HAS IMPRESSIVE OPENING AT FENTON VILLAGE PLAYERS

 

Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler

            To Kill A Mockingbird by Christopher Sergel, based on the book by Harper Lee, opened Thursday night at the Fenton Village Players with a strong performance.

To Kill A Mockingbird deals with the issue of racism in America. I would say the South, but why should the rest of the country be let off the hook? The “n” word is used throughout the play and is tough to stomach. The word carries such historical negativity that it will always be ugly. The play, which revolves around the alleged rape of a white woman by a black man, is set in 1935 in a small Alabama town. The case affects the entire town, and while the ending is predictable there is hope for change. We see the action through the eyes of a young girl named Scout whose father defends the black man.

The play gives the viewers a lot to think about, and it is good if you are shocked or upset by this in-depth look at racism in American. It is part of our heritage; not one to be proud of, but it is ours.

While To Kill A Mockingbird has been staged many times, it is refreshing to attend a quality performance. Overall the performance was very good. There were a few lighting problems although it could just be the system. The accents were a bit inconsistent, but it didn’t really detract from the show. The set was well done and conveyed the tenor and mood of the play.

This is a large cast and as an ensemble the director put together a good crew.

In the role of Scout, Makenna Kern gave a good performance considering the number of lines and the ever-changing action of the play. She could use a few more gestures because she seemed a little stiff at times. She had good chemistry with those she interacted with. Scout and the two boys were well matched. They came across as typical curious kids who stuck their nose into everything and everyone’s business.

Daniel Mays played Jeremy “Jem” Finch and he also gave a strong performance. He started strong and stayed that way. As Charles Baker Harris better known as “Dill”, Jacob Riley also performed well. The story he tells Scout about how he escaped was very well done.

Bart Burger played Atticus Finch and gave an excellent performance. He looks the part. He didn’t use much of an accent, but it didn’t matter. We don’t learn much about his history in the play, but he is a strong, principled man—and Burger played that perfectly. He had good chemistry with everyone on stage.

As Heck Tate, Jonathan Smith was well up to the task of being the sheriff. The final scene with Burger and Smith was performed superbly. Smith was strong when he had to be, and that played well in dealing with Burger’s Atticus.

Marwan Prince gave a very good portrayal of the Tom Robinson character. He exuded the angst and fear of being black in a white dominated world. He was consistent throughout.

Jerry Flewelling’s characterization of Bob Ewell was played to perfection.   He was a scruffy mean, foul-mouthed, nasty lowlife, and he was believable. As Mayella Ewell, Grace Lee gave a fair performance. She gave the impression she wasn’t sure of the gravity of what was happening. Chris Vitarelli handled Mr. Gilmer well although his accent was inconsistent.

Playing Miss Maudie Atkinson, Kate Rundell did an excellent job as narrator and facilitator on stage. Also worthy of mention, Sheila Kern (Miss Stefanie), Christine Cook (Calpurnia), and Steve Shelton (Judge Taylor) all gave strong performances.

It takes a good cast to make a performance strong and Director Mary Powers can take credit for that.   The action never lagged. The scene changes were good, but a tad noisy. There is no need to drag set pieces across the floor. The old rule still applies: Lift and set.

The audience gave them a sustained standing ovation and it was well earned. I highly recommend you go see this play.

To Kill A Mockingbird performances are April 14-17, & April 22-24 with Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Performances at 7:00 pm and Sunday Performances are 2:00 pm. Fenton Village Playhouse is located at 14197 Torrey Rd. Fenton MI. 48430. For tickets call 810-759-7700 or go on their website at www.FentonTheatre.org, and the Email is office@fentontheatre.org.

 

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Flint Youth Theatre to Premiere Original Production About Flint

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Play seeks to redefine the city and facilitate important conversations

What’s in a name? What defines a city? What makes a place home? Flint Youth Theatre seeks to explore these questions in their new original production, The Most (Blank) City in America, which opens this Saturday, April 16 and will run through Sunday, May 1. The play was written by FYT’s Playwright-in-Residence, Andrew Morton, and will be directed by Jeremy Winchester, FYT’s Executive Artistic Director.

Morton and a team of researchers and artists have worked on the creation of the play throughout the past year. As part of the creative process, they held 17 “story circles,” open events across the city of Flint where residents and community members could gather to talk about their thoughts and feelings on the city, its challenges, its successes and what it means to them personally to have a connection to Flint.

The Most (Blank) City in America will be performed in collaboration with Tapology and Raise it Up! Youth Arts & Awareness. Flint Youth Theatre will also be joined on stage by Fly-Town Puppet Theatre, a program of Mott Middle College.
There will be 10 public performances of the production:

Saturday, April 16 at 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 17 at 2 p.m.
Friday, April 22 at 7 p.m. – performance will be ASL interpreted
Saturday, April 23 at 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 24 at 2 p.m.
Friday, April 29 at 7 p.m.
Saturday, April 30 at 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 1 at 2 p.m.

Prior to the performance on Sunday, May 1, there will be a brief conversation with the playwright and members of the creative team at 1 p.m. Immediately following the performance there will be light refreshments available and a community symposium will be held beginning at approximately 3 p.m. The symposium will be facilitated by Michael Rohd of the nationally recognized Center for Performance and Civic Practice, who collaborated with FYT on the creation of 2014’s 9xNourished.

Tickets for all performances are available online, http://tickets.thewhiting.com/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=6452, or at the door. For attendees interested in attending the conversation and symposium on Sunday, May 1, a limited number of complimentary tickets are available with RSVP by April 22 to info@flintyouththeatre.org

For more information on the performances, please call the Flint Youth Theatre office at 810-237-1350

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UM-Flint’s “Bee” is Abuzz with Laughter

Reviewed by Shelly L. Hoffman

For those who have ever attended a spelling bee, they know the event is usually rife with tension that far exceeds any sporting event. Eager parents sit on pins and needles while their progeny stand in the glaring spotlight, all the weight of the world on their shoulders, as they attempt to spell words most of us have never even heard before. Hardly the stuff comedy is made of. Yet, the creators of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee mined the bee and sieved from it 90 minutes of comedy gold, which is now on display in the University of Michigan-Flint’s production. Director Stephanie Dean brings to the stage a show that is well cast, confidently acted and sung, and adorably costumed, yet sometimes slow and lacking energy.

We were dismayed when the house lights were up more than 15 minutes beyond the appointed hour. This was likely due to a fairly large crowd arriving shortly before curtain and the box office’s inability to handle, in a proficient manner, these last minute sales. It turned out, though, to be worth the wait.

Rona Lisa Perretti, who we learn won the third annual bee, oversees the competition. She is portrayed like a former beauty queen by Shelby Coleman who exhibits a great deal of maturity and self-possession, not to mention a terrific voice, in this role. She is joined at the judge’s table by Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Seth Hart) who serves as the official word pronouncer and provides the definitions and sentences to the contestants. The sentences in which the spelling words are used bring much hilarity and Hart’s delivery is spot-on. Rounding out the adults at the table is Britton Paige as Mitch Mahoney, who serves as the comforter (as part of his required community service) to the losing contestants. Paige shines vocally in this role and as he doubles for a contestant’s parent.

The six elementary school contestants make up an entertaining ensemble. Gage Webster is memorable as Chip Tolentino (the previous year’s winner) and as a very special guest. Sweet-voiced Michaela Nogaj delivers an adorable Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere. Joshua Cornea nearly brought down the house with his delightful characterization of Leaf Coneybear, the dimmest of the contestants. William Barfee, the foot-spelling nerd with mucous problems, is portrayed to great effect by Andrew Eisengruber. Erica Kennedy, as Marcy Parks, does a fine job of conveying the pent-up nerves of this straight-laced contestant and delivers the most physically demanding number “I Speak Six Languages”, and Farrell Tatum is quirky and charming as Olive Ostrovsky, the lonely latchkey kid.

All the voices blend beautifully together and are supported well by the off-stage quartet, under the musical direction of Frank E. Pitts. Beth Frieman’s choreography is simple, yet captures the essence of each number.

Putnam County Spelling Bee exemplifies this most recent generation of musicals where there is hardly a memorable song. While the tunes themselves aren’t necessarily noteworthy, some do stand out. The plaintive “The I Love You Song” is beautifully rendered by Coleman, Tatum, and Paige. Barfee’s “Magic Foot” is not only a tune that can be whistled, the stage comes alive here with Eisengruber taking the lead. There was more opportunity for liveliness with “Pandemonium,” but unfortunately this full company song just fell flat and felt as if it was presented in slow motion.

Shelby Newport’s costumes get right at the heart of every character. There is something memorable about each one. In particular, Schwartzandgrubenniere’s dress is a rainbow delight and Coneybear’s cape and helmet are a nice touch.

The laughter found in Spelling Bee belies the more serious aspect of the quest of these young spellers for love, acceptance, and belonging and serves as an important reminder to us to allow children to be children, to love them, and to give them our attention.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues its run March 26th, April 1st, and April 2nd at 7:30 pm and April 3rd at 2:00 pm at the University of Michigan-Flint Theatre, located at the corner of Wallenberg and Kearsley streets. Tickets may be purchased by phone at 810-237-6522, online at http://boxoffice.printtixusa.com/universitymichigan/eventcalendar?v=0&i=0&g=0&g2=0&m=4&y=2016, or in person at the box office.

 

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“The Phantom Tollbooth” Wraps Up This Weekend in Clio

Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins

Clio Cast and Crew continued their journey around the 2015-16 theatre season with a trip through the Arnold Black and Sheldon Harnick musical The Phantom Tollbooth.

Directed by Denise French and Nicole Dunckel – The Phantom Tollbooth is based on a 1961 children’s adventure novel by Norton Juster. It tells the story of a bored young boy named Milo who unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth one afternoon and, having nothing better to do, drives through it in his toy car.

The audience is immediately hit with a vivid and colorful set complete with swinging panels, a radio booth and a mountain that leads to the sky. The set design, construction and set art are amazing. There was even a fully operational car. Truly inspired.

One critique of the novel is quoted: “Clearly a book by an unabashedly brainy adult, it evangelizes intellectualism with glee, which some kids are going to find more entertaining than others”(Common Sense Media).

Well the audience, rife with young’uns, loved the show. The full house easily followed the story, cheered for the hero and applauded the rescue of Princesses Rhyme and Reason. And the show is about numbers and letters as warring brothers Azaz, lover of letters, played humorously by Duane Dunckel and Mathemagician, lover of numbers, played with consternation by Bill Flagerstrom watch their kingdoms fall apart as their daughters, the princesses, languish in a prison tower in the sky.

The hero Milo and his new sidekick Tock, a timely dog, are played splendidly by Jacob Hynes and Clara Usealman. These youngsters had a wonderful chemistry together and played off each other well. There were occasional volume lapses (from the whole cast) but Jacob and Clara memorized a lot of dialogue as well as their song book. Jacob was just the right amount of bored, incredulous and brave. Clara adopted many “dog” mannerisms and was totally believable as the trusty friend.

Other standouts in this enormous cast were the Princesses Tessa Watson and Abby Messing – both with strong singing voices. Toni Henry as the Spelling Bee, who was flown in from the skywalk? also had a nice singing voice. Jacob Fagerstrom was quite entertaining as Giant/Midget/Thin Man/Fat Man.

The talented cast was peppered with families as Moms and Dads got to act with their kids and brother and sister combos were also prevalent. The directors did an amazing job with this large cast that quite literally filled the stage at the curtain call, including holding craft sessions to build props and organizing a pancake breakfast fundraiser. Clio Cast and Crew have a tremendous and supportive family.

A mention must be made of the marvelous orchestra that played throughout the show and of course accompanied the cast for the musical numbers. Lead by Musical Director Dana Usealman the band helped establish a timely pace and kept the show energized.

Though celebrating over 50 years of existence, The Phantom Tollbooth is a bit off the beaten path. Clio Cast and Crew can be applauded for stepping away from overdone children’s theatre selections and having the faith in this unconventional piece.

Bring your loose change for a fantastic trip through The Phantom Tollbooth. But hurry because the production has only two more performances at Theatre 57 on Vienna Rd. in Clio, today at 7:30 pm and tomorrow at 2:30 pm. Call 810-687-2588 for more information.

 

 

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