Flint Repertory Theatre’s “Assassins” Hits the Mark

Reviewed by Stevie VisserAssassins

It was an extremely exciting night at the Flint Repertory Theatre Friday as many anxious faces anticipated the opening of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Tony Award-winning musical Assassins. As the first Signature Series performance of their inaugural season, Sondheim’s thought-provoking musical, staged in Flint Repertory Theatre’s Elgood Theatre, perfectly captured the intimacy required for such a heavy piece.

While we waited for the performance to begin, we listened to many people fawning over the intricacies of the set and lighting. After all, Shane Cinal’s scenic design and Chelsie McPhilimy’s lighting design was absolutely breathtaking. I’m not sure if it was the incredible hand-painted backdrop that lined the back of the stage, or the hand-crafted letters that exclaimed “Shoot the Prez” all individually lit and exuding a burlesque-grade spectacle. Perhaps it was the backlit antique-paper quality portraits of past Presidents with bulls eyes on their temples. It must have been a little bit of everything.

Director Michael Lluberes has assembled an incredible ensemble cast to tackle this extremely ambitious piece. The actors worked extremely well together, and it was evident that they did not take the task of bringing these Assassins to life lightly. Lluberes should be commended on his sensational cast of scary little freak killers.

Chris French (AEA) played the role of John Wilkes Booth. His perfectly crafted accent coupled with his beautiful singing voice and villainous demeanor brought this character to life. Every movement and every facial expression was so intentional. We really enjoyed his performance. The formidable Jason Briggs portrayed Charles Guiteau flawlessly. His characterization of the legendary psychopath was incredible. His fiery eyes and exaggerated physical movements were the perfect recipe for portraying this character who suffered from grandiosity. The tonality of Briggs’ beautiful voice coupled with his impressive acting chops complimented each other very well.

While every member of this company played their roles impressively, the female characters were especially impressive. Let’s begin with Beth Guest (AEA) as Sara Jane Moore. Guest was absolutely tremendous in this role. Sometimes it’s so difficult to access these ordinary human characters, and yet she does it in such a wholesome way. Her timing is impeccable, and her “Charlie” scene with Mary Paige Rieffel nearly brought down the entire house. Speaking of impressive women, Rieffel’s portrayal of Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme is some pretty scary stuff. Her Fromme is dark, stunningly beautiful and absolutely terrifying. If Rieffel’s inspiring scene work doesn’t catch your attention, her gorgeous singing voice will leave you weeping. Her performance was among one of our favorites throughout the night.

Paul Nelson portrayed the role of the proprietor with much precision. We appreciated every single movement and every single choice. Nelson is after all a showboat. He commands the stage in a powerful way and brought such an incredible authenticity to the role.

Now, I am a sucker for a beautiful tenor voice, especially when matched with powerful presence on stage. So if anyone caught my attention it was Scott Anthony Joy (AEA). He had a beautiful voice. When he first opened his mouth in “The Ballad of Booth”, there was a noticeable aura in the room of complete respect for this amazing vocalist. And of course he transitioned well from the Balladeer to his portrayal of Lee Harvey Oswald. Very well done. Mark Gmazel, Michael Pacholski, Alexander Trice and Zachary Wood rounded out this cast all providing tremendous vocals, and very well crafted scene work.

Congratulations to Director Michael Lluberes and Music Director Frank Pitts III on an impressive opening at the Flint Repertory Theatre. If you enjoy heavy theatre that makes you think and ask questions, we highly recommend this incredible piece of art right in the heart of Flint.

Assassins continues through November 18th at the Flint Repertory Theatre’s Elgood Theatre. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-1530/810-237-7333 or online at www.flintrep.org


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FCP Continues Season with Delighful Simon Comedy

Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins

Autumn said goodbye and winter stamped its chilly feet as Flint Community Players continued their 90th season with the Neil Simon standard, Barefoot in the Park.

The slightly 44063084_10155767582731629_1902577255503101952_osparse crowd (come on folks – cultural institutions that aren’t supported well will eventually fade away) enjoyed this gentle comedy directed by Bill Kircher.

The story is easy – two lovey-dovey newlyweds take a sixth floor walk-up apartment to begin their lives together. Comedy ensues! The set was a Steve Munsell creation and as always, it was wonderful and useable. The smallness of the space, bare as the play started, conveyed the cramped quarters the couple must deal with – from the bedroom that barely fit the bed and nothing else to the bathroom that had no tub. And of course, the six, or is it five, flights of stairs was a source of constant amusement.

The cast was up to the challenge Thursday night anchored by Samantha Tadajewski as Corie Bratter, the female half of this intrepid couple. She was on point all night. Her range of emotions ran from deliriously happy to drunken to dismay, as it seemed her new life might be falling apart. Tadajewski pranced and fussed – happy as a clam in her new apartment. And, she was the only one not complaining about the six flights of stairs. She had to deal with a telephone repairman (Brett Beach), an upstairs Lothario, Victor Velasco played by Larry Stecco, and a deliveryman (Jalen Gillum). Eventually, Samantha’s rather conservative widowed mother, Ethel Banks arrived played by stage vet Mary Smith Powers. All very different characters, and all interactions handled well by Miss T. Her vivaciousness is reminiscent of Mary Tyler Moore from the early ‘60s Dick VanDyke Show.

As Corie deals with all the commotion and eagerly awaits the furniture delivery – her beau finally comes home – for the first time – and she is happy, frisky and eager to start their married lives. Philip Kautz plays her beleaguered spouse, Paul. An uptight new lawyer, preparing to try his first case, Kautz played the role well with nearly opposite feelings from those of his new wife. Paul was discontented with the multiple stair climb, with the smallish apartment, with the tiny bedroom and with the lack of a bathtub. Though he seemed eager to be a newlywed, he was distracted and concerned about his new job. Nice work, Philip.

As Ethel Banks, Corie’s mom, Mary Smith Powers was wonderful. Her expressions of disbelief at the apartment, and her reactions to the “climb” were priceless and provided some mellow comedy. Indeed her entrance after a night of partying was the hit of the show. We’re not sure what accent Powers was going for – upscale educated New Yorker, Brooklynite or Jewish mother – but it was intriguing and only emerged when Ethel got emotional or preoccupied. Well done.

The distraction, for Corie and Ethel appears the upstairs (attic) womanizer – Victor Velasco. Oddly enough, he must use the couple’s bedroom window to access his attic apartment. Played well by Stecco, Victor was charming, eccentric and a bit of a horn dog. His scenes with Tadajewski were wonderful with tremendous chemistry. His scenes with Ethel were warm, touching and gracious. The scene between Corie and Victor, after a night of drinking, was brilliant and electric.

Additional cast members due more mention include Brett Beach as the beleaguered phone repairman who, in barely besting the 6 floor climb – twice – allowed for some comedic moments and a bit of marriage counseling. Deliveryman Jalen Gillum had no lines but espoused his discomfort in the climb with a breathless entrance and pantomimed package-signing instructions. And star stage manager Dave Collins made a cameo as Mr. Munshin the landlord.

There was some slight confusion as one tried to place the time period. Written and produced in the 1960s, some of the music was definitely not from the sixties. Additionally, I don’t think Corie would have worn blue jeans – modern blue jeans – even as a free feeling girl from mid-century. Capri pants maybe?? The play was long with two intermissions. I thought about how to shorten the length. The first intermission was needed – to change the set, and the second to relieve sore backsides. Quicker cue pickups – maybe. It seemed pretty tight. I guess sometimes the play is long. In keeping with the tremendous legacy of FCP productions, Director Kircher did a fine job and presented a quality show.

So if you’re looking for an alternative to soggy football and/or gruesome deer hunting or just want to take in a great show – Barefoot in the Park continues through November 18 at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. Flint, MI 48507. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

A special thank you to a longtime theatre supporter and production underwriter (he paid for the show) Eugene Miller. It was wonderful to see you and thank you for your support of local theatre.  – JC





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UM-Flint Season Opens with “Peter and the Starcatcher”

patscReviewed by Kathleen Kirby

If you are a fan of Peter Pan, you may enjoy the production currently playing at UM-Flint. To launch the Theatre and Dance 2018/19 season, the stage was overrun Friday night with a host of characters including pirates, orphans, ship captains, lords and ladies, even mermaids and mollusks! Peter and the Star Catcher is actually a prequel to the well-known story of the boy who never grew up.

Written by Rick Elice and based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson with music by Wayne Baker, this tale takes place nearly entirely onboard two ships, one a pirate frigate and the other a royal Britannica vessel. The set is interesting and colorful as the ropes and gangways sway and sparkle throughout.

In this story Peter has no name to begin with and only earns it in the end. But for most of the show he is an unnamed orphan held captive along with two other orphans bound for nothing good! Paul Gregor does a nice job with this Peter and manages to portray the frustration associated with growing up nicely. His cronies, Ted (Giovanni Moore III) and Prentiss (Jarrett Collins) are a comical duo much given to slapstick. Moore’s reaction to mention of a sugary sweet is unique and hilarious.

Most prominent is the young gal, Molly (Briana Wilson), the Starcatcher. Her father is Lord Aster (Austin Kimbrell) and these two share a mystical connection and access to “starstuff”! Wilson brings competence and control to this role and good thing, because everyone else is nearly out of control!

Black Stache the Pirate (Josh Cornea) is clearly the fellow who will come to be known later as Captain Hook, but in this tale he still has his hand. Cornea is bombastic and was especially funny Friday when his mustache kept finding itself detaching!

His sidekick, Smee (Gage Webster) is possibly the most active and gymnastically hysterical character on the stage. He’s pretty funny as a mermaid later on as well.

It does appear that director Janet Haley had her hands full with this crew and this show. There was rarely a quiet moment on the stage and sometimes it became confusing. Still everyone moved about well with lots of interesting entrances and great wave action when folks went overboard!

This is also a musical, yet it wasn’t all that successful in that regard. The amplified piano accompaniment was quite loud and often drowned out the non-amplified lyrics. The only words we recognized were in the Navy Hymn and that’s because it was familiar. It’s frustrating to not understand what’s being sung.

Basically it struck us as a bit of an odd show. Glimpses of comedic characters were fun but generally any specific exposition to explain character background was too murky to allow much real identification with them.

Still, there is a lesson and a message – be kind, help when you can, and be a friend. Life is what we make it, and as Molly says, “Things are only worth what you’re willing to give up for them.”

Peter and the Starcatcher continues at the UM-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance Oct. 27-28 & Nov. 2-4. For more information contact them online at www.umflint.edu/theatredance


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McCree Theatre’s “Those Gorgeous, Glamourous Girl Groups” is Absolutely Stunning

Reviewed by Stephen Visser

While the audience was scarce at the Friday night performance of Those Gorgeous, Glamorous Girl Groups; the energy, and sheer electricity of this bombshell cast was enough to send shivers down the spine of the most skeptical theatre-goer. This original work features a book by Charles H. Winfrey, and Music Direction by William Guy. This was actually my first time ever seeing an offering at the McCree Theatre. And I was dancing all the way out. Most importantly my three-year-old daughter (my date) was singing ‘Mr. Postman’ the whole car ride home. If you’ve never been, I’d highly recommend this group. This is a hidden gem in our community, people.

As I fingered through the program; I expected a typical revue. What I got? An experience. It was a tantalizing mixture of brilliantly crafted harmonies, and enlightening historical epitaph that highlighted the struggle, and more importantly the footprint of African American feminist culture.

Director Billie Scott Lindo has assembled a chronically talented cast for this historical tribute. While everyone deserves mention because of the quality, there were several performers who left me speechless. One of which was Fred Fife. He provided a beautiful rendition of “Black Pearl”. His vocals were impeccable. His voice was perfectly clear and had stunning tonality.

I also appreciated Lindo’s staging of this number. It was a perfect opening to this piece that pays tribute to those striking female groups. The number was filled with beautiful women all wearing simple black dresses and tiaras. They were smiling bright, and served as the perfect metaphor for the imprint they left on the American music scene.

Two performers who were simply breathtaking, and provided incredible vocals throughout the night were Aryia Canada and Michala Anderson. These are some incredibly talented young women who can harmonize immaculately. They were utilized well throughout the show, and provided impressive vocals all night.

Alby Winfrey’s set design was simple, but perfect. It was dominated by platforms, and levels that allowed for many entrances and exits throughout the production. As this is a show that slips into many different vignettes, it functioned very well. And of course, there was a meticulously rehearsed live band in the center of the stage. These guys (William Guy, Kenneth Hampton, Ulyssey Bailey, and Kent Crawley) were in-freaking-credible. They didn’t miss a beat all night, and they were responsible for most of my toe-tapping dance moves on the way out (I’m not sure if they want to take credit for that).

Ever so often we come across a production that moves us, and this was definitely one of those for me. There are only two more performances today, but you can still get your tickets if you hurry. You will be immersed in powerful musical numbers, and be given a platform to reminisce about all Those Gorgeous, Glamorous Girl Groups that left an imprint on your heart growing up. Warning: I will be there dancing again tonight. And it may not be pretty.

Those Gorgeous, Glamorous Girl Groups performs twice today at 2:00 and 7:00pm. For tickets and information contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or online at http://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com/




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Clio Cast & Crew Opens Season With Comical Farce

Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins85d22da97fc4195456153a0ef414286b-rimg-w426-h520-gmir

Clio Cast and Crew (Theatre 57) opened their 2018/19 season on this cool and quite autumnal evening with what is billed as an American farce by Michael Parker – Who’s in Bed with the Butler?

A decent sized crowd saw a very busy – but aesthetically pleasing set, with two levels and I think six (!) entrances/exits – mostly doors – which played an important role in this show’s comedy. Director William Kircher used every bit of the set and the doors effectively – keeping the show and the pace moving. The design and decoration deserve mention. The set had clean lines and the curtains and legs that usually befuddled the theatre were gone with a nice trim proscenium in place.

Basically the show’s premise is time tested and familiar: a rich guy dies and the lone heir comes to claim her inheritance only to find it has been absconded with. Throw in a libidinous butler, three hot ex-girlfriends of the rich man, a deaf maid, an accident prone private investigator, a shady lawyer, an out of work actress and a rat to round things out.

As the butler in the title, Clifton – Brett Beach was up to the challenge. At times befuddled, unnerved, excited and perplexed – Beach handled all with ease and, though not what he expected, still ended up with the prize. Two things bothered me: Beach’s Moe Howard haircut (I hope this was a design choice and not his real hairstyle) had me staring at his head. Also, Beach had the propensity of coming way down stage center to deliver his lines. I thought perhaps he was going to break the fourth wall – a staple in many comedies – but that was not the case. Keep your light for sure but find your scene partners.

Clio veteran Pam Beauchamp played the out of work actor hired by Clifton to help him deal with the heir. She was at times befuddled, feisty, helpful, ingenious and jealous. Beauchamp handled the role well though there was a bit of line trouble and energy let down in the second (longish) act. Her “solution” to Clifton’s dilemma was a show stopper.

The daughter Constance, played by Karen Fenech, was uptight, prudish and eager to lay claim to her inheritance. Fenech played the role well but had some volume problems and at times energy problems. She really came to life in the last scene.

Her lawyer Roy Vance, played by Carl Frost, was her male equal. He had a stake in the outcome and strove to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Frost’s Carl was also bit by the volume bug and as a duo with Fenech’s Constance – lacked energy in a few spots, especially in the second act. He delivered the first belly laugh with the line calling the missing fancy yacht the “BIG O”. Nuff said.

Injecting most of the laughs and energy spikes was the Private Investigator – William Davis Jr., played wonderfully by Preston Sannicolas. His character was all bumbling and pratfalls. Especially intriguing was his incredible use of verbal malaprops. It is difficult enough to memorize real words but linguistically mischewing every word is a true challenge. Sannicolas was up to the test.

Michelle Hayes, a beautiful, busty, energetic foe to the heir’s plans, plays all three of the deceased’s ex-girlfriends lured to the estate by the lawyer to ostensibly receive their promised inheritances. Hayes played an English red headed beauty, a French ooh la la lovely and a gorgeous, slightly ditsy California girl. All the characters were different and well developed. Hayes brought energy and comedy to the roles. Her frantic costume changes must have been an incredible feat in and of itself.

Rounding out the cast was Agnes, a stereotypical deaf maid. She brought laughs and the aforementioned Rat that gave the cast the willies! Played nicely by Pat Walker, Agnes was up to the challenge.

A mention must be given – nay a footnote if you will – to Allie Curtis who made several “special appearances”. She was well armed and handily managed the role.

The show started a little slow, as many shows do, getting through the exposition. It picked up steam and rolled through the first act. Again the energy/tempo was a bit off in the second act. I suspect opening night jitters and a longish second act. Director Kircher should be pleased as the cast and crew presented an enjoyable, laugh filled evening of entertainment. Watch for the best line in the show – “He smells like a Spanish pimp” in the second act.

Who’s in Bed with the Butler? continues this weekend and next (September 28th through October 4th) at Clio Cast and Crew’s Theatre 57. Vienna Road, Clio Michigan. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com Go. Laugh. Have a great evening.


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“The Boatman” Launches Flint Repertory Theatre’s New Season

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Boatman            Transformation. It is the theme this season as Flint Youth Theatre transforms into Flint Repertory Theatre bringing a hearty slate of plays and presentations to its stages and offering quite truly something for everyone.

Producing Artistic Director Michael Lluberes launched the 2018/2019 season Friday evening with a world premiere performance of Alex Moggridge’s darkly comic The Boatman. It peers into that murky instant between the moment of death and what comes after to find a sort of system in place to ease the transition.

The career the Boatman (Bret Beaudry) is charged with becomes evident immediately as he ferries a woman botanist (Connie Cowper) along the River Styx to “the other side”. In what seems an easy routine developed over eons, he chats with her about her life and the things she loves. Beaudry is kind, yet slightly anxious as Cowper sweetly expresses her character’s nervousness with nearly non-stop, almost panicky conversation. When the Boatman asks if she is ready, she hands over a coin and her grand memories slip away as it is done.

Cowper later plays two other roles as passengers – an Old Woman quite ready to move on, and a Poet for whom Beaudry gently compares the journey to a sand castle being washed away by the sea.

Next in line for the boat trip, Rico Bruce Wade is a diplomat. He arrives on time with an air of confidence that seems to wane as the boat heads out. Still the Boatman runs through his routine only interrupted by the Water, a character in it’s own right. Later Wade will reappear as Time, an interesting and clearly in-charge fellow.

A prominent character(s) on the dock is the Three-Headed Dog. It is the underworld after all, so this snarly, sweet, and sensitive trio has a chance to interact with everyone as they come along. But when a young woman explodes upon the stage clearly launched from some watery origin, even the Dog(s) are taken aback.

Violet (Meagan Kimberly Smith) is anything but ready to sail along to “the other side”! She manages to confound the Boatman, the Dog(s) and even Time in her continued refusal to go quietly. Smith brings a rowdy, unrestrained freshness to this role. She is intrigued by the boat, the Water and the whole general area but has no desire to go further.

She interacts liberally with the Dog(s) as she clearly understands the individual nature of each and speaks to the “middle dog” (Deidre S. Baker) most of the time. Jordan Climie is growly and gruff as Dog 2 and Shelby Lynn Coleman’s Dog 3 is buoyant and bubbly. These three double as the Water and are often moving the boat about and splashing.

Yes! The Elgood stage is a dark wharf atmosphere with the river at its heart. The boat is in a trough of water that stretches across the entire stage and dominates the setting. The dockside surrounds the back of the “river” with the audience closest to water on all three sides of the thrust stage.

Lluberes has done a masterful job with this show. It flows (pardon the pun) very nicely and the troupe is topnotch in their handling of this slightly unsettling subject. Further compliments must go to Shane Cinal for this amazing scenic design. Indeed, the entire production team deserved to share in Friday night’s standing ovation.

We won’t reveal the eventual outcome of the Boatman’s crisis here, but we will recommend this show highly. It is suspenseful, intermittently comic, dark, often irreverent (language) but mesmerizing in its focus.

The Boatman is recommended for teens and adults. It continues at Elgood Theatre September 29 at 2pm & 8pm, September 30 at 2pm (ASL interpreted) and October 5 & 6 at 8pm, and October 6 and 7 at 2pm. For more information contact www.FlintRep.org or 810-237-1530/ Tickets 810-237-7333

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FVP Opens Season with Hilarious Mystery

Reviewed by Karla Froehlich

The-Musical-Murders-of-1940Fenton Village Players opened their production of The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 last night to a small but mighty audience. Director Carla Feamster assembled a bright cast for this mysterious romp through an equally mysterious old house. As for the set, it was handsomely done for a demanding set on a small stage. Entrances and exits flowed well for this large cast of ten who all shared the stage in several scenes and did not overwhelm the space. Well done, construction crew and designers!

I can’t say too much as that might ruin it for you, and this is a mystery so…come with your thinking caps on because the twists this plot takes will have you resembling a pretzel! The exposition in the first scene sets the pace with the hostess, Elsa Von GrossenKnueten, played with exuberance by Mary Powers, providing much of the information needed by the audience to carry the story. Elsa exposes the plot to the Police Sergeant, played with self-confidence by Nick Carter, who successfully hides his identity from the others until necessity dictates. There are some entertaining moments between the two while trying to communicate through miming actions. Hilarious!

Characters came and went with ease on the vast set that holds its own mysteries. Those are for you to find out about when you witness for yourselves! Energy changes with each new appearance of characters and this piece continues to build right to the end.

Several characters go through changes and their arcs are palpable. Once again, I can’t tell you too much or you’ll want to kill me! I will share that there are accents from all over the world and executed with a lot of fun. Is there anyone in this story who is who he or she say they are?? Come see.

There is a fledgling love interested couple – the Comedian, played with joy and poise by Stevie Visser and the Chorus Girl, played lovingly by Grace Lee. Our Chorus Girl has more than Marabou feathers up her sleeve…but that’s for you to find out about as well.

I gravitate towards drunks, who usually fall down a couple times. My eye was drawn but never stolen by the Lyricist, portrayed with dexterity by Tammy Robison. Our girl was on the floor as often as she was pouring another drink, Great excitement and executed with care (no one likes to get hurt, for real!) for the character and for the audience. Always enjoyable!

One note: we need to see all of your eyes more. This may be a function of playing right on top of your audience, and we need your eyes and even eyebrows to help convey! I know they are doing incredible work!

Costumes helped clearly establish character and complimented each other, so even though they came from various closets, they looked like they came from one. All of the characters and dialects were performed with a fullness befitting a seasoned, accomplished director. Kudos to Carla Feamster on her maiden voyage!

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 runs this weekend and next at Fenton Village Playhouse: 14197 Torrey Rd., Fenton, MI. For more info and tickets contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at www.fentontheatre.org


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