Beautifully Intimate “Passing Strange” Serves up a Heaping Bowl of “The Real”

Reviewed By: Stephen Bleau-Visser

Passing StrangeFriday night, a group of incredibly talented independent artists collaborated to bring forth a powerful, thought-provoking rendition of Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s Passing Strange. This Tony – Award winning musical can be challenging to produce because of its extremely ambitious score, and the physical and mental endurance it requires of its actors. Yet if Artistic Director Harvey’s brilliant rendition of this trip on existentialism were any indication, it would appear this troupe was more than up to the task.

Passing Strange follows a boy who is on a trip of self-discovery across Europe and who learns much about himself on the way. His story is told through a perfect combination of song and speech. The Narrator (Melanie Jones) was positioned on the stage left side of the stage segregating the narrator perfectly from the action. Jones provided stellar vocals and the perfect amount of swagger to bring this rock and roll storyteller to life.

We certainly appreciated the subtle parallelisms between the Narrator and The Youth (Harvey) with their matching bright yellow Keds, suggesting that our Narrator is more than just someone telling this story but someone who has lived it. Harvey, a veteran of the Flint Theatre scene couldn’t have portrayed this character more completely. Every movement was executed with beautiful precision. Her chilling vocals will leave you vulnerable, and her stunning characterization makes it look effortless.

Then there is the pivotal character of Mother (Carmen Brown). This character is difficult because most of the actions of The Youth are based solely on the dynamic between him and his mother. Brown does this role absolute justice. She is starkly funny in the role, and embodies all the caricatures the script has laid out for her perfectly. Seemingly able to capture all of the tenderness, Brown brings such an authenticity to the role that she may make you cry in this character that so many of us can relate to.

Rounding out the cast is an incredible ensemble consisting of Jonathan Mateen II, JoJo Bee, Re- C, and Lewis Clay. They work together flawlessly to set up the many difficult characters that must transform The Youth into the Narrator. While they were all phenomenal talents, notable scenes first included JoJo Bee, incredible as Mariana, and displaying significant acting prowess. Also, as Desi, Re-C was perfect. Maybe it’s the feminist in me, but the book has written some very powerful female characters, and the actors were up to the challenge. Jonathan Mateen II was especially notable as Frederick, the closeted preacher’s son who led the choir, and Lewis Clay as Christophe. The core was never more entertaining than in their huge ensemble song “We Just Had Sex”. This upended the entire audience at the extremely quaint Local 432 venue in the heart of Flint, Michigan.

If you are impressed by real theatre, and you wish to be moved by some pretty heavy art, get down to the Local 432 this weekend to see this incredible troupe accompanied by a remarkable ensemble of musicians (Anthony Fiemster, Ethan Martin, Tyler Robinson, and Tarrence Smith). The troupe and their band will blow your socks off. Bring tissues, and maybe a chair. Standing room only!

Passing Strange continues this weekend at the Local 432! Warning: The language is strong. There are also strong sexual themes present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fairy Tales Collide With Gusto at REP’s “Into the Woods”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbyintowoods

A full house streamed into the cozy Elgood Theater Friday evening for Flint Repertory Theatre’s pristine opening performance of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s timeless musical Into the Woods.

Stepping around and over metal platforms, folks soon realized this would be an up close and personal adventure into the land of fairy tales, happy endings and the realities that can emerge in moments.

Director Michael Lluberes has assembled a cast of immense talent to bring this storybook tale to life. In doing so, he and his technical team chose a different path for these woods making them more industrial in nature. Shane Cinal’s multi-layered platforms replete with metal stairs, ramps, even a spiral stair as well as heavy hanging ropes allow for many playing spaces at once.

Vocal expertise is also apparent from the opening full company “Prologue: Into the Woods”. Everyone is impressive beginning with the Narrator (Rico Bruce Wade) who will later transform into the Mysterious Man as will several others appear in more than one role.

Anchoring the storyline, the Baker (Jason Briggs) and his wife (Victoria Huston-Elem) bring joy, sorrow, longing and grief to their roles as they become embroiled in all the tales. Both are strong vocalists; their “It Takes Two” is genuine and engaging.

As for the fairy tale folks, Emily Hadick’s voice is stellar throughout as Cinderella. She and Huston-Elem are wonderful while discussing her suitor – “A Very Nice Prince”. Also, Amanda Kuo is perky, funny, and gritty as Little Red Ridinghood. Accosted by a clearly blood thirsty Wolf (Bill English), she gives up grandma with sweet naiveté while singing “Hello, Little Girl”.

English appears more often as the Prince. He is wonderfully comic and crafty in this role and hysterical in his duet with Rapunzel’s Prince (Bello Pizzimenti) which finds them expressing their “Agony” over the women in their life.

Most of the problems emerge in this tangled tale because Jack (Gage Webster) climbed the beanstalk and stirred up a giant. Webster executes some amazing gymnastics as he sings “Giants in the Sky” while hanging from and climbing a rope to the rafters!

Of course, there’s a witch – isn’t there always a witch? This one is cunning and magical and a mother! Elizabeth Jaffe is wrathful and loud as she storms about threatening and hopefully protecting her daughter, Rapunzel (Veronica Battersby) from Pizzimenti’s Prince.

Others adding to the amazing choral numbers (“First Midnight”, “Ever After”, and “Children Will Listen”) include Meredith Deighton as Florinda, Amy Dolan-Malaney as Jack’s mother, and Maddie Ringvelski as Lucinda.

Further kudos to Chelsie McPhilimy and Sonja Marquis respectively for their amazing light and sound designs which lent credibility and sparked imagination to make it all nearly real!

Interestingly, costumes designed by Brandon R. McWilliams are basically colorless in shades of beige. Nothing bright or cheery (except Red’s cape) detracts from the tales and the folks at their center. They match the set’s ropes that seem to serve as vines, even trees, sometimes hair and to delineate paths and also obscure them. Indeed, it is individual talent that takes center stage.

Overall, this production draws viewers into the action. The Elgood stage demands they be nearly part of the action. The giant and other perils are much more real when they seem to be right there, and the pathos is ever more touching when the tears are up close.

Into the Woods continues through December 15. For more information, times and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at https://FlintRep.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strong Ensemble Presents “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope”

Reviewed by Tomoko Millercant cope musical

Thursday’s opening night performance of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope at The New McCree Theatre buzzed with a family-like atmosphere. It seemed the entirety of McCree’s staff and volunteers were on hand to cheerfully greet patrons as they arrived. The excitement of opening night was palpable as the audience entered.
 

This historically significant musical revue found fame in 1972 by being the first Broadway play written and directed by African-American women, Micki Grant and Vinnette Carroll, respectively. It mixes various musical styles with an authentic and celebratory look at African-American culture. Director Cathye Johnson mimics the free-form style of the original Tony Award winning production with a minimal set, instead highlighting her gifted singers.
 

A warm, disembodied voice opened the show with spoken word poetry to a darkened house and closed curtains. Once the curtains opened, actors and musicians casually entered through multiple entrances, positioning themselves at the various levels as though slowly populating a neighborhood block party. Without dialogue or music it was a seemingly odd second start of the show. It set a mellow mood that betrayed the lively score yet to come.
 

While this was a thoroughly proficient ensemble cast, there were some notable standout performances. Frederick Fife’s swagger in his rendition of “Looking Over from Your Side” electrified the stage. Janaé Atkins’ sultry performance of “Billie’s Blues” was enthralling. Music director and keyboard player, Phillip Young’s crooning of “So Little Time” seemed to speak right to the heart and soul of each audience member. Tiana Rison’s commanding stage presence during “Universe in Mourning” was equally passionate even though it appeared she carried a written copy of the lyrics with her on stage. John Vincent drew attention with his bountiful energy and comedic pizzazz.
 

Sound mixing was up to par: the professionally skilled musicians balanced well with the voices. Often this can be a problem with many theatre productions, so it was a nice break from the norm. However, technical glitches with body mics and lighting occasionally deterred from the show. Choreography and blocking are generally expected to enhance a musical, both of which in this case seemed to be under-rehearsed. While the easygoing style of the show, combined with informal clothing suggested a welcomed open interpretation to setting and time, it often contributed to the absence of a unifying theme. While the play felt more like a concert showcase than a revue, the songs were spirited and the singers phenomenally talented.
 

Each song explores subjects that are still relevant in today’s culture, sometimes with a bit of tongue-in-cheek satire, sometimes with excruciating honesty. The framework for a great show is there and will definitely improve with each performance.
 

Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope runs Thursdays through Saturdays until December 21st. The New McCree Theatre is now located in Northwestern High School, located at 2138 W. Carpenter Road, Flint. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or visit them online at www.thenewmccreetheatre.com

 

 

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Suicide Relatable and Unexpectedly Funny in “Every Brilliant Thing”

Reviewed by Tomoko Miller75474131_10156639513666629_1774275398276743168_n

It started with a simple request as the crowd entered. “Would you like a card?” On a white index card was written “521. the word PLINTH.” The walls of the house at Flint Community Players were decorated with hundreds of similar index cards in pastel blue, yellow, and pink, and on each one written another cryptic bit of joy. “Bubble tea”. “Falling asleep in a freshly made bed”. At a table near the stage were pens and post-its with an invitation to add to the list on the walls. Seats were available on the stage for those audience members who wanted to be further enveloped in the atmosphere. Warm, cheerful, and welcoming was the least expected way to start a play about suicide.

Director Zachary Wood took the stage for a brief curtain speech and to give instructions to the card holders. As their numbers were said in the play, they were to yell out what was written on the card they received. The List Maker, played by the handsome and magnetic Brett Smith, took the stage a split second later. With the house lights at full brightness, what at first seemed like a mistake soon turned out to be by design. Blurring the line between actor and character, The List Maker relayed a story about his mother’s depression. Smith bounced around the audience as if telling a story to close friends.

While the script boasts a single actor, the characters abound. The List Maker enlisted those audience members closest to the stage as temporary fill-ins for the people in his life, going so far as to whisper lines into their ears or having them read lines off of props, although the playwrights, Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, have notably not included the mother as one of the speaking characters. Flirtatious at times, self-depreciating at others, Smith was most authentic when interacting with the audience, though slightly dry when monologuing. One hopes he will use his natural charisma to energize his performance in the future, as we wouldn’t mind seeing him perform again. Smith had little difficulty coercing people to perform alongside him. Zachary Wood’s addition of The Chorus, actors Levi Brownfield, Lindsay Brownfield, Jason Brownfield, Jessi Jean Eldredge, and Jeff Rogner, helped move along the pieces of the show with more dialogue from the other characters.

The List Maker narrates his life starting at 7-years-old and into his adulthood, starting with his mother’s attempted suicide and battle with depression. A child’s naive view of suicide set the tone for the show. His mother could be cured by simply making a list of all the things in the world that made life worth living. He adds to the list over the course of his life, sometimes adding items by thousands at a time, sometimes floundering as he went through his own life’s challenges.

The only thing that seemed lacking were the walls of the set. Also covered in colorful notecards, the walls themselves were left unpainted. A random mix of flats from previous shows created a chaotic and incohesive background to the beloved list. A sign with the rules of the list was hand-written and barely legible even when standing inches from the stage. This reviewer would have preferred a more orderly and elegant set, especially given that as of late the Players have had exceptional sets for their other shows. A small pile of props and furniture placed center stage was charming, and better served the feeling of moving through different times and settings. Also, the bits of music that occasionally illustrated the show were delightful and well-timed, but sometimes drowned-out dialogue. However, it was never long enough to detract from the enjoyment of the moment.

The real star is not the actor nor the audience, but how they interact with each other. A feeling of community seemed to wash over everyone as the evening progressed. For a show about suicide, it maintained an upbeat ambience with people laughing and yelling in their seats.

High fives all around, quite literally!

Every Brilliant Thing is rated PG and is a part of the Flint Community Players Ghost Light Series, which self-professes to spark conversation. With that in mind, there is a talk back at the end of the show in which the audience has the option of participating.

This weekend only, it shows again tonight, Saturday, November 23 at 7:30, and again Sunday, November 24 at 2:30. Tickets are $5 for college students, and $10 for adults.

 

 

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“Wait Until Dark” Needs a Flashlight

Reviewed by Amber M. Dillard

untitled-design-2_orig It was a sparse opening night for Flint Community Players and their production of Wait Until Dark, a suspenseful thriller written by Frederick Knott and directed by Anthony Ennis. Still, it kept us guessing and was played (mostly) in the dark.

The production centers around a blind housewife, Susy Hendrix, who unknowingly possesses a doll filled with drugs and a conman, Harry Roat, who desperately wants to find the doll and sell it. Roat enlists the help of two recently released from prison thugs, Mike Talman and Sgt. Carlino, which stirs the opening of the plot. First we meet Mike Talman, played by Thomas J. Goedert, who is driven by his need for money to be a participant in Roat’s evil games. Goedert delivered a wonderful performance and really brought out the humanity in his role as a conman.   He and his counterpart thug, Sgt. Carlino, played by Gene Pincomb II played nicely off of each other although Pincomb was sometimes hard to understand.

Talman and Sgt. Carlino are coerced into assisting Harry Roat Jr. and Sr., both played by Christopher Dinnan who easily changed into various characters with ease and style. We enjoyed his performance but only wish that we could have seen more because it was obstructed by the darkness. The true standout of the cast has to be Allison Ouellette who plays the target of Roat’s plan, Susy Hendrix. Ouellette is believably blind, vulnerable, smart, and strong as her character arch progresses through the day’s events.

Rounding out the cast are Susy’s husband, Sam Hendrix, played dutifully by Christopher Carlson and their upstairs neighbor girl, Gloria, played sweetly by Marie Halligan. Congrats also to our two policemen played by Matthew Cremeans and Davonte Tenniswood.

While Thursday night’s performance had some lighting and sound kinks to work out we must stress how impressed we were with the superior set design and construction work by Rick Doll, Cindy Hubbard, and Ron Barrett. It was expertly assembled and decorated, and easily helped move the story along. More kudos are due to the front of house staff and box office for all of their hard work.

Wait Until Dark continues through November 17 at FCP’s Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. Flint, MI 48507. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-235-6963 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

 

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Flint’s REP Brings Theatre of the Absurd to Life in “The Chairs”

Reviewed by Kathleen KirbyChairsWebBanner1

Lots of definitions describe what is known as theater of the absurd, but they all agree that this post-WWII art form puts forth the ludicrous, even farcical nature of human life by using confusing, illogical and basically meaningless action and dialogue. Eugene Ionesco, one of the most heralded playwrights of the genre, penned The Chairs that opened to an enthusiastic reception at Flint Repertory Theatre Friday.

Often billed as an absurdist comedy, there certainly are comical moments as an aged couple living in Paris try desperately to come to come up with a message worth passing on to mankind; to give life a meaning of sorts.

Kay Kelly as the Old Woman and Michael Kelly as the Old Man range about their disheveled, war-torn apartment chatting about nothing at first. The apartment appears to be water locked, on an island of sorts. The Kellys are amazing from the beginning as they banter lovingly about nothing in particular. We soon begin to realize these two are and have been alone together for quite sometime.

Michael’s Old Man seems to grasp that now, at age 95, he has only a short time left and has failed to accomplish anything meaningful aside from his self-proclaimed position as “general factotum”. Michael’s moment of regression into childhood is both poignant and distressing as Kay becomes a projection of his mother even going so far as to sit on her lap as he cries.

Indeed, Kay’s Old Woman, herself 94, must also realize the impending end of what seems a meaningless life as she encourages her husband that to express himself may possibly bring back all they’ve lost. In her constant buoying up and encouraging of this clearly confused man, Kay’s portrayal is both comic and tender but also heartrending.

Ultimately, the Old Man’s decision to engage an Orator to give his message to the world begins an onslaught of unseen visitors invited to hear his wisdom. As they hurry to find chairs for each newcomer, the stage begins to fill with “characters”. We hear one side of each conversation, but can easily imagine the unheard side. Soon the supply of chairs runs out and all manner of stools, pots, and ledges are employed until the area is packed and the two householders find themselves stranded apart – one on the far right and the other on the far left.

Now, it’s important to say here that this production is performed in the Bower’s black box playing area that brings the audience into very close proximity with the stage. Intriguingly, the chairs nearly mirror the arrangement of chairs in the audience so that they could easily begin to identify with the assembled invisible beings on the stage.   Perhaps to encourage this very effect, Ionesco has painted the occupations of this group with a broad brush.

We won’t reveal the final scene, but will say the character of the Orator (Harvey) is not what we expected and clearly was not what the Old Man and Woman had in mind either.

Michael and Kay Kelly meld perfectly into these characters as they portray the pathos and the satire that is combined here. This remarkable performance is one they were meant to do.

Director Alex Bodine, scenic designer Andrew Licout, and lighting designer Jennifer Fok have returned once again to bring their professional expertise to bear on this production. They are a formidable team as they bring this theatrically rich production to the Bower stage. With its bombed-out appearance, the apartment takes on a marooned feeling exactly right for this story. As the chairs begin to multiply, the briefly lit glimpses of a shoreline-like raft of chairs in the distance adds symbolism and ghostly meaning.

The Chairs is a historical and genre-specific play that isn’t blithely performed. It is well worth the experience. Go for it!

The Chairs continues at Flint Repertory Theatre through November 10. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or access online at flintrep.org/tickets

 

 

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OCP Presents “Marvin’s Room” – A Family Tale

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

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It was a dark and stormy night Saturday as we drove out to Owosso to see the OCP (Owosso Community Players) current drama, Marvin’s Room by Scott McPherson. One could comment that the weather was a good preamble to the story about to unfold on the Lebowsky Center stage. In truth, the story told in this play is dark, but it also harbors light and hope.

Beginning in Florida, we find Bessie (Debie Lundeen) nervously seated in a doctor’s office as a slightly fumbling Dr. Wally (Ben Cassidy) fills in for Bessie’s usual doctor. There is comedy here right off the bat as Dr. Wally seems confused as to who exactly he is treating, cannot locate all the blood testing tools and lets slip that there is a bug infestation in the building. Okay, we see that there will be a sense of humor at work here.

Bessie is a caregiver. She has been responsible for her father who she says has been dying for 20 years, and for her aunt Ruth who has a back injury being treated electronically and wears a lavaliere control around her neck. Ruth (Deb Knipe) is sweet and funny as she complains that though the contraption works well, it also sets off the garage door opener every time she uses it.

We never see Marvin. His room is behind opaque glass upstage but we see the flashing light he enjoys as the sunlight reflects off a mirror.

When Bessie finds out that her “vitamin deficiency” is in reality leukemia, she is told to contact family for possible bone marrow donors. But her only relative is an estranged sister in Ohio with whom she’s had no contact for years. Still, she reaches out.

Lee (Lyn Freeman) has had a bit of a topsy-turvy life and is introduced as a gruff and angry woman, but we feel her pain. She has one 17-year-old son, Hank (Ayden Soupal) who is in a mental institution since burning the house down. She also has a younger son, Charlie (Evan Worden) who reads constantly and says little.

Soupal brings an amazing depth to this troubled young man. His performance is both disturbing and touching. So we have a divided family, nearly opposite in temperament, now joined to focus on a hopeful outcome. It’s not an easy road.

Bessie is the heart of this story. She is compassionate and caring, and her selflessness not only contrasts with the selfishness around her, but it subtly transforms her sister and her angry nephew. It’s all about family and the ultimate wonder that Bessie’s kindness bestows.

There is not a weak link in this show. Director Stephanie Banghart has managed to bring a blend of just the right amount of pathos and wit to this performance. Each characterization is full and unnervingly believable. We only wish more folks had braved Saturday’s downpour to come out and see this ultimately heartwarming tale.

Marvin’s Room continues at The Lebowsky Center for Performing Arts October 27 and November 1, 2, and 3. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 989-723-4003 or online at lebowskycenter.com

 

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