Original Musical “Sparkle Too” Debuts at McCree Theatre

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbysparkle-too723x376

We spent a tuneful evening Friday as McCree Theatre continued their original musical entitled Sparkle Too. Written by McCree Executive Director Charles H. Winfrey, it tells the story in song of a young woman bent on pursuing a career in music even when warned of the pitfalls and obstacles surely to be in her way.

Of the nineteen musical numbers, ten feature lyrics sprung from Winfrey’s pen with music and arrangements the work of the show’s music director Phillip Young. It is truly an impressive homegrown production.

The story begins with Young Sparkle (Amari P. Robinson/Kristiya Amith/Mariah Thompson) already dreaming of singing for a living and asking “Mama, Why You So Mean”. Her mother has been down this road and tries to warn her daughter to be careful what she wishes for.

Time passes and teen Sparkle (Ariya Canada) enters a high school talent contest with her friend and wins singing “Mama Said”. They dub themselves the Rainettes and go on to win more contests often in competition with another group, The Chandeliers.

Singing “Honey Chile”, Sparkle and her mom (Precious Austin) wrangle a bit over Sparkle’s determination to continue down this road instead of going to college. Still the contests and appearances continue until Sparkle is lured away from her friends and convinced to go solo.

Mom makes one last poignant attempt to dissuade her with a potentially lovely “All That Glitters Ain’t Gold” however the band overpowered both singers Friday and turned the lyric into basically loud noise.

The second half of the show is almost all Winfrey/Young original music as we see Sparkle (Ayana S. Mitts) descend into a dark and dangerous life. She is a star but her life begins to spiral out of control. Her rendition of “I’m So Confused” is strong and “Living In The Past” finds her expressing some possible regret.

A happy ending is in the works although grief and sorrow have to be overcome before she can emerge happy and reunited with her friends and family.

Director Cathye Johnson has her work cut out for her with the large cast and the many scene changes. This group handles those scene shifts well with a minimum of time elapsing before the action continues. If there was a problem Friday, it was a technical one with microphones cutting in and out at inopportune times.

This play could easily be described as more a revue than a plotted play. The story does unfold, but the time between musical numbers is often short and songs are used to move the plot along. Fortunately this group has a history of musical excellence as they are loaded with strong singers and fine instrumental musicians.

If you are a fan of good music and an interesting tale of a young woman’s trek toward stardom, you’ll like this show.

Sparkle Too continues at McCree Theatre, 2040 W. Carpenter Rd, Flint, MI 48505 through June 1. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or online at http://thenewmccreetheatre.com/sparkle-too.html

 

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FLINT REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS WORLD PREMIERE MUSICAL REVUE “SONGS ABOUT STUFF: THE MUSIC OF WALLY PLEASANT”

Flint Repertory Theatre presents “SONGS ABOUT STUFF: THE MUSIC OF WALLY PLEASANT” a world premiere musical revue celebrating the songs of Mid-Michigan comic singer-songwriter Wally Pleasant. Conceived and Directed by Producing Artistic Director Michael Lluberes. Performances begin Friday May 31 and runs through Sunday June 9. Tickets are now on sale.

Known for such comic songs as “Denny’s at Four A.M.”, “Bad Haircut”, “Stupid Day Job” and “Small Time Drug Dealer”, East Lansing native Wally Pleasant became an underground college radio hit in the 1990’s. This world premiere musical revue finally puts Wally’s songs where they belong: on the theatrical stage! Featuring four amazing musical theatre performers singing and acting out Wally’s songs with a live rock band, this collage like song-cycle is an offbeat celebration of his music, humor and quirky way of looking at the world.

“SONGS ABOUT STUFF: THE MUSIC OF WALLY PLEASANT” is conceived and directed by Michael Lluberes (The Glass Menagerie, Assassins) and features Scenic Design by Shane Cinal (Assassins), Costume Design by Katherine Nelson (Riddle of the Trilobites), Lighting Design by Chelsie McPhilimy (The Glass Menagerie) and Sound Design by Scott Griffus.

“SONGS ABOUT STUFF: THE MUSIC OF WALLY PLEASANT” stars Amanda Kuo, Mary Paige Rieffel (Assassins) and Gage Webster.

Performances are: Friday, May 31 at 8:00pm, Saturday, June 1 at 2:00pm and 8:00pm, Sunday, June 2 at 2:00pm. Friday, June 7 at 8:00pm, Saturday, June 8 at 2:00pm and 8:00pm, Sunday, June 9 at 2:00pm.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for teens & seniors and $8 for college students (College Student Rush Rate with valid I.D., one hour prior to a performance). Genesee County Residents receive a 30% discount on public performances and subscriptions. Tickets may be purchased through The Ticket Center at 1241 E. Kearsley St., Flint, 810.237.7333 or through http://www.FlintRep.org.

“SONGS ABOUT STUFF: THE MUSIC OF WALLY PLEASANT” is presented as part of The Rep’s Signature Series and is sponsored by Whiting Foundation. Flint Repertory Theatre is located at 1220 E. Kearsley St., Flint, MI 48503.

WALLY PLEASANT BIO: Post punk folk singer Wally Pleasant takes a humorous stance on subjects in his songs, including Ted Nugent, grandmas addicted to bingo and late nights at Dennys. Based in Michigan. Pleasant debuted in 1992 on Miranda Records with “Songs About Stuff” and followed it up the following year with “Welcome To Pleasantville”. His third album “Houses of the Holy Moly” followed in 1994. “Wally World”, released in 1996 returned Pleasant to his accoustic roots. In 2000 “Hoedown” was released with such classics as Two For One Coupon and Let’s Go Bowling Tonight. In 2004 Wally released “Music For Nerds and Perverts” on Nashville based Spat! Records. In the years following Pleasant ventured into commercial work. 2010’s Biggby Coffee jingle earned Pleasant an Emmy. In 2019 “Happy Hour” was released. This vinyl release ventures into rootsy country music while keeping the same quirky subject matter that has made Wally Pleasant a truly original songwriter.

 

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FCP’s Season Concludes With “La Cage Aux Folles”

Reviewed by Kathleen KirbyLa-Cage-FINAL1

Flint Community Players bit off a chunk more than they could chew Thursday with the opening of their current production of La Cage Aux Folles. Challenging for professional companies, an amateur group needs to think long and hard before deciding to jump into the fray with this one. After all, it calls for a troupe of male dancers who can dress and perform as females, and this dance chorus was obviously all women except for one.

The story is probably familiar to most since this Tony Award winning show has been around since the early 80s. Adapted from Jean Poiret’s play of the same name with book by Harvey Fierstein and music/lyrics by Jerry Herman, La Cage depicts the daily dilemmas of a middle-aged homosexual couple, Georges (Dan Ryan) and Albin (Chazz Irwin). Georges is the owner/emcee of a French Riviera nightclub featuring female impersonators as showgirls, and Albin is the headlining star.

Ryan was dapper most of the time and handled the vocals nicely although his songs’ messages didn’t come through strongly. Irwin was earnest in his attempt to bring Albin/Zaza to life and does an acceptable job with it. Still, these two never were able to make us believe that the relationship between them was real.

Director Dan Gerics is also the drummer in the visible stage-left band, and from that vantage point it could be difficult to judge the overall impact the show may have on the audience.

Thursday night the first act was uneven but with some high points such as Ryan and Irwin’s nice rendition of “With You On My Arm”. Still there were rough patches anytime the chorus gals were on as their numbers lacked spontaneity and were often reduced to poses.

The story behind this show is one of love in all its forms and fashions. This aspect emerges further when Georges and Albin’s son Jean-Michele arrives home with news of his impending wedding. Brett Smith is okay in this role and more believable when his fiancé Anne (Marie Burchi) arrives.

But, conflict arises when Jean-Michel asks his “mother”, Albin/Zaza, to stay away when Ann’s parents come to meet Georges. It seems that Ann’s father is the government official in charge of morality who has vowed to close down the very gay clubs and cross-dressing shows in which Georges and Albin thrive.

A stab at having Albin show up as an uncle prompts a cute number – “Masculinity”, and a sweet sentiment is sung as Georges points out what love means with “Look Over There”.

This second act picked up some steam with the arrival of Anne’s parents, Edouard Dindon (Todd Clemons) and Mme. Dindon (Sherry Handa) and their visit to the café run by the flamboyant Jacqueline (Jennifer Harris). All of this leads to the end as the press invades when M. Dindon is discovered to be consorting with “immoral” types. The escape from Jacqueline’s is clever and fun to watch.

Technically, the set was well done and workable. Lighting was okay; it might be worth subtle dimming on the brightly lit early chorus numbers. Costumes are interesting. Some are sparkling and bright while others are odd and seem too tight. We were not impressed by Irwin’s wigs which seemed to smash his face by riding too low on his forehead.

The instrumental quartet accompaniment was good. Nearly onstage they still managed to be just the right volume to not overwhelm the performers. Musical director Desmond Sheppard was on keyboard with Tyler Gilbert on bass, Rachel Green on trumpet and Gerics on drums.

To be fair, thirty plus years ago the relationships that are at the heart of this story were not widely accepted or understood. This play was a unique look into the reality of love and nurture that can happen in such an alternative lifestyle. Perhaps with today’s broad acceptance in place it doesn’t hold the impact that it once did.

Still, there is a lot left undone here. Whether it was a shortage of rehearsal time or just the overwhelming challenge that goes beyond simple song and dance in this show, the overall effect was less than stunning. We can hope that successive performances will see improvements as so often happens after opening night is out of the way.

La Cage Aux Folles continues through May 19 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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Clio Cast & Crew’s “Calendar Girls” is Impressive

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbyimages

Clio Cast and Crew took a leap of faith Friday night as they launched Tim Firth’s hilarious, moving and overall impressive performance of Calendar Girls. It is based on a true story about a group of middle-aged British women who posed for and printed a calendar with themselves in the nude to make money for their local hospital.

Why, you may ask, would these matronly gals do such a thing – and we can assure you they have a strong and heartfelt reason. But the show begins with six ladies gathered for their Women’s Institute (WI) meeting (think female Elks club). Chris (Paula Price) leads the exercises while Cora (Sandra Turner) plays piano accompaniment.

Annie (Judie Santo), Ruth (Sue Bennett), Jessie (Lorrie McCarty) and Celia (Mattie Speed) are willing to go along with Chris but not when she’s making up new moves. Annie is tired and worried about her husband, John. He is waiting for a diagnosis that will not be good.

Jeff Rogner is interesting as John. He provides a good look at someone going down hill fast as he moves from his energetic first appearance to his wheelchair-bound weakened state. It is his death that sparks Chris to decide to raise funds for a more comfortable settee for the oncology waiting room where Annie spent so much time.

The idea is unanimously accepted until the ladies realize that Chris means to craft a calendar starring THEM!

This is perhaps the best part of the show as each one is set up and posed with carefully arranged props guarding their modesty but illustrating the things each likes to do. There are large muffins for the baker, flowers for the gardener, yarn for the knitter … you get the idea. Director Maggie Harmon has worked wonders with this staging as each gal comes to her moment. Quite well choreographed, it allows the audience to enjoy it and never worry that something will go awry. Fortified by wine and the support of each other, the ladies carry on producing marvelous pictures all while the comedic aspect of the affair bubbles through.

Each of these gals deserve praise for their individuality as they create characters so believable they may resemble someone you know. Annie is at the heart of the piece as she moves from light into darkness when her husband dies. Santo touchingly portrays Annie’s constant effort to move on in the face of this awful loss.

Price plays Chris as caring yet very strong as she strives to bring both Annie and the WI into a successful and praiseworthy place. Her efforts are often criticized but they win out in the end.

Celia is flashy, alluring, and outspoken. Speed brings this colorful character to glorious life in style. Cora worries about what her daughter will think of her. Turner is funny and forceful in this role that we can all relate to on some level.

McCarty’s Jessie is a hoot as the retired teacher who says whatever pops into her head. Her quip to the cameraman was perfect. Finally, Ruth is sweet and sensible. Bennett brings out her comic sense first with her bunny outfit and then surprises with her reaction to the photo shoot.

Others of note include Melanie Poisson as the haughty WI leader Marie, Cassidy Couturier as Brenda the broccoli lecturer, William Kircher as Chris’s husband Rod, Rebecca Norris as the surprising Lady Cravenshire, Steve Yerian as the photographer Lawrence and Preston Sanicolas as Liam the photographer’s assistant.

Calendar Girls is a lovely story of friendship, determination and courage. It is also about loss, the importance of perseverance and the belief that all these can bring us what we strive for … or even more. Go see it – you’ll be really glad you did!

Calendar Girls continues at Clio Cast and Crew’s Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Road, Clio, MI 48420 through May 5. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at cliocastandcrew.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Flint Theatre Guild Sets Auditions for Inaugural Season

The Flint Theatre Guild, a new nonprofit theatre company in Flint, Michigan, announced auditions for its inaugural summer season. They will take place Tuesday, April 30 and Wednesday, May 1, 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm in the lower level meeting room (B1) of the Flint Public Library, 1026 E. Kearsley St. (This program is not sponsored by the Flint Public Library.) No preparation is necessary.

Productions include The Real Inspector Hound, A Bright New Boise, and Painting Churches. Performances will be held at the University of Michigan-Flint Blackbox.

The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard                                                             Performance Dates: July 11, 12, 13, 14                                                                                     Directed by Shelly L Hoffman

Feuding theatre critics Moon and Birdboot, the first a fusty philanderer and the second a pompous and vindictive second stringer, are swept into the Agatha Christie-like whodunit they are viewing. As mists rise about isolated Muldoon Manor, Moon and Birdfoot become dangerously implicated in the lethal activities of an escaped madman.

Roles Available

MOON – a second string critic.

BIRDBOOT – a rival critic.

MRS. DRUDGE – housekeeper of Muldoon Manor. Character in the play Birdboot and Moon are reviewing.

SIMON – a visitor to Muldoon Manor. Character in the play Birdboot and Moon are reviewing.

FELICITY – one of Simon’s lovers. Character in the play Birdboot and Moon are reviewing.

CYNTHIA – another of Simon’s lovers. Character in the play Birdboot and Moon are reviewing.

MAGNUS – the crippled half-brother to Lord Muldoon. Character in the play Birdboot and Moon are reviewing.

INSPECTOR HOUND – detective inspecting a murder at Muldoon Manor. Character in the play Birdboot and Moon are reviewing.

BBC RADIO VOICE

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A Bright New Boise by Samuel D Hunter                                                                       Performance Dates: July 25-28                                                                                                   Directed by Tomoko Miller

In the bleak, corporate break room of a craft store in Idaho, someone is summoning The Rapture. Will, who has fled his rural hometown after a scandal at his Evangelical church, comes to the Hobby Lobby, not only for employment, but also to rekindle a relationship with Alex, his brooding teenage son, whom he gave up for adoption several years ago. Alex works there along with Leroy, his adopted brother and protector, and Anna, a hapless young woman who reads bland fiction but hopes for dramatic endings. As their manager, foul-mouthed Pauline, tries ceaselessly to find order (and profit) in the chaos of small business, these lost souls of the Hobby Lobby confront an unyielding world through the beige-tinted impossibility of modern faith. Samuel D. Hunter’s A Bright New Boise is an earnest comedy about the meager profits of modern faith.

Roles Available

WILL – Male, late 30s timid, conservative, awkward

PAULINE – Female, 30 – 60 foul-mouthed and fast-paced manager of the Hobby Lobby.

ANNA – Female 25 – 40 quirky, sweet, lonely, and a bit chatty

LEROY – Male, 18 – 28 self-professed shock artist; fiercely protective of Alex, and fiercely suspicious of authority, religion and Will.

ALEX – Male, (must look like a high school senior) sensitive yet hardened by life, fragile but trying to appear tough.

HOBBY LOBBY TV PERSONALITIES – two reps who read dull copy from the Hobby Lobby corporate office.

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Painting Churches by Tina Howe                                                                                       Performance Dates: August 8-10 and 16-18                                                                            Directed by Shelly L. Hoffman

Gardner and Fanny Church are preparing to move out of their Beacon Hill house to their summer cottage on Cape Cod. Gardner, once a famous poet, now is retired. He slips in and out of senility as his wife Fanny valiantly tries to keep them both afloat. They have asked their daughter, Mags, to come home and help them move. Mags agrees, for she hopes as well to finally paint their portrait.

Roles

FANNY CHURCH (Already Cast) – a Bostonian from a fine old family, in her 60s

GARDNER CHURCH (Already Cast) – her husband, an eminent New England poet from a finer family, in his 70s

MARGARET CHURCH (MAGS) – their daughter, a painter, in her early 30s

Plays are produced by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.

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REP’s “The Glass Menagerie” Is A Must See

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby                       56363610_2129288077161106_2573474696443985920_n

A beautiful, almost ethereal production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie opened Friday at Flint Repertory Theatre (REP). It is a riveting glimpse inside a world of emotional family relationships and the angst endured in their efforts to find contentment.

Director Michael Lluberes has chosen to unfold this “memory play” in an intimate space created by locating audience and playing area together on a black-draped stage. The characters are close up where playgoers can feel included in the action.

Williams coined the term “memory play” to describe this narrated piece. Michael Lopetrone tells the story as both narrator and character Tom Wingfield, and scenes evolve based on that telling. Lopetrone opens the action by directly addressing the audience. He sets the scene and the tone by explaining that he will turn back time, and he also speaks of the other characters in the play. Lopetrone presents this character as intense and certainly frustrated, creative and caring, but driven to escape.

Janet Haley is Tom’s mother, Amanda Wingfield. Amanda is beautiful and kind, but also a tad silly in her reminiscences of a Mississippi girlhood long gone. Her children are her focus and she finds it vexing that they cannot seem to understand the lifestyle she has held in her mind for them. Haley brings an intriguing air of gentility and spunk to this role. She is wistful one minute and scolding the next, yet she portrays the futility that Amanda perceives as her life with pain and even comic grace.

Playing Laura Wingfield, Meredith Deighton brings out Laura’s excruciating shyness and her near complete escape into her music and her glass collection. Deighton is marvelous in this role; her panic and her fear are real as is her near emergence from both in Act 2 with the gentleman caller.

That gentleman is Jim O’Connor, a co-worker of Tom’s. Scott Anthony Joy’s portrayal is refreshing and outgoing. He is a breath of the outside world when he comes to call. The slow realization that he and Laura knew each other in high school is intriguing to watch as she begins to come out of her shell.

Joy’s character is the one “normal” fellow in this story, but even he has secrets. He crafts this fellow as a smiling, polite, compassionate and overall nice guy.

Set in an alley in St. Louis, the play employs a sparsely furnished space with only the necessities. There is much use of “fire escapes”, and with careful use of lighting effects and by leaving the rigging exposed the tenement effect is enhanced.

Indeed, lighting is key in this production. Williams specifically dictates that the stage be dim and unrealistic. In the second act the lights go out and the use of candles is handled nicely to create an even more otherworldly atmosphere.

Overall, this is an exceptionally impressive production of an American masterpiece. The REP is to be congratulated for bringing this amazing level of creative expertise to our own backyard. It should not be missed.

The Glass Menagerie continues at Flint Repertory Theatre, 1220 E. Kearsley St, Flint, MI 48503 through April 14. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at www.FlintRep.org

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Dating and Friendship: “Significant Other” Puts it all Out There

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel

As an alumnus of the Department of Theatre and Dance, it is always a pleasure to return to the University of Michigan- Flint to watchso productions. Friday’s production of Significant Other, directed by Bill Irwin, was written by Joshua Hartman and first performed Off-Broadway in 2015, eventually making its way to Broadway in 2017. The plot revolves around Jordan, a gay man in his late twenties who must endure watching his three closest friends find relationships and then attending their weddings. All this leaves Jordan feeling alone and unsure of how to proceed with his own pursuit of love.

The action of the play takes place in the round on the mainstage (a clever and effective trend in the theatre scene recently). Upon first observing the set I assumed that it was a projection casting the face of the lead actor (Gage Webster) on the floor. It was not until I was leaving at the end of the evening that I finally saw that the image was created by hundreds of snapshots from every day life, depicting mostly family and friendship. The rest of the set (designed by Lisa Borton) simply consisted of a bench and string lights. Aided by smart lighting and costume changes (lighting design by Doug Mueller and costume design by Shelby Newport), this proved to be all the play required to set its scenes.

I very much enjoyed watching actual young adults playing young adults and utilizing the modern text naturally. Sandy Doll, Alyssa Banister, and Koyasha Kent played the three best friends to Jordan who all wind up finding their other significant others. Doll plays Laura, Jordan’s BEST friend, with a sweet and steady tone. Kent plays Vanessa, the friend who tells it like it is and Banister plays Kiki, the grown-up party girl we all know whose future children we legitimately fear for. As a young adult who had to play an elderly woman several times in my college career, I must truly commend Lindsey Briggs on playing Helen, Jordan’s grandmother. Briggs’ physicalization and obvious care for the development of character was clear and highly enjoyable. Luis Perez, Enrique Vargas, Gil Hall, David A. Guster, Paul Gregor, and Brian Costanza play a wide range of very entertaining supporting characters that swoop in and out of scenes with a great sense of energy and fun, each one showing a fully developed character. This production relies on its leading man. Jordan is in every scene, has some very intense monologues, and must tell the story even while simply listening and observing, all while being likeable and someone we want to root for. Gage Webster was all that and more in this role. He gave an exceptional performance and is an absolute asset to the department. Bravo!

Joshua Harmon has this to say about his work,

“I wanted to take the gay sidekick character, who maybe gets to say three witty quips and shift the camera, so to speak, so that he wasn’t standing on the edge of the frame but was front and center, to see what happened when you took a character people assume they know and told the story from his point of view…”

What I found so commendable about this story is that it was the gay best friends’ story, but it could be any of us, regardless of gender, orientation, age…anything. The character is gay, but that is not what defines him. What defines this character is how he feels and his frustration with finding a significant other when the loved ones in his life are the most significant others in his heart. There was a recurring scene that involved Laura and Jordan dancing together at their friends’ weddings. It was a true testament to the power of theatre that something so simple could bring me to tears by reminding me so heavily of moments in my own life. But the real magic in those moments was looking across the audience and seeing pairs of friends, and every single one of them having a palpable emotional response to the same scenes. How amazing that a story can bring us all together in the same place to feel feelings in real time.

Significant Other closes this weekend and is a must-see for anyone who has ever been single. The University of Michigan- Flint Department of Theatre and Dance is located at 303 E. Kearsley St. Flint, Michigan. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 810-237-7333 or at the theatre one hour prior to the performance.

 

 

 

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