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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Flint Community Players Opens 90th Season With “Gypsy”

40392899_10155672458616629_3672275760535568384_nReviewed by Kathleen Kirby

To mark their 90th year, Flint Community Players opened this landmark season Thursday with a production of the now vintage musical Gypsy.  A 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents, the plot is loosely based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist.

Starting in the 1920s, it’s a challenging script with lots of scenes, a large cast, a ton of costume changes and a host of chorus and solo numbers. At the heart of it all is Rose (Lindsay Tatum), the quintessential stage mother, and her two daughters, Baby June (Georgia Brewer) and Baby Louise (Brooklyn Olsey) who she is determined to mold into musical stars.

Time goes by even though the act never changes. This naturally causes strife and discord as June (Amber Wolcott) and Louise (Marie Burchi) plead with Rose to get married and settle down in one place. Herbie (William Adamo) is willing to do just that but Rose, striving to achieve stardom for herself through her girls, will never give in.

Director Nora-Lee Luttrell’s staging is tight. Most of the stage area is open with scenes played out in small quarters upstage. The open areas do work for the chorus numbers and also give the on/off stage musicians room to play. However, these upstage areas seem to cramp the action especially when more than one or two people are involved.

We must give credit to whoever saved the day Thursday when the Murphy bed refused to stay up and out of the way. Unfortunately we were other-directed by that technical issue throughout most of Burchi’s lovely “Little Lamb”.

The musical score for this show is terrific, but there were some problems in delivery here. Of course Rose carries the bulk of the vocals singing the powerful “Some People”, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, and the emotional finale “Rose’s Turn”. Tatum brought an impressive presence to the stage, but her vocal power wasn’t strong Thursday.

Nevertheless, a few highlights need mentioning. “If Momma Was Married” was adorable as performed by Burchi and Wolcott, and “Together Wherever We Go” sung by Tatum, Adamo and Burchi was an Act 2 highlight.

If there was a potential showstopper, it was three strippers, Mazeppa (Karla Froehlich), Electra (Rebecca Pauli) and Tessie (Alison Boggs) with their hysterical and well-done version of “You Gotta Get A Gimmick”.

Directing music and choreography, Dan Gerics handled the cute kiddie routines with the ever-maturing newsboys well, and Austin Foster’s footwork with “All I Need Is The Girl” was nicely done.

We must admit that the transformation by Burchi’s Louise from a tomboy to Gypsy Rose Lee is splendid. Overall, this show has that same potential to blossom and become better each time it is performed. We hope you see it and join in the celebration of FCP’s amazing anniversary.

Gypsy continues at the Flint Community Players, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy, Flint, 48507 through September 23. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

 

 

 

 

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New Musical Company Debuts With “Little Shop of Horrors”

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel

A palpable sense of opening night excitement filled the theater Friday evening as people kept rolling in and filling the seats (even with Back to the Bricks causing many audience members to scramble for parking and fight detours) for opening night of Light in the Dark Musical Theatre Company’s production of the classic, quirky, and well loved, Little Shop of Horrors.

Little Shop made its stage debut in 1982 however most people are familiar with this particular musical through its reincarnation as a 1985 movie starring Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and Ellen Greene. It remains well loved and oft produced by theatres of all ilks throughout the decades.

The story is driven by the ambitions of the lovable botanical nerd Seymour (Shane Welch) and the daffy and trusting blonde Audrey (Sarah Falardeau). These two fine young actors display the epitome of the innocence required for the roles of these iconic musical theatre lovers and clearly have the potential and drive to capitalize on roles like these for years to come.

In contrast, two more iconic roles in the piece, Orin, the Dentist (Jessi Jeane Eldridge) and Audrey II, the monstrous man eating plant (Holly Myers), typically cast as men, were fearlessly played by two very committed women. Ms. Eldridge swung effortlessly from frightening abusive boyfriend to fits of nitrous-induced mania while Ms. Myers’ reveal as Audrey II in their final form was a delightful mix of Jessica Rabbit and Poison Ivy. Any doubts and reservations I had going in about these gender-bent roles were quickly quieted by their performances.

Rounding out the main cast are the financially struggling and constantly verklempt Mr. Mushnik (Timothy Patrick Ruwart) and the three Greek Chorus-like street urchins (Aris Joelle Campbell, Alysia Mentula, and Tessa Watson). This trio of ladies, and much of the main cast, harmonized at a professional level. Once the adrenaline of the opening number settled, they sank into a wonderful chemistry that made the whole production easy and fun to watch. Music direction by Rebecca Kotz.

The script only calls officially for about 9 actors, and while I found the full chorus numbers a little clumsy at times, I admire community theatres that are willing to expand a cast (in this case a full cast of about 30) to afford opportunities to as many individuals as possible. One notable feature was the jaw dropping solo at the top of “Skid Row” performed by Kevelin B. Jones III.

The set and costumes, were placed in a non-descript time and smartly kept simple, in monochromatic blacks and whites, allowing the favored theatre device of adding symbolic and strategic additions of color highly effective. Set design by Joshua David Bleau and Stephen Paul Visser; costume design by Janet Chima and Shannon Montgomery.

At times, muddy articulation and poorly leveled orchestrations made it hard to catch many of the clever Howard Ashman written lyrics but, as someone familiar with the pain of body mics and acoustics, I have no doubt many of those problems will iron themselves out during the run.

This was not only opening night for this production, but also the premier production for Light in the Dark Musical Theatre Co. The entire company should be very proud of the piece of theatre they brought to Flint, bringing a welcome reprieve from the theatre drought of summer.

Little Shop of Horrors runs August 18 and 19, 2 & 7:30 pm at the University of Michigan- Flint Theatre.

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“Charlotte’s Web” Enchants as it Educates

Reviewed by Carolyn Gillespie21408_show_portrait_large

The opening night of Flint Community Players’ Charlotte’s Web was packed with parents and children who swung in to visit – or revisit – that other famous web-slinger and the pig who loved her. Created by E. B. White, by day a writer for The New Yorker magazine, this charming tale has been attracting audiences since it was published in 1952. Several adaptations are available, including a live-action film featuring a cast of A-listers, an animated musical version, this play version, and even a video game. Apparently White’s inspiration came from a pair of incidents in his own life, one involving a sickly pig he nursed when he was a child, and the other, a spider’s egg sack he watched over in his bedroom when he was an adult. Whatever the inspiration, he spun a tale that has caught many a young reader in a delightful web of its own.

Dan Gerics directs the large cast of 24 which includes 18 young people, moving them around the multi-leveled set on FCP’s small stage with good effect. He also joins the band Cavanaugh Plus 2 to provide pre-show and incidental Irish music. The set is handsomely painted with a prominent ingenious web (of course), and a deftly painted sky that is enhanced throughout the evening by Scooter Griffus manipulating the theatre’s meagre lighting equipment. I don’t know whether the script calls for a “sound chorus”, but this little group of six off-stage actors provided live sound effects for the first half of the show. It was a nice touch and I was hoping to hear more from them as the evening proceeded. The costumes created by Laura Kline and her crew appropriately evoke the 1950’s rural setting, and some are very clever indeed! The eponymous spider (Jenna Wells) sports all eight legs that can move in a synchronized fashion. Her initial appearance is quite magical. The Goose (Marissa Cipriani) and Gander (Therese Wofford) are decked out with orange feet and ingenious bills, and Templeton the Rat (Molly Jones) sports a dapper outfit befitting her arrogant, cynical portrayal.

Performances vary in skill level. Clara Usealman does a splendid job as Wilbur the pig with her natural and sympathetic delivery. Charlotte is a worthy hero. She is constantly in motion (is this to mesmerize us?) and handles the awkward task of spinning her messages with some aplomb. I imagine she will become more efficient as the run continues! Fern and Avery Arable light up the stage every time they appear. The three young narrators, Sophia Johnston, Josh Beauchamp, and Edith Pendell do a fine, clear job of storytelling, aiding in the transitions from scene to scene. Many of the adult actors’ performances are quite broad, earning laughter from the children in the audience.

Opening night had its glitches, of course. Latecomers delayed the curtain for 15 minutes, including a false start. When the show finally got underway, the lights came up, but nothing happened for several seconds until the sound chorus kicked in. The soundscape was so charming that I wished they had begun in the dark to set the scene for us. The most pressing concern, however, was that I missed about a third of the dialogue. Admittedly, I was sitting in the back row, but more attention to low volume, under-articulated text, and/or dropping inflections at the end of sentences is never amiss.

If you don’t know the story, you should probably be alerted to the fact that death is a major theme throughout, beginning with the sinister axe with which Mr. Arable intends to kill the runt of the pig’s litter until he is persuaded to spare it – temporarily. The threat of the slaughterhouse constantly hangs over Wilbur’s head, and Charlotte’s impending demise is referenced several times (female spiders do die after depositing their egg sacks). “After all, what’s a life anyway,” says Charlotte. “We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” On the other hand, the themes of friendship and re-birth are even stronger. “Friendship is one of the most satisfying things in the world,” Wilbur muses. And he tends Charlotte’s egg sack until the babies hatch, and three of them take Charlotte’s place in the barn. The web of life continues.

Charlotte’s Web continues tonight and tomorrow (July 14 & 15) @ 2:30pm. Tonight’s performance (July 14) @ 7:30pm will be signed for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. For tickets and more information contact the box office at (810) 441-9302 or reach them online at http://www.flintcommunityplayers.com

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“Oliver!” Runs Through July at FVP

Oliver-Pure-Light-Studios-Graphic-01Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

It’s a great story, and why wouldn’t it be? Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist has been read and enjoyed for over a hundred years, so when the whole story was set to music over fifty years ago, it’s no surprise that it’s still a hit today.

Fenton Village Players opened their version of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Thursday evening. A large cast, including many talented newcomers, tells this story of an orphaned boy raised in a 1800s English workhouse. It is a musically rich show with lots of chorus numbers and some fine solos.

Nearly ten youngsters make up the group of orphans and thieves that rule this tale of Victorian England’s treatment of the poor and especially the young. Many will remember the character of Fagin, played here by Daniel Ragan. He’s the raffish fellow who takes in homeless kids then turns them into pickpockets and thieves in exchange for a place to belong, food, and unfortunately, fear. Ragan is scary from the beginning but oddly benevolent as well.

Oliver is played by Jackson McDowell, who at 11 debuts with FVP although he brings experience in local theatre musicals elsewhere to this stage. His voice is sweet and his look enchanting especially as he sings the haunting “Where Is Love?”

The real villain of the piece is the brutal Bill Sikes. Brandon Pretty is menacing, dressed in mostly black, as he paces about with a sneer for everyone. His voice however isn’t snarly enough to match his looks.

Brooke Caldwell brings a trio of empathy, energy and enthusiasm to the role of Bill’s girlfriend, Nancy. She is outstanding vocally and manages to portray this complicated character to the hilt. Her performance of “As Long As He Needs Me” is stunning.

Two other soloists need mention. Shiloh Lichowid who sings the plaintive “Boy For Sale”, a perfect showcase for his strong voice, plays Mr. Bumble, the grouchy Workhouse constable. Playing the Artful Dodger, Fagin’s right hand kid and the fellow who finds Oliver on the street, Tony Nelson is spunky and fun as he welcomes Oliver with “Consider Yourself”.

The youngsters are adorable and fun to watch as they move from workhouse kids to street thieves to upper class shoppers and back. Their choruses are rousing and loud as they should be especially in the opener “Food, Glorious Food” and the finale “I’d Do Anything”.

It cannot be easy to wrangle a troupe of this size with many of them children. Director Steve Krupa has done a decent job. The FVP stage isn’t deep but it is wide, so he has taken advantage of that to set scenes and dances handily. Music director Rafeal McDaniel had his work cut out as well. Getting kids to sing and dance with the gusto these children do is no small accomplishment.

There are however a few problems. The music here is prerecorded which inhibits singers and even speakers. Too many times Thursday, there were long waits for the music to finish so the action could continue. Enthusiasm would bubble up now and then but the sound track held everyone in check as they tried to stay inside the tempo.

I am not a fan of canned accompaniment in a full-scale musical. Every show I’ve seen with this music tech has had a problem. Singers should lead and music should accompany them, but when the music is recorded those roles are reversed.

Still, Oliver! is a good show and well worth seeing. The kids are great and the story is one that never gets old. It continues at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton MI through July 29. For more information on times and tickets contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at www.FentonTheatre.org

 

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