Flint Youth Theatre’s “Akeelah and the Bee” Warms the Heart

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbydetail_7561

“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Marianne Williamson’s quote is a guiding light in Flint Youth Theatre’s current offering of Akeelah and the Bee. Adapted from the screenplay by Cheryl L. West and directed by B. Alex Reed, this is a wonderfully touching story of heartbreak, courage, community and triumph.

Most are familiar with the film version set in Los Angeles, and the story hasn’t changed here. However, West has changed the setting to a more confined Chicago neighborhood.  Here danger is prevalent, crime invades, and yet neighbors look out for everyone, even a youngster destined for the national stage.

As Akeelah, Alexis Crochran brings this young genius to life moving her through emotions from fear to anger to defensiveness and finally gratitude and love. And she takes us right along with her; we feel her grief over her father’s murder, her distress when classmates bully her for being “smart”, her defensive lashing out when others try to help, and her frustration at trying to explain her goal of spelling champion to her mother.

As Dr. Larabee, Kenn Hopkins Jr. is standoffish but intrigued in his offer to help Akeelah prepare for the State Spelling Bee. Still we get the impression that he is genuinely interested in this girl, even when he nearly breaks her training off as his own grief intrudes.

Akeelah’s mother, played by Curr’esha Beatty, is an overworked but devoted woman determined to see that her kids are safe and well. Even though she doesn’t always understand her daughter, she is ultimately her staunchest supporter.

There are a lot of kids in this show and that’s going to be attractive to young audiences. Besides the spelling bee contestants, there are neighborhood youngsters, bullies, and gang members all living in Akeelah’s neighborhood.

Giovanni Moore III interprets her brother Reggie with gusto as he moves from delinquency to fatherhood to citizen student. Little Georgia (Yasmine Searcy) is adorable as Akeelah’s best friend, and Safiyah El-Ganainy does a stiffly prim job with Dylan, Akeelah’s main spelling rival.

Many wonderful performances were in evidence Saturday, but we’ll just highlight a few: Jesse Glenn plays two opposing roles equally well as he is both Principal Welch and Drunk Willie. Fortunately he has time between scenes to effect these changes; Madelyn Porter is gregarious in her flamboyant outfits as the endearing neighborhood watcher, Batty Ruth; Tomoko Miller made us all grit our teeth as Dylan’s tyrannical mother fiercely browbeating her daughter into winning.

The sets are handled with extreme fluidity allowing one scene to merge easily into the next. Costumes are well done and define their wearers very nicely. There is a background soundtrack that interfered with vocal projection a few times, but only in the beginning.

This production is presented in the Bower Theatre and uses much of the house as entrances and exits. So expect to see many of the players close up as they pass by. The show runs about two hours and does include one intermission.

We won’t tell you how it ends, but it’s safe to say you will be cheering and feeling warm all over as this community comes together for one of their own.

Akeelah and the Bee continues at Flint Youth Theatre through February 25. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at http://www.theFYT.org

 

Advertisements
Posted in 2018-2019, Recently Reviewed Productions | Leave a comment

Comedy Reigns in CCC’s “Move Over, Mrs. Markham”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

images
It may have been one of the most blustery nights this winter with snow piling up all around, but that didn’t stop Clio Cast & Crew’s faithful audience from plowing their way into Theatre 57 for the opening night of the hilarious comedy, Move Over, Mrs. Markham. Indeed, the house staff even leaped to the rescue to extract a car stuck in a snow bank out front so its owner could come in and enjoy the show!

It was all worth it as this is a very funny, even hysterical show! Playwrights Ray Cooney and John Chapman deliver a script rife with mix-ups and impending mayhem all contained in what should have been an innocent evening among friends. We’ll tell you a little bit of the plot, but we don’t want to give away all the fun.

The play is set in a lush English upper flat above a publishing house owned by JoAnna Markham (Jessica Eldredge) and her husband Philip (Shane Wachowicz). Philip is part owner of the publishing house which seems to specialize in children’s books and animal stories. This will be come important later.

Knowing that the Markhams are slated to attend a dinner party, Linda Lodge (Pam Beauchamp), the wife of Henry Lodge (Connor Klee), Philip’s partner, pleads with JoAnna to use the apartment for a tryst while they are out. It seems that Henry is a bit of a player and she is looking to even the score.

Meanwhile, the in-house decorator, Allistair Spenlow (Christopher Dinnan) has something going with the Markhams’ live in au pair, Sylvie (Rebecca Norris) and they too are planning to “use” the “empty” house that evening.

Just to further complicate the plot, Henry asks Philip if he can use the “empty” flat to meet his newest challenge, Miss Wilkinson (Karen Fenech). Are you beginning to sense a pattern here?

Nearly Shakespearean in the use of comedic mix-ups and mistaken identity, the plot once again fragments with the entrance of Linda’s foppish dandy, Walter Pangbourne (Carl Frost) followed closely by author Olive Harriet Smythe (Sandra Turner). She has arrived to sign her famous and extensive line of doggie books with the publishing house.

This cast, directed by William Kircher, is exceptionally strong and remarkably adept at comic timing. Eldredge anchors the fun with her irresistable laugh and her innocent, if rambunctious, reactions to all the chaos that ensues. She is ably abetted by Dinnan with his winsome but wily way of ingratiating himself with almost everyone.

Wachowicz’ Mr. Markham seems the most strait-laced of the bunch but manages to engender plenty of laughs before he’s finished, while Beauchamp’s Linda continues to trumpet her high decibel complaints about Henry. Her sudden impersonation of a German maid is a hoot!

We suspect the title takes its cue from the activity surrounding the Markham’s oval bed as there is a bit of turnover there! It’s all in good fun, and the laughs never stopped Friday. Even Turner’s stuffy dog-loving writer got involved in the confusion and all with a straight face.

Go see this show. It’s exceptionally well done, funny, nicely staged and well worth the trip to Clio!

Move Over, Mrs. Markham continues through February 18th at Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Rd, Clio, MI. For information and tickets contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at http://www.cliocastandcrew.com

Posted in Recently Reviewed Productions | Leave a comment

UM-Flint Revives “The Fantasticks”

UKYSww4b_400x400Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

“Try to remember…and if you remember, then follow.” This sort of says it for the University of Michigan Flint Theatre’s current production of The Fantasticks, the longest running off-Broadway musical in history (57 years). This impressive tale, with book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, did finally close last May, so this version might now be considered a revival.

Director Stephanie Dean has retained the intimate atmosphere of the original by placing both the play and the seating on the UM stage. It works quite well and brings the audience directly into the action on more than one occasion.

As the troupe arrives onstage, they begin unloading prop boxes from the back of a gypsy-style wagon and erect a wire on which to mount the stage curtain. There is no fourth wall here; not yet.

A love story at its core, this tale involves two fathers who pretend to feud. They’re sure their children will do what they forbid which is to fall in love and marry each other. So, they build a wall between their property, and the trick works – for a while.

Jason Briggs opened the action with a strong and dulcet vocal rendition of “Try to Remember” in the role of El Gallo, a combination narrator, swashbuckler, and villain. Dressed as what appears to be a matador, he still manages to do a fine job of shepherding the action.

Of course the lovers are paramount with Cynthia Risch as Luisa on one side of the “wall” and Gage Webster as Matt on the other. The near improvisational style of this show leaves much to the audience’s imagination as we are treated to the lovely duet, “Metaphor”.

Comedy lurks around every corner though as we are made privy to the parental plan with Hucklebee (Taylor Boes) and Bellomy (Joshua Comea) singing “Never Say No”. Not content with subtlety, these two decide to take their plan a few steps further by hiring a troupe of actors to pretend to kidnap Luisa and allow Matt to save her.

El Gallo steps in and hires a couple of aging actors to assist in the ruse. First to emerge from the prop trunk is Mortimer, whose specialty is dying, played with wildly dramatic deportment by Ava Pietras. Next out of the box is Henry, an aged and arthritic grouch played believably in a near total head and facemask by Lindsey Briggs. Henry’s forte is Shakespeare which he spouts randomly and out of context. These two were a highlight and a lot of fun to watch.

Interestingly, Dean has cast three traditionally male roles with females in this production. Matt’s father is also handled very nicely by Boes with help from the cleverly portly costume she wears.

All goes as planned and Act One ends on a positive note with everyone happy and poised for lifelong happiness. El Gallo warns us that it won’t last, and he’s correct.

As Act Two opens we find discord developing: the Mute (Dahlia Kassel) hands Luisa a plum. “This Plum is Too Ripe” is a caustic number that reveals the unrest developing in the ranks.

Of course, it all turns out just fine but not before some interesting comments are tunefully made. We loved “Plant a Radish” sung by the parents comparing kids to plants, and also the pensive and disconcerting “Beyond that Road”.

We found Act Two to be a little slow at Friday’s opening. It seemed to lag a bit and was not as crisp as Act One. Still, this is a classic and now vintage piece that is truly well worth seeing. The cozy audience confines offering that close proximity to the actors makes this one well worth the trip downtown.

The Fantasticks continues at the University of Michigan-Flint January 27, February 2 & 3 at 7:30 pm and January 28 & February 4 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are available at the Whiting Ticket Center – 810-237-7333, online at tickets.thewhiting.com, and at the Flint Farmers’ Market (Tues., Thurs., Sat.).

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in 2018-2019, Recently Reviewed Productions | Leave a comment

FCP Kicks Off 2018 in Style With Vintage Musical – “The Pajama Game”

25487285_10155104739751629_3971322906914357789_oReviewed by Jon R. Coggins

The Flint Community Players kicked off the New Year with a stunning presentation of *Rent.

Just kidding, it was really – The Pajama Game, with book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and directed here by Stevie Visser.

It was an exceptional night in Flint weather-wise – 55 degrees at the end of the show! The patrons were primed for an evening’s entertainment and they were not disappointed.

First, the Rick Doll set is clean, with many exits and entrances – well used by the cast. The two levels differentiate the Executive (management) side of The Sleep Tite Pajama Company and the lower level – the shop floor (labor).

The Pajama Game, a 1955 Tony Award winner, is tremendously allegorical with several recurring themes that still resonate today. The struggle between labor and management obviously, was a recurring theme, and quite timely, considering the current political climate. Additional themes were presented, that mirrored today’s headlines: sexual harassment in the workplace, equal rights among the genders and showing women of influence as a positive thing. The strength of organizing and unionizing were also on display.

Of course the play was not that heavy. Set in a small town in the Midwest during the 1950s , the employees at Sleep Tite want the 7.5 cent an hour raise enjoyed by all other pajama manufacturers. This theme of union strength and of course the sexual harassment sadly rings true still today – 60 years later. Machinations, on both sides, lead to the frivolity and fun. At its heart though, TPG, could be a love story.

The love story involves Sid Sorokin, deftly played by Joshua Bleau, the newly hired supervisor and Babe, portrayed by Carla Feamster, the Union grievance committee. These two lead the play and present most of the songs. Bleau has a clear, beautiful, strong singing voice that grounded the production and kept the action moving forward. Feamster also had a nice singing voice but seemed overwhelmed at times by the band. When her vocals broke through we heard a poignant response to Bleau’s courting. Feamster was a nice casting choice for Babe who struggled to overcome the glass ceiling, fight for her fellow union member’s rights and deal with Sid’s overtures.

The Union Prez was played by Brett Beach. Sleazy and very animated but not out of place, Beach had a strong voice both singing and talking. Like many of the cast his vocals were a bit muddled at first, but he relaxed and came on strong later. He represented the sexual predator as he hooked up or tried to hook up with all the ladies at Sleep Tite. Sadly Prez was married.

To delve any deeper into the plot would give away any details that the audience needs to view/discover on their own.

The pacing was a bit slow at first as the cast gained their stage legs. I’m sure several minutes could be trimmed from the nearly 3 hour run as lines and cues are tightened. I suspect opening night jitters. The cast gained momentum and finished the first act with a rousing finale.

The second act opened with a hot number – quite literally – “Steam Heat” one of my all-time favorites. The Steam Heat dancers were wonderful and set a nice pace for the second act.

Another strong number was “Hernando’s Hideaway” featuring Sid, Gladys – adroitly played by Holly Meyers (the boss’ secretary) and eventually the whole cast.

There were other strong performances by the large troupe. Hines, the put upon floor manager, was nicely played by Tim Ruwart. He puts on a knife-throwing act at the annual company picnic that must be seen to be believed! Mabel, another secretary was well portrayed by Rebecca Pauli.

The audience’s attention was held throughout and a few even dressed the part wearing their PJs. (I see you Colby and Casey!)

In parsing my notes the word “volume” appears a few times. I applaud Visser’s choice to not body mic the cast. This is an intimate venue and actors should be able to reach the audience. Some of the problem was that the music was loud. Nice, but loud. It should have been adjusted.

There were a few inaccuracies that bothered me: touchtone phones in the 50s, twist off beer bottles and I suspected Frisbees. With a bit of research, though, I learned that the Frisbee came out in the late 1950s.

Visser did a fine job directing. Clean efficient set changes, crisp exits and entrances, a well-used stage. The themes were presented but did not overwhelm. There was a lot of inside fun; from a plug for the next show (Dial M for Murder), to a cute way of telling patrons to still their electronics, and the afore mentioned *Rent. (The theatre tried to get the rights to Rent).

So, did our intrepid lovebirds overcome her firing and the constant labor struggle to become a happy couple? Did the employees at Sleep Tite get their raise? Did Prez ever get his comeuppance? Will the Company fill their orders on time? Will there be a strike?

Come see this delightful production, presented at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. in Flint, and discover the answers!!

Brave the cold weather (now) and enjoy a fine theatrical performance.

The Pajama Game continues Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week (1-12, 13, 14 and next week 1- 19, 20, 21). For more info and tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

Posted in 2018-2019, Recently Reviewed Productions | Leave a comment

AUDITION OPPORTUNITY AT FYT

All are invited to audition for

Akeelah and the Bee

Akeelah

Flint Youth Theatre brings Akeelah to life as does her crazy passion for words: the more abstruse and labyrinthine, the better. But this gift is almost overwhelmed by the challenge of her daily life in a tough, Chicago neighborhood. Akeelah’s aptitude earns her a spot in the National Spelling Bee, which inspires the people in her neighborhood with her courage and tenacity.

Call 810.237.1530 or email casting@flintyouththeatre.org to set up a ten minute audition appointment and to receive audition material. Actors will be asked to prepare sides from the script for specific roles.

Student Auditions (Under 18):
Wednesday, December 6 6:00pm-9:00pm
Thursday, December 7 6:00pm-9:00pm
Adult Auditions (18 and up):
Monday, December 11 6:00pm-9:00pm

Adult and Student Callbacks:
Tuesday, December 12 6:00pm-7:30pm

Rehearsals:
Monday – Fridays, January 8 – February 9, 2018

Performances:
February 10-25, 2018

AEA TYA & Non Union
Click here to see character descriptions and download sides for auditions.
______________________________________

theFYT.org  •  810.237.1530

Posted in 2017-2018, Press releases | Leave a comment

FYT Takes Audience on an Actual Fantasy Trek Through Narnia

Reviewed by Tomoko Miller

LionFlint Youth Theatre is rarely one to shy away from pushing the boundaries of theatre, and their latest production, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has the audience breaking those boundaries along with them. Based on the the well-known classic novel by C.S. Lewis, the story follows four human children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, who are fated to liberate a magical kingdom from the rule of an evil witch. Director Michael Lluberes’ ambitious concept has the audience up on their feet for the majority of the show and faithfully following in the footsteps of the children and their animal companions as they travel the vast, mythical land of Narnia. Almost every inch of Flint Youth Theatre’s facility has been transformed for the production, taking patrons through a maze of twists and turns to find the next stop on the journey.

The sets were varied, yet fit each scene perfectly. As the show started, an old radio played World War II news broadcasts to remind us of the world the children leave behind to take a more active role in the war to come. Inside this first room a cozy, warmly-lit English parlor lay in front of the wardrobe, which itself opened up to the icy and foreboding forest inside Elgood theater. In the forest the sound of howling wind and snow falling on our heads greeted us as we took our seats.

It was here where we were introduced to the majority of the characters who inhabit Narnia. Lucy (Edith Pendell) is the first of the children to explore what lies beyond the wardrobe. Lucy’s affable nature quickly pacifies the cautious faun, Tumnus (Zachery J. Wood). Their friendship puts Tumnus in danger and soon Lucy enlists the help of her siblings to save her new friend. Peter and Susan, played by the ever-talented Enrique Vargas and Destiny Dunn, join Lucy in befriending the creatures of Narnia. However, the impish Edmund, played by the seemingly ageless Britton A. Paige, has other plans.

Although the human children are the heroes of this story, the more fantastical characters stole the show. Janet Haley and Kyle Clark made for a menacing team as the White Witch and her servant Dwarf. Jordan Climie’s portrayal of Mr. Beaver offered much needed levity to the sometimes heavy subject matter.

Other rooms were decked out with practical lighting elements and platforms to delineate the actors’ play space from the audience areas. However, the thick crowd of attendees didn’t allow for much in the way of soaking in the ambiance of these spaces before they were whisked away to another location. Those seated and standing closer were likely able to enjoy these scenes more than those standing in the back.

Bower Theater was converted to allow for seating on the stage as well as in the audience, and the seating area was bisected with a runway that allowed for grand entrances and battles. Sound and lighting worked especially well together during more intense scenes in this space, implying action rather than carnage. As Aslan, Rico Bruce Wade appropriately ruled the elongated stage as the rightful king of Narnia. His imposing presence was matched by his booming voice that at once commanded respect and offered comfort. He and Janet Haley made for excellent sparring partners as they battled verbally and physically.

Individual technical elements were well executed, but the overall production suffered from blocked sight lines in overcrowded rooms and long waits between scenes as people funneled into narrow doorways and corridors.

The costumes were simple yet striking. The animals consisted of a combination of literal traits such as fur and horns, while other animals wore masks and large metal frames to indicate their imposing size. Sound was minimal but effective. A howling wind followed the audience through most of the show. When the wind finally died down, its absence was felt and added to the weight of the scenes that followed.

Most of the young (and young at heart) remained enthralled throughout the performance, seemingly in awe of being transported to a fantasy realm. However, the experience could have been more immersive by incorporating more communication from the creatures of Narnia who provided silent direction to the audience as to where to move next. Much confusion arose from the lack of information, especially when the audience was split apart to allow for two scenes to happen simultaneously.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe runs approximately two hours and is presented without intermission. Performances continue December 8 – 17. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and stay afterwards for Edmund’s favorite, Turkish Delight! For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at theFYT.org

 

 

Posted in Recently Reviewed Productions | Leave a comment

UMF Alums Return to FVP for Benefit Concert – “A Christmas Wish”

48180715-Christmas-music-tree-Stock-VectorA CHRISTMAS WISH

Friday, December 22, 2017 – 7:00 pm

Produced by Sam DiVita / Musical Direction by Frank Pitts

Original Musical Direction & Arrangements by William TN Hall

Featuring Michael Kirk Lane

          With Colin Hodgkin and Elsa Harchick

Fenton Village Players is thrilled to offer this amazing Christmas Concert on our stage.

Michael Kirk Lane, currently living in New York City, returns to Fenton Village Players with a benefit concert titled “A Christmas Wish” on December 22, 2017 at 7:00pm.

The show will have music ranging from classics Christmas Carols to modern musical theatre gems, and will touch on the theme of how we all can put our differences aside and join together during the joyous holiday season.

Lane will be joined on stage by two other FVP alums that have gone on to enjoy lives in professional theatre, Elsa Harchick and Colin Hodgkin. The evening is produced for FVP by Sam DiVita, and will be musically directed by Frank Pitts. Original musical direction and arrangements are credited to composer William TN Hall.

Lane was a member of the original cast of the Off-Broadway musical Hell’s Belles! He is a two-time Manhattan Association of Cabaret Award nominee, and his previous cabaret shows “Songs from The Rock, The Street, and The Hood” and “Now You Know” both enjoyed multiple runs at Don’t Tell Mama and The Laurie Beechman Theatre respectively. He is a member of the voice cast of the new hit children’s web series The Flying Tent for which he also serves as Associate Producer. For the past 9 years Lane has also been part of the team at No Strings Productions, making puppet films for children in troubled areas around the globe. Mid-Michigan audiences may remember Lane from his years as part of the resident acting company at Flint Youth Theatre, most recently returning in 2012 for Our Town.

Lane was a fixture at FVP both onstage and backstage during the late 90’s and early 2000’s performing in many shows and serving on the organizations board. In regard to this return he says, “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to return and give back to an organization that gave me a safe place to explore my craft and learn as a young adult. The importance of community based arts organizations like FVP can’t be underestimated. FVP continues to be a beacon in the community from their commitment to producing quality local theatre, and giving community members both young and old a place to create.”

Tickets: $20.00

Available at:

Fenton’s Open Book 105 W. Shiawassee Ave., Fenton, MI  48430
The UPS Store 17195 Silver Parkway, Fenton, MI 48430
On line – fentontheatre.org

Posted in 2017-2018, Press releases | Leave a comment