Fenton Village Players’ “Forum” is Colorful, Funny & Enthusiastic

forum-logoReviewed by Kathleen Kirby

A talented Fenton Village Players cast launched their version of the Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum this week. It’s a big show – colorful and funny – with live music, slapstick comedy, mistaken identity, complicated staging and loads of enthusiasm.

We were there Friday when, in true “show must go on” spirit, a last minute emergency caused director Stevie Visser to step into a lead role. The cast handled this with confident poise and only one or two missteps. Indeed, Bart Allen Burger nearly carried the show starting with his now solo opening (it was to be a duet) as the Prologus singing “Comedy Tonight”. He was terrific!

Burger melded smoothly into his major role as the house slave Pseudolus who spends all his time trying to earn his freedom from bondage in the house of Senex (played Friday by Visser). Senex and his wife, Domina (Danielle Blanchard) head off to the country leaving their slaves Hysterium (Donovan Leary) and Pseudolus in charge of the house and of their son Hero (Josiah Jackson). What can go wrong? Everything!

Right next door is the house of Marcus Lycus (Aaron Furman) the brothel master, and Hero has become seriously smitten with a lovely newcomer to the Lycus house. Turns out she’s already been sold to a Roman general, but Pseudolus sees this as a way to gain his freedom – he’ll get the girl for Hero!

Philia is the lovely damsel played sweetly and with charming expression by Taleena Williams. She isn’t a strong singer however and with the instrumental volume further hampering her efforts, much of her darling duet with Hero was drowned out.

Things soon get confusing as Philia’s proprietary general, Miles Gloriosus (Larry LaFerriere) approaches, Senex arrives back unexpectedly, and a long gone neighbor Erronius (Matt Osterberg) returns from his travels to find his house haunted (or so he’s led to believe). Central to these mix-ups and muddles are the two slaves trying to keep all their plans, plots and potions afloat in the midst of chaos.

Leary and Burger are hilarious as they ramrod nearly everyone in directions they would not have chosen all in the name of love. Often confounding their efforts however are the Proteans (Deb Campbell, Grace Lee, and Patti Lee) who serve alternately as guards and servants. Dressed identically (almost) in tunics and purple wigs, they really do look very much alike.

Did we mention the Courtesans? Lycus houses six of them besides Philia – Tintinabula (Judie Santo), Panacea (Dennis Spence, Jr.), Geminae I (Harvey), Geminae II (Sarah Dziadzio), Vibrata (Carla Feamster) and Gymnasia (Rolecia Marie). They are a spectacular bunch when all are on stage together!

FVP’s stage is wide and not so deep, but they always manage to design a space that fits the bill. This one finds music director Rafeal McDaniel and his musicians (William Mintline, Kristopher, Kress, Annadelle Kimber & Aaron Weeks) arrayed across the back of the stage with a buffering garden wall between them and the playing area. The buffer works fairly well, but with no body mikes in use, there are times when instrumental overpowers vocal.

Three “houses” make up the rest of the area and, except for some uncooperative swinging doors Friday, they serve the many exits and entrances quite well. Really central to the visual effect of this show are the costumes. Laura Williams Kline has done a marvelous job creating these unique, clever, and very colorful duds!

All in all, this Forum provides a truly entertaining night out. Friday’s audience was chuckling and even outright guffawing at the efforts of this enthusiastic troupe. So, if you feel like laughter might be good medicine amidst this dreary winter, you might consider comedy tonight!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum continues at Fenton Village Players, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton, MI 48430 weekends through March 5. For tickets and more info contact them at 810-750-7700 or www.fentontheatre.org

 

 

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New McCree Play Centers on History of Detroit Riots

Reviewed by Jon R. Cogginsdetroit_67361x268

The Floyd J. McCree Theatre continues its 2016/17 season with Detroit ’67 – “A powerful play that unfolds an explosive moment in our history – the race riots that ravaged the city of Detroit in 1967 – set to a vibrant soundtrack of the day’s music”.

This show was written by noted award-winning NYC playwright Dominique Morisseau, who is currently developing a 3-play cycle about her hometown. Entitled “The Detroit Projects”, Detroit ’67 is the inaugural play of the cycle. Morisseau is a Michigan product who received her BFA from the University of Michigan, and her start as a performance poet in the Detroit community of Harmonie Park. She has since become originated at the Public Theater and extended at Classical Theatre of Harlem with the National Black Theatre. (The author’s name and biographic info was not in the program – it would have added a powerful Detroit connection – and credited the author).

The show opens in a basement of a “Westside” Detroit home. Complete with furnishings, laundry, kiddy art and a bar. This basement is an after-hours blind pig where the family hopes to make a little money. The show is all about themes. The first one we encounter is the fight for technology as an 8-track player is introduced to take the place of our heroine’s beloved turntable.

The heroine – Chelle – is played by Pat Hill. She is a strong matriarch of a proud family coping with the everyday stresses of life and the chaos of the tumultuous 60’s in Detroit. Ms. Hill performs with flair (and an awesome afro!) as she sets up the blind pig and shepherds her family and friends through their daily lives and eventually through the riots.

Her recently deceased mother has left some money and the family home to Chelle and her brother Lank. Played by Henry F. Bates Jr., Lank is quiet and strong, more often than not deferring to his sister though he wants to invest the money in a downtown bar, while Sis wants to hold on to it, send her son to college, and live a somewhat comfortable life.

There are shades of “Raisin in the Sun” in this piece. Lank’s buddy Sly is onboard with the bar and tries to convince Chelle to do the same. Played by Charles Terry, Sly is smooth and fancies himself a ladies’ man. As Lank has his confidant, so does Chelle in the form of her best friend Bunny, played by Cassandria Harris (and Alverine Simpson in subsequent performances). Ms. Harris is funky and sexy with some kickin’ hot yellow go-go boots! She helps move the narrative along as she brings news from the outside.

The show starts just days before the tumultuous riots that beset Detroit in 1967. Into this basement refuge, Lank and Sly bring a troubled white girl, Carolyn played by Janet McClanahan-Foster, into the fold. It seems they found her bleeding and unconscious in a back alley. She is quiet, fidgety, scared and hiding something from her benefactors.

The themes continue as the riots get closer. The show frames the riots not as race-centric but as a war between the Black community and the police (some are labeled as corrupt and a part of Caroline’s story). The blind pig is successful, in part due to Caroline’s influence, yet the family is worried as cops are busting “illegal” clubs.

Relationships are explored between the friends, between the sexes, and eventually between Caroline and Lank. This mixed race relationship concerns Chelle as she fears that Caroline’s past may come back to haunt them.

Throughout the play Lank and Sly get ever more involved in the riots, trying to protect their bar, and standing up for their rights. Both men get a beating and arrested for their efforts. To disclose any more of the narrative would spoil the ending.

Music plays an important role as Motown is blasted throughout the production. The themes of peace, harmony, love and equality that shine through the Motown music have renewed relevance today. Will Chelle ever use the newfangled 8-track?

As the program indicated, director Dennis J. Sykes used this experience as a class project for his directing class at U of M-Flint. Please allow this reviewer some constructive comments: Bringing the actors downstage could help a lot as everything in this piece is upstage and often hidden by the furnishings. Also, when Sly is brought to the basement after a beating, they sit him in a chair behind the couch and only his head is visible. Two-thirds of the set is wasted.

The play is long – nearly three hours – but I believe a half hour could be trimmed with tighter cues, shorter pauses and crisper dialogue. This will surely happen as the actors get more comfortable with their lines, the set, and each other.

In the program, Theatre Executive Director, Charles H. Winfrey, issues a challenge to patrons to support this enterprise. McCree Theatre has been a mainstay in Flint for many years, but is oftentimes poorly attended. The large auditorium space had less than 20 people in attendance Thursday. McCree has always been an incubator and a hotbed of talent but is not being fully supported by attendance. Mr. Winfrey does an amazing job securing grants and other resources, but the bottom line, the mark of success, is “butts” in the seats. It would be a terrible shame to lose this venue, this company, this talent.

As history is wont to repeat itself, this show provides a solid background on our past and maybe an inkling about what we are facing today. Come out and support this Pure Michigan product!

Detroit ’67 continues at the New McCree Theatre, G-2040 West Carpenter Rd., Flint (the old Power’s HS) weekends through March 4, 2017. For more info and tickets contact the box office at 810.787.2200 or online at http://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com/detroit–67.html

 

 

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FCP Invites You to Laugh and Sing

hdhf5z1sa4pcqox_9tr5abqwdwey746ar5jdp8qhkzgo3ekszajdkedtr6blapou2uovqwv6irtpftrdmsbsnauh7eueaffnvhx8_xwmo77bwyb7gaui145eh3i12qmtbphkzhleclxbqm58votyn_00gyzp6p9alhl6-g9fe9dc4z4vmf2uktvtshcj1zpfik4s0-d Do you need a laugh after this long winter? How about a need to stretch your legs? You’ve got a chance to do both in March! First, you can catch the vintage comedy, The Curious SavageNext, you can show off your singing and dancing skills by auditioning for 9 to 5, The Musical!

The Curious Savage
Written By John Patrick

When Mrs. Savage chooses not to share her inheritance with her greedy step-children, she is sent to a sanitorium to “bring her to her senses.” She quickly befriends the other residents, who seem sane compared to her family. She vows to use her millions to help her new friends, but first they’ll lead everyone on a mad hunt for the missing cash. (PG)

Performances:
March 2, 3, 4, 10, 11 at 7:30PM
March 5 & 12 at 2:30PM

Tickets  $13.00
Student, Senior, and Group Rates available.
No discounts for matinees.

Call or go online for tickets!
810-441-9302
www.flintcommunityplayers.com

Walk-up sales ten days before opening,
MondayFriday3PM – 6PM non-performance days

Box Office Hours on Performance Days:
Evening 5:30PM – 7:30PM
Matinee 12:30PM – 2:30PM

~~~~~~~

AUDITIONS!
March 6 & 7 at 7:00PM

9 to 5, The Musical
Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick
Based on the 20th Century Fox Picture

Three unlikely friends take control of their office and learn there is nothing they can’t do, even in a man’s world. (PG-13)

The cast consists of several women and men, ages 18 – 50. All vocal ranges and ethnicities are encouraged to audition. Please keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for specific audition requirements.
Performances: May 4th –  14th

www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

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“The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963” Comes to Life on FYT Stage

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbywatson

Flint residents have most likely read the book by Flint’s own Christopher Paul Curtis. Now Flint Youth Theatre brings the multiple award-winning classic, The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, to the Elgood Theater stage in a clever and engaging adaptation by Reginald André Jackson.

The play begins with a clever flashback enactment that finds the family ready to head to Birmingham but then backtracks like a film run in reverse to show the audience just how they arrived at this rather radical decision. After all, it is 1963 and all manner of strife is raging across the nation, much of it racially motivated.

We meet the narrator of the story, young Kenny Watson, played with candor and a comic twinkle by FYT newcomer Edward Marion. He is joined by another newcomer to FYT in Darshae Hubbard who plays his engaging and spunky little sister, Joetta. There is a special life bond between these two that will manifest mysteriously as events unfurl.

An older brother becomes the reason for the trip South. FYT veteran David Guster plays Byron Watson, an easily swayed and slightly delinquent teenager prone to petty theft and skipping school. Guster handles this many-faceted role very nicely; it’s a credit to him that we were on his side even when his choices were dead wrong.

LaTroy Childress and Lea Anne Ford are the parents, Daniel and Wilona Watson. They hold this family together, but as things get testy, Wilona yearns to return to her home in Birmingham. Close to the last straw occurs when Byron persists in lighting matches in the bathroom (he’s conducting imaginary bombing raids on Nazis). Indeed one of the most entertaining scenes finds Wilona trying to make good on a promise to burn Byron “next time” while Kenny and Joetta try to defuse this “bomb”.

Ultimately their only solution is to take Byron South to allow his Grandmother to shape him up. Grandma Sands is impeccable as handled by another newcomer, Madelyn Porter. Her scenes will be the ones most remembered as she gently but firmly takes Byron in hand.

There are also perils in Alabama that threaten to harm the family. Warned away from the whirlpool by Grandma Sands, Kenny naturally wants to investigate it and falls in. The dance interlude that depicts his ensnaring by the vicious “Whirlpooh” is beautiful and even a little scary. Kudos to Emma Davis for the choreography here.

And, of course, when Joetta sets off to church on a Sunday morning, the dramatic irony kicks in as we wait for her to be killed in the coming bomb blast. Her escape is magical, but the inhumanity of the act drives Grandma Sands’ philosophy of non-violent response that much further home.

One or two others deserve some mention. Darius Collins is an appropriate sidekick to the delinquent Byron while in Flint, and Kourt Frame’s perfect portrayal of Larry, the playground bully, just makes ya wanna punch the punk.

In her directing debut with this show, Brittany Reed has managed to move folks around this complicated set with general ease. With multiple scenes to convey, the set has two stories situated at the back of the Elgood stage. The first level serves as a storage spot especially for the family Buick, a half car with working headlights and used to travel south.

Scenic designer Tim McMath provides interior spaces with the second level but also a lot of space mid-stage for the bulk of the action to take place. His design is augmented very nicely with mood and general lighting by Doug Mueller. The “Whirlpooh” scene lighting was nice and eerie.

Sound became important at Saturday’s performance when the opening announcement stopped mid-sentence. Fortunately sound designer Dan Gerics was there to save the day and everything was back on track in a twinkling.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 is one you won’t want to miss. It has it all – comedy, pathos, history, excitement and suspense – all wrapped up in a heartwarming family story that will be easy to understand and identify with as well.

The play runs about 100 minutes without intermission and continues through February 26. For more information about times and tickets contact the box office at 810-273-1530 or online at www.theFYT.org

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FCP Explores Learned Helplessness with “Topdog/Underdog”

Reviewed by Stephen Visser

Flint Community Players opened the second installment of their signature Ghost Light Series on Friday night. The program defines this series as being “intended for mature audiences and aimed at adults who enjoy exploring the human condition”. If this is their mission, then I think this group would be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate script because Suzan Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog fits that bill quite nicely. The script is powerful, authentic, and extremely relevant to our community.

The story follows two African-American brothers, Lincoln and Booth, who are struggling to make ends meet. Lincoln, a former three-card monte hustler, is attempting to stay on the straight and narrow after seeing a friend killed when a hustle turned sideways. He decides to get a respectable job, which entails dressing up like Abraham Lincoln (in whiteface) and letting people reenact Lincoln’s assassination. If Lincoln is the brother of reason in this family, then Booth is certainly the brother of spontaneity. Less talented as a card shark, Booth finds himself earning a living through the art of shoplifting. Despite Lincoln’s warnings and personal experiences with the hustle, Booth is determined to become a seasoned three-card monte hustler. Through her characterization of these two brothers, Parks is able to comment on the existence of learned helplessness and to argue that we are products of our own environment to some extent.

Parks’ authority on this subject is undeniable as well as impressive. It’s not surprising that she was honored with a Pulitzer prize for this piece. Her starkly authentic characters evidence this. Equally impressive is the incredible twosome that Artistic Director Dennis J. Sykes has assembled to carry out this arduous task. Darius Smith (Lincoln) and Kenyatta DeEtt (Booth) have incredible chemistry. These gentlemen showed us their most personal vulnerabilities. When two actors are charged with telling a story that is so important, so relevant to our times, it can be difficult to get it exactly right. These two men did this flawlessly. They were able to give context to the struggle that modern day African American men face. They argued that the struggle to overcome our environments can sometimes be impossible because of learned helplessness. They left us questioning what we can do as a community to intervene in this tragic cycle.

Sykes adopted a hybrid-style format for this particular production. This had to do with one of the actors being offered a new opportunity in their professional life, which then affected their ability to go forward with the production in its originally intended format of a fully staged production. The final product was characterized by elements of reader’s theatre, and elements of a fully staged production. Because Sykes didn’t commit to either format too completely, the production came with its own sets of problems. The players had pretty extensive blocking which slowed down the action when actors were too physical and lost their place during the reading. This seemed to be an issue throughout, but was well navigated by the players.

All in all, this was a very beautiful production that holds weight, relevance, and importance in our community. The entire cast and crew should be commended for their efforts to push forward with sharing this story with our community despite any obstacles that might have arisen. Topdog/Underdog continues at Flint Community Players Tom and Bea Nobles Performance Hall through this weekend only – February 11 at 7:30 pm and February 12 at 2:30 pm. For tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

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New McCree Theatre Celebrates Black History Month – “Detroit ’67”

detroit_67361x268Celebrate Black History Month as the New McCree Theatre, 2040 W. Carpenter Road, presents a slice of History through the award-winning drama by Dominique Morisseau, Detroit ’67.

It’s the summer of 1967, and the irresistible music of Motown is breaking records and breaking down barriers. Siblings Chelle and Lank make ends meet by running an unofficial nightclub in their Detroit basement, a risky business as police crack-down on after-hours joints in black neighborhoods. When Lank offers shelter to an injured white woman, tensions escalate both in their home and in their community—and they find themselves caught in the middle of the ‘67 Detroit riots. Dominique Morisseau’s deeply-felt drama explores an explosive moment in a great American city.

The New McCree Theatre’s production features Henry Bates, Jr., Pat Scott-Hill, Charles Terry, Cassandria Harris, Alverine Simpson, Darius Smith, and Janet McClanahan.  It is directed by Dennis Sykes.  is running at McCree Theatre February 16 – March 4, 2017 on Thursday and Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Advance admission is $10.00 for students and seniors and $15 for adults; at the door prices are $12.00 and $18.00. 2 for 1 every Thursday, all tickets $10.00. Excellent group rates are available. Call (810) 787-2200 or visit our website for tickets: www.thenewmccreetheatre.com. This play is suggested for mature audiences.

 

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Flint-UM Theatre Rocks “Big Love”

big_love_poster_2016_copyReviewed by Kathleen Kirby

            It’s titled Big Love and with good and well-apparent reason. Imagine fifty brides fleeing from fifty not-of-their-choosing grooms, seeking refuge in an Italian coastal villa and you have some idea of where the Big designation fits. So goes the first 2017 offering by the University of Michigan-Flint Department of Theatre & Dance. It is beautiful, boisterous, fun, emotional, clever, and as playwright Charles Mee is quick to admit, not original.

            Big Love is a modern remake of one of the oldest Greek plays – The Danaids by Aeschylus. But it’s more than that; it’s what director Janet Haley defines as a student-centric collaborative production, where students worked alongside her to craft both the choreography and combat used and to influence both the staging and design of this production.

As to the design, the stage is transformed into a vast marble palace that does resemble the hotel foyer into which Lydia (Layla Meillier) assumes she has stumbled dressed in wedding white and clutching a bouquet. She is ostensibly one of fifty sisters, and one of seven who appear to symbolize this sibling crowd. They have been promised to fifty cousins they neither know well nor like at all, and have no intention of carrying out these marriage vows.

Meillier and two others seem to symbolize the attitudes and personalities of these modern maidens who are nothing like the original passive and obedient daughters of Danaid. While Lydia is perhaps the most thoughtful and even keeled, her sister Thyona (Lindsey Briggs) is militant, angry, physical, and stridently insulted by the idea of being forced into anything, least of all a loveless marriage.

Then there’s Olympia (Currr’esha Beatty) who does revel a bit in her femininity and even likes the idea of being cared for by someone who may love her. Unfortunately she is also easily swayed.

Rounding out the symbolic host of sisters was the Bride Chorus: Alexis Harvey, Dominique Hinde, Michaela Nogaj, and Jordan Wetherell.

By the way, this is not a hotel as first thought, but the home of a suave and cordial Italian millionaire, Piero (George M. Marzonie). The gals pique his hospitality gene as they plead for asylum, but he can only agree to go so far.

Piero’s nephew, Guiliano (Britton Paige) offers help and entertainment to the gals even as his love focus develops before our eyes in curiously comic fashion. (Speaking of fashion, it was fun to watch his slowly evolve)

We were delighted to find director Haley in the role of Piero’s mother, Bella. Curiously wise, slightly caustic, and anxious to engage the gals, her characterization was an impressive highlight. In addition, this experience of playing opposite a professional like Haley had to be a really unique growth experience for these women especially, but for the whole cast as well.

It’s a modern version of this ancient tale, so it made sense when the grooms caught up with the gals via helicopter! Indeed, they were lowered down in jumpsuits from above and immediately began to take control of their women.

And, these fellows were well matched to their brides: Constantine (Kyle Clark) matched his vitriol and antagonism with Thyona’s while Oed (Joshua Cornea) lavished his gentle-giant strength on Olympia. Only Nikos (Matthew Statson) seemed to tread lightly as he began his courtship of Lydia.

The Groom Chorus also represented well consisting of Marcus Williams, Connor Klee, Gage Webster, and Jordan Kinney.

The gals do manage to extricate themselves – we won’t tell you how. Still, one of them finds love and companionship to the chagrin of the rest who realize too late that perhaps love really does conquer all.

Music fills this production, controlled and orchestrated as it is by the players, often comically but always appropriate to the mood. There’s dance, semi-slapstick, plate throwing, pop songs and all around good fun.

Big Love plays without intermission in a perfect 90 minute running time. It continues at UM-Flint Theatre through February 6, 2017. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-6520 or online at www.umflint.edu/theatredance

 

 

 

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