McCree Opens New Season in a New Place With “Memphis”

220px-Memphis_musical_posterReviewed by Kathleen Kirby

            To inaugurate their new venue, The New McCree Theatre chose to open this season with the Tony Award winning Memphis, a musical set in the fifties’ South. Based loosely on actual events, this Joe Dipietro and David Bryan script and music tells the story of a downhome white fellow who wanders into a black club on Beale Street one night and falls in love – first with the music and then with the girl.

Huey Calhoun, played with enthusiasm and acute naiveté by Joshua Bleau, doesn’t seem to grasp the significance of the racial divide that exists in his hometown. Enamored by the music (“The Music of My Soul”) he soon falls in love with the club owner’s sister Felecia, played here by vocally adept Marianna Gillespie. It’s his determination to get her on the radio so a broader audience can share in this sound that drives the rest of the action.

Besides enthusiasm, Bleau brings a strong voice to the range of vocals evident in his many singing numbers. He is at the center of nearly every scene/song, so it was no wonder that his voice started to scratch by the end of the night Friday.

Felecia’s brother DelRay (Daniel Lopez) owns the club and is understandably concerned about his sister’s well being and skeptical of Huey’s ability and his motives. Lopez exhibits his terrific vocal ability more than once, but especially as he sings “She’s My Sister”.

While these three are at the center of the action, there is a strong supporting cast with them. First, as Huey’s mother, Ann Oravetz moves her character from a frightened, racially insensitive woman to a place of strength with her second act “Change Don’t Come Easy”. Joined here by Lopez and two other club denizens, Gator (Fred Fife) and Bobby (Justin Searcy), this one sparked cheers and applause from the audience.

In his determination to get Felicia on the air, Huey forces his way into a radio station where he manages to do just that. The rest is history even though the manager, played by Steven Visser, isn’t keen on the idea from the start and threatens to fire him. Visser plays two more of these pompous roles as Huey makes his way up the ladder.

Memphis is a story about love and loss. It covers a range of issues – prejudice, violence, hardship, stardom, failure, and redemption – and presents them with vocal and instrumental know-how.

Director Cathye Johnson’s touch is evident in the clever and efficient management of set changes and musical choreography. She has positioned the “McCree-Memphis” Band, directed by Phil Young, right on stage behind a scrim/screen but in full view. It works well since all the singers are miked and easy to hear.

There is collaboration at work on this production with folks, including actors and two co-directors from Light in the Dark Musical Theatre Company involved in performance aspects. Combining folks from various companies as well as opening in a totally new place has to have presented a series of challenges. Still, this show is well worth heading to Northwestern HS to enjoy the story, the music, the history and the effort this organization puts forth to entertain and to fulfill their mission – “To tell the African American story in the African American voice”.

Memphis continues today at 2:00 and 7:00 pm and October 17 and 18 at 7:00 pm and October 19 at 2:00 and 7:00 pm. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or online at https://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com/memphis-musical.html

 

 

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A Powerful “Rabbit Hole” Opens CCC Season

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby69923727_10156751536772198_7423206751811403776_n

What is it that we fear the most? When asked to write about this in a college class, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire drew a blank. But years later, after becoming a father himself and hearing stories of couples coping with the death of children, he knew he’d found his greatest fear.

Rabbit Hole, Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a couple wading through the grieving process after their four-year-old son was accidentally killed, opened Friday at Clio Cast & Crew’s Theatre 57. It is a stirring and emotional, but also uplifting and at times even comical performance.

Becca (Dawn Sabourin) and Howie (Connor Klee) live in a comfortable home outside New York City. The play opens eight months after the death of their son, Danny, yet remnants remain. A stuffed dog on the floor, a dinosaur under the coffee table, not to mention a child’s bedroom visible through a cutaway wall stage left still intact as it was on “that” day. Indeed, Kevin Smithwick’s set, while comfortable and even cozy, also emphasizes the emptiness of material surroundings when life departs.

As the play opens, Becca is carefully folding a child’s clothes from a laundry basket and chatting with her younger, wilder sister Izzy (Pamela Beauchamp). Beauchamp brings a comical and crazy yet loving and sturdy demeanor to this role that prevails throughout.

Sabourin comes across at first as an average suburban mom concerned with her sister’s zany behavior. It is when Becca offers to give the clothes to Izzy who has just announced her unplanned pregnancy that we begin to realize something is awry in this household.

The story of Danny’s death is never told outright. It emerges in conversation as does its impact. Howie’s attempts to relax his wife (and probably himself as well) are met with suspicion and resentment. Klee’s portrayal crafts Howie clearly with all his uncertainty and desire to comfort Becca even as he mirrors his own longing to return life to normal. Striving to not blame each other, they still search for a reason to explain the total senselessness of their loss. For a while they find that outlet in each other.

Enter Nat (Paula Price-Anthony) as Becca’s assertive and often comically outspoken mother. Price-Anthony may bring this character to life for many with her authoritarian, motherly advice. And yet, any attempts to console on Nat’s part are met with resentment and even anger, until months later when Becca finally realizes that her mother may have wisdom to offer.

Finally, there is the arrival of Jason (Noah Beauchamp), the teen who was driving the car that killed Danny. Curiously the meeting between Jason and Becca is a catalyst to begin the healing for them both. It is here that the definition of the title emerges with all its mystical meaning and the hope that it finally brings to Becca.

Although Lindsay-Abaire’s script emphasizes details and the wrenching memories simple moments can bring, his play projects the triumph of the human spirit. In her directing debut at Clio Cast and Crew, Dominique Hinde has guided her troupe with a finesse that allows them to portray these emotions with incredible power and unwavering honesty.

Rabbit Hole continues at Clio Cast & Crew’s Theatre 57, 2220 W Vienna Rd, Clio, MI 48420, today and October 4 & 5 at 7:30 pm and September 29 and October 6 at 2:30 pm. For more information and tickets contact the box office at (810) 687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FVP’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a Theatrical Gem

Reviewed by Jon R. Cogginsstar-one-flew-over

It was a crisp fall evening as Fenton Village Players kicked off their 2019/2020 season with the light-hearted romp – oops wrong notes – with a serio-comedic dramatic staple – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Written by Ken Kesey and adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman – Cuckoo has been a bestselling novel, a Broadway production with several revivals, a highly rated movie and now a local theater production directed by William Kercher.

Let’s get started. The show is set in a day room of a mental institution colored with industrial greens and grays, several exits and an impressive security box center stage complete with a working mic and blinking lights. The smallish stage was used quite effectively and even with a large cast never seemed crowded.

As the program states the show tells the tale of McMurphy, a charming rogue hoping to get out of a short prison sentence at a work farm and into an airy mental institution instead. Drama and light comedy ensue as Mac upsets the mundane daily schedule of this establishment.

Mac is played with tremendous energy and fervor by Jeff Rogner. He befriends the guys in his ward, clashes with Nurse Ratched, and even helps the Chief overcome his moribund condition. Jeff sets the tone, brings energy and excitement and spars with the establishment in a convincing nature. Well done.

His foil in this nuthouse was head nurse Ratched, a quietly tough professional who rules with an iron tongue and a withering stare. Played by stage vet Mary Smith Powers – Ratched is convincing, feared, tested and eventually and eternally in control. Powers handles the role well though is a bit quiet at times.

One of the guys, Dale Harding, played well by Matt Osterberg, knows the program and everything that goes on. As the self-proclaimed patient advocate, Osterberg is loud, unsure, timid and bold at times while struggling with a failed marriage and possible homosexuality.

Another fellow, Billy Babbit, portrayed by Grant Kenny, is a cutter and a stutterer who has problems dealing with women. Kenny plays the part well.

Charles Cheswick – a quiet protester is played well by Gary Smith.

Frank Scanlon – constantly fiddles with “bomb making supplies” in the day room. Frank is played with confidence by Gary Smith.

Ron Barrett plays Martini – a schizophrenic who “sees” his wife though she isn’t there.

The mark of a strong production and a strong cast shows everyone fully invested in their characters. This show exemplifies that as everyone is onstage nearly all the time. The guys squirm, twist, scratch, twitch, slap, mumble – constantly befitting their character choices – as they hang in the background. There is an endless card game going plus activities and crafts that keep the guys busy and enhance the show. Very well done.

Of course there are two other patients: First, Ruckly, played well by Kevin Emmons, is a nearly quiet inmate that “nails” himself to the wall and only bellows one sentence. Emmons totally immerses himself in the role and never breaks character even as tremendous effort was expelled keeping his arms constantly spread.

Finally, we have the Chief, a tall, domineering red man (quite literally) who is comatose, deaf and mute. Nick Carter brings this iconic character to life, matching eventually the fervor and energy of Mac. The biggest change in the guys comes from the Chief. We learn his tragic story and the play is viewed from his perspective. The climax is stunning, explosive and sad. Well done, Nick.

Additional characters include Williams, an orderly played by Preston Sannicolas, Warren, another orderly played by Bill Jones, Nurse Finn played by Rebecca Norris, and Turkle, an aide played by Geno Essenmacher. These cast members were capable, and added to the background believability of the institution. The staff doctor, Doc Spivey, was portrayed by Larry Stecco. Not sure if it was a character choice or a directorial choice but Larry’s laconic portrayal was a bit too laid back. I understand the character was old, irrelevant and ready to retire, but he was often hard to hear with low energy.

Finally, the last two characters were prostitutes brought in by Mac to party. Played by Laura Strong and Heather Ade the girls brought life, light, energy and booze to the gathering. There was also a non-credited walk on by tech director Dave Collins. I see you, Dave.

As usual Kercher pulled together a strong cast (kudos here as several shows of late in the local theatre community were scrubbed due to the lack of male actors), a talented crew and produced a theatrical gem.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest continues this weekend and next at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton.  For tickets and information contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at http://fentontheatre.org/tickets/.

CAUTION – Torrey road is closed and detoured at Torrey and N. Lake. You must approach from the north or Long Lake road.

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“Memphis the Musical” Coming to McCree Theatre

The New McCree Theatre presents Memphis the Musical October 3rd – October 19th. This play is about a white radio DJ who wants to change the world and a black club singer who is ready for her big break. Experience this incredible journey filled with soaring emotions! Tickets are available at McCree Theatre’s new location –  G-2138 West Carpenter Road inside Flint Jr. High School (Northwestern Campus). All tickets are only $5.00. To reserve tickets call 810-787-2200.

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Flint Repertory Theatre Brings Hope and Marigolds To Life

season_2Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

We have to believe that it took some gumption to decide to bring The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds to the stage in this day and age. Still, to their everlasting credit, Flint Repertory Theatre (REP) launched this emotionally charged story Friday with a cast and crew of professional and well-seasoned individuals who hurled this tale at the audience with all its pain, desperation, and abuse, and yet ultimately managed to infuse a semblance of hope.

Playwright Paul Zindel’s Pulitzer Prize winning play debuted in the early sixties but gained popularity in the seventies. The set speaks volumes about the family residing there. Lauren Nigri’s design took us into an aging wooden structure with newspaper covering the windows, faded paint, dilapidated furnishings and volumes of clutter strewn everywhere.

This is the home wherein Beatrice Hunsdorfer (Janet Haley) has resided most of her life, leaving only very occasionally, and where her father once operated a vegetable store. Her husband left years ago causing her to distrust men and to stridently miss her late father. Her hostility often overflows onto her two girls, Tillie and Ruth, in pointed and cruel outbursts. Haley creates an incredible characterization as she takes Beatrice through a maze of emotions ranging from angst over her state in life to pure evil as she strikes back at the world through her children.

Arising out of this disorder, Beatrice’s youngest, Tillie (Ava Katharine Pietras), is framed in a spotlight to speak to the cosmos about her belief in a future filled with promise through science. She becomes a sort of narrator for good, for hope and for dreams. Pietras portrays this youngster with a sweetness and innocence backed up by understanding and a willingness to forgive. She offers hope and resilience where not much abounds.

Ruth (Claire Jolliffe) is Tillie’s older sister. She is an anxious girl under a lot of stress both at home and at school. She is prone to seizures brought on by worry about not fitting in and about being embarrassed at school by her younger sister who is something of an outcast there. Ruth seems destined to become much like her mother with her constant need to fit in and her quirky connection to Beatrice. She snaps insults, whines when denied and even smokes with her mother.

Madelyn Porter plays the boarder, Nanny, who was dropped off at Beatrice’s house for her to care for. Nearly blind, she shuffles about with a walker. With never a line to speak, Porter exudes the helplessness of this character along with a delight at simple things. She evokes a bit of wry humor from Beatrice, which is a side of her we rarely see with her children.

Zindel seems to have taken much of the insight here from his own life experience with his absent father, his bitter mother, and her experience as a private duty nurse.

Congratulations to director Kathryn Walsh. Her ability to bring this emotionally deep story to life was incredible. She also managed the thrust stage confines well making the central staircase quite interesting as it positioned players up, down and on its various levels.

Friday night’s audience seemed transfixed by the play, by the close quarters afforded in the Elgood space, and by the astonishing portrayals that unfolded before them. There is smoking onstage but it’s not offensive and seems vented well. This is a heavy story – but it offers an insight into the negative impact life can have on some while others grow strong instead. Overall, it is a play about triumph, about hope, and about the ability to see past what IS to what ultimately can BE.

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds continues at Flint Repertory Theatre through September 22. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at www.FlintRep.org

 

 

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FCP Opens 91st Season With Rollicking Production of “Mamma Mia!”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Drawn possibly by the music of ABBA, or maybe the brand new comfy seats, or just because it was the popular musical Mamma Mia!, a sold untitled-design_origout house greeted the debut of Flint Community Players’ 91st season Thursday night! And they were not disappointed as this amazing troupe presented a polished, well-organized and totally energetic tale of love, old and new, lost and found.

The plot is pretty simple. Set on a Greek island, young, engaged Sophie (Amber Woollcott) has read her mother, Donna’s (Rebekah Emmerling) diary and discovered that one of three men may be her father – Bill Austin (Steve Harris), Harry Bright (Graham Parker) or Sam Carmichael (Don Brewer). Sophie invites all three to her wedding at her mother’s taverna and hopes she will know immediately which of them is her father.

Woollcott sets the tone with a vocal power that is stunning. We looked forward to her singing all night! Still, she is joined by a company of incredible vocalists who clearly enjoy what they’re doing whether on or off the stage, because when only two or three are on stage singing, the whole chorus sings backup from offstage with their voices augmented by microphones.

Adding to this, the orchestra is handled incredibly well with music director Rafael McDaniel’s musicians (William Mintline, Warren Lissner, David Boze and Russ Sauter) located out of sight but also amplified by microphone allowing their sound to blend perfectly with vocals.

Interestingly, all three “dads” show up at the same time and the tests begin to see who will walk Sophie down the aisle. We can give kudos to all three of these fellows as each has a unique quality about them and a comic reaction to their situation. We won’t reveal the changes that have come about in the 20 years since they’ve been to this place, but they make for some funny moments. Their rendition of “Mamma Mia!” with Emmerling and the rest of the company is a show-stopper!

Sophie’s friends, Ali (Reagan Shook) and Lisa (Audrey Dupuis) sing “Honey, Honey” thus paving the way for Donna’s two long lost cronies, Tanya (Kristie Brahce) and Rosie (Lelia Miller). These three reminisce about their long ago singing gig with a rendition of “Dancing Queen” that is terrific. While Emmerling’s Donna is strong and independent, her two long-lost friends bring a sense of comedy that is welcome and even somewhat startling at times.

Choreography for a troupe of 25+ is no small undertaking. Rebekah Brewer has produced an accomplished, strong and energetic dance component for this musically dense production.

Director Delynne M. Miller brings a level of expertise to this production that we haven’t seen here in a while. Her cast is talented and vocally adept, and they move about the area with ease and clearly organized direction. Her set design leaves lots of room to move this large cast about without seeming cavernous when only a few remain. Sets are seamlessly switched by cast members with nary a glitch.

Often a problem, sound was handled perfectly Thursday, and diction was never a problem as vocals and music were synchronized very well.

We loved this show. It introduced a rich new group of performers who mesh beautifully and blend well vocally. Okay, the story seems to be written to accommodate the songs of ABBA, but for the most part, it works! Highlights Thursday included “Gimme, Gimme Gimmie”, “Voulez Vous” and, of course, the clever encore medley that recapped the best of the show’s numbers.

Tickets are going fast and some performances are sold out, so call soon if you want to take advantage of this amazing, fun, and very well done production. Mamma Mia! continues thru September 22. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at flintcommunityplayers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flint Theatre Guild Hits Pinnacle With “Painting Churches”

64260502_1204116353089971_7021913075284443136_nReviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Well, we have to admit that the newest kid on the block, The Flint Theatre Guild, hit their pinnacle Thursday evening. They did it with their smashing production of Tina Howe’s Painting Churches, a comical and touching story about family, the issues of aging and the changes that can occur.

Fanny and Gardner Churches, here played impeccably by Kay and Michael Kelly, are preparing to move from their cherished Beacon Street home. They have long been among Boston’s elite residents with Gardner a prize-winning poet in league with Robert Frost and the like. Now, with Gardner’s memory slipping and his income disappearing, they are selling the house to move to a tiny cottage.

In contrast, their daughter Margaret (Mags), played with astonishing depth by Katie Young, arrives with news of her upcoming gallery display. Mags is an artist and her career is just taking off which presents an interesting juxtaposition to what her parents are facing. And while her parents believe she has come to help them move, she explains she mostly wants to paint their portrait.

Director Shelly L. Hoffman had a boatload of talent to work with here and still managed to infuse intriguing elements of staging and tech. The set is a beautiful Boston townhouse under attack as boxes stack up and pictures come down leaving their marks on the Wedgewood blue walls. A moment of mother/daughter cohesion centered on a lamp crafted by Fanny showcasing the Venice Grand Canal with light showing through the windows. It’s one of the only times the two found common ground.

In his obvious decline, Gardner is still an imposing figure right up to the end. He spouts poetry from memory and his character’s slip into dotage is comically expressed with facial quirks and expressions as well as his penchant for piling on clothing to keep it from being packed away.

Both the Churches are generally dismayed at their situation, but Mags is both shocked and angered by her mother’s treatment of her father. This sets up a first act wherein Gardner is viewed kindly and Fanny is seen as uncaring. Act 2 hits a reset button with the depth of Fanny’s love as well as the enormity of her burden emerging.

Mags does ultimately paint the portrait. It emerges from a wealth of interaction with these two people she hasn’t seen in a year and who she thought raised her without appreciating her talent. Her anguished description of her crayon sculpture is intense and clearly drawn. Still, her switch from anger to deepening sorrow over the state of her parents’ life is a highpoint of the story.

With all of that said, the ending of this show is a climax to cherish. All of the love that was tossed about and the anger that had emerged now dissolved as this family drama brought many to tears. It is so worth the effort. Don’t miss it.

Painting Churches continues at the University of Michigan-Flint Black Box August 9, 10, 16, 17 and 18. Tickets are available online at FlintTheatreGuild.Eventbrite.com

 

 

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