“Beauty and the Beast” Enchants Families

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel

Summer has just begun and with it the fun of summer time productions. What better show to shake off the dreariness of the rain filled past few months than Disney’s Beauty and the Beast produced by Spark Theatre Company.

Disney’s version of this 1740 French fairy tale was first made into an animated movie in 1991, the first animated movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture at The Academy Awards. The fantastic score by the iconic team consisting of Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and Howard Ashman also won the Oscar for best score, making the film’s jump to Broadway an immediate and natural success in 1994. It has since remained one of the most popular Disney franchises, being made into a live action film in 2017 starring Emma Watson as Belle.

Before I dig into the performance at hand, I must say that this company’s signature pre-curtain tradition, a nod to its namesake, is a very nice touch. If you haven’t seen one of their shows, go to one and see what I mean!

With a wide range of fun and endearing characters paired with near perfect musical theatre storytelling, it is no wonder that Beauty and the Beast has become a staple of high school and community theatre programs. The show begins with an ominous narration that lays down all the exposition. Instead of having actors act out the narration, this production utilized a large screen with quite lovely original animation by Alysia Mentula. Her work can also be seen on the sharp looking programs and posters around town.

This large cast consisted of a wonderful mix of ages and choruses, as it were. There is everything from a quartet of “Silly Girls” (Starla Clark, Andrea Gates, Shannon Montgomery, Audreanna Symon), who brought a dose of welcome energy to the village, to a herd of adorable sheep (played by a cast of small children at the top of the show). Kat Kaza as Belle and Aaron Furman as The Beast demonstrated a great range of dance and vocal abilities in their leading roles. The absolute standout performances of this show go to Amber Taylor as Lumiere and Tessa Watson as Cogsworth; dialect, posturing, stage presence, chemistry, all tens across the board from me to these two ladies. Great work!

With such a deep and large stage to fill, the set designs for different scenes varied greatly. The lighting and set design for scenes within the enchanted castle were certainly satisfying. A selection of costumes were really wonderful, especially Mrs. Potts (Ann Oravetz), a lovely rotund and decorative teapot. Oravetz also did a solid performance of the titular song during the memorable ballroom dance.

With such a large space and large cast and the use of musical tracks as opposed to a live pit, timing and sound levels were unfortunately off at times. As an actor who has had to perform with canned music, I understand what a challenge it is to work with, but it is often a matter of necessity to use. If there is any way more sound could be pumped out to the house without causing feedback, the audience and the performers might feel more at ease and surrounded by the music.

I remember fondly the summers I spent performing in shows like this one, and to know that kids, of all ages, are getting to have that kind of fun on stage is pretty neat and certainly makes for an entertaining show.

Beauty and the Beast by Spark Theatre Company is being performed at the Swartz Creek Performing Arts Center this weekend only. It is 100% perfect for families, especially ones with little princesses or Disney fans!

You can purchase tickets online (https://www.ticketpeak.com/Findyourtix) or at the door.

 

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Owosso Community Players Present Riveting Production of “Cabaret”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbycabaret

There is a sort of mystically sinister spell that seems to reside in the depths of the musical Cabaret. We’ve seen this show numerous times over the years, and it always sparks a sense of foreboding. We saw it again Friday evening and this time, in our current world climate, this vintage musical hit spectacularly close to home.

When first performed in 1966, it was a complete departure from traditional musicals. Written by Joe Masteroff with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret harks back to Berlin, Germany around 1930 just as the Third Reich was creeping to power. The horror of what was happening as the Nazis began to infiltrate was masked for a while by music and merriment.

Owosso Community Players (OCP) transformed their Lebowsky Center Theatre space into the Kit Kat Klub thus enticing the audience into participation with the action. As director Garrett Bradley explains, to transport his audience back to 1930 Berlin they have built stairs and platforms that enlarge the stage and move it forward into the house. They have even built spaces for audience members to sit at cabaret tables within the Klub onstage. All of this effort adds immeasurably to the total effect.

Setting the tone was the slimy and insidiously provocative Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub played flawlessly by Adam Woolsey. Sleazy, sexy, even demonic, Woolsey’s baby face belied the torment this asexual, symbolic character endured. Representing the rampant oppression of the time, he was a clear metaphor for both sides. He was everywhere; dancing in the chorus, a piece of “furniture”, or looming over the scene from the second story bandstand. His final symbolism provided a shocking climax.

As Sally Bowles, headliner at the Kit Kat Klub, Megan Mitchell brought truth and a dark sincerity to this role of an English girl caught up in a political climate she neither cares about or understands. Her rendition of the title song was an emotional highpoint sung not in triumph but as an anthem of despair.

Sam Sommer brought innocence and truth to the role of the American writer Clifford Bradshaw. Confused about his place in this climate, he is also unclear about his sexual identity as he falls in love with Sally while having an affair with a boy from the Kit Kat. Still, Sommer is emotionally steady throughout.

There is a subplot at work that stands to foreshadow the strife on the horizon. Anna Owens and Bill Henson handle two strong performances here with care and compassion. As Fraulein Schneider, Owens is the landlady of Clifford’s rooming house. Her growing friendship with the local fruit seller, Herr Schultz (Henson) is sweet to watch. It will come to a sad end as the Nazis grow in power.

The Kit Kat Klub boys and girls are amazing to watch as they dance and pose often as backup to Woolsey. Spinning through many costume changes, this large troupe is scattered onstage and up and down the staircases throughout the show.

The orchestra is located on the second level of the stage and partially out of sight. Conducted by musical director Carl Knipe, this large ensemble provided impeccable accompaniment to this talented and vocally sound cast.

Actually, we were seriously impressed by the expertise not only in performance, but also in lighting, costumes, sound, scene design and set manipulation. Actors were found performing up and down levels both onstage and just outside the proscenium with not one technical glitch.

This was a totally riveting production as it moved with powerful precision to recreate this historically unnerving time. Friday night’s audience reacted appropriately with a stunned silence at play’s end for a few seconds before the applause began.

We highly recommend you get out to Owosso this weekend or next before this one goes away! Cabaret continues at the Lebowsky Center Theater, 122 E. Main Street, Owosso, MI 48867 June 15, 16, 21, 22, and 23. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 989.723.4003 or online at www.owossoplayers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flint REP Celebrates Its World Premiere of Wally Pleasant’s “Songs About Stuff”

Reviewed by Stephen Visser   1547565851424_songs

Last night, we had the privilege of attending The Flint REP ‘s dynamic, World Premiere opening of Songs About Stuff, based on the music of Wally Pleas ant (a Michigan native). Conceived by Michael Lluberes; this one of kind theatrical event will leave you in stitches. No, really. It’s dangerous. There was a healthy amount of choking. And Friday night’s quaint, but receptive audience was here for all of it.

As befits a show about love, life, and all the weird stuff that happens along the way, Lluberes has created the perfect atmosphere for his wildly talented troupe of four to awaken the audience with short vignettes about the “moshpit of life”. Shane Cinal’s scenic design is simple, and absolutely stunning. The stage is small, but workable for this cabaret-style performance space. The space in front of the stage was festooned with adorable cocktail tables for our more intimate theatregoers.

Lighting designer, Chelsie McPhilimy’s eye-catching design pairs nicely with Cinal’s breathtaking set. McPhilimy has beautifully crafted special-focus lights that provide this show with an undeniable intimacy that it deserves. Between her Michigan-themed special fixed lighting that serves as a backdrop of sorts, and her perfectly lit focused lighting, McPhilimy’s design allowed for seamless transitions from vignette to vignette. Which of course, is so important to this kind of show.

Lluberes has assembled an incredible cast of players, all of which have strong, beautiful voices. Individually, they are able to capture these different characters perfectly; together they are able to offer one-uniform voice as any strong troupe does.

Let’s begin with Gage Webster, the resident pretty-boy tenor with a voice like butter. Webster is a powerhouse in this show. His rendition of “I Wanna Be A Popstar” will make you belly laugh. Between his salacious dance moves, and his strong, beautiful voice, he commanded the stage perfectly. While Webster had so many memorable moments, his “Two For One Coupon” was a real crowd pleaser. Without giving away too much, he plays the role of the cheap, self-centered boyfriend perhaps a little too well.

Next, we had the incredibly talented Amanda Kuo. While Kuo provided impressive vocals throughout the night, her impeccable timing in “My Psycho Roommate” left the audience in a laughing fit! It was second only to her rendition of “The Day Ted Nugent Killed All The Animals”. Lluberes staged this number as an open mic night, and Kuo’s performance was perfection reminiscent of Idina Menzel’s “Over The Moon” in Rent. But this was much, much better. She had a real opportunity to show off her acting chops with this one and did so flawlessly. Keep an eye out for this upcoming senior at The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.

Another player with many memorable moments was Joshua Cornea. This young man is a natural comedian, and he committed to every single character he portrayed completely. This commitment seemed especially tangible in his rendition of “I Want A Stalker”. Cornea assaulted some front row audience members with his highly elastic facial expressions. The audience loved him. Another great moment for Cornea was his version of “Small Time Drug Dealer”. Cornea had a strong presence onstage, and is obviously a seasoned comedian.

Finally, Mary Paige Rieffel rounded out this troupe with extraordinary vocals throughout the night. Rieffel had the audience rolling with her rendition of “Hippies Lament”. Rieffel was charged with imitating the many stereotypes of hippies, and she hit it out of the park. Another memorable moment for Rieffel was her duet with Webster in “Let’s Play Life” where she gave us a small glimpse of the young love that we have all experienced. Her performance was fun, and read so authentically. Finally Kuo, Rieffel and Cornea were simply hysterical in their rendition of “That’s Evolution” (inclusive of a super fun dance break).

These players worked flawlessly together. This truly was a refreshing night of theatre. The players were accompanied by a highly energetic on-stage live band (piano, guitar and percussion). The musicians provided the perfect balance between vocals and accompaniment. Kudos to Musical Director Brian Buckner for captivating Friday night’s audience with some immensely beautiful harmonies. The harmony in “If I Were” was absolutely sensational.

Overall, The Flint REP should be congratulated on an incredible world premiere of such a relatable show! Songs About Stuff continues at the Flint Repertory Theatre through Sunday, June 9th. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for teens & seniors and $8 for college students. Genesee County residents receive a 30% discount on all performances and subscriptions. Tickets may be purchased through the Whiting Ticket Center at 1241 E Kearsley St., Flint, Michigan. Tickets may also be purchased by phone at 810.237.7333 or online through www.FlintRep.org

 

 

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Original Musical “Sparkle Too” Debuts at McCree Theatre

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbysparkle-too723x376

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Reviewed by Kathleen KirbyLa-Cage-FINAL1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Cage Aux Folles continues through May 19 at FCP’s Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. Flint, MI 48507. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-235-6963 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

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Clio Cast & Crew’s “Calendar Girls” is Impressive

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbyimages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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