FVP’s “Almost Maine” Sparkles This Weekend

Reviewed by Karla Froehlich Almost-Maine-Fenton-Village-Players-192x108

Almost, Maine is an adorable vignette-style show that has been mounted this weekend by the Fenton Village Players for their first Second Stage production. All puns intended, this fresh cast brought out the splendors snowflakes bring; each with a unique quality and beauty, that sparkle for a moment and fade quickly, leaving very little trace and impacting like an avalanche. Set in a town that is – almost, we get a glimpse into characters who have found themselves – almost.

There are some definite maybes in these relationships, but most certain are the “almost” situations throughout this community. We, as an audience, ultimately decide to where these stories lead, as the author leaves only clues. A small ensemble of actors rendered two or three characters each, bringing life and expectations to these almost fully realized humans. Just about the time you think you have a situation in hand and know where the author is taking you, a rug is slipped out and you’re waffling and wondering what is next, till you are reminded, gently, that this is a sweet telling of love in many lights – including the Northern kind.

Twelve lovely young actors brought us nine scenes about love and romance and discovery and disappointment; truth and lies and things we make up in our heads that have nothing to do with the actual situation. The scenes clipped along like they knew exactly where they were headed, and still, the actors let us choose for ourselves, rather than telling us what to think or how to react.

The sets were simple and had only what was absolutely needed to convey the stories, as the show is usually done. There were a couple sightline troubles, and the thrust stage and cabaret tables and seating lent them to that and, by contrast, to feeling very inviting and relaxed. I loved being able to eat and drink a bit during the show; very laid back.

Each actor left a piece of themselves onstage, but two performances stood out Friday evening: the elastic emoting of Samantha Campbell in the Prologue/Interlogue/Epilogue, and Matthew Sokoloski playing Steve, a man who feels no pain. While all the performances were edible, these two were delicious. A bit of dessert was dished up by Daniel Ragan in scene seven – a Story of Hope. With a dash of salt, only the dog would lick this dish. The richest dish of this sweet meal was served up last by Mr. Sokoloski and Brooke Caldwell, and while all is revealed eventually, it takes a bit to peel away the layers of protection.

This organization really has a grasp of keeping community in the theatre. Some names came up in several areas of volunteering, and there were still over twenty people involved in this small, but mighty piece. This is undoubtedly a nicely meshed group, all feeding the monster that is community theatre.

Almost, Maine plays this weekend ONLY, so get your tickets right now! It continues at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton, MI today at 7 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. Contact the box office at 810-750-7700.

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Flint Community Players’ “Dial “M” for Murder” Rings Beautifully

Reviewed by Stephen Visser27164841_10155204306501629_8254240288283841954_o

While we seemingly cannot escape this frigid Michigan weather, we can find solace in the warm (maybe a bit too warm) Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall. Last night, Flint Community Players opened their dramatic-thriller for the season: Dial “M” for Murder. This stage- play was written by Frederick Knott, and most notably adapted for the silver screen under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock. It has everything a dramatic thriller could ask for: adultery, murder, blackmail, and an undeniable motive.

Margot Wendice (Samantha Tadajewski) and her villainous snake of a husband, Tony (Philip Kautz), seem to have worked out all the problems of their once troubled marriage. Margot ended her love affair with Max Halliday (Zachery Wood), an American television writer, and she seems to be focused on being an ideal, loving wife.

However, there’s so much that will come to light. And I will not give it away; but I will say that this household may still have their share of problems.

Knott’s clever writing and character development is so thought-out and precise, that it will certainly have you sitting on the edge of your seat. (If his writing doesn’t do it, then the chairs definitely will. They are not so easy on the back). And this beautiful, well-assembled cast and crew have executed his work nearly perfectly. Director Jon R. Coggins should be commended for both his vision and casting.

Philip Kautz is incredible as Tony Wendice. He is charming, calculated, and a real jerk. Kautz has many long speeches; and if executed poorly could have affected the pacing of the show fatally. He handles them seamlessly. Much like this script, Kautz is precise. His portrayal of Wendice is very understated and eerily mild-tempered, which make his psychopathy even more disturbing.

Similarly, Tadajewski’s Margot Wendice was breathtaking. We were truly enamored by this young lady. Not only was she stunningly beautiful, but she brought an incredible depth to the character. There were so many times we witnessed that internal turmoil central to her character. The interactions between her and Max are intimate and beautiful. And those interactions make that struggle so clear. While she is traditional, and believes in making it work with her husband, Max provides her with undeniable electricity that is oxygen for her. Don’t believe me? Watch her eyes.

Speaking of Max, Wood’s Halliday is brilliant. He is the perfect contrast to Kautz’ Wendice. We certainly see the attraction of this guy. He’s wildly charming, funny and sensitive to Margot’s needs. Wood has great timing; and perhaps, this is what makes him come off so believably. You’re going to want to watch out for this talented young man. Let’s hope he becomes a fixture with the Flint Community Players.

We just loved Alex Weiss in the role of Lesgate…. or was it Swann? Either way, we just loved him. Weiss captured the adaptable quality of the con artist flawlessly. When we first meet him, he is charming and funny. However, we quickly see how adaptable he is as he strikes fear into us when he attacks Margot. This fight scene was well executed and really impressive. Kudos to both the actors and directors for this flawless execution.

J.R. Nunley played the role of the Inspector. The role requires a considerable amount of depth because he is responsible for unraveling the mystery. We don’t believe we have ever seen Nunley in a role that we didn’t love. And this time is no different. He is so specific, so calculated. He is organized, and his expressions (sometimes subtle, sometimes not) are always so intentional. Nunley’s Hubbard is three-dimensional and completely authentic. We cannot imagine a better choice for this role.

Todd Clemons and Richard Neff rounded out the cast with a variety of different roles. These parts were necessary, and brilliantly specific. Each character was noticeably different from the last. We loved Neff’s bit with the purse. All we’ll say is “He wears it well”. You’ll have to see the show to find out what we mean.

The lighting design was striking. If anyone has ever seen Scott Auge’s work, this should not come as a surprise. And the lights and sound were quite impressive throughout the night. This well-thought out design really improved the atmosphere, and it also paired nicely with Rick Doll and Bill Mackenzie’s beautiful set. It was truly eye-catching. Diane Boonstra Ray’s set painting really made the difference.

In an attempt to be thorough, there were a few things that were distracting. While Laura Williams Kline’s costume designs were stunning, several of the costumes were very wrinkled at times, and it was the slightest bit distracting. Still, we know how actors are about hanging up their costumes (sigh). We suspect this will be an easy fix. Additionally, the microphone that projected the phone calls (there were many) seemed a little clear for purporting to be on the other line. We would have liked to see those voices be a bit more muffled to corroborate the authenticity of the times. Finally, the placement of the intermission was a bit odd. Act I ran about two hours, and Act 2 was only about twenty minutes. Perhaps we could have found an earlier time to break (Did I mention the chairs?). The audience was left wondering when we would break, as there were no scene breakdowns in the program. This in no way detracts from the production, but is a small distraction worth noting.

Overall, we very much enjoyed our evening at The Flint Community Players. Although the attendance was scarce, it was great to see almost every board member in attendance at last night’s performance. It’s truly wonderful to see an organization so supportive of their productions. And after all, they have much to support. So don’t miss your opportunity! Dial M for Murder continues through March 11th at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall. For more info and tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com



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FVP’s 2018 Opener Proves Maybe Mom Knows Best

Reviewed by Karla Marie FroehlichPThings-My-Mother-Taught-Me-1-1-Tickets-1024x1024

Fenton Village Players opened their 2018 Season last night with Things My Mother Taught Me to a small, but appreciative audience. This relatively new piece by Katherine DiSavino has some minor issues and the cast, led by director, Tammy Robinson, handled them with extreme dexterity. The cast was relatively young for being parents of adult children, but we suspend our disbelief in the theatre. One can hardly keep from thinking about things one’s own mother taught and the music helped keep those thoughts in the forefront.

In this script, the author uses pitfalls to challenge this young couple, and they leap over the hurdles right into the next falls. The actors could ramp up their angst by showing us they had something at stake. The adorable couple, Gabe and Olivia, is portrayed by real-life couple, Daniel Ragan and Shelby Rae Gibbs and perhaps are holding back that vulnerability from the audience.

The set was appropriately bland, as the young couple in this story are beginning their lives together and moving into a new apartment half way across the country, much to the chagrin of their parents, especially the mothers. His mother Lydia, played by Patti Lee, wants to completely clean and disinfect the entire place before they move anything in, which leads to problems later. Her mother Karen, played by Lauren Kondrat, wants them to be sure they are doing the right thing and is reminded that these kids have been together for many years. From the very top of the show, we see the set in action: holding the couple’s first joint purchase hostage!

The story line calls for drinking to occur and the fathers get blotto at the corner bar. We got to see great drunk acting from Matt Morgan, who played Carter, Olivia’s father and Matt Osterberg, who played Wyatt, Gabe’s father. This was a fun scene with the dads declaring that this is a great neighborhood!

The ladies get their drink on, too in the apartment on honey vodka, provided by Max, the building super, and played comically by Sam DiVita. An actor playing drunk is a challenge that each handled well. The men were the winners of the boisterous drunk! By the time the fathers come back to the apartment, no one is feeling the pain of not having moved anything but the new chair into the space.

Reminiscent of fifty-two-card pick-up, this short, fun romp falls into the perfect house of cards with an appropriate happy ending and is loose enough for a sequel. I know I’d like to see the next chapter.

Things My Mother Taught Me continues at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road Fenton, MI 48430, February 23, 24, March 2, 3 at 7:00 pm and February 25 and March 4 at 2:00 pm. For more info and tickets contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at http://fentontheatre.org


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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


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

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

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

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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.).






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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

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