Flint Community Players Opens 90th Season With “Gypsy”

40392899_10155672458616629_3672275760535568384_nReviewed by Kathleen Kirby

To mark their 90th year, Flint Community Players opened this landmark season Thursday with a production of the now vintage musical Gypsy.  A 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents, the plot is loosely based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist.

Starting in the 1920s, it’s a challenging script with lots of scenes, a large cast, a ton of costume changes and a host of chorus and solo numbers. At the heart of it all is Rose (Lindsay Tatum), the quintessential stage mother, and her two daughters, Baby June (Georgia Brewer) and Baby Louise (Brooklyn Olsey) who she is determined to mold into musical stars.

Time goes by even though the act never changes. This naturally causes strife and discord as June (Amber Wolcott) and Louise (Marie Burchi) plead with Rose to get married and settle down in one place. Herbie (William Adamo) is willing to do just that but Rose, striving to achieve stardom for herself through her girls, will never give in.

Director Nora-Lee Luttrell’s staging is tight. Most of the stage area is open with scenes played out in small quarters upstage. The open areas do work for the chorus numbers and also give the on/off stage musicians room to play. However, these upstage areas seem to cramp the action especially when more than one or two people are involved.

We must give credit to whoever saved the day Thursday when the Murphy bed refused to stay up and out of the way. Unfortunately we were other-directed by that technical issue throughout most of Burchi’s lovely “Little Lamb”.

The musical score for this show is terrific, but there were some problems in delivery here. Of course Rose carries the bulk of the vocals singing the powerful “Some People”, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, and the emotional finale “Rose’s Turn”. Tatum brought an impressive presence to the stage, but her vocal power wasn’t strong Thursday.

Nevertheless, a few highlights need mentioning. “If Momma Was Married” was adorable as performed by Burchi and Wolcott, and “Together Wherever We Go” sung by Tatum, Adamo and Burchi was an Act 2 highlight.

If there was a potential showstopper, it was three strippers, Mazeppa (Karla Froehlich), Electra (Rebecca Pauli) and Tessie (Alison Boggs) with their hysterical and well-done version of “You Gotta Get A Gimmick”.

Directing music and choreography, Dan Gerics handled the cute kiddie routines with the ever-maturing newsboys well, and Austin Foster’s footwork with “All I Need Is The Girl” was nicely done.

We must admit that the transformation by Burchi’s Louise from a tomboy to Gypsy Rose Lee is splendid. Overall, this show has that same potential to blossom and become better each time it is performed. We hope you see it and join in the celebration of FCP’s amazing anniversary.

Gypsy continues at the Flint Community Players, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy, Flint, 48507 through September 23. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com






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New Musical Company Debuts With “Little Shop of Horrors”

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel

A palpable sense of opening night excitement filled the theater Friday evening as people kept rolling in and filling the seats (even with Back to the Bricks causing many audience members to scramble for parking and fight detours) for opening night of Light in the Dark Musical Theatre Company’s production of the classic, quirky, and well loved, Little Shop of Horrors.

Little Shop made its stage debut in 1982 however most people are familiar with this particular musical through its reincarnation as a 1985 movie starring Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and Ellen Greene. It remains well loved and oft produced by theatres of all ilks throughout the decades.

The story is driven by the ambitions of the lovable botanical nerd Seymour (Shane Welch) and the daffy and trusting blonde Audrey (Sarah Falardeau). These two fine young actors display the epitome of the innocence required for the roles of these iconic musical theatre lovers and clearly have the potential and drive to capitalize on roles like these for years to come.

In contrast, two more iconic roles in the piece, Orin, the Dentist (Jessi Jeane Eldridge) and Audrey II, the monstrous man eating plant (Holly Myers), typically cast as men, were fearlessly played by two very committed women. Ms. Eldridge swung effortlessly from frightening abusive boyfriend to fits of nitrous-induced mania while Ms. Myers’ reveal as Audrey II in their final form was a delightful mix of Jessica Rabbit and Poison Ivy. Any doubts and reservations I had going in about these gender-bent roles were quickly quieted by their performances.

Rounding out the main cast are the financially struggling and constantly verklempt Mr. Mushnik (Timothy Patrick Ruwart) and the three Greek Chorus-like street urchins (Aris Joelle Campbell, Alysia Mentula, and Tessa Watson). This trio of ladies, and much of the main cast, harmonized at a professional level. Once the adrenaline of the opening number settled, they sank into a wonderful chemistry that made the whole production easy and fun to watch. Music direction by Rebecca Kotz.

The script only calls officially for about 9 actors, and while I found the full chorus numbers a little clumsy at times, I admire community theatres that are willing to expand a cast (in this case a full cast of about 30) to afford opportunities to as many individuals as possible. One notable feature was the jaw dropping solo at the top of “Skid Row” performed by Kevelin B. Jones III.

The set and costumes, were placed in a non-descript time and smartly kept simple, in monochromatic blacks and whites, allowing the favored theatre device of adding symbolic and strategic additions of color highly effective. Set design by Joshua David Bleau and Stephen Paul Visser; costume design by Janet Chima and Shannon Montgomery.

At times, muddy articulation and poorly leveled orchestrations made it hard to catch many of the clever Howard Ashman written lyrics but, as someone familiar with the pain of body mics and acoustics, I have no doubt many of those problems will iron themselves out during the run.

This was not only opening night for this production, but also the premier production for Light in the Dark Musical Theatre Co. The entire company should be very proud of the piece of theatre they brought to Flint, bringing a welcome reprieve from the theatre drought of summer.

Little Shop of Horrors runs August 18 and 19, 2 & 7:30 pm at the University of Michigan- Flint Theatre.

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“Charlotte’s Web” Enchants as it Educates

Reviewed by Carolyn Gillespie21408_show_portrait_large

The opening night of Flint Community Players’ Charlotte’s Web was packed with parents and children who swung in to visit – or revisit – that other famous web-slinger and the pig who loved her. Created by E. B. White, by day a writer for The New Yorker magazine, this charming tale has been attracting audiences since it was published in 1952. Several adaptations are available, including a live-action film featuring a cast of A-listers, an animated musical version, this play version, and even a video game. Apparently White’s inspiration came from a pair of incidents in his own life, one involving a sickly pig he nursed when he was a child, and the other, a spider’s egg sack he watched over in his bedroom when he was an adult. Whatever the inspiration, he spun a tale that has caught many a young reader in a delightful web of its own.

Dan Gerics directs the large cast of 24 which includes 18 young people, moving them around the multi-leveled set on FCP’s small stage with good effect. He also joins the band Cavanaugh Plus 2 to provide pre-show and incidental Irish music. The set is handsomely painted with a prominent ingenious web (of course), and a deftly painted sky that is enhanced throughout the evening by Scooter Griffus manipulating the theatre’s meagre lighting equipment. I don’t know whether the script calls for a “sound chorus”, but this little group of six off-stage actors provided live sound effects for the first half of the show. It was a nice touch and I was hoping to hear more from them as the evening proceeded. The costumes created by Laura Kline and her crew appropriately evoke the 1950’s rural setting, and some are very clever indeed! The eponymous spider (Jenna Wells) sports all eight legs that can move in a synchronized fashion. Her initial appearance is quite magical. The Goose (Marissa Cipriani) and Gander (Therese Wofford) are decked out with orange feet and ingenious bills, and Templeton the Rat (Molly Jones) sports a dapper outfit befitting her arrogant, cynical portrayal.

Performances vary in skill level. Clara Usealman does a splendid job as Wilbur the pig with her natural and sympathetic delivery. Charlotte is a worthy hero. She is constantly in motion (is this to mesmerize us?) and handles the awkward task of spinning her messages with some aplomb. I imagine she will become more efficient as the run continues! Fern and Avery Arable light up the stage every time they appear. The three young narrators, Sophia Johnston, Josh Beauchamp, and Edith Pendell do a fine, clear job of storytelling, aiding in the transitions from scene to scene. Many of the adult actors’ performances are quite broad, earning laughter from the children in the audience.

Opening night had its glitches, of course. Latecomers delayed the curtain for 15 minutes, including a false start. When the show finally got underway, the lights came up, but nothing happened for several seconds until the sound chorus kicked in. The soundscape was so charming that I wished they had begun in the dark to set the scene for us. The most pressing concern, however, was that I missed about a third of the dialogue. Admittedly, I was sitting in the back row, but more attention to low volume, under-articulated text, and/or dropping inflections at the end of sentences is never amiss.

If you don’t know the story, you should probably be alerted to the fact that death is a major theme throughout, beginning with the sinister axe with which Mr. Arable intends to kill the runt of the pig’s litter until he is persuaded to spare it – temporarily. The threat of the slaughterhouse constantly hangs over Wilbur’s head, and Charlotte’s impending demise is referenced several times (female spiders do die after depositing their egg sacks). “After all, what’s a life anyway,” says Charlotte. “We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” On the other hand, the themes of friendship and re-birth are even stronger. “Friendship is one of the most satisfying things in the world,” Wilbur muses. And he tends Charlotte’s egg sack until the babies hatch, and three of them take Charlotte’s place in the barn. The web of life continues.

Charlotte’s Web continues tonight and tomorrow (July 14 & 15) @ 2:30pm. Tonight’s performance (July 14) @ 7:30pm will be signed for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. For tickets and more information contact the box office at (810) 441-9302 or reach them online at http://www.flintcommunityplayers.com

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“Oliver!” Runs Through July at FVP

Oliver-Pure-Light-Studios-Graphic-01Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

It’s a great story, and why wouldn’t it be? Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist has been read and enjoyed for over a hundred years, so when the whole story was set to music over fifty years ago, it’s no surprise that it’s still a hit today.

Fenton Village Players opened their version of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Thursday evening. A large cast, including many talented newcomers, tells this story of an orphaned boy raised in a 1800s English workhouse. It is a musically rich show with lots of chorus numbers and some fine solos.

Nearly ten youngsters make up the group of orphans and thieves that rule this tale of Victorian England’s treatment of the poor and especially the young. Many will remember the character of Fagin, played here by Daniel Ragan. He’s the raffish fellow who takes in homeless kids then turns them into pickpockets and thieves in exchange for a place to belong, food, and unfortunately, fear. Ragan is scary from the beginning but oddly benevolent as well.

Oliver is played by Jackson McDowell, who at 11 debuts with FVP although he brings experience in local theatre musicals elsewhere to this stage. His voice is sweet and his look enchanting especially as he sings the haunting “Where Is Love?”

The real villain of the piece is the brutal Bill Sikes. Brandon Pretty is menacing, dressed in mostly black, as he paces about with a sneer for everyone. His voice however isn’t snarly enough to match his looks.

Brooke Caldwell brings a trio of empathy, energy and enthusiasm to the role of Bill’s girlfriend, Nancy. She is outstanding vocally and manages to portray this complicated character to the hilt. Her performance of “As Long As He Needs Me” is stunning.

Two other soloists need mention. Shiloh Lichowid who sings the plaintive “Boy For Sale”, a perfect showcase for his strong voice, plays Mr. Bumble, the grouchy Workhouse constable. Playing the Artful Dodger, Fagin’s right hand kid and the fellow who finds Oliver on the street, Tony Nelson is spunky and fun as he welcomes Oliver with “Consider Yourself”.

The youngsters are adorable and fun to watch as they move from workhouse kids to street thieves to upper class shoppers and back. Their choruses are rousing and loud as they should be especially in the opener “Food, Glorious Food” and the finale “I’d Do Anything”.

It cannot be easy to wrangle a troupe of this size with many of them children. Director Steve Krupa has done a decent job. The FVP stage isn’t deep but it is wide, so he has taken advantage of that to set scenes and dances handily. Music director Rafeal McDaniel had his work cut out as well. Getting kids to sing and dance with the gusto these children do is no small accomplishment.

There are however a few problems. The music here is prerecorded which inhibits singers and even speakers. Too many times Thursday, there were long waits for the music to finish so the action could continue. Enthusiasm would bubble up now and then but the sound track held everyone in check as they tried to stay inside the tempo.

I am not a fan of canned accompaniment in a full-scale musical. Every show I’ve seen with this music tech has had a problem. Singers should lead and music should accompany them, but when the music is recorded those roles are reversed.

Still, Oliver! is a good show and well worth seeing. The kids are great and the story is one that never gets old. It continues at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton MI through July 29. For more information on times and tickets contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at www.FentonTheatre.org


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One-Act Plays Premier at FVP

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby30739869_1832615580102359_2271617921729927934_n

There was a world premiere this weekend in Fenton. It wasn’t widely publicized but Fenton Village Players offers a range of theatrical presentations and opportunities and this was one of them. Odyssey and Performer, two one-act plays, were both written and directed by local playwright Joseph Mishler.

Not main stage productions, these two were Second Stage events presented in the smaller activity room of the playhouse. Audience members sat at tables – cabaret style – very close to the actors and the action that took place on an elevated platform.

The first offering, Odyssey, found two veterans, Him (Sean Mueller) and Her (Casey Gross) about to be discharged from the service. It is 1968 and they are Viet Nam veterans with no real desire to leave but with no desire to stay either. Both apparently suffer from PTSD episodes and have holed up in a motel while they try their best to face what their existence will be going forward.

The play unfolded in vignettes with numerous blackouts marking the end of scenes. The conversation between these two makes up the plot as She relives the horror experienced in battlefield nursing while He finds most of his experience nearly too difficult to articulate.

The angst of that time came through in the lines but not so much in the emotion from these two. Gross brought some believable pain to her memories and to her struggle to return to “normal” life. Mueller, however, although clearly describing his character as a gentle young man thrown into a terrifying situation, didn’t bring the same level of reality to his character.

The script seemed to focus on speech and memory rather than movement. With the players on an elevated stage, a creaky one at that, their scene divisions were motivated if noisy. Overall, this trip back in time may not really be such a long way after all. With U.S. soldiers still at war, many are coming home today facing the same dilemmas. Mishler’s play provides heavy food for thought.

The second play, titled Performer, relied on a much lighter premise. Dana Forton (Gina Joy Roemer) is watching an outdoor play at a Dickens Festival when she is approached by a gentleman claiming to be Charles Dickens (Jim Pike). It doesn’t take long for these two to wind up entwined back at her apartment with Dana trying to find out who he really is while Dickens is experiencing culture shock at his sudden time-hop forward.

The idea of time travel is intriguing and his arrival at a Dickens Festival is logically ironic. Dana is an actress and of course “Charlie”(she calls him that) wants to see her perform. Finally it almost happens after they go through too many relationship-cementing scenes and commit to a lifetime together complete with a bed of rose petals.

Unfortunately, there is a wealth of time juxtaposition issues that could have been exploited, but the script spent more time, including too many darkened scene changes, revealing the love affair’s progress. Somewhere along the way, the idea of this really being Charles Dickens faded and that was too bad.

Both actors were good at portraying two people attracted to each other although Pike might have been a bit more proper, or at least English, in his delivery. It was too easy to forget who he was supposed to be.

Roemer was animated and appropriately flamboyant. Great facial expression and enthusiasm brought her character charm and spunk.

Mishler is involved in the Holly Dickens Festival so we understand where the idea may have popped into his head. It is a clever idea, but it just seemed to get bogged down in the affair with only sparse nods paid to time warp issues.

We enjoyed being invited to view these two plays. We are always amazed at the effort and involvement that must go into first writing the script and then trusting actors to interpret your words for the world. It was fun.


Posted in 2017-2018, Recently Reviewed Productions | Leave a comment

CCC’s “Avenue Q” Combines Talent and Dexterity

c8b4e1_249d495af6e2404f8fc775656b808bff~mv2Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

If we imagine a millennial version of “Sesame Street”, we can begin to understand the musical entertainment and educational appeal of Clio Cast & Crew’s newest production, Avenue Q. Puppet-centric, slightly bawdy but still comically clever, this Tony Award winner written by Jeff Whitty with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx is a must see show! The puppets alone, plus the ease with which they are handled and perform, makes the price of admission worthwhile.

As to the story line, a young man fresh out of college comes to New York with big dreams but no money. Princeton (Josh Bleau) finds that Avenue Q is all he can afford, but that turns out to be a wonderfully diverse place filled with a bunch of funny folk that keep life certainly interesting. A comical number, “It Sucks To Be Me”, introduces the residents including the three non-puppet people, Brian (Steve Yerian), Christmas Eve (Nicole Dunckel), and the super in charge, Gary Coleman (Rolecia Looney). They are joined by the puppets including sweet Kate Monster (Kristen Ann Seeley), Rod (Shane Welch), Nicky (Duane Dunckel) and of course, Princeton.

This is a heavily sung show – one musical number after another with only short vignettes to string them together – but it flows very nicely. It is also broadly issue driven touching on race, homosexuality, and pornography as well as loneliness, excess, and the big one here – Purpose.

We didn’t really find a weak link in this show. Every performer was on top of their game – deftly manipulating puppets even when things went wrong. Most are rod puppets (think Muppets) and Bleau was terrific at covering a broken rod early on. His puppet never missed a gesture. Later poor Princeton had a more extraordinary body part malfunction which we’re pretty sure won’t happen again, but was pretty funny at the time! Bleau handled it all with panache.

We were impressed with Trekkie Monster, the two-man puppet in the upper window. This amazing beast came to life at the hands of Chris Dunckel and Steve Morgan and made a huge impression in the number “The Internet Is For Porn” as he constantly interrupted Kate Monster’s song.

Another outstanding number found Princeton, Kate, Gary, Brian and Christmas Eve discussing the notions that “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”.

Just when everything was moving smoothly along came Lucy T. Slut (Jessi Jeane) with her sultry song about being “Special”. This sexy torch singer threw a relationship monkey wrench around for a while, but it was worth it to hear the strength of Jeane’s vocals.

Two others weren’t often heard singing, but the Bad Idea Bears (Jeff Rogner & Aly Olmstead) were a hoot with their temptations and wacky ideas for doing just the wrong thing!

Still, there was always balance such as Little Kate Monster’s lovely ballad “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” that showed off the variety of Seeley’s vocal range. It was a highlight also.

Indeed, the vocal stylings of all three ladies were topnotch. Nicole Dunckel’s “Asian” character was terrific and her vocals soared throughout but especially well singing “The More You Ruv Someone”.

Directors Adam Iaquinto and Stevie Visser are to be commended for assembling this large group of evenly talented performers. Surely the ease of characterization we observed even while manipulating large puppets is a credit to directorial effort. Add to that the fluid movement of a large cast (22) on what was a somewhat depth limited set.

Speaking of the set, the reproduction of a city street in a crowed neighborhood is very well done with three believable apartment doors, stoops, workable windows and a second story picture window for Trekkie.

We could go on and on, but let’s just say, this show was a delightful surprise given that we weren’t sure what to expect. We would warn that this show is billed For Mature Audiences.  As for us old folks, we’d see it again!

Avenue Q continues at Clio Cast & Crew’s Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Rd., Clio through June 17. For information and tickets contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com





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McCree Tells the African American Story in Drama and Song

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

The New McCree Theatre has another winner on their hands with the currently running musical Give Me That Old Time old-time-religion784x407Religion. Unfortunately, today is the final day of the run, but if you hurry, you can still catch it twice at 2:00 and 7:00 pm. Written and produced by the group’s executive director, Charles H. Winfrey, the play’s mission – “To tell the African American Story in the African American Voice” – is accomplished with passion and polished style.

Veteran McCree director Cathye Johnson returned from Missouri specifically to direct this production. Her stamp and style is all over this wonderful show as the eleven players sing, move, dance, emote and generally never miss a beat as they bring various characters to life with ease.

Beginning with chorus numbers of “Old Time Religion” and “Go Down, Moses”, the first solo “Wade in the Water” found Sunkaru Clifford Sykes emerging as a stunning character player. He would do more and be more as the show progressed.

Three women and eight men made up the cast and most were onstage throughout as one song followed the next with short transitional conversations linking them to their place in history. “Slavery ended, but the singing never did.” Terrific numbers like “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “Amen” marked the end of one era, the emergence of gospel groups, and what is described as the Gospel Highway.

“People Get Ready” launched the quartet style vocals of Sykes, Charles Brown, Fredrick N. Fife and David Lott who first sang as the Pilgrim Travelers. They demonstrated the acapella style known as Jubilee (harmony without instrumental accompaniment) with their pristine rendition of “Shine On Me”.

Barbara Armstrong held her own with two linked songs by Dorothy Love Coates, “Every Day Will Be Sunday” and “You Can’t Hurry God”. She was supported and often gave the floor to the clear vocals of LaToya Massey and Alverine “Motown” Simpson.

Although only appearing in the second half, Dwayne Towns was well received by the Friday audience with his Johnny Taylor rendition of “The Love of God”.

As the show drew to a close, Terence Grundy brought passion and gusto to “Straight Street” and Fife’s wonderful falsetto-style shined with “Walk Around Heaven”.

Friday night’s audience reacted with enthusiasm and delight as this talented cast, abetted by the casual narration of John Vincent, told the Black history story through the music that defined the progressively evolving cultural genres.

Give Me That Old Time Religion performs twice today at 2:00 and 7:00pm. For tickets and information contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or online at http://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com/that-old-time-religion.html

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