UM-Flint’s “Antigone” Melds Past and Present

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

a1b35e5eb43e690861affa0bc701df6251d4b9caaea9c949fde1fcaada5a177f-rimg-w526-h296-gmirIf the idea of going to see an ancient Greek tragedy seems slightly stodgy, even dull think again! The UM-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance launched an amazing production of Sophocles’ Antigone Friday night that flies in the face of those fears. Translated by Elizabeth Wyckoff, it’s the same ancient story but with a nod to now and a hip-hop beat that brings what was old to vibrant life today.

Director Janet Haley relates this production to the hit musical Hamilton and its “story about America then, told by America now”. Indeed, although the setting is ancient Greece, the street people using microphones to speak in rap and poetry slams while drumming and strumming may reverberate this story right back to its original impact.

Shannon Cody plays the title role with grit and conviction. A daughter of the former king Oedipus, she stands her ground as her principles are challenged over the forbidden burial of her brother. Her sister, Ismene (Rachel Keck) isn’t as stubborn but will ultimately stand by her sister as this family feud threatens the entire town.

Two alumni of UM-Flint Theatre are integral to this production. Because the story of Oedipus is important to the understanding of the strife here portrayed, Haley enlisted permission from 2012 grad Joshua Clark to use his opening Prologue Rap, which is a piece he wrote for the American Shakespeare Center’s production of this play, to bring the audience up to date. And playing King Creon, 2012 grad Vaughn Kelsey Davis exudes power and confidence as he forbids the burial of his nephew thus engendering both the wrath and horror of Antigone.

With nary a weak performer on the stage, there was still some difficulty understanding everything that was said due to occasional volume and diction problems. However, one young citizen chorus member, Student Activist David A. Guster, was clear and crisp in every delivery. Others of interest were Austin Kimbrell as the seer, Teiresias, Giovanni Moore III as A Freestyle Prophet and the two often comic Palace Guards, Leonardo Clark and Enrique Vargas.

Hannah Erdman’s scene design is impressive and provides a perfect playing space complete with various levels and even a running water stream. A two story house sits center stage and allows for interesting glimpses in the windows. A wall of graffiti is backdrop to a street band.

Doug Mueller’s lighting spans the set from intriguing ghostly visions in the sky to torch-like vases lighting corners.

Sound was a bit tricky Friday as power problems caused microphones to fail occasionally and music to come in with too much gusto. Designer Aaron Weeks did have his work cut out for him with some of this music live and some recorded.

In case it isn’t clear, this is a most intriguing treatment of a classical Greek play. Only 75 minutes long, it flies by with action happening at every turn in this message “from the Past told by People of the Present”.

Antigone continues at UM-Flint Theatre, 327 E. Kearsley St., Flint, MI 48502 Jan. 25-26 and Jan. 31-Feb. 2. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810.237.1530 or online at www.umflint.edu/theatre

 

 

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FCP’s “Chicago” – a Roaring Musical Treat

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbyuntitled-design_orig

Continuing the successful dynamic we saw in their recent Mamma Mia!, Flint Community Players currently is presenting a bang-up production of the now classic Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse and John Kander musical, Chicago.

Still a popular show nearly 50 years after its debut, its appeal most probably lies with the jazz era’s 1920’s music. But there’s more. Based on actual events played out in the windy city back then, the action swirls around the murderous women awaiting trial and the notoriety they crave and receive from the local press.

Light on dialogue, this one serves up one marvelous musical number after another, which accentuates the success of that dynamic we mentioned. The orchestra is hidden away but is still very much live and connected to what’s happening on stage. Congrats go to Rafeal D. McDaniel and his seven musicians for handling this aspect with such panache and expertise.

So who are these murderous gals? Well, the whole show is set in the county jail so, of course the show opens there with “And All That Jazz” sung with gusto by Rolecia Looney as Velma backed up by an ever-present ensemble of gals and sometimes guys.

Suddenly there is action in the background when Amber Woollcott as Roxie Hart shoots her lover before our eyes. Don’t worry, she doesn’t use a real gun but the effect is the same. These two gals become the focus of this story. Both are extremely talented and fun to watch as they strive to garner the attention of the press to further their singing careers. Woollcott and Looney truly anchor the show.

Musical numbers prevail and highlights Friday night included “Cell Block Tango” where the gals explain in their defense that “He had it comin’!” and as Matron “Mama” Morton (Erika Odykirk) rebuts with her system, “When You’re Good To Mama”.

The gals need an attorney and Billy Flynn (Aaron Furman) is the apparent go-to guy. Furman was impressive with his “All I Care About” and later with “Razzle Dazzle”. His impact is strong and his dances are terrific.

Speaking of dance, we cannot overlook the fact that the fabulous Bob Fosse wrote this script and had to be behind the precision and intricate movement that this large group brings to number after number. The recreation of these dances here is impeccable.

Kim Heath Streby is comical as her newswoman Mary Sunshine sympathizes in “A Little Bit of Good” and also joins Furman, Woollcott and the ensemble for the amazingly well done “We Both Reached for the Gun”.

We also feel we must mention one favorite number in this show – “Mister Cellophane” sung by Andrew Eisengruber as Roxie’s long-suffering husband Amos. Eisengruber brings a poignant comedy to this terrific bit.

Director Shelby Coleman also collaborated on a set design that is perfect for this production. Three jail cells elevated on a broad two-step platform are all that is needed throughout. It’s a large cast but this set accommodates everyone perfectly.

Indeed, there isn’t a lot of distraction visually so the focus remains on the story and the folks involved. Much is accomplished with lighting. Ex. Poor Amos literally disappears at the end of his song!

Technically, this Chicago benefits from the know-how UM-Flint Theatre Department grads and students bring to sound, lighting, costume and design. Many UM-F folks are on the stage as well and this talent contributes mightily to the overall effect.

If there was a weird moment Friday, it was at the very end when oddly no one in the audience stood to applaud. Possibly we weren’t sure it was complete because the show did seem to just stop rather than end with a flourish. I for one was sorry that I didn’t jump up and applaud!

Chicago continues through January 26 with an extra show today at 2:20 pm at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. For more info contact FCP online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com or by phone at 810-235-6963.

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Beautifully Intimate “Passing Strange” Serves up a Heaping Bowl of “The Real”

Reviewed By: Stephen Bleau-Visser

Passing StrangeFriday night, a group of incredibly talented independent artists collaborated to bring forth a powerful, thought-provoking rendition of Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s Passing Strange. This Tony – Award winning musical can be challenging to produce because of its extremely ambitious score, and the physical and mental endurance it requires of its actors. Yet if Artistic Director Harvey’s brilliant rendition of this trip on existentialism were any indication, it would appear this troupe was more than up to the task.

Passing Strange follows a boy who is on a trip of self-discovery across Europe and who learns much about himself on the way. His story is told through a perfect combination of song and speech. The Narrator (Melanie Jones) was positioned on the stage left side of the stage segregating the narrator perfectly from the action. Jones provided stellar vocals and the perfect amount of swagger to bring this rock and roll storyteller to life.

We certainly appreciated the subtle parallelisms between the Narrator and The Youth (Harvey) with their matching bright yellow Keds, suggesting that our Narrator is more than just someone telling this story but someone who has lived it. Harvey, a veteran of the Flint Theatre scene couldn’t have portrayed this character more completely. Every movement was executed with beautiful precision. Her chilling vocals will leave you vulnerable, and her stunning characterization makes it look effortless.

Then there is the pivotal character of Mother (Carmen Brown). This character is difficult because most of the actions of The Youth are based solely on the dynamic between him and his mother. Brown does this role absolute justice. She is starkly funny in the role, and embodies all the caricatures the script has laid out for her perfectly. Seemingly able to capture all of the tenderness, Brown brings such an authenticity to the role that she may make you cry in this character that so many of us can relate to.

Rounding out the cast is an incredible ensemble consisting of Jonathan Mateen II, JoJo Bee, Re- C, and Lewis Clay. They work together flawlessly to set up the many difficult characters that must transform The Youth into the Narrator. While they were all phenomenal talents, notable scenes first included JoJo Bee, incredible as Mariana, and displaying significant acting prowess. Also, as Desi, Re-C was perfect. Maybe it’s the feminist in me, but the book has written some very powerful female characters, and the actors were up to the challenge. Jonathan Mateen II was especially notable as Frederick, the closeted preacher’s son who led the choir, and Lewis Clay as Christophe. The core was never more entertaining than in their huge ensemble song “We Just Had Sex”. This upended the entire audience at the extremely quaint Local 432 venue in the heart of Flint, Michigan.

If you are impressed by real theatre, and you wish to be moved by some pretty heavy art, get down to the Local 432 this weekend to see this incredible troupe accompanied by a remarkable ensemble of musicians (Anthony Fiemster, Ethan Martin, Tyler Robinson, and Tarrence Smith). The troupe and their band will blow your socks off. Bring tissues, and maybe a chair. Standing room only!

Passing Strange continues this weekend at the Local 432! Warning: The language is strong. There are also strong sexual themes present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fairy Tales Collide With Gusto at REP’s “Into the Woods”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbyintowoods

A full house streamed into the cozy Elgood Theater Friday evening for Flint Repertory Theatre’s pristine opening performance of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s timeless musical Into the Woods.

Stepping around and over metal platforms, folks soon realized this would be an up close and personal adventure into the land of fairy tales, happy endings and the realities that can emerge in moments.

Director Michael Lluberes has assembled a cast of immense talent to bring this storybook tale to life. In doing so, he and his technical team chose a different path for these woods making them more industrial in nature. Shane Cinal’s multi-layered platforms replete with metal stairs, ramps, even a spiral stair as well as heavy hanging ropes allow for many playing spaces at once.

Vocal expertise is also apparent from the opening full company “Prologue: Into the Woods”. Everyone is impressive beginning with the Narrator (Rico Bruce Wade) who will later transform into the Mysterious Man as will several others appear in more than one role.

Anchoring the storyline, the Baker (Jason Briggs) and his wife (Victoria Huston-Elem) bring joy, sorrow, longing and grief to their roles as they become embroiled in all the tales. Both are strong vocalists; their “It Takes Two” is genuine and engaging.

As for the fairy tale folks, Emily Hadick’s voice is stellar throughout as Cinderella. She and Huston-Elem are wonderful while discussing her suitor – “A Very Nice Prince”. Also, Amanda Kuo is perky, funny, and gritty as Little Red Ridinghood. Accosted by a clearly blood thirsty Wolf (Bill English), she gives up grandma with sweet naiveté while singing “Hello, Little Girl”.

English appears more often as the Prince. He is wonderfully comic and crafty in this role and hysterical in his duet with Rapunzel’s Prince (Bello Pizzimenti) which finds them expressing their “Agony” over the women in their life.

Most of the problems emerge in this tangled tale because Jack (Gage Webster) climbed the beanstalk and stirred up a giant. Webster executes some amazing gymnastics as he sings “Giants in the Sky” while hanging from and climbing a rope to the rafters!

Of course, there’s a witch – isn’t there always a witch? This one is cunning and magical and a mother! Elizabeth Jaffe is wrathful and loud as she storms about threatening and hopefully protecting her daughter, Rapunzel (Veronica Battersby) from Pizzimenti’s Prince.

Others adding to the amazing choral numbers (“First Midnight”, “Ever After”, and “Children Will Listen”) include Meredith Deighton as Florinda, Amy Dolan-Malaney as Jack’s mother, and Maddie Ringvelski as Lucinda.

Further kudos to Chelsie McPhilimy and Sonja Marquis respectively for their amazing light and sound designs which lent credibility and sparked imagination to make it all nearly real!

Interestingly, costumes designed by Brandon R. McWilliams are basically colorless in shades of beige. Nothing bright or cheery (except Red’s cape) detracts from the tales and the folks at their center. They match the set’s ropes that seem to serve as vines, even trees, sometimes hair and to delineate paths and also obscure them. Indeed, it is individual talent that takes center stage.

Overall, this production draws viewers into the action. The Elgood stage demands they be nearly part of the action. The giant and other perils are much more real when they seem to be right there, and the pathos is ever more touching when the tears are up close.

Into the Woods continues through December 15. For more information, times and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at https://FlintRep.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strong Ensemble Presents “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope”

Reviewed by Tomoko Millercant cope musical

Thursday’s opening night performance of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope at The New McCree Theatre buzzed with a family-like atmosphere. It seemed the entirety of McCree’s staff and volunteers were on hand to cheerfully greet patrons as they arrived. The excitement of opening night was palpable as the audience entered.
 

This historically significant musical revue found fame in 1972 by being the first Broadway play written and directed by African-American women, Micki Grant and Vinnette Carroll, respectively. It mixes various musical styles with an authentic and celebratory look at African-American culture. Director Cathye Johnson mimics the free-form style of the original Tony Award winning production with a minimal set, instead highlighting her gifted singers.
 

A warm, disembodied voice opened the show with spoken word poetry to a darkened house and closed curtains. Once the curtains opened, actors and musicians casually entered through multiple entrances, positioning themselves at the various levels as though slowly populating a neighborhood block party. Without dialogue or music it was a seemingly odd second start of the show. It set a mellow mood that betrayed the lively score yet to come.
 

While this was a thoroughly proficient ensemble cast, there were some notable standout performances. Frederick Fife’s swagger in his rendition of “Looking Over from Your Side” electrified the stage. Janaé Atkins’ sultry performance of “Billie’s Blues” was enthralling. Music director and keyboard player, Phillip Young’s crooning of “So Little Time” seemed to speak right to the heart and soul of each audience member. Tiana Rison’s commanding stage presence during “Universe in Mourning” was equally passionate even though it appeared she carried a written copy of the lyrics with her on stage. John Vincent drew attention with his bountiful energy and comedic pizzazz.
 

Sound mixing was up to par: the professionally skilled musicians balanced well with the voices. Often this can be a problem with many theatre productions, so it was a nice break from the norm. However, technical glitches with body mics and lighting occasionally deterred from the show. Choreography and blocking are generally expected to enhance a musical, both of which in this case seemed to be under-rehearsed. While the easygoing style of the show, combined with informal clothing suggested a welcomed open interpretation to setting and time, it often contributed to the absence of a unifying theme. While the play felt more like a concert showcase than a revue, the songs were spirited and the singers phenomenally talented.
 

Each song explores subjects that are still relevant in today’s culture, sometimes with a bit of tongue-in-cheek satire, sometimes with excruciating honesty. The framework for a great show is there and will definitely improve with each performance.
 

Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope runs Thursdays through Saturdays until December 21st. The New McCree Theatre is now located in Northwestern High School, located at 2138 W. Carpenter Road, Flint. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or visit them online at www.thenewmccreetheatre.com

 

 

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Suicide Relatable and Unexpectedly Funny in “Every Brilliant Thing”

Reviewed by Tomoko Miller75474131_10156639513666629_1774275398276743168_n

It started with a simple request as the crowd entered. “Would you like a card?” On a white index card was written “521. the word PLINTH.” The walls of the house at Flint Community Players were decorated with hundreds of similar index cards in pastel blue, yellow, and pink, and on each one written another cryptic bit of joy. “Bubble tea”. “Falling asleep in a freshly made bed”. At a table near the stage were pens and post-its with an invitation to add to the list on the walls. Seats were available on the stage for those audience members who wanted to be further enveloped in the atmosphere. Warm, cheerful, and welcoming was the least expected way to start a play about suicide.

Director Zachary Wood took the stage for a brief curtain speech and to give instructions to the card holders. As their numbers were said in the play, they were to yell out what was written on the card they received. The List Maker, played by the handsome and magnetic Brett Smith, took the stage a split second later. With the house lights at full brightness, what at first seemed like a mistake soon turned out to be by design. Blurring the line between actor and character, The List Maker relayed a story about his mother’s depression. Smith bounced around the audience as if telling a story to close friends.

While the script boasts a single actor, the characters abound. The List Maker enlisted those audience members closest to the stage as temporary fill-ins for the people in his life, going so far as to whisper lines into their ears or having them read lines off of props, although the playwrights, Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, have notably not included the mother as one of the speaking characters. Flirtatious at times, self-depreciating at others, Smith was most authentic when interacting with the audience, though slightly dry when monologuing. One hopes he will use his natural charisma to energize his performance in the future, as we wouldn’t mind seeing him perform again. Smith had little difficulty coercing people to perform alongside him. Zachary Wood’s addition of The Chorus, actors Levi Brownfield, Lindsay Brownfield, Jason Brownfield, Jessi Jean Eldredge, and Jeff Rogner, helped move along the pieces of the show with more dialogue from the other characters.

The List Maker narrates his life starting at 7-years-old and into his adulthood, starting with his mother’s attempted suicide and battle with depression. A child’s naive view of suicide set the tone for the show. His mother could be cured by simply making a list of all the things in the world that made life worth living. He adds to the list over the course of his life, sometimes adding items by thousands at a time, sometimes floundering as he went through his own life’s challenges.

The only thing that seemed lacking were the walls of the set. Also covered in colorful notecards, the walls themselves were left unpainted. A random mix of flats from previous shows created a chaotic and incohesive background to the beloved list. A sign with the rules of the list was hand-written and barely legible even when standing inches from the stage. This reviewer would have preferred a more orderly and elegant set, especially given that as of late the Players have had exceptional sets for their other shows. A small pile of props and furniture placed center stage was charming, and better served the feeling of moving through different times and settings. Also, the bits of music that occasionally illustrated the show were delightful and well-timed, but sometimes drowned-out dialogue. However, it was never long enough to detract from the enjoyment of the moment.

The real star is not the actor nor the audience, but how they interact with each other. A feeling of community seemed to wash over everyone as the evening progressed. For a show about suicide, it maintained an upbeat ambience with people laughing and yelling in their seats.

High fives all around, quite literally!

Every Brilliant Thing is rated PG and is a part of the Flint Community Players Ghost Light Series, which self-professes to spark conversation. With that in mind, there is a talk back at the end of the show in which the audience has the option of participating.

This weekend only, it shows again tonight, Saturday, November 23 at 7:30, and again Sunday, November 24 at 2:30. Tickets are $5 for college students, and $10 for adults.

 

 

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“Wait Until Dark” Needs a Flashlight

Reviewed by Amber M. Dillard

untitled-design-2_orig It was a sparse opening night for Flint Community Players and their production of Wait Until Dark, a suspenseful thriller written by Frederick Knott and directed by Anthony Ennis. Still, it kept us guessing and was played (mostly) in the dark.

The production centers around a blind housewife, Susy Hendrix, who unknowingly possesses a doll filled with drugs and a conman, Harry Roat, who desperately wants to find the doll and sell it. Roat enlists the help of two recently released from prison thugs, Mike Talman and Sgt. Carlino, which stirs the opening of the plot. First we meet Mike Talman, played by Thomas J. Goedert, who is driven by his need for money to be a participant in Roat’s evil games. Goedert delivered a wonderful performance and really brought out the humanity in his role as a conman.   He and his counterpart thug, Sgt. Carlino, played by Gene Pincomb II played nicely off of each other although Pincomb was sometimes hard to understand.

Talman and Sgt. Carlino are coerced into assisting Harry Roat Jr. and Sr., both played by Christopher Dinnan who easily changed into various characters with ease and style. We enjoyed his performance but only wish that we could have seen more because it was obstructed by the darkness. The true standout of the cast has to be Allison Ouellette who plays the target of Roat’s plan, Susy Hendrix. Ouellette is believably blind, vulnerable, smart, and strong as her character arch progresses through the day’s events.

Rounding out the cast are Susy’s husband, Sam Hendrix, played dutifully by Christopher Carlson and their upstairs neighbor girl, Gloria, played sweetly by Marie Halligan. Congrats also to our two policemen played by Matthew Cremeans and Davonte Tenniswood.

While Thursday night’s performance had some lighting and sound kinks to work out we must stress how impressed we were with the superior set design and construction work by Rick Doll, Cindy Hubbard, and Ron Barrett. It was expertly assembled and decorated, and easily helped move the story along. More kudos are due to the front of house staff and box office for all of their hard work.

Wait Until Dark continues through November 17 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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