Things to do around Ann Arbor (March 1-7, 2016)

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The Chieftains plays at Hill Auditorium, courtesy of UMS, on Saturday, March 5. (Photo by Kevin Kelly)

Washtenaw Community Concert Band presents “Presidential Portraits.” Chris Heidenreich directs this 80-piece ensemble in marches, hymns, and tone poems to honor past presidents. The program is highlighted by Jay Dawson’s musical Civil War reenactment, Gettysburg: The Third Day. Also, a solo by the winner of the band’s 2nd Annual Concerto Competition for young local musicians, Jonathan Lynn. Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in WCC’s Morris Lawrence Bldg., in Towsley Auditorium, located at 4800 E. Huron River Dr. in Ann Arbor. Free admission.

“Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” presented by Penny Seats Theatre Company. Laura Sagolla directs this local company in Eric Blau and Mort Shuman’s cabaret-style 1968 show showcasing the songs of Belgian composer Jacques Brel, whose pointed political commentary and heartfelt chansons made him one of the most venerated singer-songwriters of his time. Four singers share the stage, performing solo and ensemble numbers ranging from “Marathon,” a ferocious commentary on the events of the 20th century, to the famous anthem, “If We Only Have Love.” EncoreMIchigan.com critic Marin Heinritz wrote, “Director Laura Sagolla gets Brel and his sensibility and guides a terrific cast.” Thursday’s show at 7:30 p.m. is sold out, so an added 9:15 p.m. performance (dinner seating starts at 7:30 p.m.) will be your last chance to catch the 70 minute show. Conor O’Neill’s Celtic Room, 318 S. Main in Ann Arbor. Tickets cost $10 ($20 includes dinner entree) in advance at pennyseats.org/box-office and (if available) at the door. Continue reading

My EncoreMichigan.com review of Encore Theatre’s ‘Sondheim on Sondheim’

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Generally, I’m not a big fan of revues – stage shows that gather together the songs or dances of a single artist – but you know what I am a fan of? Documentaries about creative types.

And Sondheim on Sondheim, now being staged by Dexter’s Encore Musical Theatre, is a unique kind of hybrid (conceived by James Lapine) that doesn’t simply let Stephen Sondheim’s songs speak for themselves, but instead intersperses film clips of the man talking about his process; the evolution of his career; and his life. And this makes all the difference.

Encore’s production, directed by Dan Cooney, features 8 cast members who perform the songs (plus music director Tyler Driskill, who plays a grand piano at center stage): Peter Crist, Leah Fox, Daniel A. Helmer, Lauren Norris, Kelsey Pohl, Thalia Schramm, Jim Walke, and Adam Woolsey. Dressed by costume designer Sharon Larckey Urick in what my family calls “dressy casual” – jewel toned dresses for the women, neutral-color suits with colorful button-down shirts for the men – various configurations of performers appear on stage to perform Sondheim’s songs, usually on the heels of a video clip of Sondheim talking about his work on a particular show, or part of his personal history.  READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp story about the Direct from Sundance screening, ‘The Lobster’

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 2.49.53 PM.pngBefore a special, packed, “Direct from Sundance” screening of The Lobster got underway on Thursday, February 3, at the Michigan Theater, Executive Director/CEO Russ Collins appeared on stage with Sundance Film Festival programmer Hussain Currimbhoy.

By way of introducing The Lobster, which won the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Currimbhoy said, “This one has a certain sense of humor and sense of irony, and it addresses structures that control us and stop us from being ourselves. … (The film’s) absurd, but we figured this was the town that brought us Madonna and Iggy Pop, so you can handle absurd, right?”

Filmed in Ireland, and directed by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster tells the story of a newly dumped husband (Colin Farrell, sporting glasses, a moustache, and extra weight) who must now go to a hotel to try and find another partner. He has 45 days to do so, or he will be turned into an animal of his choosing. (His brother, now a dog, accompanies him.) At this hotel, masturbation is forbidden; hotel staffers, as part of their duties, bring guests to arousal without orgasm; and potential partners must share a trait. Consequently, one widower hotel guest with a limp (Ben Whishaw) regularly bangs his face against things to make his nose bleed, in order to match with a nosebleed-prone woman; and Farrell’s character pretends to be callous to match with the hotel’s longest-surviving guest, who has earned her extended stay by successfully shooting down the escaped, off-the-grid “Loners” that live as a tribe in the wilderness.

When Farrell’s ruse is revealed, he flees and joins the Loners, who allow masturbation but forbid romantic coupling of any kind, punishable by mutilation. Yet it’s in this setting, of course, that Farrell finds love with another short-sighted person, played by Rachel Weisz. The two develop a secret language of gestures, but when the loners’ sadistic leader (played by Lea Seydoux) figures out what’s happening, she metes out a cruel bit of justice, leaving Farrell with an excruciatingly painful choice. READ THE REST HERE

Purple Rose Theatre highlights the warmth in Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’

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Guy Sanville and David Montee in the Purple Rose Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Over the years, some shows that become classics get reduced in our minds to their most basic premise. Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” – now being staged at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre – is a prime example. We hear that familiar title, and we think of two very different men, comically struggling to live under the same roof.

This isn’t wrong, of course; but it’s also not the whole story. You forget the backdrop of male friendships and warmth; the grief of divorce that sets the story in motion; and, well, the two British sisters who find one man’s sad-sack, vulnerable state irresistible.

But the Rose’s production brings it all back, in a highly polished production directed by Lauren Mounsey. At the play’s outset, fastidious news writer Felix Ungar (David Montee) is a no-show at his friends’ weekly poker game. Felix’s sportswriter friend and poker host Oscar Madison (Guy Sanville) soon learns that not only is Felix’s marriage over, but Felix left his home saying that he was going to go kill himself.

Obviously, when Felix finally appears at Oscar’s, the friends all hold their breath, watching him for signs of self-harm. But as this initial threat passes, Oscar tells Felix he’s welcome to move in, despite the ways that Oscar’s slob bachelor lifestyle conflicts with Felix’s obsessively neat and controlling ways. And when Oscar makes a double date for them with a pair of flirty sisters living in the same building, Felix can’t keep himself from showing them pictures of his children and his soon-to-be-ex-wife – much to Oscar’s annoyance. The ill-fated date brings Oscar and Felix’s differences to a head, and the friends find themselves at a crossroads. Continue reading

My EncoreMichigan.com review of Kickshaw Theatre’s ‘The Electric Baby’

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Julia Glander and Peter Carey in Kickshaw Theatre’s “The Electric Baby.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

If you see Kickshaw Theatre’s inaugural production, Stefanie Zadravec’s ethereal drama The Electric Baby, you just might wonder where the company will go from here – because wow, is the bar already set high.

Baby tells the story of a handful of people whose lives intersect when Helen (Julia Glander), a mother grieving the death of her grown daughter, storms off into traffic and causes a cab to crash into a pole. Rozie (Mary Diworth) and Dan (Michael Lopetrone), fresh from impulsively quitting their crummy restaurant jobs, are the cab’s passengers, driven by Ambimbola (William Bryson), a man who loves buying lottery tickets as much as he hates swearing and lovers’ quarrels.

Helen, despite warnings from her concerned, protective husband Reed (Peter Carey), can’t stop herself from visiting those affected by the accident; and a Romanian woman, Natalia (Vanessa Sawson), offers home remedy recipes to the audience while also narrating stories to the mysterious, glowing baby she’s watching over.

While other dramas have used a similar, tragedy-as-point-of-connection premise – Robert Hewett’s play, The Blonde, the Brunette, and the Vengeful Redhead, the 2003 film 21 Grams etc. – Baby’s humor-infused, wholly engrossing scenes somehow make it feel new again. READ THE REST HERE