REVIEW (for Pulp): Theatre Nova’s ‘Sugar Plum Panto’

img_7702One of my favorite moments in Friday’s preview performance of Theatre Nova’s new Sugar Plum Panto was unscripted.

Actress Sarah Briggs asked the crowd what was on their Christmas lists this year. When a man jokingly answered, “A girlfriend,” Briggs cocked her head, pursed her lips, made a small “go get ’em” gesture, and said in a low, sympathetic voice, “Hang in there, Tiger.”

Pantos, of course, are a longstanding British holiday tradition, but they’ve also recently taken root at Theatre Nova, beginning with last year’s An Almost British Christmas. Pantos take a familiar children’s story and give it several silly twists and updates, integrating physical comedy and childish humor with more sophisticated, cheeky, and timely jokes for adults, thus drawing families all together for a night at the theater. Panto audience members are encouraged to boo and hiss when the villains appear, and candy is thrown to the kids in the crowd a few times, making for a loose, chaotic-but-fun atmosphere. READ THE REST HERE

My Between the Lines interview with touring ‘Fun Home’ star Kate Shindle

Screen Shot 2016-11-25 at 11.03.53 PM.pngKate Shindle – star of the touring production of “Fun Home,” which plays from Nov. 29 to Dec. 11 at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre – has always been a bit of an overachiever.

After her junior year at Northwestern University, where she studied sociology and theater, she was crowned Miss America and toured the country for a year, stumping for her chosen cause: AIDS prevention and education. After returning to Northwestern to finish her program, she moved to New York and, within a year, earned a spot in a Broadway production (“Jekyll & Hyde”).

Since then, thanks to her immense talent and hard work, her career has continued to grow. She played Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” both on tour and on Broadway; she played Elle Woods’ rival, Vivienne Kensington, as part of the original Broadway cast of “Legally Blonde: The Musical”; and she wrote a 2014 book titled “Being Miss America: Behind the Rhinestone Curtain.” READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (for Pulp): Nora Chipaumire’s ‘Portrait of Myself as My Father,’ presented by UMS

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Nora Chipaumire in “Portrait of Myself as My Father.” (Photo by Elise Fitte-Duval)

There’s a reason that Nora Chipaumire’s “Portrait of Myself as My Father” earned a spot in University Musical Society’s Renegade series, which highlights cutting edge artists (and works) that take risks.

“Portrait,” an avant-garde dance work conceived, costumed, lit, choreographed, directed and performed (along with Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye, also known as Kaolack, and Shamar Watt) by Chipaumire, is now being presented at Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym.

And once audience members enter the performance space – a boxing ring, bordered by red, white, and blue ropes, and surrounded by bleachers on four sides – they immediately confront bright halogen lights, a loud, electronic soundscape, and Chipaumire herself, talking into a boxing microphone that dangles from the building’s rafters.

If you think this doesn’t give you the chance to feel comfortable and settled, you’re right. You won’t. And your heightened alertness will likely be sustained throughout the hour-plus show. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp recap of bestsellng author Colm Toibin’s talk at U-M

Screen Shot 2016-11-25 at 10.56.21 PM.pngI’m tempted to say that it was standing room only at bestselling Irish author Colm Tóibín’s Thursday night reading – part of U-M’s Zell Visiting Writers Series – at UMMA’s Helmut Stern Auditorium.

But that seems not quite accurate, since many attendees who didn’t arrive in time to grab one of the venue’s 185 seats instead settled themselves on the floor of both side aisles, as well as the back wall.

Yes, the place was packed, but those who carved out a space for themselves got to hear Tóibín read from his novels Brooklyn and Nora Webster while also offering additional commentary and information.

While reading sections from Brooklyn – the basis for a film that earned three major Oscar nominations (including best picture) in 2016 – Tóibín noted, “One of the interesting things is that, the earliest recordings we have of Irish traditional music mainly come from America. The best players, best fiddlers, best singers, best accordion players all came from the West of Ireland, which of course is the poorest part of the country. There were no recording studios, so they went to New York or Chicago, and people rented them recording studios by the hour.” READ THE REST HERE

My CultureSource preview of Michigan Opera Theatre’s ‘Silent Night’

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Muskegon native Chad Johnson stars in Michigan Opera Theatre’s production of “Silent Night.”

An opera about wartime enemies briefly laying down their weapons to share common ground and re-connect as humans?

Huh. You’d think Michigan Opera Theatre quite deliberately chose to open a production of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning show Silent Night—inspired by the 2005 French film Joyeux Noel, about a temporary peace between different factions of World War I soldiers on Christmas Eve—during the week of the most divisive Presidential election cycle in our country’s history.

“We had an orchestra dress rehearsal last night, and I found myself—and my leading lady did, too—we cried all the way through,” said Muskegon native Chad Johnson, who plays a professional German opera singer who quickly finds himself on a battlefield. “It speaks to exactly what’s going on right now in our country, and about finding and focusing on the important things in life.” READ THE REST HERE

My Detroit Free Press story about Farmington’s Browndog Creamery & Dessert Bar

Screen Shot 2016-11-10 at 9.00.25 AM.pngAlcohol and ice cream may not seem like an obvious pairing at first, but Farmington’s Browndog Creamery & Dessert Bar has caused quite a stir since it opened this past summer.

“From what we can tell, there are only five or six dessert bars in the country,” said co-owner Brian Scherle, a physician assistant for the University of Michigan Health System who grew up near Canton. “And we think we’re the only one that makes our own ice cream in-house.”

“The drinks we make here can’t be replicated, using our flavors, without our ice cream,” said Scherle’s business partner, co-owner Paul Gabriel. Along with regular desserts and typical bar offerings, the menu is stocked with alcohol-infused ice creams and drinks like beer floats (small-batch ice cream dropped into craft beer) or martinis featuring a scoop of the sweet, cold stuff. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp recap of bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer’s talk in Ann Arbor

Screen Shot 2016-11-07 at 7.19.23 PM.pngOne of the first things that bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Eating Animals) mentioned in his talk at Ann Arbor’s Rackham Auditorium on Friday night was that he’d always rather engage in conversation than do a straight-up reading.

The reasons why became evident soon after the evening’s host, author/U-M professor Doug Trevor, invited audience members – from the crowd of about 550 – to approach one of two microphones to ask Safran Foer a question. When the second fan at the mic said that his favorite author, Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), once claimed that the reader was his best friend, Safran Foer’s wit kicked into high gear.

“Now I’m jealous of Jonathan Franzen,” said Safran Foer. “Did you have to say that? … Couldn’t you just ask, ‘What’s your relationship with your reader?’ And his first name is Jonathan, too, which just made it that much worse.”

After Safran Foer asked for the fan’s first name (Justin), he said, “My favorite reader’s first name is also Justin.” When Justin responded by saying, “I greatly respect you, too, as a writer,” Safran Foer quipped, “Respect is for losers.” READ THE REST HERE

My Between the Lines story about why you shouldn’t miss ‘Fun Home’ when it comes to Detroit

Screen Shot 2016-11-07 at 9.28.03 AM.png1. It’s the first mainstream Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist. Based on Alison Bechdel’s phenomenal, 2006 graphic memoir, “Fun Home” tells the story of the author at three different times in her life: as a child of 10, growing up in a rural Pennsylvania funeral home; as a college student at Oberlin who’s joyously embracing her sexuality; and as a middle-aged woman who’s trying to reconcile the fact that shortly after she came out to her family, her long-closeted father committed suicide by stepping in front of a truck.

2. You’ll see a former Miss America (who’s also the current president of Actors’ Equity) in the show’s lead role. Kate Shindle stars as middle-aged Alison in the touring company of “Fun Home.” She won the Miss America crown in 1998, while she was a junior at Northwestern University, and the cause she dedicated her year to was AIDS activism and prevention. Regarding this casting choice, Bechdel told the New York Times that “being portrayed by her in the musical feels like a lovely, twisting kind of cultural progress, like a Mobius strip – suddenly there’s this inexplicable but undeniable continuity between the marginal lesbian and the beauty queen. I find it delightful.” READ THE REST HERE

My Detroit Free Press story on Detroit possibly becoming home to the world’s first ‘Container Globe’ theater

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 12.42.09 PM.pngDetroit could become home to the world’s first punk rock re-imagining of Shakespeare’s circular Globe Theatre, constructed with large, corrugated metal shipping containers.

The brainchild of New York-based New Zealander and Shakespeare fanatic Angus Vail — manager of the rock band Kiss’ business office since 1995 (via Joseph Young Associates), and former in-house business manager for INXS — the Container Globe would mimic the specifications of the original Globe in size and shape, and it would most likely be built along the Woodward Corridor. One possible site is a parking lot at Woodward Avenue and Canfield Street.

“The lot is under consideration,” said Bud Liebler, who owns that parking lot and the Whitney restaurant, in addition to running a public relations agency (with his son, Patrick Liebler) that’s working for Vail. “The theater would ‘fit’ there, and because of its location in the heart of Midtown and the Cultural District, it could be an ideal location, but no final determination has been made.” READ THE REST HERE

My profile of Neutral Zone director Lori Roddy, in The Ann Arbor Observer

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-2-01-43-pm“The world is yours, dude!” a skinny teenaged boy in ripped jeans declares grandly to his pals standing in the recording studio at the Neutral Zone teen center. But the kid freezes when photographer Adrian Wylie aims a camera his way.

Executive director Lori Roddy knows what to do. “Let’s see you play with the word ‘roses,'” she says, inviting the boy into an improv game. He snaps into a confident monologue: “Roses. Everyone likes roses … you see them at cemeteries.” Wylie gets his shot.

The Observer’s designers didn’t end up using the photo, but it was a glimpse of the skills that helped Roddy rise from intern to the top job at the local teen center. John Weiss, her mentor and predecessor, says that when he stepped back to focus on sharing the NZ model with other communities, “I couldn’t see anyone else but Lori” as a successor. READ THE REST HERE