REVIEW (Pulp): World premiere of Joseph Zettelmaier’s ‘Renaissance Man’

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 11.14.36 AM.pngThe resistance wears elf ears.

At least, it does in Joseph Zettelmaier’s Renaissance Man, now having its world premiere via Penny Seats Theatre.

A riff on Macbeth and staged outdoors — at West Park, in front of the band shell — Renaissance tells the story of behind-the-scenes unrest at a fictional Renaissance festival called Gloriana. Longtime knight Martin Mackabee (Patrick Loos) and art school dropout/face painter Emma Murtz (Kelly Rose Voigt) connect partly through their shared frustration that the fair is not more historically accurate, and bristle against the inclusion of anachronisms like drench-a-wench, elves, leather corset vendors, gypsy fortunetellers, and turkey legs. Gloriana’s benevolent, permissive “king,” Chuck Duncan (Robert Schorr), earns the pair’s scorn, and Emma takes action, entrapping Chuck so that he must resign from Gloriana.

But if you remember your Macbeth — or even if you don’t — you can probably guess that Martin finds that, to quote yet another Shakespearean king, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” When Martin and Emma transform the face painting tent into a plague tent, and turkey legs are replaced by boiled herring and turnips, and charming minstrel Eli Duffy (David Galido) is recast as a consumptive beggar, the fair’s business dries up, and Martin and Emma have to reflect on their actions, motives, and ambitions. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Rhiannon Giddens at the Power Center

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 10.14.17 PM.pngArtists have a long history of transforming pain (communal or personal) into something beautiful — and right now, no one does that better than celebrated roots musician Rhiannon Giddens, who played an Ann Arbor Summer Festivalmain stage show at the Power Center on Wednesday night.

Giddens, who first drew mainstream attention as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and now appears on the TV drama Nashville, opened Wednesday’s two-hour set with her haunting take on Bob Dylan’s “Spanish Mary,” during which Giddens’ gorgeous vocal storytelling countered the song’s heavy, thumping drumbeat; and “The Love We Almost Had,” a jaunty chronicle of longing and regret that Giddens concluded with some grade-A scatting.

Dressed in a navy blue corset top and bolero jacket (like the one she wears on the cover of her latest album, Freedom Highway) and a dark, floral print skirt with an asymmetrical hem, Giddens — barefoot, and with hair streaked bright red — was accompanied by four male musicians on stage. Plus, Giddens’ sister, Lalenja Harrington, appeared occasionally to provide additional vocals for songs, including the siblings’ spare, piercing gospel duet “One More Day.” (The Giddens Sisters featured the song on their 2013 album, I Know I’ve Been Changed.) READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Pink Martini w/ China Forbes at the Power Center

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 10.09.45 PM.pngIf you’re at a concert, and during the course of the evening, one of the performers says, “That last song was in Turkish, and this next song is in Armenian,” it’s a pretty sure bet you’re seeing world music super-group Pink Martini. (Lucky you!)

A sold-out crowd packed the Power Center on Tuesday night to see the 11-member, Oregon-based band, which filled the second slot in this year’s Ann Arbor Summer Festival main stage season after Diana Krall kicked things off last week.

Upon her first entrance, vocalist China Forbes put the (hot) pink in Pink Martini, wearing a voluminous, elegant fuschia gown and glittering platform shoes. The 10 male musicians surrounding her on stage, meanwhile, wore neutrally colored (but equally natty and contemporary) suits. The overall effect married the formality of the music industry’s past to the individuality of the present, reinforcing Pink Martini’s vibe: elegance, whimsy, and something I can only describe as “modern retro.” READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Diana Krall’s A2SF main stage concert

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 9.13.20 AM.pngChart-topping jazz pianist/singer Diana Krall kicked off the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s main stage season on Tuesday night by making the nearly packed 3,500 seat Hill Auditorium feel as intimate and cozy as The Bird of Paradise.

That long-gone Main St. jazz club, which closed in 2004 after nearly 20 years in business, hosted performances from Krall early in her career (which she mentioned early in the evening); and I’m likely not the only one who had flashbacks of being in that smaller space again as Krall opened Tuesday night’s show with her fun, flirty take on “‘Deed I Do,” and then, shortly after, applied delicate, quiet keystrokes on the Nat King Cole hit “L.O.V.E.” – a song featured on Krall’s latest album, Turn Up the Quiet just released in May.

But Krall had yet another local tie: accompanying her on-stage was U-M professor and bassist Robert Hurst — along with guitarist Anthony Wilson, violinist Stuart Duncan, and drummer Karriem Riggins. Each musician performed like a star in his own right, featured repeatedly on complex, transporting solos throughout the evening, but they were also extraordinary as a musical unit.

“I love playing with you guys,” Krall told her band at one point. “I’ve got the best seat in the house.” (Krall also said, later in the show, after another solo-packed tune, “Sometimes I forget there’s a singer in the band.”) READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Theatre Nova’s ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’

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Nick Yocum and Vince Kelley in Theatre Nova’s “The Legend of Georgia McBride.” (Photo by Brandy Joe Plambeck)

Sometimes, when you’re down and out, you have to pull yourself up not by your bootstraps, but by a pair of sparkly platform heels.

As least, that’s one way to read Matthew Lopez’s comedy The Legend of Georgia McBride, which opens at Theatre Nova Friday.

The play — which premiered in New York in September 2015 — tells the tale of an Elvis impersonator, Casey, who performs regularly at a failing bar in Panama City, Florida. Just as Casey’s wife learns that the couple will soon be parents, Casey finds himself in professional freefall: the bar’s owner has hired drag performers to see if they can help turn the bar’s fortunes around. But when one of the new hires faints before going on stage, Casey finds himself reluctantly filling in, only to discover that he’s not so bad at drag.

“It’s very charming,” said director Brandy Joe Plambeck of the play. “I was initially surprised to find out that the show was one of the top 10 most produced scripts in the nation last year, but then I thought, both people who are straight and gay can watch it and find it accessible. It’s about two different worlds colliding. … And I find it’s more than bubble gum sweet. … It has really memorable characters and really great dialogue. And I love the music numbers. It’s just a beautiful play.” READ THE REST HERE

My VisitAnnArbor post about June local event highlights

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 6.53.34 PM.pngJune may be one of the best months to be in Washtenaw County. The kids are in their last days of school, everyone’s excited to spend time outdoors, and lots of concerts, festivals, movies, and activities pop up across the county.

So whether you love music, running, films, car shows, theater, or all of the above, you have tons of great choices this month. Check out these highlights to get your planning started. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of the Cinetopia Film Festival

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 9.55.40 PM.pngThough most of us don’t sense a strong link between the auto and film industries, Michigan Theater executive director and CEO Russ Collins pointed out that the two essentially grew up together.

“In 1922, when Hollywood was deciding whether it would be based in New York or California, Ford Motor Company became one of the largest distributors of movies of anywhere in the world,” said Collins, at a recent press conference for the sixth annual Cinetopia Film Festival, which happens June 1-11 in various Ann Arbor and Detroit locales.

“Ford distributed so many educational films and newsreels that Detroit was second only to Hollywood in terms of the amount of film shot and processed. So it’s an art form that Detroit has long held dear,” Collins said, “and it’s deeply built into this community, which is why we’re so happy to bring the world’s cinema passion back here to Detroit.”

Indeed, the guiding principle of Cinetopia — which Collins founded at the Michigan Theater in 2012, showing more than 40 films that year — involves gathering together some of the best new films being screened at the world’s most prestigious film festivals. So whether you’re looking for cutting-edge comedy, drama, suspense, or documentaries, or selections from the 12th annual Arab American Film Festival (now part of Cinetopia), you’re likely to “find your film” during the 10-day fest. There’s also a competition program of Michigan-made short films, called Detroit Voices, and this year’s U-M screen arts symposium is focused on producer/distributor Ira Deutchman, so Cinetopia will show Hoop Dreams and Sex, Lies, & Videotape. READ THE REST HERE

My Art & Soul performing arts segment with Lisa Barry on WEMU-89.1 FM (for June)

Screen Shot 2017-05-26 at 11.57.27 AM.pngCheck out my latest WEMU 89.1 Art & Soul segment with the lovely Lisa Barry. This time, we spent a few minutes talking with Charlie Reischl from The Neutral Zone about the upcoming, student-curated Live on Washington music festival, and we also highlighted upcoming outdoor theater productions (via The Penny Seats and Shakespeare in the Arb), the start of Ann Arbor Summer Festival: Top of the Park and Cinetopia Film Festival and Sonic Lunch, essayist Roxane Gay‘s appearance at Hill Auditorium, and more. Spring has sprung, people!

My Pulp preview of Richard Prum’s AADL talk about ‘The Evolution of Beauty’

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 2.17.59 PM.pngYale ornithology professor Richard Prum did his graduate work at U-M in the 1980s, but the two places where he spent much of his leisure time no longer exist.

“The Del Rio was a great place,” Prum said of the beloved bar that stood at Ashley and Washington for more than 30 years. “And I went to Borders, back when it was the only one in the whole world. It was such a great bookstore. I remember going to Borders and deliberately leaving my wallet in my office. Not that I ever had much money in it, anyway, but I didn’t want to be tempted.”

Temptation, as it happens, plays no small role in the former MacArthur “genius” fellow’s new book, The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us, which he will discuss at the Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Branch on Thursday, May 18, at 7 pm. The book argues that mate choice in the natural world is often driven by a subjective desire for beauty instead of more pragmatic considerations, thereby complicating the long-held notion that natural selection explains every branch on the tree of life.

“Many of my colleagues are resistant to these ideas,” said Prum. “One guy said, ‘But that’s nihilism.’ So here I am, getting goosebumps from thinking about how beauty evolves in the wild, while he sees a theory so bleak that he can barely get up in the morning. … That’s when I decided, ‘Wow, I have to embrace aesthetic Darwinian language and focus on what makes this worldview a productive and interesting mode of expression.’” READ THE REST HERE

My Detroit Free Press interview with ‘The Girl on the Train’ author Paula Hawkins

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 11.41.28 AM.pngWhen the first novel you write in your genre of choice becomes the best-selling fiction book of its release year, how do you transcend the pressure to follow it with another literary home run?

If you’re “The Girl on the Train” author Paula Hawkins, who will appear Wednesday evening at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor,  you start writing your next novel, “Into the Water,” before the book that would go on to become a smash hit even hits the shelves.

“I was really keen to get back to writing,” said Hawkins. “Once ‘Girl on the Train’ was published, I knew I’d have lots of distractions, though, of course, I had no idea how crazy things would get. … It’s definitely been a different process writing (‘Into the Water’). I haven’t been able to totally immerse myself in the book and shut the world out in quite the same way.” READ THE REST HERE