Monday, April 30, 2007

Music from a Sparkling Planet

Just when I'm starting to worry about whether I've seen too many shows lately to really be touched by any of them, something like Williamston Theater's Music from a Sparkling Planet comes along that leaves me bawling at the end.

It's an absolutely delightful comedy that I'd love to go see again. It was funny, memorable, and, at the end a tear-jerker. Nor does it hurt that it was superbly performed and directed.

One of my favorite lines: "People go to the theater to hear the truth and they watch television to be lied to."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Charity, Judas, and Picnic

One of the things I love about the area's theatrical scene is the diversity of experiences. In the past four days I've seen a musical, a modern comedy, and a classic drama. Today I'll be seeing two children's shows, both originals.

Sweet Charity

Sweet Charity was very entertaining, but not particularly spectacular.

Molly Ringwald has extreme amounts of stage presence, but she neither dances nor acts as well as others on stage. Without repeating what I wrote in my review, I'll just say that while it was still better than anything I could have watched on television or seen in the movies, it wasn't particularly memorable either.

One of the things I disliked was the accent that Ringwald affected for Charity. It weakened her voice. I also found it a little strange that she wore only one dress for the entire story. Granted, it was the boldness of the red strapless dress with its crossed top that commanded a lot of the attention and kept your eye on her throughout the show, but I'm sure there could have been other costumes equally striking. I also thought the redness of the dress made her trademark hair color wash out.

Another nitpick was that the dancing went from absolutely stunning to uneven.

Overall, I'm glad that I went even if I wouldn't rush to see the show again.

Last Days of Judas Iscariot

One of things I love about Peppermint Creek is that their shows are meaty without being preachy. They serve as sparks for discussion and give me a lot to think about long after I've left the auditorium.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is no different. While it is one of their most uneven shows of the season, it is still a strong one with some incredible acting and an overall fascinating production. They're back at 110 Charles Street which is an intimate setting that puts you right up next to the performers.

I'm hoping to review this show for Epinions in the next day or so, so I won't get too much more detailed. However, in addition to the usual high production values of a PCT show and the stellar acting, I think what I like most about this show is the script. It has some wonderfully challenging ideas in it while being completely sound in scholarship and pretty traditional in theology. In fact, even though the language is very late-night HBO, there is little about what is presented that Biblical theologians could argue with. Pop religionists might object, but then we live in a time where even religious folks are disdainful of theology and dogma.

Hmm, perhaps I'd better move on to Picnic before I start myself off on a religious tangent from which it would be difficult to return.


Starlight Dinner Theater opened its final show of the season last night with William Inge's Picnic.

It was a pretty solid show with some very sweet moments. Interestingly, the chemistry between Hal and Millie seemed much stronger than the one between Hal and Madge. Perhaps that's because the Millie was played so well. She was also quite the looker.

Linda Granger and Gary Mitchell also had some great moments and were very comfortable together on stage. Linda has a talent for breaking the audience's heart and her Rosemary definitely elicited sympathy.

Likewise, any show that gets Winifred Olds on stage is a plus in my book.

Rest of the Weekend

Today I'm off to see my beloved (and a bunch of other people) in If the Shoe Fits at BoarsHead. I have yet to see that show this time around and the run is almost over. We're then off to see Young King Arthur at Riverwalk. Tomorrow is Music from a Sparkling Planet at Williamston and I'm going to try to take in some of the Children's Ballet Theater rehearsal.

This week is also tech week for the plays that we're doing at school. The lower elementary are performing four 10-minute shows that are peace-themed (celebrating Maria Montessori's 100th birthday and the school's 30th birthday). The upper elementary is performing Misaki and the Four Truths and scenes from Shakepseare's Midsummer Night's Dream.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Keeping Things in Perspective

It's sometimes difficult to keep things in perspective when writing a review.

I see a lot of theater (at my last count I was at 77 plays this season and some of them I went to more than once)--which means that it can sometimes be difficult for me to be moved by an experience. As much as I go into the theater consciously choosing to stay open to the experience and to receive it with a fresh heart and a willing mind, it's still difficult to reach my "wow" factor.

Perhaps that is why I so rarely join in a standing ovation. I'm almost always happy to see a show get one, but I'm not going to stand unless the show is truly one of the top experiences I've had during a year. Granted, I'm always uncomfortable when everyone around me is standing, but I think it is important for those shows that do deserve it to be sparing in the standing ovation. I want it to still mean something.

But I'm rambling. It's not the standing ovation that I wanted to write about. It was how to stay fresh and to appreciate what I see even though I may have seen something of similiar quality or interest mulitple times over a very short period. I don't want good to feel blase. Nor do I want to be unfair when I write a review simply because the work failed to be in the top 10 of the shows I've seen.

On the schedule for this week:

Sweet Charity (which I actually went to last night--but I'll blog it tomorrow) at Wharton
Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Peppermint Creek
Picnic at Starlight Dinner Theater
If the Shoe Fits at BoarsHead
Music from a Sparkling Planet at Williamston Theater
Young King Arthur at Riverwalk

Monday, April 23, 2007

Weekend round-up

I'm back from my trip and managed to catch several productions over the weekend. I conked out by Sunday, though. My son and I were in the car and halfway to the Happendance concert when I realized I was just too tired to take in anything else. We turned around and he enjoyed an afternoon outdoors and I took a nap. It looked like a really good concert too, but sometimes it's just necessary to slow down a little.

She Loves Me

On Thursday night, Cheryl and I went to see She Loves Me at MSU. If you go, make sure you go to the Fairchild and not to the Wharton Arena theater like we did at first.

What's fascinating about this production is that there are two casts filling out the lead roles. So depending on the night you go, you might see an entirely different production. Cheryl went the again the next night and said the show's whole feel was different with very different chemistry.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. It is a light musical and one that is simply sweet and entertaining. The technical aspects of the show were outstanding and there was a great deal of enjoyable character acting. In fact, each actor fully committed to creating characters with their own unique personalities.

There wasn't a whole lot in the way of choreography, but that's been true for almost every musical I've seen this season with the exception of the productions at The Gate.

Blue Light Players

The Blue Light Players put on their spring concert this past weekend. It was a Broadway revue with children performing several White Way favorites in order to raise money for the families of fallen police officers.

Performed on a stage in the basement of a church, it's an intimate setting that eschews the glitz of Broadway in favor of the warmth of a cause-driven group motivated by love. I took my son to this show and he loved it.


Saturday our family split ways for a while. Richard was off to perform in If the Shoe Fits at BoarsHead while Dominic went to stay with friends and I went to Cheryl's wedding shower. That evening, Dominic rejoined me and we went to the Wharton to see the MSU School of Music's production of Puccinni's Turandot.

What an impressive production!

There were 400 musicians performing--100 instrumentalists arrayed in the pit at the front of the stage and 300 singers in risers on the stage. The opera's drama was then acted out in a small area sandwiched between the two groups of musicians.

Powerful, powerful stuff. In each of the three acts, the performers overwhelmed the packed Great Hall with waves and waves of sound.

It was a pity that the children's ensemble that paraded across the stage several times never got to sing, but that is a minor complaint in an evening of beauty.

Friday, April 13, 2007

I won't be going to see any shows this weekend as I'll be out of town doing my other freelance writing job. My friend/co-worker/partner and I are heading out to meet with a committee to launch the textbook that we're co-writing. After that we'll be headed off for a research trip here.

Rough life, eh? Writing really can be a good life.

But getting back to theater...funding continues to be an issue for art and I do wonder how it is possible for arts organizations to get their message across. Those of us who are involved in the arts understand how transformational it can be and how it is an essential part of a healthy society.

When it comes to government funding, it really is the difference between spending money on treating illness or spending money on wellness. Many of our human and emergency services are all about treating illness. Yes, it is important. However, how much less might we have to spend on treating illnesses if we took the longer term approach and focused on the wellness of our society so that there was less illness?

At the NEA Institute, Ben Cameron spent a lot of time talking about arts funding and what we need to communicate about the importance of art. He gave us three talking points about why theater is essential:

1. Theaters are good for the economic health of the community. For every $1 spent on theater, audience members spend $5 to $7 more in the community. There is an economic value beyond that as theaters purchase fabric, toner, printers, paint, etc. Major vibrant communities are characterized by a creative culture.

2. Theaters are sources of education. Shirley Bryce Heath at Stanford has done extensive research on the impact of arts on kids. Arts are essential to educational success. Her "Champions of Change" report should be required reading for anyone involved in the arts or who has say over the funding of the arts.

3. Theaters make communities a healthier place. There was one study that showed how high school students who have been in a single play are 42 percent less likely to support racist behavior than those who have not. Theater changes them.

We need to be talking about these things. We need to be talking about why the arts are important--not just to legislators, but to our friends and our neighbors. For ultimately, people must be willing to pay taxes if there is going to be governmental support of the arts.

Monday, April 9, 2007


It really was a wonderful weekend for theater locally--as most weekend's are.

I was talking to one of my co-workers last Thursday and telling her it was a pretty quiet weekend for theater. Then I started listing what was going on: Rent at the Wharton, Voice of Good Hope at BoarsHead, Problem Child at MSU, and Ovation! at Lansing Community College. It's pretty amazing when a quiet weekend means that there are only four shows going on.

I had a blast at Ovation! and was so glad that I went. It was a sentiment that seemed to be shared by the packed auditiorium. Ken Beachler hosted as LCC students sang and dance 37 years worth of LCC musicals. As a review it was particularly enjoyable because they were able to pick some of the best songs from each musical, filling the program with songs familiar and beloved.

The production values were also quite high for what amounted to a concert. There were costume changes with every number as the singers came out dressed appropriately for the musical that the song represented. Some of the changes were incredibly quick.

There was also excellent choreography throughout--some by Janine Novensky Smith and others by various student choreographers.

All in all, a highly entertaining night.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Problem Child

Last night I went to see Problem Child at Michigan State. It was a student production directed by MFA student Daryl Thompson. I don't have my program with me at the moment, so the only actor I can tell you for certain is that my husband Richard played Philly. The other actors are Jacqueline, Paul, and Molly--I'll try to remember to update later with their full names.

It was quite the intense play, one that forces the audience to make up their own minds about the issue; the playwright doesn't try to force-feed anything to the audience. The characters are all trapped in their own world and in their own vision of the world. Denise and R.J. have returned to their hometown to try to recover their baby, a baby that was taken from them when Denise's mother turned her in for abusing drugs and turning tricks. R.J. was in prison at the time.

Denise characterizes herself, R.J., and the drunken hotel clerk/receptionist/room attendant at the strip dive they are staying at as "scum of the earth." It's a highly unromantized look at those people who are in poverty and who are trapped by their situations and by the poor choices that they make. Helen as the social worker would agree with her assessment, branding Denise as a wicked, bad girl.

There's a lot in this play to think about and both the acting and directing were stupendously intense. There is one more performance of the play this evening.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Week of great events

I really adore the diversity of cultural experiences available in Lansing. It's not simply cliche to say there is something available for everyone.

This past week really brought home for me how very much there is available to experience. In a nine-day span, I saw:
  • She Stoops to Conquer, an 18th century farce at Riverwalk
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a rock musical at Peppermint Creek
  • Where The Wild Things Are ballet by the Grand Rapids Children's Ballet Company
  • Florencia del Amazonas, a new Spanish-language opera based on the works of Gabriel Marquez performed at Michigan State University
  • The Crucible, the modern Arthur Miller classic performed by Lansing Community College students
Each of them were experiences entirely different from each of the others. Some I was able to share with my son; others would have been wildly inappropriate. All of them, though, made me glad that I live in Lansing where there are such options easily available at great convenience.