REVIEW: Mary Poppins

It’s a real tall order to ask a live performance to be able to make magic in front of their audience’s eyes, and you can bet none of these 100+ Burns Parks Elementary students are much over 4’10”.

Somehow, the group of kids, with the help of a few adult actors, crew, and directors, did just that. From the wondrous costume design to the joyful choreography, this production succeeded in every meaning of the word.

While I might usually stick to metrics of artistry and professionalism to review a performance, this production of Mary Poppins is impossible to judge that way. It was just too darn adorable. Exhibit A is to your right. Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting, hat, child, stripes, outdoor and closeup

Emily Betz is the magician behind the costume design, which really brought the show together. The way she balances bold, whimsical colors without it being too brash or distracting is amazing. It’s no wonder she specializes in all things Disney. It takes a special, rare kind of person to so perfectly embody childishness as art in the way she does. The fact that just about everything was handmade was shocking, and I’m sure a great joy to the financial aspect of the project.Image may contain: 1 person, indoor

The show also featured a Queen Victoria cameo by community theatre devotee Fredda Clisham, a centennial and all-around fabulous lady. She has been in Burns Park Players shows for the past 15 years, and is known for a move where she coyly pushes up her breasts, a tradition with origins in a previous play’s improvised scene.

Several other Burns Park Players veterans were also involved in the production. The director, Rachel Carpman, has been coming to see the group’s plays since 1994. Omkar Karthikeyan, is a parent of one of the young actors, but rather than simply driving his second-grader to play practice, he got fully involved. He played the chimney sweep Bert in the production, and was totally, completely his character. As energetic as the children both on stage and in rehearsals, he is surely a permanent member of the Players family.

All of this hard work coming from a crew of around 200 children and adults is lovely to see. Local theatre groups are a gift to a community, truly. The pressure is low, but the belief in the art is great. The art of pretending, of community-building, of creating something so earnestly certainly is a magic of its own, perhaps even rivaling our favorite nanny. You can take a child’s enthusiasm for granted maybe, but the adults are also so clearly passionate about the troupe. So much joy is lost in the transition from childhood to adulthood, but some things have the power to save us. The creativity involved in a story like Mary Poppins is strong, between the costumes and the flying away via umbrella and the floating quality of the songs. It brings the performers, crew, and audience together with a present-tense nostalgia unlike anything else.

Note: As my pictures were of bad quality, taken far from the stage, I borrowed a few from what was posted on the Burns Park Players Facebook page. Photo credit to Kara Cuoio.

PREVIEW: Mary Poppins

Whether you’re five or 95, Mary Poppins is an absolute delight.

The Burns Park Players present a special, family-oriented production of the Disney classic this week, intent on bringing all of Ann Arbor the joy and wonder of the nanny we all wanted for ourselves.

Since its 2013 departure from Broadway, productions of the play can be hard to find. Luckily the talented actors of this local troupe are doing us this service. Plus, the proceeds from ticket sales goes toward funding the arts in schools around town!

Showtimes are:

February 27, 7:30 PM

February 28, 7:30 PM

February 29, 2:00 PM

March 1, 2:00 PM

All at the Power Center, 121 Fletcher St.

Ticket prices range from $15-25, with special student pricing of $5 off when you apply discount code SPRINGBREAK at checkout.

Get your tickets here or at the door.

REVIEW: Joe Henry


What else is Joe Henry but a gentle-voiced being…I say that because from what I now know about him,–the way he thinks about circumstance and relationships with people and places–he would probably offer no lengthier description of himself.

“I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble,” he says, after composing a metaphor equating stage 4 prostate cancer to worrying about an infestation of ants in the house. He addresses the experience with honest humility, but reminds us exactly how much he doesn’t care to split the disease from himself; well-meaning fan mail referencing the cancer-as-battle trope were grating rather than inspiring. Fighting his own body is an illogical concept to him. Instead, he sees a reconfigurations of his total identity into another form, one that is not assignably positive or negative.

But he swings through this part of his between-songs soliloquy comparatively quickly to what he prefers to focus on: the etymological history of his music. Sure, the influence of his illness bleeds into his most recent album (The Gospel According to Water), but there is not notably more soulful reflection now than compared to his earlier works. He has always been an introspective character, aspiring to make music that sounds like poetry. There is heavy use of similes and metaphors, comparing distant emotional environments and objects rather than pointing out differences.

What has changed is his dedication to unclenching his grip on control. A quick perusal of his older music shows lyrics rooted in emotions a little more vicious in nature, and a little more certain in his knowledge:

“Notice how I vanish
And your world remains,
You show your head above it
For spite, nothing more,
Like you thought just living
Was somehow its own reward.” (From “Mean Flower” off his 2001 album Scar.)

Even his album titles have gotten progressively gentler, from titles like Fuse and Scar to Shine a Light and Thrum. He has grown not exactly passive, but more understanding of the connection between himself and the other floating things of the world. He rejects distinct separation in favor of greater fluidity. I would argue still that this is not simply an effect of being faced with a likely, rapid death; he is not old, but he is not so young–staring down one’s mortality whether it be through a violent illness or passing painlessly is a strongly altering experience.

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He’s kind of the love child of Alex Turner and Leonard Cohen, soft in tone but can sometimes border on over-stylized. He has an electric voice but one that’s well-insulted by a cocoon of soft rubber. Usually he deals in the lower pitches, which works well for those whose youth is becoming a memory. He doesn’t try for any falsetto nonsense, which almost never works out well for men of a certain age. This decision aligns with his philosophies, in which he prioritizes acceptance rather than making things a fight. I was coming from church before the show, the sermon about giving into thine enemies, turning the other cheek and whatnot. Given his own dedication to Christianity, it makes sense that he would draw upon such readings to form the basis for his newest tunes.

I encourage you to go through his discography for yourself on his Spotify page, and to peruse his website to learn more about what he’s been up to.

Note: photo credit for featured image is:

Hamilton, Jacob., MLive, Ann Arbor, 21 Feb. 2020,

REVIEW: Eric Schroeder, euphonium

So as it turns out, I was the only one in the audience who was not a close friend or family of Eric. Luckily I only caught a few confused glances from his family, and his speech at the end thanking everyone for coming reduced the awkwardness. He offered the whole crowd a fabulous post-performance spread of cheeses and cookies, and he had done such a good job making me, the sole stranger, feel welcome that I felt comfortable taking a frosted eighth note on my way out.

This boy is certainly great at composing an atmosphere. Maybe he wasn’t the one who decided his performance location, but by the way he worked with the space it seemed he had. The whole room was gilded as if painted with liquid gold: the shine of the brass winking at me from the stage, the microphones ablaze in the light, the glowing reflection of the spotlights onto the walls was like being put inside a gleaming set of Saturn’s rings. The instrument’s mouth looked like a bowl full of tiny suns; the whole time I felt sleepily otherworldly.

Besides the environment though, his playing was enchanting. A novice to this type of brass, I was struck by how much the euphonium is like a human voice singing along the higher pitches. Many of the ending notes to sections of music are low, guttural, the periods between dainty and soulful. Schroeder worked this contrast well, keeping the tone rich and avoiding abrasion all too easy to involve when such sharp contrasts are at play. That being said, I would recommend he practice some breathing exercises to mitigate the audible jaggedness that sometimes crept into his performance.

Though Schroeder is still very young, he has the beginnings of worldliness about him already. He exhibits a confidence far beyond his few decades on the planet, a key quality necessary for any performer. His finger work is amazingly precise, and he shows great promise in his control of softness; the notes held out are clear and true (for a little proof, click this link: IMG_0029).

Eric is close to graduating, but like us all he will continue to learn for years to come. Whether his direction is to perform or teach (or both), he will have success, even if (as he says) the euphonium is a lot less employable than piano. He’ll learn more about stage presence, which is the only thing he really lacked. It isn’t necessary to remain stationary, even when playing a tremendous instrument; he could have kept the beat with a little dance, or done some interpretive work when there was a piano solo. It is understandable when one is so focused in performance–especially in your senior recital–that showmanship falls by the wayside. However, as a musician, Schroeder surely knows that performance is a dynamic conglomeration that demands precision in both each musical note and fostering an artist-audience relationship. Schroeder must find his style to establish himself as an individual in an overflowing industry.

Congrats grad!


REVIEW: Photography Exhibition: Images of Incarceration


A little bit haunting, a whole lot confusing, maybe threatening. These pictures gave me the feeling of a kid from the Peanuts gang; kept from some secret like the unintelligible monotone of the adults’ voices. It was something special to be let in at all, but the opacity of the images’ meaning both disturbed and delighted me. The lighting–heavy flash going off in naturally-lit or dark indoor environments–put me back in time a bit. The images were reminiscent of the 1990s with their coldly fashionable earth tones: grays, browns, tans, beige.

The ones with captions seemed like they could have had a clearer intent. We have location and the number of inmates, but that’s about it in terms of context. I needed more from the literature if the artists wanted to include it at all. Mere numbers fail us in giving meaning to most things; I need more description of living conditions, maybe a hint at artifacts of the imprisoned life, the possessions they leave behind at the gate, art made by inmates, some little picture of influence they have on their surroundings and the lives of others.

It was interesting that all the photos surrounding correctional facilities were taken from the outside (necessitated by strict no-photo policies, undoubtedly), often not including the buildings at all, but focusing on the surrounding landscape. Most of the others–bail bond shops, police gun shows–were taken from inside. Are we meant to feel a kinship with the law, or just deny ourselves a false connection with the incarcerated? To be outside is both a privilege and a curse: it grants us our continuing freedom while suffocating the possibility of real understanding.

Using such majestic landscapes was a unique artistic choice for me. Many incorporated deeply vibrant colors in the sky and greenery; there was a lot of sunshine and a calming, natural glow to them. Several could have been featured on a ritzy resort’s website. They’ve taken away the images of concrete blocks and barbed wire I would normally associate with prison and replaced them with a richer depiction. “There is beauty here!” they shout. There is no longer the usual isolation of a building from the land on which it sits; instead it becomes a part of something more complete. Exactly what that is, I’m not quite sure. There is no reference to the incarcerated housed within the walls we cannot see from our vantage point, save for a mention of how many there are. Personalization is negligible, nothing more than the city and state printed below the picture. If we are not meant to focus our thought on the prisoners, what else are we supposed to consider? Or is their absence itself the point? Thus the argument is unclear. I will definitely be going to the artist talks coming up, and I suggest you all do the same after perusing the gallery. Steph Foster will give an artist talk on Friday March 27, at 4:45 PM, and Ashley Hunt will give an artist talk on Tuesday March 31, at 4:30 PM.



The lead has an amazingly strong voice, full and deep and unquestionable. All the women do, unfaltering in their convictions. It’s such a weird quality for these women to have, given that all but a few are totally accepting of strict gender roles and woman’s mere purposes. Still, when together, they put an unwavering voice to what they think, even when their opinions reinforce structures that force them to compete with other women, to stay trapped under man’s thumb. The women speak in extremes, graphically referencing the terrible pains of pregnancy and raising a child, then reassure themselves that this is some kind of gift to them. How quickly they flip from horror to ecstasy here is almost comical.

I saw it as Federico García Lorca, the playwright, reversing feminist theory in order to point out the ridiculousness of misogynistic society’s values. If this was his vision, it’s a commentary well before its time. This guess seems likely, given my research on the man. Since his youth, he was an artist, and was until his probable murder by Fascist forces in 1936. He traveled widely and made friends in high places, joining an artist group called Generación del 27, of which the great Salvador Dalí was also a member. Given his enlightened lifestyle, he was surely unbound by overly-structured concepts of gender like the ones explored in Yerma. His work with the famed surrealist was an obvious influence in the visceral language and design in this dramaIts modern iterations like this production follow those roots with beautifully disconcerting set, lighting, and costume design.

Most interesting to me was the background (and often foreground) presence of the gaggle of mothers. There was a lot of complexity in their mixing of being threatening while caring (however genuinely is unclear), passive while bubbling with activity. Their ideologies are cult-like, their group singing more like a chant. They’re representative of the ever-present, stifling cage that gender expectations create for women. Maybe they’re not always vocal, but their eyes are watching.

The singing was beautiful, both the Spanish and English, though the Spanish seemed to make the theatre more silent as we all sat rapt. It could be a little pitchy at times, but this is understandable given the minimal or complete absence of instrumentals. Watching the stage lights reflect off a soloist’s focused eyes reminded me of a song off an old Tracy Chapman tape my mom used to have–“Behind the Wall.” Singing alone is terrifying despite how powerful it is, making it the perfect medium for many of the scenes in this production.

There are a million more qualities of this show I could talk about. I’m not a frequent theatre-goer; it takes a specific type of person to really be into drama, and I am not that. But when I watch a play that’s good, I become attached to it. Yerma and all the actors and crew involved in this production are now a part of my heart.