Runyonland Productions, Ann Arbor’s new theater company, is bringing Sondheim’s iconic Merrily We Roll Along to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater as a staged concert production. The musical revolves around Franklin Shepard, starting with the peak of his songwriting career and moving backwards in time to show the big moments of his life and the choices he and his friends made that led to the present. Showtimes are February 28 and March 1 at 7:30 PM and tickets can be bought online at https://runyonland.ticketleap.com/merrily/.
I had been made extremely curious about this semester’s performance by “安娜说 / Thus spoke Ann Arbor” from viewing the gorgeously illustrated posters brightening up campus in the weeks leading up to the show. While I had been aware of the group for several years now, I finally decided to attend their performance for the first time, and after seeing it I can confidently say that I couldn’t have made a better decision. After arriving early to make sure to get seats near the front of Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, we were informed that it would be a full house, which hardly came as a surprise at that point due to the fact there was only a few empty seats in sight and the noise level had grown to a nonstop roar.
One of the elements I appreciated the most about the show was the choice to divide the performance up into three shorter plays. It gave many more of the club’s members time to shine in a leading role than if they had just done one play, and the group was also able to challenge themselves to perform three distinctly different styles of play, suiting different members individual strengths.
The first play was a comedic romp titled “黑暗中的喜剧 / Comedy in the Dark.” The play used physical and situational comedy as characters unveiled hidden secrets in a darkened apartment after a freak power outage. The second play, “人质 / Hostage“ was the shortest of the three, and featured a very limited cast and set. Instead it was more figurative dark comedy to the first play’s quite literal one, with two thieves mistakenly taking a suicidal girl hostage in an attempt to escape the police hot on their trail, and the intense interplay that followed. The third and last play was “立秋 / The Start of Autumn” set around a century ago in China. This was by far the most serious of the lot, and told the story of several families internal drama as well a competition between tradition and newly adopted Western ideals.
The transitions from play to play were quick and painless, with crew members scurrying about to clear the relatively complex set up of the first play for the instead very minimal one of the second. Considering how long the night was already, nearly reaching a full three hours, I appreciate the brevity in these areas.
The one drawback to the set up was that by the time the third play began most of the audience, myself included, seemed to be getting restless. With no intermission, the last play with its distinct five chapters and several scenes basically revolving around intense discussions about banking and finance, I’m not proud to say that I was more than a little glazed over myself. But the fact that the group did manage to hold the audience in rapt attention for the nearly two and a half hour run of the show is impressive in and of itself.
Additionally, while there were undoubtedly a few intentionally humorous moments in the second two plays, especially the second one, because the audience had been primed to laugh in the over-the-top comedy of the first play, I noticed that the audience, myself included, began to burst into laughter even in otherwise inappropriate moments.
While the group could have easily put on the play without adding subtitles on projections on either side of the stage for the very small percentage of the audience with less than fluent Mandarin, I appreciated the extra effort put in to make the performances accessible. As a member of that small percentage myself, I definitely found myself referring to to the subtitles frequently throughout the night, especially if a character was talking quietly and I was struggling to hear what they were saying in the first place.
That being said, with so much physical comedy getting the most laughs in the first play, and the more subtle acting in the second two, the experience was definitely better when ignoring the subtitles and instead focusing on all that activity on stage. The actors and actresses couldn’t have done a finer job, and I didn’t catch a single slip up as they all seemed to have prepared their lines to perfection. There was one humorous moment in the first play, however, when one of the sofas being used as props collapsed to the floor. But like true professionals the actors and actresses continued undeterred, even finding time to prop the sofa back up, resulting in another wave of laughter. I was impressed by the professionalism of cast and crew alike, with the obvious hard work preparing for the show paying off. I definitely plan on keeping an eye out for their performances in the future, and attending all that I can.
The music by Cy Coleman burst out of the pit of the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater with grand flair and style. Dance hall hostess Charity made her way onto the stage, dancing her little dance with a sweet fashion that becomes characteristic of her personality throughout the 1960s musical appropriately named Sweet Charity.
Nevada Koenig portrayed that sweetness and purity in Charity beautifully with an unbridled and unlimited amount of excitement and belief in the greatness in people. With “big” dreams for her life, Charity’s aspirations can be viewed as naively sweet, which makes the heartbreak she experiences over and over that much more painful to watch.
Charity comes across film star Vittorio Vidal for a night to remember, and Blake Bojewski gave the audience a song to remember as his majestic voice floated through the air in his showstopping number, “Too Many Tomorrows.” As Charity laments about greatness and love, the fickle finger of fate finally falls in her favor during the hilarious elevator scene with Oscar, played by Lake Wilburn who captured the panic with excellent comedic acting and accurately showed Oscar’s personality as a timid guy stuck in his own head.
Sweet Charity is basically a romantic comedy musical with a small dance show in the middle of the first act. The dance number for “Rich Man’s Frug” was spectacular in every sense. It actually felt like a real dance show and I never wanted it to end. Again, the ensemble brought the energy to the stage as the Rhythm of Life Church, which indeed is a powerful beat.
While Charity may not have purity in the purest sense, she still possessed a purity that is rare in the world today: she believed in the best of people and in the best of the future, and that is a sweet purity that is hard to come by.
Overall, Sweet Charity was a wonderful production by the Department of Musical Theatre in every aspect, from the costumes to the pit orchestra to the set designs to the acting to the choreography to the singing. Though I am not a huge romcom fan, I enjoyed this musical and its message of pure bliss and hope greatly, particularly because of the phenomenal orchestra and cast that made Sweet Charity that much sweeter.
Two men con their way into the heart of women to get money and jewelry and great big stuff. The French Riviera has been brought to Michigan with Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
A2CT’s production included impressive props, set designs, and scene changes, with the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater providing vibrant color backgrounds. The French accents were sometimes hard to understand, and it was difficult hearing the lines over the pit at times. For the most part, the choreography was rather simple, but the vocal performance made up for it. The orchestra rocked the French jazz musical score that David Yazbek, who just won the Tony Award for The Band’s Visit, wrote, which stylistically added to the comedic vibe of the entire musical.
Dominic Seipenko dominated the stage as Freddy/Ruprecht, embodying the crass character greatly in his grand numbers “Great Big Stuff” and “All About Ruprecht.” He owned the role of the sleazy pupil in every moment. “Oklahoma” was stereotypically Southern, but it fit the comedic edge of the musical. Christine, portrayed by Hannah Sparrow, brings a glimmer of hope into the world with her beautiful performance of “Nothing is Too Wonderful to be True.” Though a microphone difficulty interrupted the reveal of the biggest scam in the musical, it was easy to figure out what happened (if you hadn’t called it already), and the ever-changing chemistry between the con artists onstage was certainly appealing.
Overall, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a fun show, and it looked like the cast had a fun time performing. The highlight was definitely Seipenko’s performance, who brought life to the stage and delivered his role perfectly. The audience seemed to love it, particularly among the older crowd, even receiving a couple standing ovations at the end. Now, I have to watch the 1988 comedy film to see where it all originated from.
Where can you find ComCo, Angels On Call, Groove, the Compulsive Lyres, the Michigan Magician Society, Arabian Dance Ensemble and the Violin Monster all sharing the same stage? Autumn Fest, of course!
What: The second annual variety show put on by Appreciate + Reciprocate, a University of Michigan student organization which raises money for the LSA Emergency Scholarship Fund.
When: Wednesday, October 22 at 8:00 pm
Where: Lydia Mendelssohn Theater in the Michigan League
How Much: $3 in advance and $5 at the door
Buy your tickets at the Mason Hall Posting Wall, October 16-17th and 20-22nd 9am-4pm, and join the Facebook event for a reminder.
All of the profits from the show will go to support Appreciate + Reciprocate’s newly established scholarship, which benefits Michigan students who suffer from financial crises, so no student has to drop out due to costs! For the price of one ticket, you can sample many great local talents, as well as treat yourself to a dose of good karma.
For more information about Appreciate+Reciprocate, check out http://www.umichappreciate.org.
I’d like to take a moment to freak out about the brilliant lighting scheme of “The Magic Flute”. This opera is, I think, about finding a compromise between dark and light, between pure disorder and pure order, but doing so through the eyes of a child. This might not make any sense to you, but I thought that the lighting portrayed that beautifully. There was a particular circle that was useful in telling me the time of day and how I should feel about it by the color that was lighting it up.
Anyway, now for a quick summary:
“The Magic Flute” begins in the bedroom of a young girl. Her parents are fighting, it’s thunderstorming in the night, and her wardrobe doors are forced open by a young prince running away from a dragon. The Queen of the Night sends this Prince Tamino on a quest to save her daughter from her kidnapper, Sarastro (who didn’t actually kidnap her because Pamina is the daughter of the Queen of the Night and Sarastro). Pamina and Tamino fall in love while Tamino’s friend, Papageno, can’t learn to keep quiet, but in the end they manage to stop to the war between Sarastro (who appears to be a kind of lord of light) and the Queen of the Night.
That was very quick and will probably have Emanuel Schikaneder rolling in his grave, but I wanted to get that out of the way to talk about the cast. Jacob Wright and Jonathan Harris, who played Tamino and Sarastro, respectively, have outstanding voices that I remembered from “The Barber of Seville” last semester. Katy Clark’s soprano was thrilling as Queen of the Night, and Natasha Drake performed a beautiful Pamina. All of the leads were phenomenal, and I am amazed to think that there is another set of entirely different Michigan students who are equally as talented.
Although at times this show was a little slow and heavy, it was also fanciful and sentimental, and I especially enjoyed the ending. After all of their hardships, so many circumstances vying to tear them apart, Pamina and Tamino find a way to be together in the light of day, away from the chaotic Queen of the Night. As an audience we find ourselves again in the long-forgotten little girl’s bedroom where her parents are bringing her a tray for breakfast. Day has dawned over night just as it always will, but I do wish we could have seen the dragon again.