PREVIEW: Legally Blonde!

This weekend only, come see Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde the Musical! November 15-18 and tickets are only $13 for students!

image from Wikipedia
image from Wikipedia

Based on the movie which was based on a book, Legally Blonde tells the story of Elle Woods and her struggle to find herself and her career within the competitive and rigorous academic environment of Harvard Law School. Spunky and fun, this musical will lift your spirits with such classic hits as “Bend and Snap” and “Ireland.” It’s a show for everyone, so bring your girlfriends, boyfriends, significant others, and family to enjoy this fantastic performance.

Hope to see you there!

And click here to go to the facebook page!

REVIEW: Sunday in the Park with George

Friday night, I had the privilege of seeing “Sunday in the Park with George” as performed by the Musical Theatre Department here at the School of Music, Theatre, & Dance. The premise of the show is the story of Georges Seurat, the creator of the famed painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”. He struggles with success and criticism of his work in his time period, never having sold a painting during his lifetime. He has difficulties balancing work and his relationships with others and ends up losing his mistress and model, Dot, to another. George is an interesting character in a lot of ways. His concentration to his art and failure at succeeding at much else for one thing is quite perplexing and the attention to detail in his work is astonishing. The show mentioned also that it took him two years to finish the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”. I thought the musical did a lot to represent accurately Seurat’s work habits and advanced concentration to his work.

The show was definitely a success, the actors and actresses, singing, and dancing was entirely up to par, as anticipated. Some standouts from the show include the actress performing the role of Dot. Her voice was absolutely phenomenal and she totally reminded me of Bernadette Peters, who played the role while it was on Broadway. The lead, George, was so good at mimicking a crazed artist, affixed in both his paintings and his work. He flitted around the stage, particularly in the scene “The State of the Artist,” where he hovered between appearing interested in potential investors and posing for photographs. It was a whirlwind of a scene and it played to his strong points.

The middle of the show, in all honesty, was sort of a snore. The three hour-long performance droned on and I felt bored with the nitty-gritty of the plot while the songs seemed to me rather dull. The first act was definitely better than the second, but it still wasn’t entrancing. I truly believe, however, that this was due entirely to the writers of the show and not the men and women of the Musical Theatre department. I think the show isn’t Sondheim’s best, but it is such a cool concept, basing the entire plot and musical numbers on a single painting and its artist – it’s worth portraying. I think with a few more crowd-pleasing numbers and less dialogue-heavy scenes, it would have worked better.

All was restored for me, including the immensely boring middle parts, when that final song “Sunday” was performed at the ends of both acts. It’s such a beautiful song and the melodies seem to flow directly from the heart. It has the usual Sondheim ring to it, finishing with a bang and a grand flourish of the arm. I loved it. And when the musical ended and the backdrop went white, Dot leaves the stage while George’s final word coincides with the emotions of the audience: Harmony.

I don’t believe I would recommend the show to a friend if it were inconvenient for them to see it; although, if it was right in your backyard with an amazing cast, I wouldn’t say no to a ticket. Glad I saw it, but glad it’s over. Can’t wait for what show they put on next.

PREVIEW: Sunday in the Park with George

This weekend come see the stunning U-M Musical Theatre department perform the beloved Sondheim production “Sunday in the Park with George”! Inspired by the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat, this fictionalized story tells of this painter’s life and his interactions with his lover and model, Dot. The book is by James Lapine, who also worked on such popularized shows as “Into the Woods,” “Falsettos,” and “Passion.” He frequently collaborates with Stephen Sondheim and this show is considered one of their best (info from

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat
“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat

The show is running October 11th-21st at the Mendelssohn Theatre – buy your tickets soon!!

[V][S][A] Annual Đêm Việt Nam Culture Show 2011

It’s a night of Vietnamese culture.  It’s a night of dancing.  Most of all, it’s a night of great fun.

Saturday, January 29, 2011 was the night of Đêm Việt Nam, VSA’s annual culture show.  It was listed as a 7 pm show, and started promptly at 7:20 pm.  (Which, coincidentally, was exactly when I arrived – don’t try to park on Central when the folk festival is in town!)  This was the fourth Đêm Việt Nam show I’ve attended, and on Saturday night, I was delighted to see all the changes that have taken place since I started going.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m graduating, or if the effort was indeed larger this year, or a combination of both, but this 2011 show felt like a culmination of many years’ worth of work and publicity.

The first thing that struck me was attendance.  While the balcony of the Lydia Mendelssohn theater had been reserved for performers in years past, this year, it was almost full.  (It’s where I was sitting!)  The entire audience felt free to cheer for their friends on stage and converse with the emcees, giving the night a collaborative, comfortable atmosphere.  I could tell how much everyone onstage enjoyed and appreciated the energy from the crowd.

The show itself was bigger and better than ever, too.  One of my favorite segments was a dance that highlighted the way in which the Vietnamese have been influenced by Indian customs.  In a way, the night has always been a study of Vietnamese culture meeting and combining with culture in the United States, examining both the tensions and triumphs of living in a place where people from all over the world live and work side by side.  The addition of the Indian-inspired dance further explored the fluidity of cultures around the world.  The title of the show, “The Way We Are,” was especially fitting in this context.  In this day and age, nothing is static.

Speaking of collaboration, VSA had a lot of help this year:  CSN joined the women from VSA for a beautiful ribbon dance at the beginning of the show, and Element 1 joined in for the hip-hop portion of the evening.  The extra voices made the night even richer.

In addition to the new dances, all the old favorites were present on stage.  The traditional fan dance was energetic and well-choreographed, men and women danced together in Vietnamese garb, and B2Viet returned to showcase their boy band capabilities.  The highlight, as always, was the hip-hop segment, which is only getting longer and more popular as the years progress.  This year, there was even a song dedicated to breakdancing, which was an awesome thing to watch.  A fashion show closed the evening, showing off the traditional dresses that are so beautifully vibrant.  The hour and a half had passed by in a blur of color, music, and camaraderie.

REVIEW: Five Bowls of Oatmeal

On November 22, the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater was filled with existentialist romance novels, epic pinky swears, unicorns, samurai ducks, and, of course, oatmeal.  Thanks to U of M’s MFA Creative Writing Program and 826michigan, as well as several other sponsors, students from schools all around the area got to see their plays come to life on stage.  The evening consisted of four one-act plays, each incorporating a bowl of oatmeal in some way (the last one contained two), and three playwrights’ studios.  Joe Morton, a second-year grad student in the MFA program, hosted discussions with several of the authors – the youngest was 8, and the oldest was 15.  It was a nice spotlight moment for the kids, and a wonderful insight into their active imaginations for those of us in the audience.

Seven professional actors, directed by Jacqui Robbins, portrayed the various characters in the plays.  They were reading scripts (which I thought was a bit odd, since this had been planned for several weeks), but they still did a good job of creating the different personalities on stage.   I’m sure it was exciting for the authors to see their work performed by seasoned professionals.  Personally, though, I wish the plays had been performed by fellow students – while young kids may not have been as technically good as the trained actors, I think the authors’ peers would’ve been even more charming and energetic in those roles.  Even so, the authors’ splendid imaginations and senses of humor were evident in a big way – I was laughing the whole evening.

Much like any other 826michigan fundraiser, this event was creative, off-the-wall, and a lot of fun.  If it happens again, make sure you see it!

Review: The Bad Plus (++++)

The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and Dave King)
The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and Dave King)

In high school, in our age of the new driver’s license, I had a crew of friends that became very anti-social.  Most of the kids with new driver’s licenses found a new freedom in planning a night out, not on a dad’s watch- but their own, or not having to ask a mom for a drop off at a girl’s house (or even worse, a pickup at a girl’s house. Awkward).  Instead, these guys asked their parents for use of the family car for the night just to drive around town with each other.  They would pack five in a five seater or seven in a mini van, open all the windows, pass a spliff, and, most importantly, put on a jazz record- full blast.  Then, for hours, just cruise.  The only communication was the focused passing of the spliff and the yelps and groans that were their responses to the jazz record.

I never rode with them. I didn’t smoke but, more isolating, I didn’t know when to yell.  I enjoyed jazz. I always have. But, I enjoyed jazz with the old folk that frequented Hill Auditorium for Wynton Marsalis.  We put on nice clothes on a Sunday afternoon,Wynton charmed us with his anecdotes, and played impeccably. We clapped politely when the set was over.

This was not how the boys in the car on Huron River Drive listened to jazz.  They interrupted when they wanted, responded when they were moved.  They didn’t just let Wynton play for them (well, they quickly wrote Wynton off as a square and a sell out so it wasn’t Lincoln Center from the speakers anyway)- they were fully engaged as a part of the music.  They said this is what jazz, the only true American art form, is about.  Not about playing to concert halls and suits but to people, to individuals, to communities.

So, in order to get a chance to hang out with my friends and stuff, I am trying to learn jazz, “the language of jazz” (as taught by UM jazz prof. and jazz legend Geri Allen).  On Thursday night, as a hands-on lesson, I had the great opportunity to see The Bad Plus, a ridiculous trio with roots in the Midwest.  The Bad Plus is probably best known for covers of well known pop and rock songs including Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Neil Young’s Heart of Gold along with a new album of covers- For All I Care- that features vocalist Wendy Lewis.  However, in the second of two shows, The Bad Plus played a set of mostly originals.

These guys are nuts. Ethan Iverson, on the keys, introduces the band and the set list with a stoicism straight out of a Roman sculpture however, upon sitting down, Iverson, the bass man Reid Anderson, and the drummer Dave King swing so hard and with so much emotion.  While Iverson strokes the keys while seemingly doing leg squats over his bench, King pounds then caresses then pounds away at his drum set while pulling out an army of children’s play instruments to augment his sound.  And, King yells just like my friends driving down Main St.  He’s not speaking to his band mates or the audience, he’s yelling at his drum set, the sounds of his trio.  Also, just like the dudes packed into the green CRV, the 9:30 show audience was a hip, young crowd- a bunch of giddy kids in the lobby after the show.

It was still the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater with assigned seating and shiny programs.  There were still nicely dressed ushers escorting us to our seats.  But, Thursday night, the spirit of the communal jazz experience- or, at least, how I am beginning to understand it- seemed to be in full fight with the powers that be, ‘the man’.  Next time, UMS presents the Bad Plus live at the Blind Pig? Doors at 9, $10 cover?  Or, UMS presents Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center Jazz playing ‘Flim’ by Aphex Twin (as The Bad Plus did Thursday night)? Or, will I have to start smoking weed to really understand what goes on in the car rides around town?

Over and out, Bennett

(Below are streams of my favorite Bad Plus album, ‘These Are The Vistas’ and the new album ‘For All I Care’) Oh, and for more live jazz, check out the UM Jazz Festival next Saturday.  Christian McBride Band, Geri Allen, Rodney Whittaker, Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble.  Going to be crazy.  Schedule here.  Tickets here from Ticketmaster (or, as others have noted, ‘TicketBastard’).