REVIEW: The Encore Theater’s White Christmas

The Encore Theater in Dexter, MI is one of the premier professional musical theater companies in the Southeast Michigan area. Their 2023 season ended with Irving Berlin’s classic holiday musical, White Christmas. The show had a three-week run beginning November 30th and wrapped up shows the weekend of Dec 17th. The Encore Theater brings in regional actors to perform in a selection of musicals. University of Michigan SMTD alums were featured across the cast including Allison Bell (Judy), Michael de Souza (Bob), Marlene Inman (Martha), and Jack Randal (Ensemble). These performers beautifully represented the standard at which SMTD is held.  It’s inspiring to see brilliant performers from the University working in our community! 

The musical version of White Christmas holds onto many classic aspects of the 1954 Paramount Pictures film. This performance had a firm grasp on the tradition of the story. I admired the cast’s dedication to the midcentury holiday feel. The experience felt like a vintage film set in 4K color right in front of my eyes.

The direction often felt a bit pedestrian. Some characters held different levels of emotional grounding, and sometimes romantic choices between the two pairs were uninspired. Performances ran over three weeks with many shows, and after so many performances dialogue can often get stuck. Perhaps an earlier performance offered a more believable approach to intimacy.

Although, a standout performance was given by Kailyn Leilani (Betty). Her dedicated choices with an overpowering voice left me anxious for her next entrance. The audience adored her 11 o’clock number “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”, a moment filled with anticipation and passion. I hope to see her again at The Encore Theater, thoroughly inspired musically.

The Encore houses a thrust stage with lots of audience seating: over 20 rows of seats on the floor and a decently sized balcony. This is a great theatrical space with most of the seats offering an an acceptable view. For many character entrances, the cast would promenade right past my seat on house left, which is a fun enhancement to the theatrical experience. From a seat on the left side of the thrust, there were certain staging pictures that I missed due to the centered staging. At times I wished some interactions were set on a diagonal to allow for enhanced viewing, but with the majority of their seating in the center/balcony, the choice remains necessary. An exception to this was the choreography behind the dance numbers. Each routine was buzzing with energy and charisma. I was entranced by the articulate attention to detail of each routine! The director, Anna Dreslinski was also the choreographer, and this may have been the reason for a bit of a lopsided performance with thrilling, eye-catching dance numbers and some rather bland staging.

This show dazzled with sweeping dance routines and personal artistry with a warm and familiar holiday feeling. The Encore Theater maintains an intensely high level of theater in the greater Southeast Michigan area. I am anxious to see performances in The Encore’s 2024 season, including Into the Woods, I’m Not Rappaport and Oklahoma. Tickets are available on their website 



Image thanks to @theencoretheater on Instagram.

REVIEW: The Nutcracker – Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre

It’s always rather conflicting when attempting to indulge in the holiday spirit during the everlasting finals season. Time spent seeking out the festive spirit typically leaves one in guilt for time loss from studying. However, The Nutcracker was being performed on campus so this would be exempt! There were two different groups performing The Nutcracker on campus. So, I chose to see the Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre perform at the Power Center.

The opening scene takes place in the Stahlbaum Home on Christmas Eve. From the beginning, I noted that the acoustics could have been better given that they would need to compensate for not having a live orchestra pit. However during Act I, Scene I, I undoubtedly still felt the Christmas festivity transcending from an evening spent with gifts, sweets, and dancing around the Christmas tree. Unaware of the Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre and all of its members, I was utterly pleased to see so many young performers on stage. From ages perhaps as low as five years old to older teens, it was a sight to see so many young performers expressing themselves through theatre and dance.

Act I, Scene III, The Land of Snow, was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. To my surprise, they had fake snow falling onto the stage! From the snowflake-like blue lighting and  background to the complementing snow fairy outfits and dances, this scene was aesthetically pleasing and beautifully accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s “Scene in the Pine Forest” and “Waltz of the Snowflakes.”

Act II: The Kingdom of Sweets, carries the bulk of the story and most rousing parts. During this, Clara and her newly gifted nutcracker arrive at his Palace high atop Sugar Mountain in the Kingdom of Sweets. (How could we not be the least bit of enlivened by a scene held in a place called The Kingdom of Sweets?) This scene is composed of several intensive and rather intimate waltzes that represent various ethnicities. To begin is Chocolate: a high-spirited Spanish dance. Next is the Arabian Coffee, a sultry, languid dance. Arguably, the most detailed and personal dances of them all with slow, thoughtful movements in sync with their partner. Coffee was the most expressive dance where the audience had the chance to analyze each intentional movement according to the music. In all fairness though, Coffee is the lengthiest and has the slowest tempo of all six dances, so this impression may be biased. Following Coffee was a much more upbeat, high-pitched lively and athletic Chinese inspired dance called Tea. To trump Tea’s lively nature, Trepak outperforms its predecessor with a much faster-paced beat in light of a Russian folk dance that is filled with bravura. To close out the divertissements, we are left with Marzipan, which in contrast, is a pas-de-trois, performed by three people — all followed by an appearance by Mother Ginger and her beloved Sugar Plums.

The curtains begin to close as Clara’s wondrous dream begins to fade while she finds herself back at home with only memories of a magical night. Upon the curtains closing, we are left with a matched feeling in comparison to the characters as we have followed along on their adventurous journey overnight and also come to a silent, peaceful close. Even in a wicked time known as “Finals Season,” time should be allotted for the holiday classic, The Nutcracker.

Preview for Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah is an Ann Arbor Holiday Tradition! Many townies say that the Holiday season hasn’t officially started here until one sees Handel’s Messiah. So, why not take a break from frenzy-final-studies and go to this glorious masterpiece of music. The instrumental music and glorious voices are offered by the UMS choral union. It is rumored that the Hill Auditorium is decorated with holiday magic for this performance:) Go and See it!!