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: Big Fish

It is a story of love. It is a story of dreams. It is a story of being misunderstood and one of wanting to understand. Big Fish is a story filled with stories, and it’s one definitely worth watching.

The 12 chairs version of this musical performed at the black box theatre of The Encore created an intimate setting for this musical exploring the truths and exaggerations behind a faltering relationship between father and son, between a dreamer and a realist. As Will questions everything he knows about his father, he dives deep into the stories he’s grown to doubt.

It all starts with a witch who tells Edward Bloom how he dies. The aura around this scene gave me chills. With Anna Birmingham killing it as the witch surrounded by four dancing creatures and green lighting and music to set the mood, I would’ve freaked out just like Zacky Price. The town of Ashton is too small for a man like Edward Bloom, creating a big fish in a small pond. Edward sets out to see the world and befriends a giant named Karl and a circus ringmaster who is secretly a werewolf, only to come across love at first sight when he sees Sandra, winning her over at Auburn University with daffodils. His adventures are wondrous and empowering — just enough so for Will to become skeptical of the tales he once loved.

The entire cast rocked every song and dance move, from the Alabama Stop to the “Little Lamb from Alabama” routine. In the number “Stranger,” Billy Eric Robinson as Will nailed the longing of a son that just wants to know who his father really is before it’s too late and as he prepares for fatherhood himself. Emmi Bills and David Moan’s beautiful love duet “Daffodils” captured the chemistry that lets the audience see how Edward’s dream finally came true as he finds his soulmate, and Bills’s touching rendition of the ballad “I Don’t Need a Roof” perfectly reinforced that love. Ridiculous laughter was provided by Connor Giles and James Fischer as the hilarious brother duo Don and Zacky Price. Moan pulled off the often rapid transition between acting as a sick, dying man and as an exuberant young man with his entire life ahead of him and his sights set to the skies. Together, all 12 members of the cast created a beautiful story that stretches your imagination.

Stories are a source of inspiration, and as Will reconciles this with the father he never knew, he realizes that the man who’s like a stranger to him is a man who is just finding a way to leave a memorable legacy for the family he loves.

If you’re in the area for the next month, be the hero of your own story and go out to The Encore in Dexter to watch this talented cast tell this story you don’t want to miss.


Alternating between two timelines of the present-day real world and the storybook past, Big Fish is the story of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman, and his son Will as they grapple with mortality and their faltering father-son relationship that has been riddled with tall tales. Based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions and the 2003 film Big Fish written by John August and directed by Tim Burton, Andrew Lippa has merged the two with music and lyrics to create a musical as mystical as its plot.

Celebrate the end of finals week, the 2017-2018 school year, and the coming of summer with a musical that will stretch your imagination and warm your heart. From April 26 to May 20, The Encore Musical Theatre Company will be performing Big Fish from April 26 to May 20, so there are many chances to see the amazing talent The Encore has to bring! Tickets can be bought at