|By City Pulse Staff|
This week's previews and reviews
This weekend, the Michigan State Department of Theatre serves up the stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, “James and the Giant Peach.” A production of mega proportions in nearly every aspect, the crew alone consisted of nearly 100 theater and design students, led by guest director Edward Daranyi from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The show is a blend of live action, animation and puppetry to bring the fantastical tale to life.
The story follows James, a lonely orphan, and his adventures in the titanic titular fruit along with some larger than life insects. The production team spent over four weeks transforming the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre into the Tim Burton-esque fantasy world.
“James and the Giant Peach”
Before Cline Dion wailed that her heart would go on (and on), “Anything Goes” showed audiences the shenanigans that happen on an iceberg-less pan-Atlantic ship crossing. Erich Bergen stars as the show’s romantic lead when the legendary Cole Porter musical pulls into port at the Wharton Center next Tuesday.
“The ship keeps everyone in a confined space,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s putting on disguises and hiding and opening and closing doors. That’s where the comedy comes from.”
In this revival of the 1934 musical, a crew of sailors, gangsters, aristocrats and star-crossed lovers take to the decks of the S.S. American as it sails from New York to London. Kathleen Marshall, who won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Choreography, directs this Roundabout Theatre Co. production, which features Porter's original music and lyrics. Bergen stars as Billy Crocker, a young Wall Street worker who falls in love with Hope, an engaged debutante played by Alex Finke.
“Billy is a street kid,” Bergen said. “He watched how the other guys do it—how they dressed and how they talked and he faked it until he started believing it himself.”
Since its debut, “Anything Goes” has had three runs on Broadway, three more in the West End and one Off-Broadway and has been made into a TV movie and two feature films. Bergen said that this production is mostly modeled after the 1987 revival, but even before that the play had gone through significant plot and song changes. He says that makes each production is unique, including his take on Billy.
“I’m (playing the role as) a lot more silly,” he said. “As smooth as Billy tries to be, he’s not.”
In a campaign season, a raunchy rock opera about one of our Founding Fathers’ reign of terror could be a biting commentary and a breath of fresh air. But while the performances by the talented actors in Peppermint Creek Theater Co.’s “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” are energetic and explosive, the script by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman is puerile mush, reducing serious history to the base-comic level of Mad Magazine.
It is a historic fact that our seventh president did, in fact, commit genocide, presiding over the wholesale annihilation of several Native American tribes. However, presenting a story of this magnitude in the format of a comedic musical approach is questionable, but the constant use of coarse language — combined with incessant pubescent whining — suggests a younger target audience.
There is much audience laughter, but to what end? The script throws compassion and caution to the wind, offending with jokes about dead babies, homosexuals, former presidents and Spaniards. First Lady Rachel Jackson (Mary Maurer) dies of cholera, and the audience snorts and chuckles as she (prat)falls over dead. Is cholera funny? When the narrator vomits off the side of the stage, she is applauded, but why?
Michael Kolaczkowski does a spirited take on Jackson, sprinting and strutting across the stage, but there is no real sense of an actual person in the role. The portrayal of other actual presidents as runway models suggests a view of the political process that is ignorant, cynical and an excuse for easy non-participation, inviting us to embrace our inner redneck.
“The Diviners” plunges the audience into the fictitious town of Zion, Ind., a buckle on the Bible Belt in the depths of the Great Depression, where fundamentalist Christianity still holds sway in the minds and hearts of the people.
Buddy Layman (Joe Quick), despite his phobia of water (the result of a near drowning as a child that killed his mother), is imbued with the ability to locate water hidden deep in the Earth. Quick adeptly embodies the erratic energies of the emotionally and intellectually stunted Buddy.
Director Jane Falion assembles a supporting ensemble cast that surround and protect Buddy and provide much of the fabric of the play, which gives attention to each of its characters. “Diviners” opens with farmer Basil Bennett, played to gothic American perfection by Bill Henson, intoning a dramatic elegy to Buddy, with Dewey (Danny Bethea) arriving to finish the speech. Lighting designer Tim Fox frames this scene with dual spotlights that add an electric power to the moment.
Joe Baumann, as disillusioned preacher C.C. Showers, and Mycah Artis, as Buddy’s sister, Jennie Mae, drift through an awkward dance of discomforting attraction. Artis is all small town debutante, while Baumann sweats and squirms authentically. Nicely played.
A real scream
Like other horror spoofs (“Scream,” “Cabin in the Woods”), LCC’s production of “Slasher” follows a predictable plot formula peppered with stereotypical character tropes that it simultaneously identifies, dissects and sends up. Unlike its predecessors that celebrate genre elements, “Slasher” critically analyzes messages of female exploitation and the responsibility, thus dodging the claim, “It’s just a movie.”
Combined with top-caliber performances spurred by director John Lepard, “Slasher” is far more intelligent than its title suggests. Angharad McGaughey plays Sheena McKinney, a shapely college student cast as a “last girl” in Marc Hunter’s (Richard C. Redman) upcoming film, “Bloodbath.” Unfortunately, Sheena’s mother Frances (Madeline Nash) holds a vindictive grudge with Hunter and is determined to stop him and the film at any cost.
Consummate stage veteran Redman anchors nearly every scene, giving ghoulish menace to his unscrupulous character with a piercing stare and powerful voice. McGaughey confidently holds her own, playing off questionable directions such as “Your nipples should be like rocks,” with appropriately skeptical expressions.
Even with the bare-bones set and low-budget blood effects, “Slasher” never feels cheap. That’s primarily because Lepard grounds his actors with real emotions that make laugh lines hilarious and dark moments chilling. Contrary to Hunter’s directorial suggestion to Sheena, “I don’t want you thinking too much,” it’s clear that playwright Allison Moore and Lepard have the opposite in mind for their audience.