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By D. A. Blackburn
It’s not often that one arrives at a theater to find a waiting news van and television cameras focused on the stage, but this is what greeted guests of the Andiamo Novi Theatre Thursday night for the opening of one of the most anticipated productions of the season, “Kwame a River 2: The Wrath of Conyers.”
Following the success of the twice-extended original, “Kwame a River: The Chronicles of Detroit’s Hip Hop Mayor,” it’s not shocking that writer/director Marc Warzecha decided to revisit the work with a sequel. And, let’s face it, the politicians of Detroit have continued to dish out heaps of fodder to be satirized. But there is a surprise in store for audiences: “The Wrath of Conyers” feels perfectly fresh, is riotously funny, and can stand alone (in that, you need not have seen the original to enjoy the sequel) just fine.
Also surprising is that Warzecha, a Detroit-area ex-pat living in Los Angeles, has managed to create a production chock-full of timely local satire – a reminder that the city’s dysfunction really does play out on a national stage.
In the last year, several Detroit-area-themed productions have found their ways to the stage (the Planet Ant’s “Sirs” comes to mind), but none have worn this distinction as well as the “Kwame a River” franchise. Warzecha’s shows are packed with regional pop culture references, as well as politically-themed satire torn straight from the headlines, taking this sub-genre of locally-focused comedy to new heights.
And when it comes to Warzecha’s productions, no public figure is safe.
Monica Conyer (played by Amise), Kwame Kilpatrick (Jamaal Hines) and the rest of Detroit’s city council all take it on the chin, but other noteworthy locals – the Bernstein family, Aretha Franklin, Kid Rock, Geoffrey Fieger, etc. – also become punch lines in some scathingly funny jokes.
Warzecha’s cast has a dynamic comedic chemistry, transitioning from role to role, and joke to joke with ease, but as in the original production, they lack musicality – except for Ava Rodgers, who showcases a tremendous voice throughout the show. Her turn as councilwoman Martha Reeves makes for particularly funny, and musical, scenes.
As Conyers, Amise’s portrayal is spot-on, creating a living caricature of the former councilwoman without going over the top. Of course, the real Conyers has given her lots of hilarious material to emulate. Amise’s lightning-fast changes in emotional direction and her confident demeanor on stage are a perfect fit for the role.
Hines, who also played Kwame in the original, gives a fine performance on his own, but it’s really his work with the show’s other two men, Renell Michael White and Jason Echols (as Coleman Young and Dennis Archer, respectively), that proves his best. Their chemistry and timing are superb.
Sharon Brooks is, likewise, a fine ensemble player, particularly memorable as Governor Jennifer Granholm.
In the end, it’s little surprise that Detroit’s news media has taken note of the production. After all, they report on the material that spawned “Kwame a River 2: The Wrath of Conyers” day in and day out. And the production itself marks another funny chapter in the saga that is Detroit politics.
‘Kwame a River 2: The Wrath of Conyers’
Andiamo Novi Theatre, 42705 Grand River Ave., Novi. Wednesday – Sunday through Oct. 25. $15-$20. 1-800-745-3000. http://www.ticketmaster.com