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Curtain Calls

By |2006-06-08T09:00:00-04:00June 8th, 2006|Entertainment|

Review: ‘John, John The Miller’s Son’

Bowen & Glasgow excel in Det. Rep drama

It should come as no surprise that some in our criminal court system take a hardened view whenever convicts claim they want to turn their lives around. After all, statistics prove most never will; instead, nearly 70 percent return to jail within three years of their release from prison.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story, however. So should all inmates be painted with such a broad brush? Even a habitual offender and longtime junkie who barely remembers the violent crimes he’s committed – but who seems sincere in his promise to “go straight”?
That’s the premise behind the world premiere of “John, John The Miller’s Son,” a powerful and thought-provoking drama about faith, hope, doubt and redemption that opened last week at the Detroit Repertory Theatre.
In jail for the attempted murder of his girlfriend, John “Jive” Miller shows no remorse for either his crime or his drug habit when he first meets Louis Lewis, a young minister-to-be who’s interning as a chaplain at Chicago’s Cook County Jail. A middle-aged black man who’s spent 30 years of his life in and out of the court system, John initially seems more interested in intimidating and manipulating the white preacher than saving his soul. But something clicks between the two during their weekly visits, and before long, John seems to be a changed man. “I feel this power in me telling me to be someone else,” he proclaims. And he professes that once he’s out of prison, he’ll remain “clean” and free.
Louis shows his support by promising the judge at John’s sentencing that if she goes easy on him, he’ll provide John with a home and a job after his release. Prosecutor Dwana Jefferson isn’t buying it, however. And she bets that the do-gooding preacher won’t be around when it comes time several years later to live up to his promise.
She’s not the only one filled with doubt. However, playwright John Ficca plumbs a far broader range of human emotions in his intense and suspenseful script. With great insight and compassion, Ficca takes his three main characters on a rollercoaster ride that forces them to confront their own personal beliefs, prejudices and demons, the result of which is a very realistic look at the power of redemption.
Building upon that framework, director Tim Rhoze has crafted a fast-paced production that grabs hold of the audience and never lets go. Even the many scene changes that help the audience understand the passage of time – always a danger – are quick and well executed.
But it’s his team of actors that makes us care about the characters and their story. Casaundra Freeman and Harold Hogan are fine playing multiple roles, and Tiffany Denise does justice to the role of Dwana.
However, it’s James Bowen (John) and Darrell Glasgow (Louis) who fill their characters with an amazing spirit that shouldn’t be missed. Finer performances are rare indeed.
“John, John The Miller’s Son” runs Thu.-Sun. at the Detroit Repertory Theatre, 13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit, through June 25. Tickets: $17-$20. For information: 313-868-1347 or http://www.detroitreptheatre.com.
The Bottom Line: A riveting and well-executed drama closes the Rep’s 2005/06 season.

Review: ‘Wicked’

It’s not wicked; it’s delightful!

It’s not often that I agree with a politician these days. But the not so wonderful and not very powerful Wizard of Oz couldn’t be more truthful on so many different levels when he proclaims, “You have to give people what they want” when he first meets student witches Glinda and Elphaba in the musical “Wicked.” For not only was he talking about his role as leader of the fabled emerald realm, but he was also prophetically addressing the impact the production has on every town it visits.
Obviously, “Wicked” must be what the ticket-buying public is demanding, since word-of-mouth and advance hype resulted in a rush at the box office that makes it highly unlikely you’ll find two available adjacent seats at Detroit’s Masonic Temple Theatre for any remaining performance.
So does “Wicked” live up to all expectations, you might be wondering? Yes, it surely does, and what’s more, you don’t have to be an Oz fanatic to enjoy it – although it helps to understand some of the musical’s funniest lines.
A thoroughly delightful and family-friendly musical, “Wicked” reveals what was really going on in the Land of Oz when Dorothy dropped in for her now-famous visit. Something sinister was brewing, and it took two young witches – one green, serious and feared by her peers; the other blonde, ditzy and loved by everyone – to set things right. It’s a colorful tale of friendship and power, love and political manipulation that’s as timely today as it has ever been.
And it’s brought to life by one of the most dazzlingly talented casts to hit town in ages!
Especially notable are K. Todd Freeman who plays Doctor Dillamond, a professor at the sorcery school who reveals that something baa-aaa-aad is happening in Oz; Alma Cuervo, as the school’s head mistress, Madame Morrible; P.J. Benjamin as the Wizard; and Sebastian Arcelus who is perfect as the handsome, self-absorbed and clearly shallow prince, Fiyero.
The show’s true magic, however, are its witches, Kendra Kassebaum (Glinda) and Julia Murney (Elphaba). Each has a superb voice, and both create sympathetic characters with distinct and colorful personalities.
As the ditzy Glinda, Kassebaum has great fun with her number “Popular,” while Murney pulls out all the stops with her character’s defining moment, “No Good Deed.” But together, they especially shine, especially in the first act-ending “Defying Gravity.”
All technical elements of the show – from the costumes to the set design to the lights – are likewise excellent.
The show’s only flaw, however, is its music. Although Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics excellently move the story along, his tunes are – for the most part – instantly forgettable.
“Wicked” runs Tue.-Sun at Masonic Temple Theatre, 500 Temple Ave., Detroit, through June 18. Recommended for ages 8 and above. Tickets: $22.50-$76.50. For information: 313-872-1000 or http://www.nederlanderdetroit.com.
The Bottom Line: Although you might not be able to hum any of the songs after the show, “Wicked” is still – shall I say it? – wickedly delightful!

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