Curtain Calls

By |2005-06-30T09:00:00-04:00June 30th, 2005|Entertainment|
Tidbits: Theater News from Around Town
Those lovable women from ‘Menopause’ set yet another record

Those menopausal women at Detroit’s Gem Theatre have done it again!
Not only did “Menopause The Musical” recently celebrate its first birthday at the Gem, now it’s become the longest running professional production in Detroit theater history!
Well, sort of. But more on that shortly.
According to Scott Myers, marketing and publicity guru for The Gem and Century Theatres, the 2004 Wilde Award-winning production entered the record books June 15 when it surpassed the 66-week run of “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” that was staged Sept. 22, 1999 through Dec. 31, 2000 at the Gem Theatre.
Since “Menopause” opened in March 2004, more than 170,000 people – about 165,000 of whom were women – have celebrated “the change” with original cast members Judy Dery, Rhonda Freya English and Kimberly Vanbiesbrouck. Kathleen Rawlinson is currently playing the role initiated by P.J. Jenkinson.
“Menopause” will reach yet another milestone July 7 when the show presents its 500th performance.
To help celebrate the musical’s success, the Gem is offering a free gourmet cookie and coffee “meet and greet” with the show’s cast following each Wednesday night performance through Aug. 24. Tickets are on sale now for performances through July 31.
Those of us older than dirt – and with memories that retain the oddest facts – believe the Gem’s claim of supremacy is a little premature, however.
That’s because some of us fondly recall the Dinner Theater of Detroit, a wildly popular hotspot established in the early 1970s by Phil Marcus Esser on the campus of Detroit’s Mercy College. Its best-known musical, “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” ran for 64 weeks, but “Personals” – featuring Esser, Barbara Bredius and Charlie Latimer – seemingly ran forever. By the time it closed in 1976, “Personals” had packed the house for an amazing 71 weeks.
But because Esser’s shows were staged only a few days a week rather than a full schedule of six, local experts decided to exclude them when ranking Detroit’s longest-running professional productions – an apples-and-oranges comparison, I guess.
Anyway, such nitpicking becomes moot in a few weeks when “Menopause” rushes past the record number of weeks “Personals” established way back in the dark ages.
So congratulations to the cast, crew and producers of “Menopause The Musical” for a job well done Ð no matter when you become “Queen of Detroit Area Theater”!
“Menopause The Musical” continues playing Tuesday through Sunday at the Historic Gem Theatre, 333 Madison Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $39.50. For tickets or information, call 313-963-9800 or log on to http://www.gemtheatre.com.

Opinion: Confessions of a Cranky Critic
Reviews: To grade or not to grade, that is the question

Are grades or ratings important to the average theatergoer when he or she decides what plays to see?
That’s a question that’s been debated off and on – both internally and within the theater community – ever since Curtain Calls was established here at Between The Lines back in 2001.
It’s one that has no clear answer.
In a confidential survey I conducted last year, I discovered that local theater executives are equally split on the issue. Some think grades are helpful to the reader, but one insightful executive pondered, “What if the acting was truly spectacular, but the script was horrid; does the overall production get an A or a D?”
Even the local media are not on the same page on this question.
The Detroit Free Press, for example, rates every show it reviews with one to four stars, while the Detroit News – on the rare occasions it actually reviews local theater – gives each show a traditional letter grade. Other newspapers simply let their reviews speak for themselves.
I’ve flip-flopped on the issue over the years.
When Curtain Calls debuted, I thought we’d be cute and include a rating that consisted of one to five “drama masks.” Five masks meant the show was “absolutely fabulous,” whereas one warned that the show was “a complete and utter waste of time and money.” The flaw with this approach was technical in nature; sometimes I wanted to give shows four-and-a-half masks, but we couldn’t get the graphic symbol to look right. (A half-mask looked more like a newsprint smudge than anything else.)
So that approach was scrapped after the first season and replaced with a straight-out statement at the end of every review that told the readers whether a show was “highly recommended,” “recommended,” “recommended with reservations” or “not recommended.” But that wasn’t descriptive enough, some readers and I felt, so that method, too, was junked after a single season.
That’s when “The Bottom Line” was introduced. Now in use for two seasons, my original concept was to place at the bottom of every review a one line, (hopefully) smart and witty statement that summed up why a reader should or should not see that show. Sometimes I think it works well, but other times, it doesn’t; and oftentimes it takes longer to write than the review itself.
Now, however, I’m thinking of trashing that, as well!
But what to replace it with?
Unbeknownst to most readers, John Quinn and I do, in fact, assign a letter grade (with plusses and minuses) to every show we review. It’s those grades that determine which shows get nominated for a Wilde Award and which don’t. For the 2005/06 season we’ve modified our system to create a “blended” grade that gives equal weight to up to 14 aspects of each production – from acting and direction to set design and lighting execution.
Yet I’m still hesitant to publish those grades – and it’s not because I’ve discovered what an easy marker I’ve become in my old age!
Personally, I think published grades or ratings do more harm than good. For one thing, it discourages some readers from actually reading reviews; their decisions are made simply by looking at the rating and ignoring the rest.
But more importantly, ratings and grades are even more subjective than the reviews they accompany. What, for example, differentiates a “B” production from a “C” – or average – production? Besides, art is in the eye of the beholder, and as such, what I think is a “C” production might very well be another person’s “A”!
Therefore, I’m still disinclined to publish a rating or grade with our reviews.
But what do YOU think?
Send your thoughts on this matter to [email protected]

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