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Review: ‘Dear Santa’
Christmas farce provides a hearty “ho-ho-ho” in Fraser dinner theater
By John Quinn
It’s December, and you’ve probably been running on “holiday overload” since Halloween, and no, Virginia, you’re not Santa Claus. Get out of the mall. Sit. Soothe your jingle bell jangled nerves. Have some eggnog – spiked, of course.
If a laugh will brighten your Christmas spirit, and inspiration hasn’t provided a novel gift idea for family or friends, consider dinner and a show. And if a comedy in keeping with the season tickles your fancy, StarBrite Theatrical Productions is hard at work in its second venue, Mile’s World in Fraser, with a production of Norm Foster’s “Dear Santa.”
StarBrite staged the Canadian playwright’s “Storm Warning” this past spring.
The plot is as light as your wallet on December 26. Santa and his crew at the Pole are down to the wire getting ready for Christmas. Santa’s chief of staff, rather too stuffy for one so young, is Algernon Gladstone (Rob Chrenko). He’s efficient as can be, but totally unaware that Santa’s housekeeper, Olivia (Sandra Deering), is carrying a torch for him. Complications arise when a stowaway is discovered on the last supply train for the year. Kit (Laura Anderson) is a disillusioned teen delivering her younger brother’s letter to Santa in person. Toss in a traveling sleigh salesman from Detroit (Ed Thomas), an elf with a Boris Badenov accent, and the gags just keep on coming.
This is a show that can be enjoyed by all ages. It’s silly (and clean) enough for kids, but it’s by no means a kid show. There are some delicate subtexts in the unrequited love Olivia holds for her oblivious co-worker, and really unexplored potential. One could hope Foster had more completely explored the character of Kit, a kid hardened beyond her years. Only one scene is really devoted to back-story – Kit has lost her father, Algernon lost his mother – but Foster drops the possibilities for more comedy.
Not that gags are unappreciated this time of year. A tip of the Santa hat (you had to be there) goes to Jim McCool as the man in red, who not only portrays a jolly old elf, he does it in his own beard. But the favorite of the audience is John Arden McClure’s Bozidar, Santa’s malaprop-challenged shop foreman. While the lines are sometimes a stretch (“You ain’t just whistling Dixie Cup!” comes to mind), the audience is primed to laugh anyway.
StarBrite’s other venue, the 14th Street Grill in Madison Heights, is more conducive to live theater, since it allows for better sight lines and more complex lighting. Mile’s World’s banquet facility is just flexible enough for a small show, but since all the lighting has to come from behind the audience, we were as well lit as the actors. That tends to put one on his best behavior, even when liberal applications of “Christmas cheer” might tempt otherwise. But be nice. Naughty audiences don’t get candy canes.
“Dear Santa” is staged Fri. & Sat. nights by StarBrite Theatrical Productions at Miles World Italian Restaurant, 17689 Masonic, Fraser, through Dec. 16; Sunday matinees available for private parties. Tickets: $39.95, includes three-course dinner and the show. For information, call 586-415-4500 or log on to www.starbriteprod.com.
The Bottom Line: If “‘Tis the season to be silly” is your tune, then this daft North Pole caper is your tale.
TIDBITS: Professional Theater News from Around Town
Compiled by Donald V. Calamia
The Mosh Pit returns with ‘The Mechanicals’
ANN ARBOR – Something is amiss in the forest: Lovers are quarreling, queens are canoodling with donkeys and a smartass fairy is messing with everyone’s heads. What a perfect time to produce a play!
Adapted from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Mechanicals” takes an up-close look at a hilarious group of six actors who perform the “the play within a play” in Shakespeare’s comedy. In this interactive theatre experiment, audience members will be cajoled into playing parts, acting as props and even making suggestions to this motley group of actors as they rush to get their play ready for it’s royal debut. Directed by Lynn Lammers, “The Mechanicals” promises to be a one-of-kind theatre performance.
The late-night comedy runs Wednesday through Saturday through Dec. 17 at The Mosh Pit, located at Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron in downtown Ann Arbor. Showtime is 11 p.m.
Tickets are $10 adults and $7 for students. For tickets or information, call 734-663-0681 or log on to www.performancenetwork.org.
‘Cabaret at Cuisine’ continues its run with Christmas tunes
DETROIT – Songstress Kate Brennan and her musical director Harvey Reed return to Cuisine Restaurant this month with an extended engagement of her cabaret show, “It’s all in the Words” every Friday night through Dec. 16.
The show is a fast-paced musical romp featuring songs with some of Brennan’s favorite lyrics. Some of her favorite seasonal and holiday songs have been added to the show which features music by some of the great songwriters of all time, including Cole Porter, David Frishburg and Michael Franks.
Brennan and Reed have been delighting audiences in metropolitan Detroit with their special brand of jazz cabaret music since 1992 when they were featured on the “Jazz on 3” series at the Whitney Restaurant. Since then, they have performed to wide acclaim throughout Detroit and Ann Arbor with dates at Orchestra Hall, the Scarab Club and the Kerrytown Concert Hall in Ann Arbor.
Ranked as one of the country’s top restaurants by Gourmet Magazine, Cuisine offers highly acclaimed French American dishes created by award-winning chef Paul Grosz. Cuisine is located at 670 Lothrop (across from the Fisher Theatre).
Tickets to “Cabaret at Cuisine” are $45 per person, which includes a three-course dinner at 8 p.m., followed by the show at 9 p.m. Seating is limited. For reservations and information, call 313-872-5110 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toast the holidays with ‘The Great American Egg Nog Festival’
ANN ARBOR – Celebrate this most wonderful time of the year at Ann Arbor’s Blackbird Theatre where “The Great American Egg Nog Festival” closes this weekend.
The holiday comedy showcase features two one-acts directed by Ahmed Muslimani: “The Santaland Diaries” and “Jesus Cake, Fat Pants and the Theory Of Relativity.”
Based on the writings of David Sedaris and adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello, “The Santaland Diaries” is a wildly popular comedy about a man working the holiday season as an elf at Macy’s Department Store. Dressed in an embarrassing elf suit, our hero, played by Will Myers, endures horrible children and their parents, psychotic Santas and an over-commercialized Christmas in New York. Hilarious, raunchy and touching, this new holiday classic is sure to bring out the Scrooge in everyone.
“Jesus Cake, Fat Pants and the Theory Of Relativity,” written and performed by Aral Gribble, Laurel Hufano, Callie McKee and Chuck Ganchore, originated last year in the Performance Network’s Mosh Pit Theatre. This comedy follows four dynamic performers through their own Christmases past. Every family has the same holiday tradition: pain, guilt and humiliation. This hysterical and autobiographical play takes us down memory lane and shares the joys and horrors of spending the holidays with family.
“The Great American Egg Nog Festival” runs Thu.-Sat. at the Blackbird Theatre, 1600 Pauline Blvd., Ann Arbor, through Dec. 10. Tickets: $18. For information, call 734-332-3848 or log on to www.blackbirdtheatre.net.
New play reading series continues at Meadowbrook
ROCHESTER – On Monday, Dec. 12, Heartlande Theatre Company will present “Downhearted Blues” by Ann E. Eskridge, the second in its series of new play readings as part of Meadow Brook Theatre’s “T.Andrew Aston’s Edge of the Brook Series”.
The play reading series has been renamed to honor Aston who had been instrumental in creating the Ensemble Theatre and who for so many years was affiliated with Oakland University as a teacher and an artist. He was also a founding member of Playwrights @ Work, the locally-based writers peer group begun by Heartlande Theatre Company.
The reading will be directed by Janet Cleveland of Plowshares Theatre Company. The cast includes James Bowen, Walter Lindsey Jr., Hugh Doneghy, John Woolridge, Toni Walker, Walonda Lewis, Janee’ Smith, Charlotte Nelson*, Andy Huff and Ashley Cleveland.
Ann E. Eskridge is a local playwright who developed this script as part of University of Detroit Mercy’s MFA program. She has been involved with media for almost 30 years, starting as a news reporter in Oklahoma, Buffalo and Detroit. She is a freelance writer and producer for video and film, and a published author and scriptwriter. She has published articles in American Visions, American Profile, Learning Magazine and the Detroiter. Her movie, “Brother Future,” which was aired on PBS nationally in 1991, has won numerous awards. Her children’s book, “The Sanctuary,” published by Cobblehill in 1994, was the basis for a children’s grief program at Children’s Center in Detroit.
“In addition to being a great way to showcase new plays and to involve the resident audiences in the development process, staged readings provide invaluable information to the playwright,” said HTC’s Mary E. Rychlewski who will facilitate the feedback session.
“We’re really excited about the submissions we’ve been getting,” said HTC producer Jan Radcliff. “The scripts are well-written, and we’ve got a lot of very talented actors involved, too. These evenings will not only be helpful to the playwrights but should be enormously entertaining for the audience as well.”
All readings begin at 7:30 p.m. on Meadow Brook’s main stage and will be followed by a facilitated audience feedback session. Suggested donation: $5.00.
For more information, check Heartlande’s website at www.heartlande.com under Reading Series or call the Meadow Brook Box Office at 248-377-3300.
Cirque du Soleil returns to Detroit with ‘DELIRIUM’
DETROIT – Cirque du Soleil presents “DELIRIUM,” its first-ever live arena event. The North American Tour stops at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena at 8 p.m., Feb. 23 and 24, 2006 after kicking off in Montreal Jan. 26 at the Bell Center. Tickets for the Detroit performances are now on sale.
Created and directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, “DELIRIUM” is a multifaceted event of unprecedented proportion featuring Cirque du Soleil music remixed. Driven by an urban tribal beat and awe-inspiring visuals, musicians, singers and dancers transform the arena into joyous frenzy.
“DELIRIUM” is the quest for balance in a world that is increasingly out of sync with reality. It pushes the limit of arena performance through technical magnitude, human introspection and creative prowess. It is an urban tale, a state-of-the-art mix of music, dance, theater and multimedia. Pumped by this re-energized Cirque du Soleil rhythm, the “DELIRIUM” tour transports audiences into a universe of delirious sensory folly.
For the first time in Cirque du Soleil history, lyrics have been created for the instrumental tracks and real words integrated in place of invented language, bringing to the music a fresh poetic dimension. The texts are in English, French, Spanish, Wolof and Portuguese. Robbie Dillon, who contributed texts for Cirque du Soleil’s “ZUMANITY,” composed the English lyrics for “DELIRIUM.”
In all, 21 of Cirque du Soleil’s most memorable musical moments – originally created by Rene Dupere, Benoit Jutras and Violaine Corradi – have been re-mixed by Quebec producer, composer and arranger Francis Collard, who deftly injects new life into these powerful classics. The result is a hyper-energizing urban tribal beat that explodes with electronic sounds, percussions and world rhythms.
Also for the first time, Cirque du Soleil musicians and singers will be center-stage as their music will be the driving force of this gigantic event.
This unique, large-scale event may be the most massive technical production ever created to tour arenas. A 130-foot, two-sided stage bisects the arena, submerging the audience in the huge set. Placing all this equipment into an arena is a complex puzzle normally reserved for stadiums. Projections totaling 540 feet dominate the scene – the equivalent in width of almost four IMAX screens – setting the stage for a colossal multimedia presentation. Images projected range from prerecorded visuals to manipulated live feeds that create interactions between the show and the audience.
“DELIRIUM” showcases 45 talented and multidisciplinary artists, eight of whom have collaborated with Cirque du Soleil in the past. Each artist has been selected for individual virtuosity. They include 11 musicians, six singers, 18 dancers, eight acrobats and two main characters. In all, 12 countries are represented in the troupe, including 2 Americans: Karl Baumann (Las Vegas) who portrays one of the main characters, and dancer Alexandra Apjarova (New York).
Tickets are $69.50, $89.50 & $110. They may be purchased at the Joe Louis Arena and Fox Theatre box offices, Hockeytown Authentics in Troy and at all Ticketmaster locations.
To charge tickets by phone, call 248-645-6666 or purchase tickets online at http://CellarDoor.com or http://OlympiaEntertainment.com . For additional information, call Olympia Entertainment at 313-471-6611.
Purple Rose offers first-ever theater class for children
CHELSEA – For the first time in its history, The Purple Rose Theatre Company will offer a theater class for children this summer.
Taught by PRTC Resident Artist Michelle Mountain and Associate Artist Inga Wilson, the Kid Purple Theatre Camp will cover a variety of theater and visual arts activities and culminate in a showcase performance for friends and family on the final day of class. Students will have the opportunity to develop acting skills, explore movement, study improvisation and experiment with visual arts expression.
Kid Purple Theatre Camp will be held Monday, June 19 through Friday, June 23 and Monday, June 26 through Friday, June 30. Students ages 6 to 8 will meet 9:30 a.m. to noon; students ages 9 to 11 will meet 1-3:30 p.m. Cost for the class is $395; snacks and water will be provided.
The class will be held at The Chelsea Center for the Arts, 400 North Congdon, Chelsea.
Registrations are being accepted immediately and are available on a pre-paid first-come, first-serve basis; full payment is required to register.
Participants can register by calling the PRTC administration office at 734-433-7782. Registration forms can also be printed from the PRTC web site at http://www.purplerosetheatre.org.
Icarus Falling launches blog to connect with patrons
LANSING – Icarus Falling, Lansing’s alternative professional theatre ensemble, is pleased to announce the creation of its blog, “IF:Then (A discussion and exploration of community, theater and the meaning of it all.)” The blog can be reached from the Icarus Falling home page, www.icarusfalling.com.
In addition to providing updates on events at IF, the blog offers visitors and patrons an opportunity to comment on performances and postings. The site also provides quick links to local media covering the arts, mid-Michigan theater groups and other sites of interest.
“Theater is a communal act. It requires an interaction between performers and the audience or else it isn’t fully realized,” said IF Artistic Director, jeff croff. “The internet opens up an opportunity for us to expand this dialogue with our patrons and the community. What a great forum to exchange ideas and experiences plus we’ve made it easier for potential patrons to find all of the wonderful trove of theater that is available in the mid-Michigan area. Who knows, maybe this is just the beginning of an entirely new theater that merges with new technologies.”