CCO Scenery lower res.jpg: Lynne Wintersteller and Ed Dixon star as a feuding pair of married actors on the disastrous opening night of their new Broadway play in the premiere of Ed Dixon’s sparkling new comedy, “Scenery,” now playing at Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck. Photo: MSW
Profile: Meadow Brook Theatre 2006 – Part 2
New season, new challenges at Meadow Brook
For Part 1 of this story, please see this week’s edition of Curtain Calls.
Meadow Brook is not your grandmother’s theater anymore, if the increase in single ticket sales this past season is any indication.
The theater, once known for its rather conservative approach to programming, has been shifting gears over the past three seasons hoping to attract a much broader – and younger – audience. The process involves a tradeoff, however, says Artistic Director David Regal. “We will give you three of the traditional Meadow Brook shows if you will give us two you’re never heard of.”
It’s a risk – for both the theater and its patrons, Regal admits. But based on box office results and critical acclaim, the experiment seems to be working. “We felt very good about [this past season],” Regal said. “Each show seemed to work very well. Even, strangely enough, the ‘Devour the Snow’ crowd was very positive – although there were very few of them.”
It was the subject matter that Regal believes kept many people away from “Devour the Snow,” a courtroom drama about the Donner Party. “I was disappointed that we took a bath on it as far as attendance goes, but the people who were here and the reviews were unanimously positive.”
Even skeptics became convinced after seeing the show that Meadow Brook is on the right track – despite the drama’s poor box office numbers. “Even people who were negative about the show – like a couple of board members – reversed their opinions. They were very negative when I chose it.”
The surprise hit of the season, according to Managing Director John Manfredi, was “Syncopation.” “If David and I had a question about a play at the beginning of the year – even more so than ‘Devour the Snow’ – it was who the hell is going to come to ‘Syncopation.’ It doesn’t have any name recognition. Yet it turned out to be not only the best selling show of the year, but the best selling show we’ve ever had. It was fabulous.”
So much so, that both the Detroit Free Press and Between The Lines nominated both the show and its two stars for theater awards this past June.
The 2006/07 Season
Challenging its audience with the familiar and the unknown is a trend that will continue at MBT this upcoming season – right from the very start. But will the world premiere adaptation of “Frankenstein” this October be the monster hit they hope it will be?
After perusing available scripts and reading the original Mary Shelley novel, director Regal decided to craft his own version of the classic tale. “I didn’t think the scripts captured Shelley’s work,” he said. “So with hubris aside, I’m giving it a shot.”
All of the dialogue comes directly from the novel, which Regal notes is 80 percent of the book. “It’s just lifting the right lines and putting them in the right order and trying tell the story. It’s a terrific story.”
Unlike many stage and film adaptations, Regal’s version is not just a monster story. “The monster, as brutal as he is, has a very good argument: ‘Why, since you were able to do this amazing creation, why didn’t you make me more beautiful? Or better than mankind, rather than a beast?’ I’m very sympathetic. The villain is Dr. Frankenstein,” Regal said.
The drama, set to open Oct. 11, stars Andy Huff as Dr. Frankenstein, Thomas D. Mahard, Emily Sutton Smith and Aphrodite Nikolovski. Robert Kennard Murphy plays the monster. “He’s about six-foot-five and has a square head. He couldn’t be better,” Regal laughed.
The Christmas holidays will be especially busy this year, as MBT mounts not one, but two shows. But not to worry: The perennial favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” is indeed returning to the stage beginning Nov. 25 – and with a very pleasant surprise!
“Charles Nolte is coming back,” Manfredi said. “We were able to talk Charles into coming back and remounting his adaptation. He’s been a longtime supporter and part of the Meadow Brook family off and on for thirty years. It’ll be nice having him back.”
Peter Gregory Thomson will also return to play the role of Scrooge.
But what has Manfredi especially excited is “Every Christmas Story Ever Told,” a very funny holiday comedy directed by Tony Caselli that will run for two weeks on the theater’s dark nights beginning Dec. 11. “It’s another option for subscribers and theatergoers to see something other than the long-running ‘Christmas Carol’ during the holiday season.”
The comedy features three actors – in this case, John Seibert, Aral B. Gribble II and Joey Albright – who, instead of performing the obligatory annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” stage a show that mixes up pretty much every Christmas tale ever conceived – commercials and all.
It’s a co-production with the Williamston Theatre, where it will initially open Nov. 24. “It’s exciting to me as an executive, because as the biggest theater in the state, we’re partnering with the smallest,” Manfredi said. “I think that’s pretty f**king cool. It helps them out because we pick up some of the production costs, and it helps us out because we’re getting a show for a whole lot less than it would normally cost us to produce.”
Plus, it gives MBT a show on its off-nights – yet another review stream to help improve its bottom line.
The theater’s next three shows will appeal to its more traditional core of fans.
“Same Time Next Year,” which opens Jan. 10, 2007, will feature John Seibert and Roxanne Wellington as a couple that celebrates their anniversary each year for 25 years – despite being married to other people.
MBT favorite “On Golden Pond” returns Feb. 14, 2007. “It has a lot of stir already,” Manfredi, who will direct the classic, noted.
Then, beginning March 21, 2007, director Gillian Eaton brings her twelve-person “Macbeth” to the Meadow Brook stage. “That’s another one that will be a visually spectacular piece of theater. We’re really geeked about that one,” Manfredi said.
The season will close in April with a brand new musical about the Andrew Sisters. “The Sisters of Swing” is a touching tribute to the group’s marvelous melodies and features more than 20 toe-tapping favorites. Besides the Andrew Sisters, the musical features one man who plays approximately 23 different characters. “He goes from Bob Hope to Bing Crosby to Danny Kaye – so I don’t know where we’re going to get THAT virtuoso performer,” Mandredi chuckled.
Bringing in the bucks
There’s something else that’s new this season at Meadow Brook.
“For the first time ever in the history of Meadow Brook, we’re producing our own playbill,” the managing director announced. “We’ve always farmed out the playbill, but after much thinking about it, we’re going to produce our own. We got tired of not being able to put the things we wanted in it.”
Things such as more complete biographies, Manfredi explained. Confined to a limited number of words, MBT was unable to fully promote its actors and crew – especially the seasoned veterans who bring a wealth of experience to its stage.
Then there’s this: It brings yet another source of revenue into the theater. As Manfredi pointed out, MBT never saw a dime from the advertising the playbill generated, so advertisers that thought they were supporting the theater never were. Now they will be.
As if mounting a seven show season, producing a playbill and staging two special fundraisers in September aren’t enough, the theater is also embarking on an innovative capital campaign to raise funds for the financially struggling group.
Called the Capital Advancement Matching Program, the theater is seeking to raise $250,000 by committing 25 businesses to each donate $5,000 that will be matched dollar-for-dollar by private donors. Fifty percent will be used for yearly operating expenses, while the remaining half will be placed in a restricted endowment to insure the group’s longevity.
So far, three businesses have come on board, and nearly $50,000 has been raised from the private sector.
Given the state’s sluggish economy, not every business Manfredi has approached has the cash available to meet the CAMP requirements. But that doesn’t worry him too much. “One company I spoke to, 3 Dimensional Services, said they didn’t have the money this year to give as part of CAMP, but they still wrote us a check for two-thousand dollars. So there’s still corporations that want to help. They just don’t have the dollars any more.”
Another big help to the theater is its Rent Angels program. For $1,300 an individual or business can pay the weekly rent the theater owes to its landlord, Oakland University. Rent Angels are recognized in the curtain speeches before the performances, in the playbill and in the lobby. Manfredi credits the program’s success to his box office staff. “They know how to work the phones.” Their hard work has paid off: He’s had to dip into the coffers to pay his own weekly rent only five times in the past three years.
There’s even a gift-giving program for those with lesser means: The Dime A Day program. “Everybody has $36.50 to give us,” Manfredi said. “If a thousand people gave us $36.50, that’s thirty-six grand. We’re up for that!”
For complete information regarding Meadow Brook Theatre’s 2006/07 season or its special fundraisers, please call 248-377-3300 or log on to http://www.mbtheatre.com.
Professional Theater News from Around Town:
Compiled by Donald V. Calamia
Detroit’s premier performance artist is back in a new performance art piece
DETROIT – Ladies and Gentleman, Satori Circus is back in town!
After a four year ‘walkabout,’ Russell A. Taylor returns with Satori Circus to 1515 Broadway with a new performance art piece, “MOSES:39.” Combining elements of theater, movement, music, poetry, film and the fine arts, “MOSES:39” takes you on a journey of one child’s life through adulthood and the obstacles he faces through his parents expectations, lack of interest, pressures of life and his own personal demons that eventually take control.
Although, it sounds like a depressing tale, those of you who have seen Satori Circus will be comforted to know that he hasn’t lost his dark comedic side.
“MOSES:30” runs Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 7-23 at 8 p.m. at 1515 Broadway, Detroit. Tickets are $10-$20.
For further information, call 313-965-1515.
JET presents second annual ‘Behind the Scenes’ gala
WEST BLOOMFIELD – The Jewish Ensemble Theatre presents its second annual “Behind the Scenes” gala Monday, Sept. 11 featuring special guest artists Naz Edwards and Peter Kevoian who will tell their own “Behind the Scenes” story in a vehicle they call “Backstage on Broadway”.
The gala will be held at the home of Florine Mark at 5:30 p.m.
Prior to the performance of “Backstage on Broadway,” dinner and cocktails will be served.
Edwards is a New York actress living in Michigan. On Broadway, she starred opposite Anthony Quinn as the Leader in “Zorba,” and Dunyasha in Circle in the Square’s premiere of “Anna Karenina”. She has appeared in regional theaters throughout the country. Her favorite roles include Madam Giry in Ken Hill’s “Phantom of the Opera,” Denise in “The Baker’s Wife,” Rosalie in “Carnival,” Yenta in “Fiddler on the Roof” and Queen Agravain in “Once Upon a Mattress.” She was seen at JET last season in “Side by Side by Sondheim” and Kitty Dubin’s “Coming of Age”. She also performed at Performance Network as Aldonaz in “Man of La Mancha” and as Ilona in “She Loves Me.” Her first solo CD, “If the Waiting Takes Years,” has just been released.
Kevoian’s Broadway and national tours include “Zorba,” “Ragtime,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Cats” and “Les Miserables,” In regional theater he has had major roles in “Oliver,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Evita,” “Personals,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Sunday in the Park with George” and “The Bakers Wife.” He got rave reviews this summer starring in “Urinetown the Muscial” at the Weston theatre in Vermont.
In addition to the gala, raffle tickets will be available for three wonderful prizes: The first prize is $5,000 cash; the second prize is a custom designed piece of jewelry from M.B. Jewelers; and the third prize is two third row center tickets to a Detroit Pistons regular season game.
Tickets for JET’s second annual “Behind the Scenes Gala” are $150, which includes dinner, cocktails and a performance by Naz Edwards and Peter Kevoian of “Backstage on Broadway.” Raffle tickets are available for $100 or two for $150.
For more information and to purchase tickets contact the JET at 248-788-2900.
Witty new comedy premieres at Mason Street Warehouse
SAUGATUCK – Ed Dixon’s witty new backstage comedy, “Scenery,” made its debut at Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck on Aug. 25 for a limited run through Sept. 10. David Glenn Armstrong, who staged “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” earlier this summer at MSW, directs this delightful two-character play starring Lynne Wintersteller alongside the author.
“Scenery” is a simultaneously hilarious and touching valentine to the triumphs and heartbreaks of working in the theater, as seen through the eyes of Richard and Marion Crain, an aging pair of married actors on the disastrous opening night of their new Broadway show.
“I wrote Scenery,” said Dixon, “because I have always wanted to do a backstage play about what it is really like to be a ‘lifer’ in the theater. I chose the device of a theatrical couple, like Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne or Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, to illustrate the kind of lives they had, but with a modern sensibility. Everyone knew they had colorful lives, but the mores of the day prevented tales from being told ‘out of school.’ I’ve also seen some really bad behavior over the years. ‘Scenery’ tries to let every cat out of every bag of what it’s REALLY like to spend a lifetime in the legitimate theater.”
Dixon is also the author and composer of the off-Broadway productions of “Fanny Hill,” “Richard Cory” and “Shylock.” As an actor, Dixon has appeared on Broadway in “The Best Man,” “The Iceman Cometh,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “Cyrano,” “Les Miserables,” “The Three Musketeers,” “King of Schnorrers” and “No, No, Nanette.” He was also seen in the national tours of “Doctor Dolittle,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Pippin” and “Very Good Eddie.”
Wintersteller is universally acclaimed for her appearance in and subsequent recording of Maltby & Shire’s legendary “Closer Than Ever.” She starred in the Broadway and national tour productions of “Annie” as Grace Farrell and in the Tony-nominated musical “A Grand Night For Singing.” She appeared with Dixon at the York Theatre in “The Great Big Radio Show!” (also directed by Armstrong) and in Dixon’s “Richard Cory” (NYMF Best Actress Award). She will be singing with the Buffalo Philharmonic next year in a special concert in collaboration with Oscar-winning composer David Shire.
James Morgan, the artistic director of the York Theatre, has designed the setting of a less-than-glamorous star dressing room at the Belasco Theatre. MSW veterans Darlene Christopher (costumes), Jennifer Kules (lighting) and Timothy K. Schmidt (sound) contribute their design prowess to this premiere.
Mason Street Warehouse (Kurt Stamm, artistic producing director and Ricki L. Levine, managing director) was founded in 2002 and is renowned for producing new and unique plays and musicals. MSW is enjoying its most successful season to date, smashing all previous box office and attendance records. “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” and “Cabaret” completely sold out their three-week engagements earlier this summer. The Stamm-helmed “Hunka, Hunka Burnin’ Love” received its regional premiere as the 2006 season opener and will be making a transfer to Florida’s Caldwell Theatre this October. MSW is a professional, Equity, non-profit 501(c)3 theater.
Tickets to Mason Street Warehouse productions range from $20-$33 and are available at the MSW box office or by calling 269-857-4898.
For more information, visit http://www.masonstreetwarehouse.org.
Community Theater Corner:
The Cat is Back: ‘Evening at La Cage II’ promises an outrageous evening of gender-bending entertainment to crown ‘Miss Kitty 2006’
BLOOMFIELD HILLS – Things are going to get very catty around here on Saturday, Sept. 9, when St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild of Cranbrook presents a very special evening to raise funds to benefit the theater and the community-at-large.
Sure to be the hottest ticket in town that night, “Evening at La Cage II” features cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, show-stopping song-and-dance numbers and – the main attraction – a hilarious competition to crown the evening’s “Miss Kitty.” This mock beauty pageant is traditional in every way – except that all of the contestants will be men dressed as women.
“The evening showcases the talents of St. Dunstan’s members in so many ways, from the performers to the countless volunteers who are contributing to this fundraising effort,” said Elizabeth Robinson, who is co-chairing the event with Harris Van Cleef.
The funds being raised through this event will benefit St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild of Cranbrook, a non-profit volunteer theater organization currently celebrating its 75th season. Funds will be used in part to make much-needed improvements to the indoor Pavilion and outdoor Greek Theatre at Cranbrook where the independent theater group works and performs.
True to St. Dunstan’s commitment to reaching out to the larger community, a portion of the evening’s proceeds will be shared with Variety-The Children’s Charity. Founded by theater professionals in 1928, the organization is made up of local business men and women reaching out to children in need.
Ticket sales alone will raise much-needed funds for both organizations. But “Evening at La Cage II” will also offer plenty of opportunities for audience members to contribute even more – such as throwing money at the stage to support for their favorite contestant. “We urge everyone to bring their wallets and pocketbooks so we can raise as much money as possible for these two wonderful non-profit groups,” Van Cleef said.
Tickets to “Evening at La Cage” are $35 for general audience seating and $100 for “Grass Circle” seating, which includes reserved tables with the best view in the house, a private bar and servers, and public recognition for the donor. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
“Evening at La Cage” will be presented at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9. If there is inclement weather the rain date will be Sunday, Sept. 10 at 8:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
St. Dunstan’s is located at 400 Lone Pine Road, between Cranbrook and Lahser, in Bloomfield Hills.
Reservations can be made by calling 248-737-3587 or visiting http://www.StDunstansTheatre.com.
Yellow Cab to offer shuttle service to Woldumar Nature Center for Sunsets with Shakespeare productions
LANSING – Sunsets with Shakespeare announced recently the company had struck a partnership with Lansing’s Yellow Cab to provide a shuttle service from the MSU union to Woldumar Nature Center’s R E Olds Anderson Rotary Barn on all Fridays of shows presented by Sunsets.
“This is an excellent opportunity to extend our audience base into the MSU student community,” said Kerry Waters,business manager of Sunsets with Shakespeare. “We understand that transportation is a common issue for students, and often results in a barrier preventing students from experiencing the cultural offerings of the greater Lansing community. This is no longer an issue.”
“Woldumar is a beautiful place, and it is unfortunate that there is not public transportation out here,” said Lori McSweeney, executive director of Woldumar Nature Center. “We really want to thank Yellow Cab for this opportunity.”
Yellow Cab will transport up to 22 people to Woldumar and back to the MSU Union Building for only $6 round trip. The shuttle will depart the Union at 7:30 p.m. and arrive at Woldumar at 7:45 p.m. It will depart Woldumar at 10:45 p.m. and arrive at the MSU Union at 11 p.m. The partnership is a trial scheduled for the company’s season opener, “Jeffrey.” The shuttle will be offered on Friday Sep. 8 and 15. Tickets for the production are $10 general admission, $5 students, seniors (65 plus) and Woldumar Nature Center members.
Yellow Cab and Sunsets request individuals interested in using this service reserve their seat no later than 3 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7 or 14 by emailing [email protected].
Hilariously entertaining ‘Dearly Departed’ opens season for Marshall Civic Players
MARSHALL – Marshall Civic Players and Armadillo Productions bring to Marshall the David Bottrell and Jessie Jones “drop dead funny” comedy of a small-town family as they try to plan a funeral for their “Daddy Bud”. “Dearly Departed” opens on Marshall’s Home Tour weekend as a dinner theater September 8, 9 and 10, and runs the following weekend September 15, 16 and 17.
When the Southern patriarch of the Turpin family keels over dead at the breakfast table in the first scene, the struggle to get him buried involves the whole clan, including the not-so-grieving widow who wants to put “Mean and Surly” on his tombstone. By the time the Turpin’s sort through the hangovers, money problems and headstone engraving options, they’ve learned that coping with life’s losses can turn out to be painfully funny.
Armadillo Productions (owners Rick and Kathie Boyer of Marshall) and MCP partnered in 2004 with “Escanaba in da Moonlight.” This year’s show brings a cast and crew of 28 from a wide area stretching from Kalamazoo to Albion – and, of course, Marshall. The 11-member cast, directed by Randy Wolfe, includes Donna Daines (Raynelle); Debbie Culver (Marguerite); Greg Reitsma (Royce); Alan Elliott (Ray-Bud, Bud); Chris Gorsline (Lucille); William Elwood (Junior); Sarah Gillette (Suzanne); Colleen Clement (Nadine, Veda, and Juanita), Bob Veramay (Delightful); Dawn Elliott (Joy of Life Singer); and Tim Culver (Reverend Hooker, Clyde and Norvell).
Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8 p.m. at the Franke Center for the Arts located at 214 East Mansion, Marshall. Sunday matinee shows start at 2:30 pm.
Ticket prices are Adults $15, Senior $12 and Student $8.
A dinner theater package is also available on Home Tour Weekend (September 8 and 9). The dinner, provided by Celebration on Location, will be available for $13 in addition to the ticket price.
For more information and seat reservations, call the Marshall Civic Players or Kathie Boyer at 269-781-3335 or 269-781-0001. Information is also available on the Web at http://www.marshallcivicplayers.org.