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By | 2006-01-05T09:00:00-04:00 January 5th, 2006|Entertainment|

Review: ‘The Bannisters Wholesome Family Fun Hour’

Variety show format dusted off and given new life at Planet Ant

It’s a brave theater, indeed, that opens a brand-spanking new production during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. With so many other distractions competing for attention, many n if not most n producers shut down for the week and count their blessings rather than their dismal box office receipts.
But not Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre. Instead, Artistic/Executive Director Eric W, Maher opened his doors last week and offered Metro Detroiters a much appreciated, laugh-filled antidote to the stresses of the holiday season.
What exactly we saw last Friday night, however, is not easy to explain. Unless you’re older than dirt, that is.
“The Bannisters Wholesome Family Fun Hour” is a direct descendent of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” the irreverent music-variety series that captured the hearts of TV viewers in the late 1960s, but made network censors extremely nervous. Like its inspiration, “The Bannisters” is hosted by a “family” of folk singers that sings topical songs, appears in comedy sketches and n as a nod to “Saturday Night Live” and other more recent shows n presents a wide array of comedic videos and faux television commercials.
What’s different, of course, is the timing. What was taboo for public discussion nearly 40 years ago is fair game today, and technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Then there’s this: The Bannisters live in an animated house.
The trio – billed as your “friendly neighborhood folk rock band” n consists of the husband and wife team of Joseph and Grace Bannister (Mikey Brown on guitar, drums and vocals, often all at the same time; and Grace on vocals), and their son, Sonny (Nate DuFort on bass and vocals). Their show is akin to a live television broadcast, complete with opening credits, commercials (“Do you have a plan for your family in case of a terrorist attack?”) and an applause sign that flashes at the appropriate times throughout the evening. (Trust me: You won’t need the sign, although it IS a cool touch!)
Their music is a pleasing blend of folk and rock, with the audience often swaying to the hypnotic beats. And Grace speaks to the microphone as well as any crooner ever has.
Interspersed between such songs as “The Other Side,” “Belle Isle” and “I’m Crying” are original videos starring many familiar faces from Metro Detroit’s improv community. Although all are well-conceived and executed, standouts include “Our Lady of the Neon Sign”/”Truck Stop Lady” starring the always delightful Jaime Moyer; two shorts featuring Rollo Rollin as a blues-loving Jesus who came to chase our blues away; and a multi-part tale with Nancy Hayden and Tim Robinson as co-workers who share something more than office space. And Brown does double duty as cousin Angus in two slickly-produced music videos.
If there’s anything disappointing about “The Bannisters,” it’s its length. At about 90 minutes including intermission, the evening goes by way too quickly. Is it too much to ask for an additional 30 minutes of songs and comedy? Or even just 15?
Actually, I’m more inclined to push the Ant for a regular series of visits by the Bannisters and their onscreen friends. Or better yet, how about moving the production to where it could be staged cabaret-style with new material routinely added to keep it fresh? (Bringing your own beer into the Ant isn’t quite the same thing.) It’s something to consider, guys!
“The Bannisters Wholesome Family Fun Hour” runs Thu.-Sat., through Jan. 14, plus Sun., Jan. 8 at Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. Tickets: $10. For information: 313-365-4948 or http://www.planetant.com . Suggested for mature audiences.
The Bottom Line: Although its wholesomeness is open for debate and it’s certainly not for children, “The Bannisters” is a fun-filled hour-plus of live and taped entertainment that shouldn’t be missed.


Community Theater Corner:

Whole Art Announces Master Class

KALAMAZOO – The Whole Art Theater, as part of its Classic Series, announces a Master Class focusing on Restoration Comedy.
The three-week class will deal specifically with acting styles of the Restoration stage, playwrights of the period and contextual history.
Taught by Mychelle Hopkins, the classes will be offered on three consecutive Saturdays in January beginning Jan. 14 from 1-4 p.m. Tuition for the three week class is $100. Participation in the class guarantees the student a role in the Whole Art’s Production of John O’Keefe’s Wild Oats.
For more information, please contact the Whole Art at 269-345-7529.

Stagecrafters seeking unpublished short plays

ROYAL OAK n Stagecrafters Community Theatre is soliciting unpublished, short (10-15 minute) plays for its Second Annual New Works Play Festival.
Play material is limited to adult drama and comedy pieces; no musicals or children’s plays will be considered.
Playwrights can submit one script (five copies) to: Stagecrafters, Baldwin Theatre, 415 S. Lafayette Ave., Royal Oak, MI 48067. The deadline is Feb. 28.
Scripts selected by the Play Reading Committee will be announced March 31.
Selected plays will be produced on the Baldwin Theatre’s 2nd Stage on June 17.
Guidelines for playwrights can be found on the Stagecrafters website, http://www.stagecrafters.org , under the “Special Events” section. For additional information, call 248-541-8027.

Avon Players celebrates America’s music

ROCHESTER – Avon Players presents the third show of its 2005/2006 season, the original music revue, “Let Freedom Ring! A Celebration of America’s Music.”
Created by John Deierlein, the production features the music of America, from its creation to the classic to the contemporary. Patriotic tunes, Shaker hymns, Negro spirituals, Vaudeville and Broadway selections, military anthems, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Country favorites are all combined into a lively song and dance presentation.
The show features Vivian Ellsworth of Rochester Hills; Tracy Murray of Madison Heights; Jennifer Combs of Shelby Twp; Ashely Rozanski and Chris Rozanski of Troy; Mark Badley of Memphis; Mike Lipphardt of Rochester Hills; and John (JD) Deierlein of Rochester Hills.
Show dates are Jan. 13-15, 20-22, and 27-28. Friday and Saturday performances start at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m.
Avon Players is located at 1185 Washington Road, one mile east of the intersection of Tienken and Rochester Roads in Rochester Hills.
Tickets for the show are $16 and can be reserved by calling 248-608-9077.


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