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Curtain Calls XTRA

By |2005-01-20T09:00:00-05:00January 20th, 2005|Uncategorized|

By John Quinn

Review: ‘The King and I”
A “royal” love story entertains at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear – the early ’50s to be exact. Detroit’s population was almost 2 million; its streets were canopied with arching trees, and it was a hot spot for touring theater. Today, the population is halved; the trees ravaged by beetles. But every once in a while, a show comes to town that reminds us what the glory days of Broadway looked like in the Motor City.
The current tour of Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1951 blockbuster, “The King and I,” is as retro as a PT Cruiser. It boasts an attractive, low-tech (“Look, Ma! No turntable!”) set. Its “glitz” is in the costumes, some of which are literally dazzling. It employs a big ensemble of singers and dancers, backed by the rich depth of a full orchestra. It returns to the stage the stunning choreography of Jerome Robbins, as recreated by Susan Kikuchi. Oh, and last but certainly not least, it features some of the most beautiful music in the American theater, written by two masters of the art.
A little “star power” doesn’t hurt, either.
Stephanie Powers, better known for her television work (“Hart to Hart”), appears as Anna Leonowens, the British-born schoolteacher who accepts a post in the royal court of Siam. Her sensitive, low-keyed reading of Anna is central to the production; her pleasant singing voice adequately addresses her musical numbers.
An energetic Ronobir Lahiri provides a fine-tuned counterpoint to Ms. Powers’ restraint. His interpretation of the King is not so much autocrat as frustrated head of a household – comfortable with his privilege, but both seeking and fearing change. It is an altogether winning performance.
But the “star” here is that incomparable music. To hear just how good it can sound performed live, listen to mezzo Catherine MiEun Choi as Lady Thiang. Her solo, “Something Wonderful,” is wonderful, indeed. You may be tempted to throw away your Yul Brenner CD.
On the other hand, was there a decision to move the focus more on Anna and the King than it was already? Was it necessary to tighten the reins and get this big show down to its two and half hour running time? The doomed love of Tuptim, a “gift” to the King, and the Burmese emissary, Lun Tha, seems truncated and rushed. Pity – “We Kiss in a Shadow” should be a showstopper whenever it’s performed.
On the whole, though, a little Thailand heat, courtesy of Rogers and Hammerstein, might warm your heart this January.
“The King and I” Presented Tuesday through Sunday at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, through Jan. 30. Tickets: $30.50 – $68. 313-872-1000. www.nederlanderdetroit.com.
The Bottom Line: This tour serves up a healthy helping of classic musical theater -as familiar and satisfying as Mom’s meat loaf.

Review: ‘Ripe Condictions’
Another Michigan comedy enlivens StarBrite Dinner Theater

“Dinner theater,” says the critic, in a metaphorical mood, “is a lot like dining without theater.” They’re both best enjoyed in the company of good friends or family, in case those categories don’t overlap. A beverage, carefully chosen and moderately consumed, can enhance the experience. The choice of show and the choice of food are similar; our tastes run to lighter fare lately, and, along with the option of chicken or fish, we might go looking for entertainment sweet and frothy, something that won’t bog down the evening.
Well, I think I’ve certainly driven that comparison into the ground. It’s just to preface that StarBrite Dinner Theater Presents is launching another farce, Claudia Allen’s “Ripe Conditions,” a little play that demonstrates that stormy weather isn’t as violent as the ties that bind families.
Brothers Lester and Buster are a couple of sad-sack losers, living on the family egg farm somewhere in rural Michigan. Enter Ann. Lost on her way to a funeral, she coincidentally stops for directions at the farm. Lo and behold, we discover she had high school flings with both brothers, and had eloped with yet a third, Abner. Lester and Buster each decide to take up where they left off with their currently unattached sister-in-law. Emotions are as dark as the sky that warns conditions are ripe for a tornado.
“Ripe Conditions” follows on the heels of an earlier rural romp by another Michigan playwright, Jeff Daniels’ “Escanaba In Da Moonlight.” Taken together, one might assume that “outstate” is populated only by deer-hunting, pot-growing boobs. Allen is from Clare and Daniels from Chelsea; maybe they know something this city boy doesn’t. Seriously, in creating these over-the-top rural characters, the playwrights are following in a comedic tradition – the lovable bumpkin – that predates Bill Shakespeare’s move from Avon for the torchlight of the Big City. The caricatures are without malice and they can be quite funny.
Peter Allen Condit and Mark Mutafian play the battling brothers; Tam Heaton-Bauer plays sister-in-law Ann. Under the direction of Lauren Allen, who appeared as Claire in StarBrite’s production of “Proof” last season, the trio keeps up a relatively crisp repartee, with only minor missteps in timing that will smooth out over the run. The effect is soft, light, airy and tasty – by the way, is there any angel-food cake left?
“Ripe Conditions” Staged Friday and Saturday by StarBrite Dinner Theater at the 14th Street Grille and Bar, 350 E. 14 Mile, Madison Heights, through Feb. 19. Tickets: $39.50, includes three-course dinner. 248-589-9900. www.starbriteprod.com.
The Bottom Line: A night’s diversion with “Ripe Conditions” is an exercise in simple fun.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.