“You know, you are going to lose us the right to vote!” Trainwreck

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

I finally saw Trainwreck. I’m probably the last person in America to see it. I’m so glad I did.

It’s not a perfect film. I think Amy Schumer, the film’s lead and screenwriter, is a brilliant sketch artist with a sharp POV that is so dead center and incisive that it seems skewed, if not downright avant garde, in a world strangled by artifice and hypocritical self-satisfaction.

As a satirist, Schumer typically works in bite-size toxic nuggets, and her first feature film script meanders (not that unusual for a Judd Apatow-directed flick – see 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up). Unsurprisingly, the strongest punches come from the frequent sidebars with broadly drawn characters like Amy’s addled viper of a boss (an unrecognizable and genius Tilda Swinton, zinging every big-haired, proud anti-feminist walking the planet).

Schumer is at her best in commentary mode, contrasting her wide-eyed cynicism with the empty-headed happiness of a society that blithely has no idea how sexist, racist, homophobic, ageist, and just plain dumb it can actually be.

So, the trick of planting her in the middle of a summer romantic comedy confection like this is keeping that tart, chewy Shumer nougat at the airy center. The film stumbles in its early scenes, working just a bit too hard at the Apatow-brand of gross-out-with-a-heart-of-gold shenanigans. We get it. Schumer is not Meg Ryan (thank heavens!) – she drinks, she screws, she takes drugs, she has a glorious jackass of a father (Colin Quinn, brilliantly channeling the dark side of every borough in Manhattan as a philandering papa whose MS derailed his high-life but not before he imploded his happy marriage/family). She works hard and she plays hard as a writer for the kind of men’s magazine that would make Hugh Hefner blanch.

In other words, she’s the character Will Ferrell used to play in these productions … or worse Seth Rogen did.

Yet, the canniness of the film is in how it questions that frat boy cliche, defying gender convention and blessedly, by the second and third acts, revealing the human underneath the costume – the whip-smart, emotionally-raw Amy who lives out loud in defiance of a culture that loves its cheerleaders.

Amy hates sports and cheerleaders and anything remotely associated with either, which prompts Swinton’s character to (of course) assign her a profile on an up-and-coming sports medicine/orthopedic surgeon Aaron Connors (played by a winning Bill Hader). At one point in the film, Schumer sneers at the group of gyrating Knick Girls in front of her, “You know, you are going to lose us the right to vote!”

As Amy and Aaron connect as people and as friends, they (no shock) fall in love, much to Amy’s consternation. The humanity of the film rests in Schumer/Hader’s dynamic. They are so believable, so gentle, so kind, and so spiky together, thereby grounding a film that otherwise would fall apart as a loose collection of (albeit very funny) character bits.

Hader’s character just happens to be besties with NBA star LeBron James who ends up being the stealth comic genius in the madcap proceedings. (Seriously, between James and WWE’s John Cena, playing Amy’s heartsick, kicked-to-the-curb boy-toy, who’d a thunk some of the funniest bits would be offered by two pro-athletes? Not this guy. Color me surprised.)

The film insinuates itself in a good way. The onscreen relationship between Schumer and Hader is so scruffily relatable (but still frothy fun) that it, well, sneaks up on you. The film (and Schumer) seem to be challenging you to care, and, by gum, you really do.

However, there are the typical final act complications that always seem to ensue in these kinds of films; though, in this case, they aren’t as ridiculous as Hollywood tends to dictate. And the final reunion of our intrepid couple, while quite adorkable, undermines a bit of Schumer’s central conceit that she is an everyperson who doesn’t need to bend to anyone’s constrained view of gender roles.  Sadly, the ending feels tacked on, like a focus group told the filmmakers, “We want to feel goooood! Can’t you just make us happy?!”

Well, I know what makes me happy and that’s seeing Schumer turn the stereotypical romantic comedy on its head and for about 75% of Trainwreck she does. I’ll take those odds.

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Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital)In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

“Sometimes I don’t want to let it go.” Idina Menzel at Detroit’s Fox Theatre – PLUS, my mom Susie Duncan Sexton on Patty’s Page tv show

No Day But Today

“No Day But Today”

For a bit of time now, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Idina Menzel, she of the soaring vocals that are such a shot of adrenaline in beloved (overrated?) musicals like Rent and Wicked. The first time I saw her perform Wicked‘s signature tune “Defying Gravity” on the Tony Awards (10+ years ago), I got chills and my eyes welled up from the underdog-makes-good vitriol in her delivery. She was the best thing – the much-needed battery acid – in Chris Columbus’ misguided candy-coated film version of Rent. Her sporadic appearances on Glee – as the brilliantly cast mother of All About (Baby) Eve Rachel Berry (Lea Michelle) – were spiky, oddball fun, notably their peculiar duet of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”

However, “Let It Go” (the ubiquitous ditty from Disney’s Frozen) seemed like an underwritten redux of “Defying Gravity” (not her fault of course), and the whole “Adele Dazeem” debacle just got more cloying and unfunny with each passing day (again not her issue … exactly). And the “brand” of Menzel – not unlike that of Wicked co-star Kristin Chenoweth or, for that matter, Audra McDonald or the queen mother of kewpie doll divas Bernadette Peters – suffers from a “gee, aren’t I darling” humblebrag self-absorption and a disingenuous projection of “how did I get here?!” humility that belies the ragingly talented, driven loon lurking underneath.

“Don’t Rain On My Parade”

Blessedly, Menzel’s show last night at Detroit’s Fox Theatre (more or less) stripped away that glossy artifice and laid bare the broken soul with the big voice. It was a revelation.

In her between-song patter, Menzel offered a rambling treatise on her befuddlingly amazing 18-month ride, with epic highs like the runaway success of Frozen and performing on the Oscars and devastating lows like her divorce from Taye Diggs (whom she never mentioned by name). Lest you think she was milking all of this life experience in some kind of self-serving “Oprah” confessional, that was not the vibe at all. Her chatter was too loopy, too heartfelt, too, well, lost to be anything but that of a desperate soul searching for an anchor in a swirling moment of intense success and loss.

“River”

She channeled this personal crisis into a fascinatingly raw (and dare I say schizophrenic) array of song choices. Yes, the favorites were all present: “Defying Gravity,” “The Wizard and I,” “For Good” (for which she dropped the mic and used the Fox Theatre’s legendary acoustics to chilling effect), all from Wicked; “Take Me or Leave Me” (which she used as an opportunity to winningly share the stage with many hyperventilating Idina-groupies in the audience) and “No Day But Today” from Rent; and, of course, show-closing “Let It Go,” again sharing the mic with all the wannabe “Elsa”s in the audience (weirdly/delightfully interpolating the song with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ funky classic “Give It Away”?!?!).

The Wicked tunes especially seemed to get a perfunctory, hastened treatment, as if Menzel is as tired of them as we are. She seemed anxious to get to the caustic musical nuggets at the heart of her show, gleefully dropping many f-bombs along the way, hoisting a middle finger to the Disney empire (and all the blue-dressed dollies) that allowed her to mount such an extensive summer tour in the first place. That’s my kind of diva (and I hate that word).

“Defying Gravity”

She delivered expected Broadway bon-bons like Funny Girl‘s “Don’t Rain on my Parade” and an Ethel Merman tribute medley (Annie Get Your GunGypsy) with powerhouse vocals and a salty element of sad understanding, as if trying to say, “We women have been treated like crap forever, no matter how talented we are. Knock it off!”

The deepest heartache was telegraphed during a one-two punch of the crystalline elegance of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and what could only be described as a “hooker medley” of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” and The Police’s “Roxanne.” Both numbers were electrifying, eliciting a hushed awe from the audience. “River” with its repeated chorus of “I wish I had a river I could skate away on” seemed to serve as Menzel’s central thesis. In her introductory remarks to “Love for Sale/Roxanne,” she mentioned a fearsome theatre professor who excoriated her about her performance of the Porter tune, challenging “Do you even know what that song is about?!?!” She wanted us to know – especially juxtaposed with her earlier performance of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” – that, yes, Mr. Man, she does know that the song is about. It was sheer theatrical brilliance.

Fox Theatre

Fox Theatre

She performed a number of original works, none of which alas quite held up to the other material, but the punk rock passion with which she delivered the tunes revealed an alternate reality where Idina might have been another Alanis, instead of a wannabe Barbra. She offered If/Then‘s 11 o’clock number of “Always Starting Over” as a fiery yawp over the Sisyphean nature of daily living. Her take on Radiohead’s 90s classic “Creep” was a dizzyingly effective blend of Broadway bombast and grunge existentialism. I would love to have that performance on a permanent loop in my head.

John and Roy

John and Roy

At one point in the show, Menzel joked that, while she’s appreciative of her recent success, “sometimes I just don’t want to let it go.” Some days she just wants to stay in her bed and let the world run its course while she tries to figure out which end is up. Her candor and her authenticity were much appreciated, and, along with her prodigious use of the f-word, just the eye-opening experience all those baby Elsa princesses in the audience needed to hear. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.

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BONUS! Enjoy part 1 of my mom Susie Duncan Sexton‘s two-part interview with delightful Patty Hunter on her Patty’s Page TV program. Also in the house are journalist and advocate Terry Doran and my dad Don Sexton. It’s a free-wheeling and fun discussion of politics, small-town living, animal rights (and, yes, pig wrestling), writing, and other insights and adventures. Enjoy! Click here to view.

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Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital)In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Urinetown reviewed! “Enjoyable two hours out in the park with fine singers, actors and dancers and an amusing, satirical musical comedy”

Ensemble

Ensemble

WOW! What a fantastic opening weekend for Urinetown – capacity crowds, wonderful feedback, marvelous coverage, and an amazing review from Bridgette Redman for Encore Michigan – click here to read.

Here is an excerpt …

“Director Lauren M. London has her work cut out for her with the space. There is a moat between the bandshell where the orchestra plays and the main staging area where most of the action takes place. She has no choice but to let some of her actors be seen before the arrive on stage as they have a bit of a hike to get to the stage, but she manages that well and creates compelling stage pictures so that you’re not looking off to the sides.

Maika Van Oosterhout and Roy Sexton

Maika Van Oosterhout and Roy Sexton

“Roy Sexton plays Officer Lockstock, the narrator for the evening. He kicks off the musical with a speech that prepares the audience for what they can expect—an evening of satire and parody. Little Sally (Paige Martin) joins him in his early exposition and they frequently break the fourth wall to outright talk about the musical. Both are skilled in their roles. Sexton narrates with aplomb, moving in and out easily of narrator and police officer. Martin is loveable and innocent, asking naïve questions that Sexton answers magnanimously. She has great physicality, doing cartwheels and splits and interacting with the teddy bear she carries with her. She believably creates a child much younger than her actual age.

Ensemble

Ensemble

“Linda Rabin Hammell brings character and spice to the role of Penelope Pennywise. She’s peppery as the custodian of Public Facility #9, insisting that everyone pay the proper fee else not get to pee. Her voice is perfect for the role.

“Brendan Kelly makes a handsome lead as Bobby Strong, the revolutionary leader who follows his heart. He’s earnest and heroic, with a strong singing voice that carries him through his many songs. …

Sarah Ann Leahy, David Kiley, and Roy Sexton

Sarah Ann Leahy, David Kiley, and Roy Sexton

“Playing opposite Kelly was Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope Cladwell. Hers was a fun role and she carried it off with style and grace. Her eyes were constantly wide, portraying an innocence and naîveté that fit the part well. She was especially amusing dancing while bound and gagged in a chair.

“There were no weak members in the ensemble either. Each of them had their own characteristics, making them individuals while still fulfilling the part of an ensemble. They were giving to each other and changed quickly between roles when doubled. They did an especially good job as the town’s poor who desperately needed to pee in the first act and in the second were revolutionaries that were brash and frightened.

Maika Van Oosterhout and Brendan Kelly

Maika Van Oosterhout and Brendan Kelly

“The singing, under the musical direction of Richard Alder, was impressive, as was the pit band that performed the music to accompany it. There were complicated harmonies throughout and upbeat songs that often belied what they were singing about. …

“Victoria Gilbert’s choreography was most often amusing and always fit with the character of the show. Bridget Bly deserves a callout for her costumes. She provided good contrast between the UGC employees and the run-down poor of the city. She also made it possible to switch in and out of costumes, sometimes right on stage.”

Read the complete post here

Roy Sexton

Roy Sexton

AND a subset of the cast (including yours truly) appeared Friday on Rebecca Hardin’s charming WCBN radio show Hot in Here. The audio is here, and you can read about the special collaboration that prompted the broadcast here. Be sure to check out Hot in Here‘s page (here) if you want to hear me epically mangle the “Cop Song” from Urinetown. Plus, I say words like “crap,” “damn,” and “tinkle” on the air … probably why it took them a while to post it! :) You will also hear our director and president Lauren London say really smart things about art and theatre and Ann Arbor as well as the mellifluous tones of fellow cast members Brendan Kelly, Maika Van Oosterhout, and Paige Martin, accompanied by our wonderful music director Richard Alder (BTW, a great article about Richard appeared in the latest Detroit Jewish News – see below).

Sarah Ann Leahy, Brendan Kelly, and Roy Sexton

Sarah Ann Leahy, Brendan Kelly, and Roy Sexton

Last but not least, a special thanks to the friends who made this opening weekend so special with their attendance (and apologies to anyone I missed): John Mola, Rachel Green, Kyle Lawson, Jim Lynch, Nick Oliverio, Brent Stansfield, Zach London, Sharon Steig, Ashley Kryscynski, Heidi Fisher, Matt Cameron, Kelly Cameron, Anne Cattermole Levy, Artun Kircali, Leanne Young, Ivan Procopovich, Robin Skiba Myler, Laura Sagolla, Barbara Davenport, Roxane Raffin Chan and Kevin and friends and family, Magda and Dan Johnson, Rachel Urist, Jen Esch and friends, Angie Choe and Sean, Roberta and Richard­­­ London and family, Jason Gilbert, Ivan Procopovich, Christopher Taylor, Eva Rosenwald, Narda Wishka, Kristy McDonald and Thatcher. Two more weekends (Thursday, Friday, Saturday performances, all 7 pm) – get your tickets at www.pennyseats.org before they’re all gone!

Photos (above) by Ivan Procopovich

Richard Alder ____________________________

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital)In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Penny Seats Theatre Company and University of Michigan’s Environmental Biotechnology Group unite for water conservation

Brendan Kelly

Brendan Kelly

A local collaboration between Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats Theatre Company and the University of Michigan’s Environmental Biotechnology Group will feature the musical Urinetown: The Musical! and water conservation research in a creative way during the next three weekends starting July 30.

This art and engineering collaboration will be featured on the radio show It’s Hot In Here 88.3 WCBN FM (www.hotinhere.us/) on Friday July 31 at noon, with the recording to be posted shortly thereafter on the Penny Seats’ website and Facebook page. An Environmental Engineering research team from the University of Michigan is studying how human urine and products derived from it need to be processed to safely fertilize food crops.

Roy Sexton

Roy Sexton

The University of Michigan is one of five institutions involved in this first large-scale pilot project of its kind in the United States. They will be providing mobile restrooms during the Penny Seats’ performances of Urinetown in hopes that patrons will help with this unusual project.

“This is a fun and unique partnership to be sure. We are thrilled with the opportunity, and this aligns with the Penny Seats mission … it’s educational, it benefits society, and it brings value to our loyal patrons who are so kind to brave the great outdoors every summer for our shows,” comments Lauren London, Urinetown’s director and the Penny Seats’ president.

Urinetown: The Musical! The Tony-award-winning hit from 2001, will be performed by The Penny Seats Theatre Company July 30, 31, Aug 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, and 15 (all shows at 7 pm).

Ensemble

Ensemble

Set in an admittedly absurd dystopian future where one must pay to pee, the show lampoons corporate bureaucracy, pie-in-the-sky optimism, revolution without a plan, and the musical theatre genre itself. With a full pit orchestra (led by Richard Alder) on the band shell stage, the action takes place around the audience in the park. Featured performers include Brendan August Kelly (Ypsilanti), Roy Sexton (Saline), David Francis Kiley (Ann Arbor), John DeMerell (Walled Lake), Sarah Ann Leahy (Ann Arbor), Paige Martin (Ann Arbor), Cathy McDonald (Plymouth), Christina McKim (Albion), Jenna Kellie Pittman (Waterford/West Bloomfield), Linda Rabin Hammell (Detroit), Jeff Stringer (Jackson), Maika Van Oosterhout (Ann Arbor), and Daniel Bachelis (Howell). Production photos taken by Scarlett London.

Maika Van Oosterhout and David Kiley

Maika Van Oosterhout and David Kiley

London says the piece is a natural for the group: “Since its turn on Broadway, Urinetown has been a favorite of performers, for its snappy score and hilarious, wink-to-the-audience feeling. It’s a perfect show to place in our park, where the cast can interact up close with the audience, and take them into the show’s silly world. Our cast is filled with performers who excel at just this type of theatre, and we’re thrilled to bring it to the park.”

Advance tickets are available at the group’s website, www.pennyseats.org. Although the curtain goes up at 7:00pm each evening, pre-show picnicking is encouraged, and the group will sell water and concessions at the park as well. All performances will be at the West Park band shell.

Roy Sexton and Paige Martin

Roy Sexton and Paige Martin

Patrons are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner to enjoy at the park before or during the show.  Lawn chairs, hats, bug spray, and other outdoor gear are also encouraged. Alcohol may also be brought and enjoyed responsibly.  Water and concessions will be available for purchase. More information about tickets, parking, and available packages, is available on the company’s website, www.pennyseats.org.

Photos by Scarlett London

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Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital)In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Life in an aquarium: Tipping Point Theatre’s “Invasive Species” (world premiere)

Invasive SpeciesI’m certain it breaks some unspoken critics’ oath to review a show featuring one of your dearest friends, so don’t consider this a review of Tipping Point Theatre’s world premiere Invasive Species, starring Aral Gribble (whom I don’t know) and Melynee Saunders Warren (whom I most assuredly know and with whom I may or may not have shared a stage … or two).

But this play is so good that I have to write something.

Joseph Zettelmaier’s intimately inventive script, making its debut here in Michigan, details the misadventures of a lonely widower schlub Earl Hobbs (Gribble) whose life is transformed when he discovers an exotic creature in his favorite fishing hole and takes said specimen (soon dubbed “Toothy”) home as a confidante and pet. Warren portrays a well-intentioned DNR officer Eden Selkirk, plagued by her own personal tragedies, who ends up (spoiler alert!) aiding and abetting Hobbs in his efforts to keep Toothy alive and thriving.

A theatrical pas de deux like Invasive Species is no easy task, and, under the sure-handed direction of Joseph Albright, Gribble and Warren keep the laughs (and the poignancy) flowing in the show’s crisp 90-minute running time. “Life in an aquarium” is a recurring theme in the production as both Hobbs and Selkirk find themselves drawn together by the confines of small-town, small-state, small-life. The smart set design by Jennifer Maiseloff and lighting design by Alex Gay ably assist the cast in this endeavor, providing them a beautifully insular series of indoor/outdoor levels with which to play. The efficient use of space is as breathtaking as it is lean, mean, and, well, perfect.

The script, perhaps at times a bit too rapturous about rural Michigan’s charms (particularly in its closing monologues), is incisive and deeply affecting. Zettelmaier has a keen insight into heartache and loneliness, but never for one moment devolves into cloying condescension. Hobbs and Selkirk are broken souls seeking kinship from nature and from each other, and their painfully heartwarming collision is as moving as it is horrifying.

The animal lover in me appreciated the central  metaphor in Hobbs’ adoption of the contraband Toothy: sometimes the unlikeliest friends can unlock our shattered psyches. And the delicate acting work of Gribble and Warren is a charming wonder, their deeply human connection transformative and empathic, showing how the rigidity of rules and regulations can melt away to compassion and understanding. This show is a gem, and runs through August 23 – don’t miss it: http://www.tippingpointtheatre.com/

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Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital)In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

La Cage Aux Mormons: Derek and Julianne Hough and The Move Live Tour at the Fox Theater, Detroit

11221501_10206285578157274_7488430663654299396_oSo, for those of you hoping for a review this week of, say, Marvel’s Ant-Man or even Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck? You are getting neither.

Nope, you are getting an (albeit brief) overview of Mormon siblings/Dancing with the Stars alumni Derek and Julianne Hough’s Move Live dance extravaganza at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. 905771_10206285578077272_4772899360683282822_o

Yup, you read that correctly. 11109697_10206285578117273_4376833428147160117_o

John’s birthday present this year consisted of tickets to tonight’s show, given that last year ago he saw Derek on an episode of MTV’s Ridiculousness and got a kick from the Y-chomosomed Hough’s joie de vivre. And I, being the nice, thoughtful soul that I am, bought us tickets.

10985489_10206286234733688_4257423839131278927_oSo, how was it? Not bad. In a Donnie-and-Marie-meets-Magic-Mike-why-are-we-still-so-weirdly-repressed-it’s-2015 sort of way. It’s basically a two-hour episode of DWTS with blessedly little commentary and a few too many inspirational pep talks, all glitz and glamor, fox-trots and lip syncing – a K-Tel cornucopia of pop music and flash-dancing.

11217826_10206285578197275_1372892054322846085_o(And let me add that the whole time I was watching the show, I was also engaged in a social media debate with my hometown newspaper, an organization that seems to think pig wrestling – yeah, I know – is a signpost-worth-defending in America’s ongoing culture wars. Either that or they are just darn afraid of the local 4-H mafia. Or both. Click here … before they delete it.)

11707816_10206286323015895_3521239936071060505_o

Move Live

Back to the show? It is so Branson, Missouri-meets-Baz Lurhmann that I kinda dug it. Move Live is high-energy, filled with up-to-the-minute pop hits, and the Hough siblings can move – no pun intended. Hence, the show is aptly named.

Downside? Julianne (d*mn painful in one of the lead roles in the recent film adaptation of Rock of Ages) insists on singing. A lot. And her voice (charitably put) is like hearing two latex balloons rubbed together. Someone needs to intervene.

However, as a dancer, Julianne is divine … albeit she does remind me of desperate-for-validation cheerleaders with whom I went to high school, so I found her a wee bit exuberantly repulsive at times.

(Some of those aforementioned cheerleaders are firmly in the camp of those who think “pig wrestling” is really awesome now, so that didn’t much help Julianne’s cause. My worlds are colliding in a really unfortunate way this evening.)

11713854_10206286222093372_7765995984257500901_oDerek on the other hand is pretty darn charming. I hadn’t warmed to his gifts from that one episode of Ridiculousness, but, watching him in Move Live, I thought, “Yeah, there’s a star. He has the face of a rat and the body of Michelangelo’s David, but that’s a star.”

Derek sang as often as his sister, and, while his voice isn’t going to put Andrea Bocelli out of work, it’s stronger than Julianne’s.

He also has an engaging presence that had the DTWS-sycophants in the audience eating from the palm of his hand.

Move Live

The numbers ran the gamut from Bruno Mars’ au courant “Uptown Funk” to Christina Aguilera’s pastiche “Candy Man” to Elvis Presley’s moldy chestnut “Jailhouse Rock.” All were delivered with a polish and a joy that one only sees in a Broadway-caliber musical revue. 10873632_10206286215893217_1080407561164823413_o

My snide sh*tty snark aside, the Hough siblings are really d*mned adorable, and I enjoyed myself greatly. I felt like I’d time-traveled to 1979, watching a super-special, family-friendly episode of Solid Gold, starring Donny and Marie, The Carpenters, and Captain and Tennille. 11705498_10206286714585684_924200078516691853_o

And you know what? That’s just fine. If that’s the niche these fabulously talented siblings are destined to fill, then I dare say that this sad and troubling era could use a touch of their Me Decade-inspired sparkle.

#LaCageAuxMormons ____________________________

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital) In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Penny Seats’ Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged] – PLUS, sneak peek of Urinetown

Leanne Young, Artun Kircali, Matt Cameron

Leanne Young, Artun Kircali, Matt Cameron

Our – The Penny Seats​, that is – first show of the summer Complete Works of William Shakespeare​ (Abridged) opened last night to an enthusiastic audience! Enjoy these photos (click here) by director Anne Levy (and others) from opening night. Shows run tonight and tomorrow and the next two weekends.

Leanne Young, Artun Kircali, Matt Cameron

Leanne Young, Artun Kircali, Matt Cameron

Artun Kircali, Leanne Young, Matt Cameron

Artun Kircali, Leanne Young, Matt Cameron

The Penny Seats Theatre Company opens its fifth summer season with a three-week run of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged].

This hilarious parody features three actors attempting valiantly to perform every Shakespearean work in a mere 90 minutes. It was first performed by its authors, Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987, and it has gained meteoric fame in the years since, becoming one of the world’s most popular shows. The actors move frantically from piece to piece, donning and doffing costumes and wigs, hurling well-timed insults at one another, and frequently interacting with the audience. The show stars Matt Cameron, Artun Kircali, and Leanne Young, and is directed by Anne Levy. Advance tickets are available for $10 at www.pennyseats.org, or at (734) 926-5346. They will also be available at the door.

[Great BroadwayWorld coverage here.] 

The show (most suitable for patrons aged 13 and up due to language) will run July 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 23, 24, and 25 at 7:00pm, and on July 19th at 2:00pm. (There is no show July 18th.)

Matt Cameron, Leanne Young, Artun Kircali

Matt Cameron, Leanne Young, Artun Kircali

All performances will be at the West Park band shell. Patrons are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner to enjoy at the park before or during the show. Lawn chairs, hats, bug spray, and other outdoor gear are also encouraged. Alcohol may also be brought and enjoyed responsibly. Water and concessions will be available for purchase.

The Penny Seats’ next show, Urinetown: the Musical!, [also known as THE ONE I’M IN!] opens at the park on July 30th and will run for three weeks (Thursday, Friday, Saturday), until August 15th.

Roy Sexton as Lockstock and Sarah Leahy as Barrel

Roy Sexton as Lockstock and Sarah Leahy as Barrel

You can catch a sneak peek of Urinetown (and yours truly with a goatee for the first time in 20 years!) by clicking here. Thanks to talented Gabby Rundall for these marvelous photos!

More information about tickets, parking, and available packages, is available on the company’s website, www.pennyseats.org.

Ensemble - Paige Martin, Brendan Kelly, Jeff Stringer, John DeMerell, Cathy McDonald, Jenna Pittman, Christina McKim - Photo by Gabby Rundall

Ensemble – Paige Martin, Brendan Kelly, Jeff Stringer, John DeMerell, Cathy McDonald, Jenna Pittman, Christina McKim

Ensemble - Daniel Bachelis, Jeff Stringer, Paige Martin, John DeMerell, Cathy McDonald, Christina McKim, Jenna Pittman

Ensemble – Daniel Bachelis, Jeff Stringer, Paige Martin, John DeMerell, Cathy McDonald, Christina McKim, Jenna Pittman

Roy Sexton as Lockstock and Paige Martin as Little Sally - Photo by Gabby Rundall

Roy Sexton as Lockstock and Paige Martin as Little Sally

Brendan Kelly as Bobby and Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope

Brendan Kelly as Bobby and Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope

Brendan Kelly as Bobby with Ensemble - Photo by Gabby Rundall

Brendan Kelly as Bobby with Ensemble

Brendan Kelly as Bobby and Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope

Brendan Kelly as Bobby and Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope

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Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital) In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

A big, dumb himbo of a film: Magic Mike XXL

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Magic Mike XXL is a big, dumb himbo of a film, as unnecessary and aimless as the central road trip to  a Myrtle Beach “stripper convention” (do those even exist?!) which it depicts.

Is the movie mindlessly entertaining with occasional shaggy charms? Of course. Does it suffer from lazy-cash-grab-sequelitis? You betcha.

I recall finding the original Magic Mike a warm-hearted surprise, with a shocking amount of depth and a keen eye toward skewering a hypocritical Southland (namely Florida), all surface Americana propriety with a scabrous, sleazy undercurrent bubbling to the surface.

That film’s intrepid band of “male entertainers,” led in a breakout actor/producer role by winsome Channing Tatum, may have been beautiful externally but, to a one, also held a tangled web of insecurities, addictions, dreams deferred, and stunted emotions inside.

It was a revelatory mix of voyeurism and schadenfreude. I wrote in my original review: “Like Saturday Night Fever and Boogie Nights before it, Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike gives us a bleak portrait of how folks at a dead-end find escape (and cash) in grimy professions…accompanied by a disco soundtrack.”

Sadly, Magic Mike XXL jettisons both its original director (Soderbergh, who now steps in as cinematographer) and any attempt at depth. As directed by Gregory Jacobs, the dark grit of, say, a Saturday Night Fever is now replaced with the DNA of National Lampoon’s Vacation‘s meandering, prurient travelogue.

That said, the film’s chief strength remains its cast. From Tatum to Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello through Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez, the boys all realize the way to their movie audience’s collective heart is not through an ab-tastic bump-and-grind but by telegraphing (what the paltry script will allow of) their respective characters’ inner-lives and bro-culture shortcomings. (Manganiello’s deftly comic routine in a convenience store with a bag of Cheetos, a bottle of water, and a surly clerk is worth the price of admission alone.)

There is also fun to be had as Jada Pinkett Smith takes over the swaggering cowboy emcee role from Matthew McConaughey. Who knew she could out cheese Mr. “All right, all right, all right” for dorky machismo? And, yes, she is doing that same posturing, tongue-clicking, finger-wagging thing she does in every movie (and episode of Gotham), but it’s a refreshing bit of zest in this slog of a film.

Elizabeth Banks pops up, channeling a variation of the fiercely intelligent, big-haired, predatory-entrepreneur-in-cupcake-clothing she does so well, and Andie MacDowell is luminous in yet another in her long line of Southern-fried doyenne kooks. The screen nearly breaks in half every time MacDowell gives one of those “cat-that-ate-the-canary” grins of hers.

A game and sparkling cast is sadly wasted here. The dance sequences are ineptly filmed (seriously, Soderbergh was the cinematographer here?!?). Narrative set pieces are interminable and dull (particularly the sequence where we first meet Pinkett Smith at her creepy bordello with its weirdo glowing couches and cave-like “Bride of Dracula” decor). The music selections are forgettable and crass. And the final conceit that each of Tatum’s cohorts will channel their true passion (painting, weddings, frozen yogurt?!?!) through their climactic routines is laughably bizarre.

Run, don’t walk, away from this one, kids. And, Hollywood, how about being brave enough to cast Tatum and Bomer (who has a glorious voice, by the way) in an honest-to-goodness musical with, you know, singing and dancing and choreography that keeps its participants all standing upright? That would be a charming escape and a much better use of the talents (and brains) of all involved. Just a thought.

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Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital) In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

“She’s so little and sparkly … I want her as a key chain!” Bette Midler’s Divine Intervention Tour at The Palace of Auburn Hills

Key chain Bette

Key chain Bette

She’s so little and sparkly … I want her as a key chain!” So commented my very witty pal and fellow Leadership A2Y (Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti) classmate Naomi Fink on one of the many photos I feverishly posted on Facebook while watching the Divine Miss M (Midler, that is) perform at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Keep in mind, we were under strict instructions not to take photos, so what you see here is ill-gotten gain. I’m not sure how or why artists in this day and age even try to prevent images from being captured and shared.

Folks like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga even encourage the practice, likely realizing that it provides fabulous, cheap, immediate marketing … but I digress.

Roy and Heidi

Roy and Heidi

I was accompanied at the show by another wonderful A2Y colleague Heidi Fisher, who prepared for her impending audience with Queen Bette by listening to two days worth of her classic tunes on Pandora. Now that’s dedication.

Needless to say, we loved the moving, funny, ribald, political, sparkling spectacle that is Bette Midler’s Divine Intervention tour.

Both of us were likely in a sentimental mood, having just driven from Ann Arbor where we had spent our final day together as a leadership class.

The balance of the day, after receiving our certificates of merit, was occupied by a last blast scavenger hunt (cleverly designed by another classmate Peg Windsor and program director Barb Davenport): we met with as many different Ann Arbor business people and creative types as we could cram before we waved goodbye (or perhaps just “see you later”) to our beloved classmates and program.

So we were pretty spent before we even got in the door for Bette.

Leadership A2YA2Y class

We turned that frown upside down

We turned that frown upside down

Fortunately, we fit right in – as Midler joked in her opening monologue: “So glad to see my fans can still drive at night.” Indeed, it was that most blessedly rare of large-venue concert experiences where a respectful audience sat the whole time.

Ok by me. And, not unexpectedly for the spirit of the crowd and our state-of-mind, we made some new friends in our row. A schoolteacher from Grand Rapids and her East Lansing mom. And a man who seemed really sour about being there, until Heidi took a selfie with him. See, Bette, social media does make the world go ’round.

Oh, right, the concert? It was an old-school hoot, dressed up with the latest in projection technology and a dash of Midler’s own trademark pyrotechnic raunch.

Divine Intervention stage

Divine Intervention stage

The show opened with a quick animation, highlighting a cause famously near and dear to Midler’s heart: the environment and how deeply we have effed things up.

Good for her. I don’t think I can stand to hear one more local yokel/short-sighted fool who makes their living destroying the planet say, “Why don’t you people mind your own business? What I do in my town/state/whatever is my business.”

It is our business because we share this resource; we eat your crops the world over; we breathe the same air; we drink the same water. Consequently, I was thrilled to see Midler lead with such a powerful and sobering message.

Care ... please

Care … please

In her inimitable style, she then launched right into a cheeky medley of “Divine Intervention” and “I Look Good” amidst the detritus of a disposable society – giant size Coke cans, burning tires, and other debris – all with that impish smile and twinkle in her eye. Yes!

Polluters, agribusiness, and big manufacturing weren’t Midler’s only targets through the evening, though.

With a wry touch, she took shots at Vladimir Putin, the Kardashians, Fox News, Dick Cheney, and even Caitlyn Jenner – and her wizened audience ate it all up with glee.

She reserved her sharpest barbs for social media in a tart skit about how we can’t live in the moment without documenting every moment, as she was wheeled too and fro reclining on a hot pink sofa shaped like a pair of lips. Touche, Ms. M.

Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus

She hit all the expected musical high points with a verve that belied her long history in the entertainment industry: “Beast of Burden,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Do You Wanna Dance.” You can tell Midler lives to be in front of an audience and her energy positively crackles. She also incorporated numbers from her latest album It’s the Girls, a salute to decades of so-called “girl groups” in pop music, the best of all being her poignant take on TLC’s cautionary “Waterfalls.”

She offered a fetching and frisky “I Put a Spell on You,” bewigged as her saucy witch character from Disney’s Hocus Pocus, and, in the show’s strongest segment “Bird in the Hand,” channeled her idol Sophie Tucker for a machine gunned sequence of the kind of filthy jokes twelve-year-old boys find hysterical. Since she was dressed for the number as if Mae West had made an X-rated appeared on Sesame Street, it was utterly delightful.

Yes, the high-schmaltz trinity of “The Rose,” “From a Distance,” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” rounded out the evening.

Bird in the Hand

Bird in the Hand

I had a grandmother who was just too enamored of those tunes, in part due to some meddling family members who thought it fun to use the lyrics in rather passive aggressive fashion, so hearing any one or all of them always puts me on edge. (Not Midler’s fault obviously and apropos of nothing for this overview.)

I offer that context, though, to note that hearing Midler sing these signature tunes live redeemed them for this fan. In light of her passion for this planet and for all of us on it and in keeping with her parting wish for us to “be kind,” these ballads now make all the sense in the world to me.

I will add that the jarring juxtaposition of these saccharine hits against her “Last of the Red Hot Mamas” burlesque persona has always greatly amused me, and, in that sense, they are a sweet aperitif on her storied career.

DetroitIn closing, she gave Detroit a glowing review, donning an “I [Heart] Detroit” t-shirt for the encore. She, the mistress of reclamation who joked earlier “I never get rid of anything … they say I put the whore in hoarding,” crowed about the reinvention of the Motor City and of its spirit of reusing and celebrating all that has come before.

Be KindShe had visited Shinola (the celebrated watchmaker here) and took a tour of all the development along Woodward Avenue. She was breathlessly effusive, urging us to “keep it up” and to keep taking care of this city and each other. Will do, Ms. M. Will do.

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UrinetownOn another note …

The Penny Seats summer season is about to launch, with not just one but two shows at Ann Arbor’s West Park. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged] runs July 9-25 and Urinetown the Musical (that’s the one I’m in!) runs July 30 to August 15. Tickets are available at http://www.pennyseats.org, and we’ve gotten some great coverage already…

  • BroadwayWorldhere
  • Encore Michiganhere
  • Talk of the Townhere
  • Legal News – here

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Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital).

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

“Do you want me to say I’m from the Midwest? Where’s the buffet? How do I find the Blue Man Group?” Spy (2015)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Melissa McCarthy is a comic alchemist, spinning comedy gold from the insidious politics of gender, age, and physical stereotypes. When she defies expectations, simultaneously embracing and undermining our collective desire to pigeonhole and judge (see Bridesmaids, The Heat), she provides a master class in laughter as medicine. With her sparkle and her heartache and her anarchy, she seems to say, “I dare you to limit me, and I’m going to make you laugh so d*mn hard that you won’t realize I just re-wired your pea brains for tolerance, acceptance, and kindness.”

When she hews too closely to self-deprecation over self-actualization (see Identity Thief, Tammy – the latter of which is better than we all remember it to be), she runs the risk of self-satire, becoming co-opted by the Hollywood marketing machine and reinforcing the gender- and body-shaming that Tinseltown has foisted on generations.

I am happy to report that Spy, her latest collaboration with director (and, I suspect, fellow free-spirit) Paul Feig, is firmly a home run in the former category, not the latter.

Never devolving into Austin Powers-hackery, Spy gently lampoons the James Bond genre and its misogynistic tropes with a depth and breadth that keeps the enterprise from being an overlong Saturday Night Live sketch. Working from Feig’s script, Feig and McCarthy have created the strongest showcase yet for McCarthy’s seemingly effortless, wildly diverse, rich character work.

McCarthy’s Susan Cooper is a sharp, eagle-eyed, kind-hearted desk operative in the CIA whose unrequited affection for Jude Law’s field agent Bradley Fine has derailed the unrelenting moxie she once showed in her basic training days. When Fine is seemingly murdered on a mission – a mission guided from afar by Cooper – she sees no choice but to take his place and track down his assassin Rayna Boyanov (an epically bewigged, riotously toxic Rose Byrne, channeling Sarah Brightman’s wide-eyed, new age Baroque bullsh*t, that is if she’d been raised by Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld).

With the exception of this Legally Blonde-esque narrative impetus (woman in love leaves her comfort zone to ultimately triumph over self-imposed, patriarchal limitations), Spy is a tart feminist meringue. McCarthy (not to mention her crackerjack sidekick Nancy, smartly underplayed by Miranda Hart) makes the absolute most of every moment, mixing supreme self-confidence with bat-sh*t anxiety to offer us an accomplished master-spy finding her voice and her power, nevertheless wondering how the hell she ever got into this mess in the first place. It is the most charming, heartfelt, and hysterical performance she’s yet given.

In addition to Law, Hart, and Byrne (all of whom are spot-on delightful), the ensemble cast also includes a frisky Jason Statham (like McCarthy, playing both to and against type) as a bumbling alpha male agent who is utterly convinced McCarthy’s Cooper has no business being on this (or any mission) and who, in his every effort to help, makes things ten times worse. (Typical male.) Allison Janney (always so darn present) is the CIA chief who wrings every bit of funny right out of her character’s exhaustion heading a male-dominated ship of fools. Hammy Bobby Cannavale has a small but pivotal role as a nuclear arms buyers, and Morena Baccarin is a hoot in a cameo role as a glamazon agent whose mean girl tendencies are masked by a hair flip and a smile.

What the partnership of Feig and McCarthy (from Bridesmaids to The Heat to Spy) does so well is run headlong into the very ugliness of men’s mistreatment of women, women’s mistreatment of women, and people’s mistreatment of people. The best comedy in these films comes from the quiet slight, the reaction shot, the response said through gritted teeth.

While scoping out the kind of sleek, sleezy high-end Eurotrash casino so prevalent in these kinds of films, Statham sniffs at McCarthy that she couldn’t possibly function as a successful agent because of her look, her gender, her demeanor. She just doesn’t fit in. She responds, with the kind of wounded/wounding line delivery only she has mastered, “What?! Do you want me to say I’m from the Midwest? Where’s the buffet? How do I find the Blue Man Group?”

And this exchange occurs well after her character has demonstrated a competence – no, excellence – that defies anything evidenced by any of her male colleagues. The commentary is hilarious and sad, exhilarating and maddening for, in one line, McCarthy’s Susan Cooper highlights how far we’ve yet to come, but in so doing reclaims power for herself by also pointing out just how stupid and blind we all can be. Go, Melissa, go.

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Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital) In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.