A Willy Loman for the internet era: Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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As a theater person who loves superheroes, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was the perfect cinematic storm for me: a film about an actor who walked away from a superhero franchise at the peak of his box office powers in order to rediscover his pretentious inner-theater muse … quite an intoxicating brew for yours truly.

Michael Keaton, whom I admit was most appealing to me back in his Mr. Mom days, plays the title character, an actor named Riggan Thomson. The film tracks the Quixotic enterprise to mount his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story … starring himself … and directed by … himself. If that conceit weren’t so believable in this egocentric day and age, it would be absurd. Keaton does his manic best, aided and abetted by director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel) and his woozy one-continuous-take cinematic approach, to convince us that he is a failed superstar on the verge of a nervous break down.

After a clunky, self-aggrandizing first act, where all the players seem to be channeling Robert Altman-esque self-indulgence, the film kicks in and the enterprise becomes dizzyingly entertaining. Keaton is surrounded by a cast of superstars from Emma Stone playing his rehab-quirk-addled daughter to Zach Galifianakis as his neurotic consigliore to Edward Norton who steals the show as his Brando-ized Method (!) Acting co-star.

Once Norton enters the scene, the film finds its groove. (Norton can do no wrong in my book). Norton (both in character and in real-life) gives Keaton a similarly monumental ego against which to clash, and their scenes together are dynamite. The two actors create sparks as they literally beat each other to bloody pulps in their rehearsals for what appears to be one of the most turgid dramas that could ever grace the Great White Way. Norton is the saving grace (and secret weapon) of this film.

Birdman goes a long way to skewer our superhero-obsessed culture, casting many veterans of the genre, including Keaton (Batman), Norton (The Incredible Hulk), and Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man). They knowingly wink at the camera, actors who long for real parts to play but who have been forced to play spandex-clad clowns (or their paramours) to pay the mortgage.

I will add, though, that, like some lesser Oscar-bait films, the metaphors are laid on a little thick. This film is no Being John Malkovich, with its thrilling heights of meta-lunacy. Riggan literally (there’s that word again) cuts off his nose to spite his face by the movie’s conclusion. You don’t get much more obvious than that … unless Riggan had actually bitten that hand (audience member’s? producer’s?) that feeds. If the movie had been any longer, I bet he would have.

What the film gets so, so very right is the petty, competitive, ugly world of theater, rife with people who claim to be part of a larger artistic community but who can’t wait to plunge the proverbial ice pick in the back of a scenery-chewing costar. And, there is a wonderful moment in the film where Keaton says everything every actor has ever wanted to say to a theater critic. He eviscerates a New York Times pundit over drinks in a speakeasy; she, the gate keeper of all Broadway success, is excoriated by Riggan for what he sees as her lack of actual artistic credibility, channeled as it is into destroying the hopes and dreams of those treading the boards. It is a highlight of the film, which spectacularly identifies the Faustian pact that performers make with the media to promote and support their unyielding insecurities.

As an aside, this film made me think about what kind of creative person I am, both as an actor and a critic. I have acquaintances who are what one might call more “artistic” than I … or perhaps more “affected” if one is being cruel. In this blog, I don’t write about camera angles or nuance or sociopolitical constructs … at least not much. I write about my visceral response as a regular person wandering from multiplex to multiplex. I don’t know if that makes me a good critic or bad critic … a good witch or a bad witch. And I don’t really care.

That’s the joy of social media and blogging. People in the Fourth Estate might resent that there are folks out there like yours truly writing our thoughts for all the world to see. Well, get over it.

This film nails how creative people tear each other down for a lack of external validation. We are extremely, unnecessarily competitive. Sometimes we’re overtly harsh to each other in our commentary, and sometimes our absence of comment is even more so. I will never understand that. I remember vividly a dinner conversation after a local performance of Legally Blonde the Musical. (Yeah, I was in that show.) My cast-mates let me know how some other community theater types had seen the production and had identified at length all the things they thought we were doing incorrectly. WTF?!?  It was Legally Blonde the Musical.  It’s a cruise ship show.  A cartoon. This ain’t Hamlet, kids. Why anyone who is in community theater (myself included) would knock someone else’s community theatre show is beyond me. But I digress.

Back to Birdman. While I applaud Iñárritu’s efforts to create a Rube Goldberg cinematic style that sweeps us seamlessly from one scene to the other – in what appears to be a two hour continuous take – at times, it was a bit visually nauseating for me.  Or maybe that’s his point: when anybody launches into the fool’s errand of performing live theater, it is an experience that creates headaches, stomachaches … visceral highs and lows.

I will admit that I didn’t love this movie. It felt more like a student exercise at times than a fully-realized film. But I often find myself on the outskirts of what critics hail as artistic entertainment. The movie goes to great lengths to lampoon those films that the masses adore; yet, it misses the fact that most of us go to movies for escapism not torture.

Regardless, I found myself compelled by Keaton’s performance, a Willy Loman for the internet era, who sells his soul for credibility yet only finds validation when he accidentally lands on YouTube.

I believe the writers stole a bit from Carol Channing’s life, If I recall, she tells a wonderful story of being locked in the alley during a performance of Hello, Dolly! having to come around to the front door and enter through the audience. Granted, she was in full costume and not dingy BVDs like Keaton’s Riggan Thomson. And maybe that’s most obvious and most appropriate metaphor of all. The emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Musical postscript …

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book 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.

So, long Tom … it’s a wrap for Tom Lehrer’s Tomfoolery in Ann Arbor

Brent, Lauren, Susie, and Roy

Brent, Lauren, Susie, and Roy

Great closing night of Tomfoolery! What a show! Thanks, JP Hitesman, Mary Lynn Stevens, Michelle Clark, Julie Krohta, Susie Sexton, Don Sexton for being there!

My cast-mate Brent Stansfield wrote, “We finished our run of Tomfoolery tonight. It has been a real treat working with Roy Sexton, Laura Sagolla, Matt Cameron, and Rebecca Biber and to be directed by Lauren M. London. I didn’t think I’d enjoy doing theater again but these guys make all the work so much fun. Thanks guys!” Couldn’t agree more!

The authors

The authors

Roy, Laura, and Brent

Roy, Laura, and Brent

We had sold out shows, amazing audiences, and we sold lots of books! My mom and I donated sales of our books on-site during the run to The Penny Seats – thanks to all who supported!

And our esteemed director Lauren added, “It was a joy, made of willing, enthusiastic, creative participants, all of whom were out to have fun, work hard, and be funny.  It brought happiness and riotous laughter everywhere it went, and I’m very sorry to see it go. … Davi Napoleon was right when she said it could run for months at the pub.  It could.  We had willing, eager audiences clamoring to see it and a very pleasant partner in Conor O’Neill’s.”

Enjoy these video snippets from the show – courtesy of wonderful super-fan Rebecca Winder – click here to view in sequence or view separately below. (Photos taken by my parents last night are sprinkled throughout this blog entry, but you can also view them here.)

My proud pa

My proud pa

My proud ma

My proud ma

What a team!

What a team!

Breakfast of champions ... the party's over

Breakfast of champions … the party’s over

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book 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.

Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

A collective of crazies: Hard Taco’s Chisels ‘n Dust

Penny SeatscompanyBecause time plays funny tricks, I find myself in the peculiarly delightful place of singing the chorus (as an army of miners nonetheless) on a song written by the elementary school-aged son Malcolm of my good friends Zach and Lauren. Malcolm, mind you, had not quite arrived in this world when I first met Lauren, who was pregnant with him when she first co-music-directed (along with Rebecca Biber) me in Spotlight Players‘ production of Company. WHEW! “Bobby, Bobby, Bobbeeeee.”

Anyway, enjoy the song “Chisels ‘n Dust” and Zach’s much funnier blog post (than mine) which follows.Company Fans Company Fans 2

Hey, be sure to sign-up for his blog. It comes out the first of every month, is chock-full-of-fun, and is FREE!

You can find all of Zach’s Hard Taco output (sounds rather odd to write that sentence) at hardtaco.org … but, for sheer vanity, here are shortcuts (in chronological order …I think!) to all the songs I’ve been privileged to perform with his collective of crazies – click title to listen/download (free!):

This has been so much fun … I look forward to many more musical adventures with them!Vainglorious Training
And if you find yourself in Metro Detroit tomorrow afternoon and you’ve got nothing to do, stop by Sirius/XM’s Seth Rudetsky’s master class at Farmington Players (noon to 3 pm).He will be torturing … er … teaching a dozen of us guinea pigs how to be better auditioners (auditionees?) to the delight and amusement (and horror) of the audience. Tickets still available at farmingtonplayers.org
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From Zach – view original post here

November Hard Taco Digest:  Another Ick in the Wall

 

Jupiter ApproachDear Friends,

“There’s a pit where bad guys have to dig up crystals all day instead of going to jail.”

That is my son Malcolm’s vision for the new Hard Taco song, “Chisels ‘n Dust,” which he co-authored. I enjoyed this collaboration, and hope it is the first of many. I look forward to breaking up over aesthetic differences and grudgingly reuniting after a decade of unsuccessful solo endeavors.

I always feel a bit embarrassed about posting a link to my songs on Facebook, but I do it anyway, just in case one or two people are curious. Other than that, I’m a pretty reserved Facebook poster.

We all know people that exist at the other end of the spectrum. One of my friends furnishes her timeline with new material five or more times a day. Most of the posts are just three letter interjections, such as Yay or Ick, but within minutes, each of these garners hundreds of Likes and Comments.

So what is her secret? Am I an unpopular person or am I just providing unpopular content? To find out, I took 24 hours and posted the same kind of stuff as everybody else. The results will shock you.

1  2345678With warmest regards,
Zach

 

Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book 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.

Congrats to my mom on her Hall of Fame nomination (and save the date for upcoming author appearance)!

Susie at Chamber Event 1Congratulations to my mom Susie Duncan Sexton (www.susieduncansexton.com) for being nominated to the Whitley County Hall of Fame (a new honor developed by the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce – www.whitleychamber.com).Susie at Chamber Event 2

 

 

She was nominated for her contributions to local arts and culture, animal welfare, and for helping to preserve the history of her hometown via her columns and books and other research.

susie with certificate

 

 

Kudos to the Chamber’s new Director of Marketing Jennifer Zartman Romano for what sounds to have been a marvelous event last week to celebrate all the honorees (and thanks to Jennifer and my dad for the photos below).

hall of fame certificate

 

 

Also, for those of you in Northeast Indiana, my mom will be appearing Saturday, November 8 from noon to 3 pm as part of the Allen County Public Library Authors Fair – a copy of the flyer appears below and more info can be found here.

Enjoy these fun photos from the Chamber event last week!

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book 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.

Author Fair Poster for Public-jpeg

Tomfoolery Sells Out Every Show. Encore Date Added!

Roy Sexton (Reel Roy Reviews):

Another great night of Tomfoolery – sold out – and hardly any tix left for November 9! Thanks to Diane Hill, Naz Edwards, Rich Geary, Kelly Little, Jim Lynch, Melynee Weber, Nina and Bob Schwartz, Jason Ringholz for coming this week and to anyone I missed! I’m spent! Read more below…

Originally posted on The Penny Seats:

Guys. Can you believe it?  Our little show, Tomfoolery, sold out Every Single Performance at Conor O’Neill’s this month. Every single one!  How thrilling!  We filled the restaurant.  We sang our hearts out.  We even got to talk about it on the radio.  The phone rang off the hook all month, and we’ve been overwhelmed with support and warm fuzzy goodness.

Which brings us to this:  Due to high demand, we added one additional performance: Sunday, November 9th. Same time, same place, same everything.  Just on a Sunday.  Audience members can purchase tickets for the dinner-and-show package for just $20, or for the show only, for $10. Click here to buy tickets, or just call us at (734) 926-5346.

Brent, Roy, and Matt sing a Southern Song.

Brent, Roy, and Matt sing a little Southern Song.

We were thrilled at the reception this got, from patrons and critics alike. See this awesome review for Encore…

View original 182 more words

“In fact, they should ‘be prepared’ to spend every week at Conor O’Nell’s. I’m expecting a long, long run …” Additional performance date added for Penny Seats’ Tomfoolery (Sunday, November 9)

Irish Ballad (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Irish Ballad (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Through the month of October, The Penny Seats enjoyed a sold-out run of the musical revue Tomfoolery, celebrating the words and music of satirist, mathematician, and cult favorite, Tom Lehrer, at Ann Arbor’s Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, 318 South Main Street, Ann Arbor. The two companies have partnered to offer this cabaret-style show, with dinner seatings available starting around 6:00 pm, and performances at 8:00pm. Due to high demand, an additional performance date has been added: November 9. Audience members can purchase tickets for the dinner-and-show package for just $20, or for the show only, for $10. Advance tickets (which are encouraged) are available online at www.pennyseats.org or by phone at (734) 926-5346.

Silent E  (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Silent E (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Featured performers are Ann Arborites Matt Cameron, Laura Sagolla and R. Brent Stansfield, and Roy Sexton of Saline. Lauren London (of Ann Arbor) directs the show, with musical direction and accompaniment by Rebecca Biber (also of Ann Arbor). Victoria Gilbert (of Ypsilanti) oversees choreography, and Stephen Hankes (of Ann Arbor) designed the set and will stage manage the show.

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park  (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

In his review for Encore Michigan, Martin F. Kohn writes, “A spirited four-person cast and piano accompanist have a ball with such Lehrer favorites as ‘Be Prepared’ (‘Don’t solicit for your sister, that’s not nice/ Unless you get a good percentage of the price’), ‘The Masochism Tango’ (‘You can raise welts/ Like nobody else’), ‘The Vatican Rag’ (‘Ave Maria/ Gee it’s good to see ya’) and ‘The Irish Ballad’ (‘She weighted her brother down with stones/ Rickety-tickety-tin…/And sent him off to Davy Jones’). … Matt Cameron, Laura Sagolla, Roy Sexton and Brent Stansfield are lusty singers whose appreciation for the material is fully evident. … Director Lauren London has added inspired props and bits of business to many of the numbers.”

Masochism Tango  (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Masochism Tango (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Fellow critic Davi Napoleon observes, “I suppose it’s kind of mean to tell you how much fun Tomfoolery is – they keep adding chairs to accommodate the crowds, but I doubt the room at Connor O’Neill’s will even have SRO for the next show. But really, it’s that much fun. … Maybe The Penny Seats can be talked into extending the run. … In fact, they should ‘be prepared’ to spend every week at Conor O’Nell’s. I’m expecting a long, long run …”

I Hold Your Hand in Mine  (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

I Hold Your Hand in Mine (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

With the announcement of the additional performance, music director Rebecca Biber notes, “I am excited for this encore show, as I never grow tired of the material. Lehrer is a master satirist, not only of cultural tropes and historical moments, but of music itself.   He will pair a romantic parlor waltz with ghoulish lyrics, or use a peppy march to skewer jingoism and lockstep thinking. He always picks his musical forms for maximum humor and maximum discomfiture, and that funny/squirmy quality keeps us performers as engaged as our audience.”

She's My Girl  (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

She’s My Girl (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Cast member Brent Stansfield, a faculty member at the University of Michigan, echoes this sentiment, “The show combines all my favorite things in life: satire, science, jest, education, politics, math, irony, and of course music. Better yet, it does it in a smart, sassy, gleeful, and naughty way. The Penny Seats cast and crew is also smart, sassy, gleeful, and naughty and they bring an ocean of joy and verve to these songs. Best of all, ‘Tomfoolery’ is tailor-made for an Ann Arbor audience who, as I have now learned, can be relied upon to bring their own smarts, sass, glee, and naughtiness! Each show has been raucous and I have had so much fun performing in it.”

Folk Song Army  (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Folk Song Army (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Gonna Go Back to Dixie  (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Gonna Go Back to Dixie (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Director Lauren London, who was recently interviewed about the production alongside Conor O’Neill’s Caroline Kaganov for The Lucy Ann Lance Show, adds, “This show has been a pure delight, from the first rehearsal through every single performance. It plays to our strengths as a company and fits perfectly with the jovial tone at Conor O’Neill’s. It’s a comfortable, fabulously funny night, and we’re ecstatic that so many people want to experience it. This is one of those lightning-in-a-bottle moments for us. We couldn’t be happier with Conor’s as a partner, and I hope we have the chance to do this again, soon!”

We Will All Go Together  (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

We Will All Go Together (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Stansfield concludes, “Tom Lehrer’s work is beloved for good reason. He’s a sharp intellectual with a gallows humor (much like some of my other heroes: Edward Gorey, Ambrose Bierce, George Romero, et alia) and his songs are at once titillatingly dark and eerily catchy. His wit is incisive but never derisive. It’s so easy to fall in love with these songs that performing them for people who have never heard them before is an honor as much as it is a pleasure. I’ve been so excited to work with The Penny Seats again. Every rehearsal has been full of playfulness and silliness, and our director, Lauren London, has managed to funnel all of that love and sweat directly into the show. It’s 90 minutes of frenetic romp, but after each performance I’ve felt like doing the whole thing again. Well, maybe after a cold pint of beer. We are performing it in one of Ann Arbor’s best pubs, after all.”

For more information, visit the group’s website, www.pennyseats.org, or call 734-926-5346.

Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book 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.

WAHOO! We’ve added an encore date of Tomfoolery! November 9

Matt Cameron and Yours Truly

Matt “Smut” Cameron and Roy “Prurient” Sexton (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Wow – this Tomfoolery is such a fun show to do! We’ve added an encore date to our sold-out run of Tom Lehrer’s Tomfoolery: November 9, dinner around 6 pm, show 8 pm – get your tickets pronto here.

Thanks to Mark Lezotte, Patti Little, John DeMerell, Rebecca Hardin and family, Rebecca Dale Winder, Nan Reed Twiss, Ian Reed Twiss, Jim and Linda O’Hara Cameron, Ed and Anne Young, Esther Dale, Leslie Pardo, Steve Pardo, and, heaven knows, anyone I missed who came to see the show last night! Such an appreciative and delightful audience, and we (Laura Sagolla, Lauren M. London, Matt Cameron, Brent Stansfield, Rebecca Biber, Skippy Hankes) seem to be hitting our stride. This show is just unadulterated yet saucy fun! TWO more shows now – 10/23 is sold out, but tickets are still available for 11/9. Don’t miss it!

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Brent "Shredder" Stansfield (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Brent “Shredder” Stansfield (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Through the month of October, The Penny Seats have enjoyed a sold-out run of the musical revue Tomfoolery, celebrating the words and music of satirist, mathematician, and cult favorite, Tom Lehrer, at Ann Arbor’s Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, 318 South Main Street, Ann Arbor. The two companies have partnered to offer this cabaret-style show, with dinner seatings available starting around 6:00 pm, and performances at 8:00pm. Due to high demand, an additional performance date has been added: November 9. Audience members can purchase tickets for the dinner-and-show package for just $20, or for the show only, for $10. Advance tickets (which are encouraged) are available online at www.pennyseats.org or by phone at (734) 926-5346.

Featured performers are Ann Arborites Matt Cameron, Laura Sagolla and R. Brent Stansfield, and Roy Sexton of Saline. Lauren London (of Ann Arbor) directs the show, with musical direction and accompaniment by Rebecca Biber (also of Ann Arbor). Victoria Gilbert (of Ypsilanti) oversees choreography, and Stephen Hankes (of Ann Arbor) designed the set and will stage manage the show.

Laura Sagolla and Lauren London (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Laura “Tectonic Plates” Sagolla and Lauren “Plate Tectonics” London (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

In his review for Encore Michigan, Martin F. Kohn writes, “A spirited four-person cast and piano accompanist have a ball with such Lehrer favorites as ‘Be Prepared’ (‘Don’t solicit for your sister, that’s not nice/ Unless you get a good percentage of the price’), ‘The Masochism Tango’ (‘You can raise welts/ Like nobody else’), ‘The Vatican Rag’ (‘Ave Maria/ Gee it’s good to see ya’) and ‘The Irish Ballad’ (‘She weighted her brother down with stones/ Rickety-tickety-tin…/And sent him off to Davy Jones’). … Matt Cameron, Laura Sagolla, Roy Sexton and Brent Stansfield are lusty singers whose appreciation for the material is fully evident. … Director Lauren London has added inspired props and bits of business to many of the numbers.”

Fellow critic Davi Napoleon observes, “I suppose it’s kind of mean to tell you how much fun Tomfoolery is – they keep adding chairs to accommodate the crowds, but I doubt the room at Connor O’Neill’s will even have SRO for the next show. But really, it’s that much fun. … Maybe The Penny Seats can be talked into extending the run. … In fact, they should ‘be prepared’ to spend every week at Conor O’Nell’s. I’m expecting a long, long run …”

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Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book 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

“The right accessory can change your life.” Two Muses production of new musical “At the Bistro Garden”

At the Bistro Garden Cast  (Photo by Melissa Tremblay of Platinum Imagery)

At the Bistro Garden Cast (Photo by Melissa Tremblay of Platinum Imagery)

The 1980s are hot again. I guess nostalgia must have a 25-to-30-year sell-by date when it really kicks in. Fifteen years ago, the 1970s were the rage, and we may be on the cusp of the 90s making their grungy resurgence, but right now the 80s are where it’s at.

Perhaps it’s because, like that bygone day-glo era, we still live under a perpetual shroud of Armageddon, be it chemical or nuclear or viral. Perhaps it’s because we again exist in a politically divisive age where neither political party nor our president seem terribly interested in what any of us day-to-day schmucks think or feel. Perhaps it’s because our celebrities from then and today seem interchangeable, wearing outfits that look like they were designed by circus carnies.

Regardless, the 1980s are au courant, which is perfect timing for Two Muses Theatre’s Midwestern debut of the big-haired/shoulder-padded musical At the Bistro Garden. (In the spirit of open disclosure, I know personally many of the folks involved with this production and even helped with some of their marketing, including this interview with the show’s creative team.)

Nonetheless and perhaps in part because of this, I enjoyed the show a great deal. In similar fashion to two other beloved broadly comic artifacts from my youth – Designing Women and Steel Magnolias – the show recounts the trials and tribulations of three women caught between a rock and a hard place, proto-feminists whose formative years may have been haunted by Donna Reed and Gidget but whose present days are shaped by Gloria Steinem and Madonna.

The three ladies who lunch – Abigail, Cheyenne, and B.J. – have more money and time on their hands than they should and meet every Friday at Beverly Hills’ famed Bistro Garden restaurant to kvetch and kvell about family and friends. The plot wouldn’t have been out-of-place in a very special episode of the aforementioned Designing Women but offers enough meaningful complications to give this talented trio some great scenery to chew. As expected for a show set in this era, there’s much talk of divorce and alimony, illegitimate children … and shopping. An early number – the zippy “A Sale at Neiman’s” – celebrates the joys of retail excess, offering the bon mot “the right accessory can change your life.”

At times, the cartoonish whimsy of life in the 80s takes on an almost allegorical quality, highlighting the disconnect between narcissistic artifice and the very real pain (and reward) friendship and family can bring. The lilting tunes and snappy patter neatly propel the show and its themes.

The cast functions very well as an ensemble, each shining particularly in the more poignant moments. Sometimes the rat-a-tat dialogue gets a little lost in translation, where the wit should come from speed not emphasis, but when this cast clicks, they really click.

At the Bistro Garden

At the Bistro Garden

Carrie Jay Sayer as “Lady of the Canyon” Cheyenne and AlissaBeth Morton as her daughter Destiny (yeah, those names are a time warped hoot) steal every scene with a believable familial dynamic that engenders laughter and tears. They really do a solid job finding the humor in the pathos.

Amy Lauter as Abigail, a sweet-natured if misguided women-done-wrong, and Diane Hill as B.J., a not-as-sweet-natured but equally misguided woman-done-wrong, both have many touching moments as they explore the betrayal of a dream deferred. Both actresses excel in their plaintive solo numbers, plumbing new depths of heartache.

John DeMerell as master of ceremonies and the restaurant’s maître d’ sparkles – the catalyst that gives the production forward momentum and a refreshing lightness. He has a ball playing several additional bit parts throughout the show, aided and abetted by clever costuming and no end of silly accents. Miles Bond and Rusty Daugherty are fun as a sort of campy Greek chorus, offering arch commentary as waiters, moving men, clerks who float through the proceedings.

Indeed, the costuming by Barbie Amann Weisserman is perfection, loving and warmly funny but never satirical, which is a tricky balance to pull off. Lesser costumers end up making fun of a garish era such as this one, forgetting that people actually intend to look attractive (usually) and it’s only later in time when we realize how odd some of our fashion choices actually might have been. Everyone in the show does in fact look gorgeous, even if the styles and patterns and prints make us giggle with knowing recognition.

A narrative highlight – musically and acting-wise – is the number “Just Another Baby.” A scorched-earth, toxic meltdown that B.J. (Hill) delivers at a baby shower, ridiculing our nation’s unyielding mania for infants and our collective fixation on insipid names, miniaturized fashion, and corrosive parental competition. Hill nails it, and, as the show’s creative team (Deborah Pearl on book, David Kole on music/lyrics) continues to refine this work, they might consider sprinkling a bit of that second act’s number’s funny-as-h*ll venom throughout the softer/gentler first act.

(One minor quibble is the use of a pre-recorded accompaniment in this production. There is a live keyboard for some of the numbers, and those particular songs/performances had a warmer, more organic quality. No doubt this hybrid approach was driven by resource availability, but, at times it is a bit distracting.)

Jules Aaron’s direction is efficient and witty and makes effective use of the tight space with multi-functional set pieces and clever blocking. He has done a fabulous job forging a tight ensemble with rich stage life and believable connections, clearly key to making this show sing (pun intended).

As a new work, this show is worth catching to see how it continues to develop. The first act could use a trim here or there as it serves chiefly to set up the soap opera-esque fireworks of the second act (think Douglas Sirk meets The Carol Burnett Show – and that’s a good thing). After the intermission, the show speeds along as all of the puzzle pieces established in the first act come together. The show has one more weekend so be sure to stop by The Bistro Garden, to reminisce about a bygone era that is still surprisingly and perhaps sadly relevant today. Tickets can be purchased at www.twomusestheatre.org.

Two Muses Theatre performs in the Barnes & Noble Booksellers Theatre Space, 6800 Orchard Lake Rd, West Bloomfield, MI  48322, South of Maple (15 Mile). Enter the bookstore, and the theatre is on the left.

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Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book 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.

Watch me get kicked out of Seth Rudetsky’s master class Nov. 2 (Plus, Tomfoolery update!)

Tomfoolery Cast (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Tomfoolery Cast (Photo by Victoria Gilbert)

Second performance of Tomfoolery was a hit! What a fun night – with a record attendance for us li’l Penny Seats!

Thanks to everyone who attended (and anyone I missed):

Roxane Raffin Chan and Kevin Chan, Magda Gulvezan and Dan Johnson, Sam Gordon, Linda Hemphill, Angie Choe and Sean, Jeff Weisserman, Barbie Amann Weisserman,  Bob Hotchkiss, Beth Kennedy, Nick Oliverio, Meredith Brandt, Alex and Cristina Rogers, Davi Napoleon, Jason Gilbert, Trista Selene Kreutzer-Whalen, Roxanne Kring and Joe Diederich, Kyle Lawson, Sean Murphy, Rachel Green Murphy, the Biber family, and Ryan Lawson.

Get your tickets, kids, for 10/16 or 10/23 – they are almost all gone … and that’s no “tomfoolery” -  http://pennyseats.org/box-office/

Seth RudetskyAND, thanks to the Farmington Players and Amy Becker Lauter for including me among Seth Rudetsky’s “students” for their upcoming master class with him on November 2 from noon to 3 pm.

Should be fun! I’m honored to be a part of this. He might kick me out of class – you don’t want to miss that!!  Here’s the event description (tickets available here) …

The Farmington Players Barn (Photo by Don Sexton)

The Farmington Players Barn (Photo by Don Sexton)

You may know Seth Rudetsky from his Sirius/XM Satellite Radio show “Seth’s Big Fat Broadway” or his viral “deconstruction” videos on YouTube where he breaks down the elements of classic musical theater songs and singers. Now our local performers and patrons have the opportunity to participate in a Master Class Workshop.

A varied and talented group of local performers have been selected to Sing for Seth – and for you! They will each get personal attention and will receive advice on how to improve their audition and overall performance skills.

Registration is still open to be an audience member for only $25! You will learn from the advice Seth provides to the singers – and get to experience some of the area’s finest performers.

  • Taylor Alfano
  • Tony Battle
  • Rachel Biber
  • Gary Castaneda
  • Joshua Coates
  • Katie Dodd
  • Elizabeth Heffron
  • Joel Hunter
  • Grace Knoche
  • Maryanna Lauter
  • Amy Malaney
  • Marc Meyers
  • Roy Sexton (ME!)
  • Nina White
  • Jason Wilhoite

The event begins with an informative lecture from Seth, continues with each of the Master Class Students’ performances and ends with a Q&A – so come prepared with a question.

This is a once in a life time opportunity so register today!

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Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book 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.

Get those Tomfoolery tickets … regardless your state of origin or spelling ability

Thanks to The Columbia City, Indiana Rotary for the Tomfoolery shout out (lower right corner below). Er … translation of what you will discover therein: “Carmen O’Neill’s” in “An Arbor” would be “Conor O’Neill’s” in “ANN Arbor.” :)

(Possible song inspiration for Lehrer … or London?)

Get your tickets, regardless your state of origin or your spelling ability, at http://pennyseats.org/box-office/

#readingisfundamental, #spellcheck, #gottalovehometowns, #cute, #pennyseats, #annarbor, #conoroneills, #michigan, #tomlehrer, #tomfoolery, #rotary

Rotary!

Rotary!

________________________

Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book 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.