“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

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 …”

________________________

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

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!

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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.

“More to do with the delicatessen than the synagogue.” Jewish News covers The Penny Seats production of Tom Lehrer’s Tomfoolery

Wonderful coverage from The Washtenaw Jewish News - read the scan below. And more Tomfoolery news: Conor O’Neill’s has graciously opened up a few more seats for us this week. If you’d hoped to see the show this Thursday, October 9 and were bummed that you missed out on tickets, here’s your chance!

Also, we’re keeping a wait list for the sold-out show on the 16th and hope to open up more seats for that day soon! Plus, our final show October 23 still has availability. Visit www.pennyseats.org/box-office or call (734) 926-5346.

 

Jewish News coverage of Tomfoolery

Jewish News coverage of Tomfoolery

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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.

The music of Tom Lehrer – Penny Seats “Tomfoolery” cabaret opens this Thursday, October 2

Be Prepared

Be Prepared

The Penny Seats return to the stage this October with the musical revue Tomfoolery, celebrating the words and music of satirist, mathematician, and cult favorite, Tom Lehrer. The production also includes an opening short—a 5-minute mini-musical called Volcanoes!!—composed by Ann Arbor’s Zach London, who cites Lehrer as an early inspiration.

Production photos by Victoria Gilbert – view more here.

 

Hunting Song

Hunting Song

Silent E

Silent E

Generation X knows Lehrer best as having written the songs for Electric Company (“Silent E”), but he also wrote a number of satirical songs in the 50s and 60s for shows like That Was The Week That Was, The Frost Report, and The Steve Allen Show as well as his own concerts.

The Elements

The Elements

Irish Ballad

Irish Ballad

Lehrer observed, “I know it’s very bad form to quote one’s own reviews, but there is something the New York Times said about me [in 1958], that I have always treasured: ‘Mr. Lehrer’s muse [is] not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste.’“

Volcanoes

Volcanoes

Volcanoes

Volcanoes

Tomfoolery will run on Thursdays, October 2, 9, 16 and 23, at Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, 318 South Main Street, Ann Arbor. The two companies are partnering to offer a cabaret-style show, with dinner seatings available starting at 6:30 pm, and performances each night at 8:00pm. 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 pennyseats.org or by phone at (734) 926-5346.

Smut

Smut

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.

Folk Song Army

Folk Song Army

 

 

 

 

Lauren says of the piece, “This show is a guilty pleasure for us. It’s pure, brash, silliness, presented with gusto in a bar setting. So many of us remember Tom Lehrer’s acerbic, satirical songs from our childhood (Electric Company, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” “Pollution”). In particular, we recall that feeling of not knowing whether our parents would approve, but presuming the worst. We snuck around, giggling and singing these songs to each other eagerly, reveling in their mischievousness; it’s wonderful to celebrate them loudly now, in all their glory. And Zach’s short piece, Volcanoes!!, is a fitting opener. It pays homage to Lehrer in its tone and staging, and will, I think, get patrons in the right frame of mind for the evening.”

Wanna Go Back to Dixie

Wanna Go Back to Dixie

Folk Song Army

Folk Song Army

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexton adds, “The show, originally conceived by Cameron Mackintosh (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables), celebrates the music of Tom Lehrer, a comic misanthrope who makes Lewis Black and Jon Stewart seem like Mr. Rogers and Spongebob Squarepants.”

Vatican Rag

Vatican Rag

Wiener Schnitzel Waltz

Wiener Schnitzel Waltz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The company is also thrilled to partner with Conor O’Neill’s, a cornerstone of Ann Arbor’s downtown scene. “Conor’s has been a delight to work with,” says Lauren. “We’re thrilled at the support they’ve given us at every stage, and can’t thank them enough. It’s gratifying to be able to offer theatre patrons the incredible food, personalized service, and value that make Conor’s such a satisfying place. We can’t wait.”

Our Director

Our Director

The show continues a successful 2014 season for The Penny Seats, who presented an acclaimed production of Elektra this July in West Park. The group is now in its fourth year of operation and continues to be overseen by a volunteer staff from the Ann Arbor area. (Later, The Penny Seats will re-team with 826 Michigan for their annual Five Bowls of Oatmeal performance, featuring short plays written by local schoolchildren in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area.)

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

Production photos by Victoria Gilbert

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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.

Ann Arbor Observer: “Tomfoolery … Nothing but fun” by Davi Napoleon

Davi Napoleon wrote this wonderful article for the Ann Arbor Observer on our production of Tomfoolery (opening next Thursday at Conor O’Neill’s here in Ann Arbor) – such a nice story, and we look suitably like lunatics in the accompanying photo (which is TOTALLY accurate)! Enjoy, and get your tickets at pennyseats.org/box-office/

Davi Napoleon Article on Tomfoolery from Ann Arbor Observer________________________

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.

Silly props … and sillier zombies

Props!

Props!

So if this image* doesn’t intrigue you about Tom Lehrer’s Tomfoolery enough that you rush to pennyseats.org/box-office to get your tickets, I don’t know what might. Yup, these are some of our props. Nope, I ain’t going to explain how any of them are going to be used.

Zombie-fied Brent, Matt, Roy

Zombie-fied Brent, Matt, Roy

And, the rumors are true – there be zombies** in this show … for no good reason, other than it’s funny. Yup, just that kind of gig!

(We’re hoping zombies are a draw and not a deterrent.)

Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

Come see us Penny Seats do our thang on October 2, 9, 16, or 23 at Ann Arbor’s Conor O’Neill’s and discover all the wonders for your little ol’ self! ($20 for dinner AND show; $10 just for the show)

 

*Photo by fellow cast member and crazy talent Brent Stansfield of his show “stuff”

**Photo by marvelous director Lauren London who falls into fits of giggles, for some inexplicable reason, every time she sees this particular moment

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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.

…but movies transport me

Spider-Roy

Spider-Roy

Nina Kaur (thanks to fellow Farmington Player Amy Lauter for connecting us!) asked me to contribute a guest blog entry to her fun and interesting blog Thirty Something Years in Ninaland. Here’s what she wrote about me – “Every Monday I will have a guest blogger. Today I am featuring a wonderful Movie Reviewer named Roy Sexton. He is witty, charming and great critic! Enjoy reading about his journey!” Wow! Thanks, Nina! Click here for the original post on her blog.

___________________

By yours truly …

Movies have always been an important part of my life.

I like to read books (more accurately comic books these days, as I seem to now have the attention span of a tsetse fly), and I adore music. Television is fine, and I’ve spent many hours traipsing the boards of theatres across the Midwest. But movies transport me.

I love the fact that a film is an encapsulated medium. Whether 90 minutes or three hours, a movie tells one story – beginning, middle, and end – introducing you to new friends and enemies and locales in an efficiently designed delivery mechanism. With a good film, you get the experience of reading a novel (whether or not the film is in fact based on any work of literature) in a highly compressed fashion.

Nina Kaur

Nina Kaur

Your brain leaves your body for a bit, you take a mini-vacation to places you might not otherwise ever see, and you return to your regularly scheduled life a bit changed, perhaps enlightened, and hopefully re-energized.

I stop reading email, answering calls, or monitoring social media…and just blessedly check out…for a bit.

My parents cultivated appreciation for the arts by filling our home with movies and music and books and love. I’ve groused in the past about wanting, as a child, to play with my Star Wars action figures in the solitude of my toy-lined room and being forced instead to sit in our den with my parents and watch some creaky B&W classic movie on Fort Wayne’s Channel 55. And I am so grateful now for that.

My appreciation for classic cinema resulted from these years basking in the glow of our old RCA color TV. And when we could finally afford a VCR and could now watch any movie of our choosing, I was already hooked on the story-telling of vintage movies with their requisite arch wit, dramatic stakes, whimsical joys, and belief that anything was possible.

However, not everything was high art in our house. The advent of HBO in the early 80s and its repetitive showings of whatever junk Hollywood had most recently cranked out shaped my tastes for better or worse as well. I’m a sucker for the movie train wreck – the more star-studded, over-budget, under-written, and garish the better. Some of my most beloved films are among the most notoriously awful of all time: Xanadu, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Wiz, Popeye, Flash Gordon. The Black Hole, Raggedy Ann and Andy’s Musical Adventure, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Return to Oz, Battle Beyond the Stars, Krull, The Neverending Story, and so on.

If it was a flop and it was shown ad nauseum one mid-afternoon following another on HBO in the 1980s, then I fell in love with it. Like self-imposed water torture on my nascent aesthetic.

As time went by and I stomped through my high school and college know-it-all years (some might argue I’m still stuck in them), I learned from both my parents and some wonderful teachers the tools of critique and criticism. What is the intent of the piece? What is the context for its creation? How effective is its structure, composition, impact? Where did it go awry or where did it cross over into something classic?

It’s all highly subjective and a bit arrogant, I suppose, but I can’t help it. I’m entertained by the act of analysis.

In more recent years, Facebook gave me an outlet to connect with my inner-Ebert. I started posting status statements summarizing in glib, condensed fashion my take on whatever flick we had just enjoyed … or endured. My kind-hearted and patient partner John has suffered through a lot of movies over the years, many he enjoyed … and even more he did not.

Jim and Lyn's Wedding

At wonderful Jim and Lyn’s beautiful wedding

We still bicker about his departure from Moulin Rouge after twenty minutes with nary an explanation. I found him after the movie in the lobby reading a newspaper – I don’t know what is more telling: that he was too kind to want to ruin the movie for me by alerting me how much he hated it, or the fact that I stayed to the end without checking on his safety and security!

My friends and colleagues enjoyed these little “squibs” I posted on social media. I suppose I was aspiring to capture the grace and insight of Leonard Maltin’s “micro reviews” that I consumed voraciously as a child every January when we bought his latest edition. (The paper on those early volumes was always of some strange newspaper-esque stock prone to smudging and was pulpily aromatic. I will never forget that musty, fabulous smell.)

John always asks plaintively, “Didn’t they know this movie was bad when they were making it?!”

Perhaps I keep trying to solve that riddle, with the false confidence that my $10 movie ticket entitles me to a shot at armchair quarterbacking. Perhaps the failed actor in me is still trying to reclaim some artistic glory. Or perhaps I’m just a wise-ass with too many opinions and without the good sense to keep them respectfully to myself.

My pals told me, “Set up a blog. Capture these Facebook reviews for future reference. They’re great; they’re fun! Blah blah blah.” I have to admit that eventually my ego got the better of me, and, one late night, I explored the wonders that WordPress holds (albeit not that many) and set up ReelRoyReviews as a diary of sorts, detailing my adventures in the cinema.

Here’s the funny thing. Nobody read them. Nobody. At least for quite a while.

Well, that’s not entirely true. My mom was an avid reader and supporter and was always the first to offer an encouraging comment: “My son writes the best reviews and everyone should love them.” So there!

But you know what? Something interesting happened along the way. I stopped caring and just started writing for myself. And I started having fun. And people started reading.

Life is way too short (and exasperating) to get too intense about entertainment, so I try to take a light and conversational approach with my reviews. And I try to respect that (for the most part) these are show business professionals putting (ideally) their best feet forward and that they are human beings with hearts and souls and feelings. I hope I never seem cruel. I don’t mean to be. These writings are off-the-cuff and journal-style and come from as positive a place as I can muster.

Approach everything and everyone honestly and with positive intent and offer candid feedback with an open heart and as much kindness as possible.

Please check out my latest reviews hereDawn of the Planet of the Apes, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street, The Fault in our Stars, and Tammy and more …

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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.

 

 

 

Tongues in Trees*: Ignorance is not bliss – a new appreciati​on for Ann Arbor’s Summer Festival

Ignorance is Not Bliss

Ignorance is Not Bliss

When Pat and Marjorie Lesko approached me after my recent book-reading at fabulous local treasure Bookbound and asked if I would like to be a regular contributor in their pages, I was thrilled.

[Alas, this is likely the last contribution I shall make. Another story for another day.]

However, their movie review slot was already taken. (Phooey! but if you want to read my views on popcorn epics, please check out my blog at www.reelroyreviews.com…oh, right, you’re already here!) So they said to me, “How about culture? You’re a theatre guy. You must love to write about culture. I mean, this is Ann Arbor!”

“You got it!” I sheepishly replied, fearful to reveal my true colors as a pop maven who prefers “The Harlem Shake” over Shakespeare, The Mighty Thor over Jane Austen, and Kathy Griffin over the ballet.

[You can read my first contribution to The Ann Arbor Independent about Ann Arbor's Performance Network Theatre by clicking here.]

Pat, ever the good journalist, could see right through my ruse. “You haven’t gone to anything here, have you? No festivals, no art installations, no opera?” The jig was up. I suspected that my seven-year-successful-dodge of anything of artistic substance was about to come to a crashing halt.

Her next comment surprised me even more: “Good! Then you’re a blank slate. Write about that!” And like rat-a-tat Rosalind Russell from screwball classic His Girl Friday, she gave me a quick “Off you go!” and clicked off the receiver.

So … here I go. May as well start at the top … Top of the Park, that is.

Entering its 31st season, Ann Arbor’s famed Summer Festival was founded in 1984, and Top of the Park, the free outdoor cornucopia of movies and concerts and activities is arguably the fest’s most famous component. Of course, the festival is so much more, running from June 13 to July 6 with many ticketed offerings sprinkled about Ann Arbor, in addition to the outdoor events. (You’ve already read about Lily Tomlin’s opening weekend concert in The Ann Arbor Independent – I wonder if Pat would let me do those interviews in the future? Hmmm. I better be a good kid!)

If you want to find yourself overwhelmed, just check out the festival’s comprehensive website at www.a2sf.org – talk about sensory overload.

Ann Arbor Summer FestivalIf I have any (feeble) defense to offer for our household’s neglect of this Ann Arbor mainstay, it may be that, for a Tree Town neophyte, all of this activity can shut down a person’s central cortex. If you don’t know where to start or even how to navigate the various locations and parking challenges therein, you might be tempted to just to head to the Rave or Quality and watch the latest Channing Tatum/Michael Bay/Pixar offerings with their predictable start times, easy access, and pre-digested storylines.

However, the evil geniuses at the festival must have anticipated this quibble, and they have introduced a mobile app (free!) that can be your pocket guide to all things Fest related. Having done a quick spin through the app, they nailed it. It’s easily searchable, responsive, social, interactive and with just the right amount of content to help you have a good time. Kudos!

So, now that I have no excuses, I turn to the people who may shake their heads in shame at my ignorance but love me anyway – my long-time Washtenaw County-based pals – for some much-needed guidance and advice. (I won’t divulge who, but I did have one comrade-in-arms who emailed, “I have never been there [Summer Fest] either. Don’t tell anyone!”)

Rebecca Hardin, associate professor at U of M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment (not to mention someone who has suffered playing my spouse in The Penny Seats’ production of What Corbin Knew and helps host the fabulous radio show It’s Hot in Here on WCBN, Friday from 12-1 pm), offers,  “Highlights of past summer festivals, for me, include the acrobats from Australia towering over assembled crowds on enormous stilts, swaying among the roofs of Rackham, the Michigan League, and the Alumni Center, in brightly colored clothes. I also loved the eruption of local talent ‘from the ground up’ during a Bollywood flash mob dance moment…just look for ‘Bollywood flash mob connects communities’ on YouTube. Nothing compares to the chance to see local bands like Hullabaloo, eat local brands like Sylvio’s Organic Pizza, and just be, together with so many other Ann Arborites, grateful for the beautiful evenings.”

Clearly, Rebecca’s comments get to the heart of what makes Ann Arbor – and any of its various activities like Summer Fest – so special: spontaneity, creativity, involvement. And what a wealth of opportunities there are.

Beth Kennedy, Ann Arbor teacher and blogger (check out her witty ididnthavemyglasseson.com for a nostalgic yet fresh look at life in Michigan), concurs, “I love the music, people of all ages getting up to dance together, uninhibited,  feeling the rhythm. I love that they moved it from ‘top of the park’ on top of the parking structure down to street level and never went back up to the cement wasteland. That change alone puts people in a very festive and friendly mood. The beer garden is nice … I have never seen anyone unruly while there … a good thing. Most events are free, except for a few headliners. As a teacher, I adore that they have had the children’s bands perform here, giving them a friendly open space to play, with a receptive audience. I do wish there were more food stand choices, but those seem to be growing each year. Free movies at dark are great with classics and cult films. I will add that family ones are challenging because most kids are asleep by that time but that is just a consequence of Daylight Savings Time, alas!”

The challenges of kids, movies, and late sunsets seem to be a common refrain.

Ian Reed Twiss, an Ann Arbor resident and the pastor at Saline’s Holy Faith Church, remarks, “When the weather’s good, Summer Fest is a lot of fun to hang out and just listen to music. They have had some great high-wire and circus-type acts out on the green as well.  When we were childless, we used to go for the outdoor movies too, but haven’t done THAT in a while. We haven’t participated in any of the ticketed items at, say, The Power Center, but the offerings look great.” (As an aside, Ian mentioned another event to pass along. Summer is a month of fun but it can also be a great time to re-establish community. “et al,” a group aiming to create an inclusive and affirming environment for LGBT individuals and families in the Saline community through education and legislative advocacy and support, hosted a Gay Pride event on June 20, at Mill Pond Park in Saline.  It was a meet-and-greet, and local political leaders attended. It was co-sponsored by the Saline High Gay Alliance “Spectrum” and Diversity Circle. Thanks, Ian!)

Top of the Park definitely is the gateway for most attendees to Summer Fest’s offerings overall. One downside is that there seems to be some disconnect between the ticketed fare and what people commonly think of when they hear the words “Ann Arbor Summer Festival.”

Rebecca Biber, local music instructor, pianist, and conductor, remarked, “Is that where they have Top of the Park?  I have enjoyed an outdoor movie on occasion, because there is beer for the adults and the audience tends to have good camaraderie, yell out lines, and so on.  And some of the local bands are good.  Actually, this month on my birthday, the Fest is featuring two bands I have been meaning to see for years: The Crane Wives and the Ragbirds.  If you are up for some on-site research, I would love to drag you along.”

[Note: I did attend and it was fabulous!]

Well, look at that? My Summer Fest dance card is starting to fill up.

Linda Nyrkkanen, founder (and baker) at Flour Lab, Inc. (if you see her at the farmer’s market in Kerrytown, you must buy her cookies, eat immediately, and then buy some more), echoes Rebecca’s perspective, “I must confess that I am not a regular attender either, although I have been to a few of the free movies at Top of the Park.  The first one was the Wizard of Oz back when I was in college, and it was pretty magical seeing my favorite childhood movie under the stars with my friends. And fast forward to current times – we saw E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial a few years ago with our friends Sean and Rachel.  So fun! I don’t know if this helps you or not, but just wanted to share my limited experience.  I know the musical performances are great too, but it’s the outdoor movies that hold the most memories for me.  I think you and John should definitely try to catch one this year.”

Now that I have my marching orders, keep an eye out – you may just see us wandering about, iPhones in hand, scrolling through the many offerings, looking bedraggled, possibly dehydrated, but with big smiles on our faces as we’ve finally immersed ourselves in one of Ann Arbor’s signature events: “The Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s mission is to present a world-class celebration of arts and entertainment that enriches the cultural, economic, and social vitality of the region.” Well, all right – sounds good to me! See you next fall, Channing Tatum!

[P.S. Wonder what the heck "Tongues in Trees" indicates? One of the first monologues I ever delivered on-tage 20 years ago in Wabash College's production of "As You Like It" directed by Michael Abbott - click here ... not me reading it, but you get the drift.]

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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.