“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.

Urinetown: The Musical! opens THIS Thursday – yours truly as a mean cop! (Photos!!)

Roy Sexton as Lockstock

Roy Sexton as Lockstock

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). 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.

Some additional coverage today at Encore (here) and MLive (here – five things to do in Ann Arbor this weekend).

Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope Cladwell, Linda Rabin Hammell as Pennywise, and Brendan August Kelly as Bobby Strong

Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope Cladwell, Linda Rabin Hammell as Pennywise, and Brendan August Kelly as Bobby Strong

Director Lauren London (who also serves as The Penny Seats’ President) 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.  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.

This is Urinetown number from Urinetown

Urinetown ensemble

Urinetown ensemble

Roy Sexton as Lockstock and Paige Martin as Little Sally

Roy Sexton as Lockstock and Paige Martin as Little Sally

Roy Sexton as Lockstock and Brendan August Kelly as Bobby Strong with Ensemble

Roy Sexton as Lockstock and Brendan August Kelly as Bobby Strong with Ensemble

Mr Cladwell number from Penny Seats production of Urinetown

“Mr. Cladwell” number from Penny Seats production of Urinetown

John DeMerell as Fipp

John DeMerell as Fipp

Jeff Stringer as Joseph Strong and Linda Rabin Hammell as Pennywise and Brendan August Kelly as Bobby Strong

Jeff Stringer as Joseph Strong, Linda Rabin Hammell as Pennywise, and Brendan August Kelly as Bobby Strong

Linda Rabin Hammell as Pennywise with ensemble

Linda Rabin Hammell as Pennywise with ensemble

Linda Rabin Hammell as Pennywise

Linda Rabin Hammell as Pennywise

Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope Cladwell and Paige Martin as Little Sally and Brendan August Kelly as Bobby Strong

Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope Cladwell, Paige Martin as Little Sally, and Brendan August Kelly as Bobby Strong

Hello Hope

“Hello, Hope!”

Ensemble

Ensemble

Daniel Bachelis as McQueen and Jenna Kellie Pittman as Josephine Strong and David Francis Kiley as Caldwell B Cladwell

Daniel Bachelis as McQueen, Jenna Kellie Pittman as Josephine Strong, and David Francis Kiley as Caldwell B Cladwell

Christina McKim as Soupy Sue

Christina McKim as Soupy Sue

Cathy Skutch McDonald as Mrs Millennium

Cathy Skutch McDonald as Mrs. Millennium

Cladwell gang

Cladwell gang

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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.

You’ll never look at Thomas the Tank Engine the same way: Marvel’s Ant-Man

"Ant-Man poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ant-Man_poster.jpg#/media/File:Ant-Man_poster.jpg

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

So, for us comic book nerds, the fact that an “Ant-Man” film even exists is a remarkable achievement. If you’d asked me at age 11 – the absolute peak of my superhero, four-color mania – whether I could envision a day when a character this seemingly obscure to mainstream America would one day get the big budget blockbuster treatment by no less than the Walt Disney Company (by way of Marvel Studios), I would have passed out in a fit of hyperventilating giggles.

Well, geeks do grow up. And make movies, apparently.

So how does Ant-Man, Marvel Studios’ latest cinematic installment (number 12 in the official “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which began with Iron Man), fare with this now-middle-aged, possibly-more-jaded, arguably-cape-and-spandex-fatigued comic fanatic?

Blessedly, its off-kilter quirks ultimately outstrip its more pedestrian corporate intentions, culminating in a zippy fourth-act that marries Marvel’s trademark frat boy jollies with a more subversively refreshing sense of play.

So, said with less pretension, I (more or less) dug it.

The film began life in the hands of celluloid anarchist Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) who eventually walked away from the picture, no doubt when the oppressive merchandising hounds at Disney likely felt things were getting too gleefully weird. In stepped director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down with Love – wtf?!?) and screenwriter Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) to bring the film to completion.

Strangely, what we all predicted would be a stylistic train-wreck works better than it should. The bro culture of McKay, the TV-movie pacing of Reed, and the middle-finger-to-the-sky of Wright have yielded the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of superhero films: a little salty, a little sweet, utterly predictable, and pleasantly forgettable.

For the uninitiated, Ant-Man is a character from the early days of Marvel Comics, and his claim to fame (other than being one of the founding members of The Avengers) is that he can shrink to microscopic size and command an army of friendly ants to do his bidding. Now if that isn’t a natural fit for a multi-million-dollar motion picture, what is?

Fortunately, Wright was savvy enough to cast Paul Rudd in the lead role, Rudd’s shaggy dog Gen X entropy having calcified in his 40s into chiseled leading man cynicism and loopy dyspepsia. Rudd’s skewed charms work beautifully in this minor epic, stitching together the otherwise meandering script and giving the proceedings a wide-eyed, mischievous sparkle.

The film is less save-the-planet-from-obliteration (though no film in the genre can totally escape that cliched trope) as it is bonkers heist film. Rudd’s Scott Lang, recently released from prison on a burglary conviction, falls back into old (bad) habits in the hopes of catching up on child-support payments for his estranged daughter. Lang’s ex-wife, portrayed by Judy Greer (again, criminally underused in a big budget tent-pole), is playing house with a cop (Bobby Cannavale – why is this ham still cast in anything?), and Lang takes up with his old gang of misfit toys (led by a preciously addled Michael Pena) to try to set things right.

Eventually, their hijinks lead them to scientist Henry Pym (Michael Douglas being all Michael Douglas-y … boring) and his daughter Hope (a luminous – but tragically bewigged – Evangeline Lilly). Y’see, back in the day, Pym invented the Ant-Man suit to fight big, bad Russkies in the Cold War (or something); Lang steals the suit to make a quick buck (’cause Pym secretly wants him to … of course); and then they all set out together to defeat the real big bad Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, all meaty, glistening sleaze), Pym’s former protege who has taken over Pym’s company and wants to make teeny tiny super soldiers to take over the world.

Good googly wooglies, that is a convoluted plot to try to synopsize. Definitely a script written by a schizophrenically focus-grouped committee.

Regardless, there is more goodhearted fun in any five minutes of Ant-Man than in the entire bloated excess of Avengers: Age of Ultron (a film, by the way, which I didn’t hate … but I don’t remember liking very much three months later either). Ant-Man‘s cast (with the exception of Douglas who just comes off stiff and constipated) is all loose-limbed fun, reveling in a succession of tart and tasty character moments and never taking one damn bit of it too seriously.

The film ends with a Tex Avery high-wire-act of a fight sequence, mining all the comic tension possible from having a hero (and antagonist) who can hide among carpet fibers. You will never look at Thomas the Tank Engine the same way ever again. I only wish the filmmakers (any and all of them) had been so creative, so brave for the entirety of the film. Maybe the next set of Marvel Studio focus groups can offer that feedback for the inevitable sequel(s).

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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.

Final weekend for Penny Seats’ Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Artun Kircali and Leanne Young and Matt Cameron in Shakespeare

Artun Kircali and Leanne Young and Matt Cameron

Penny Seats Theatre Company ends its successful run of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged] this weekend July 23, 24, and 25 at 7:00pm. 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.

Artun Kircali and Matt Cameron

Artun Kircali and Matt Cameron

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.

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

Matt Cameron and friend?

Matt Cameron and friend?

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 Kelly (Ypsilanti), Roy Sexton – ME! (Saline), David 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).

Urinetown ensemble in rehearsal

Urinetown ensemble in rehearsal

Director Lauren London (who also serves as The Penny Seats’ President) 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.”

Sarah Ann Leahy as Barrel and Roy Sexton (ME!) as Lockstock

Sarah Ann Leahy as Barrel and Roy Sexton (ME!) as Lockstock

Advance tickets are available at the group’s website, www.pennyseats.org. For the first time this year, the group is also selling package tickets, where patrons can purchase tickets to both shows and save a dollar per ticket. 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.  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.

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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.

“Oh, facts and opinions, who can tell them apart?” Pixar’s Inside Out

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

When it comes to Pixar, I’m a sucker for their more esoteric/existential offerings: Up, WALL-E, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles. If you had told me twenty years ago that there would be an animation super-company that synthesizes the works of Sartre, Camus, Beckett, Chaplin … and Abbott & Costello for mass-market, blockbuster consumption, well, I would have simply replied, “Why are we here?” (Cue existentialist rim shot.)

No film in the Pixar canon, though, can compare for sheer WTF meaning-of-life audacity to their latest Inside Out. I loved this movie for its gentle heart, its minimalist humor, and its sly message that all emotions are valid and essential, not just that most-favored nation: technicolor, buoyant, “have a blessed day” joy.

The film details the awkward transition of a sweet, beloved only child (Riley, charmingly voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) as she and her parents relocate from their small-town home in Minnesota to the big city life of San Francisco. The transition isn’t an easy one, as the family’s belongings are lost mid-transit, Riley finds herself missing friends and activities from her previous life, and her new school offers little reprieve. Complicating (or causing?) these challenges are a series of misadventures from the voices living in Riley’s head.

When I saw the first preview several months ago, I admit I was dubious about the central conceit: that our emotional inner life can be distilled into five warring character traits: Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). From the looks of things, I feared that Pixar had swiped the concept of that odd 70s construct Mr. Men and Little Miss, whereby we Me-Era kindergartners learned about our thorniest of emotions and the need to share and play well with others via a series of easy-to-read, infinitely merchandised board-books. And lest we not forget the acid trip “Free To Be You and Me” musings of holiday specials from Rankin/Bass and Sid and Marty Krofft where the fight for one’s psychological well-being could be enacted through feuding Claymation characters representing weather fronts or trippy sea monsters and Phyllis Diller witches. How we Gen X’ers survived, I’ll never know.

(We also had the short-lived, early 90s sitcom Herman’s Head, likely crafted by someone weaned on the animated output of the Children’s Television Workshop but with a naughtier spin, in which a young writer had every decision dictated by a group of wise-cracking Jiminy Crickets cohabiting in his cranium. Interestingly, that show, like Pixar’s Inside Out, was executive produced by Disney.)

How wrong I was! (And apologies for the digression into artifacts of my childhood – Inside Out is so good, you can’t help but plumb the depths of your youth upon exiting the theater.)

The film does share its DNA with earlier cinematic/television efforts to explain psychology to kids and adults alike, but it is also very much its own unique creation. Director Peter Docter (who helmed Up as well as Monsters, Inc.) is in his element constructing richly detailed mythology for us all to understand and appreciate the colors (quite literally) of our emotional responses. With Inside out, the primal depth of Up (I dare you not to watch the opening sequence of that film and find yourself in poignant Ingmar Bergman puddle) finds a new home in the Rube Goldberg whimsy of Monsters, Inc. as Docter and his team give us an Oz-like travelogue through the various geographies in one’s brain.

After a mix-up involving some precious long-term memories, sending Riley on a prepubescent spiral of self-doubt, Joy and Sadness find themselves on the unlikeliest of road-trips, navigating Riley’s id, ego, and superego in order to right a sinking ship.

There are many clever asides and surprises along the way, and I dare not spoil a one. I will note, however, that I guffawed loudest at a bit where Joy stumbles over what appears to be a large box of placards, jumbling them all. She comments, “Oh, facts and opinions, who can tell them apart?” In these contentious times, truer words may have never been spoken in an animated film.

At the halfway point, the heartbreaking soul of the film makes his shaggy, sad-sack appearance. Richard Kind is exceptionally voice-cast as Riley’s elephant-nosed, cotton candy-bodied, cat-tailed imaginary friend Bing Bong. As Riley’s life has evolved, Bing Bong has become a stranger in a strange land, a Didi/Gogo whose tears take the form of cellophane-wrapped candy pieces. As he assists and occasionally misleads Joy and Sadness from the dark recesses of Riley’s brain, he insinuates his way into the audience’s heart, and his ultimate sacrifice (not saying what) is as devastating a moment as you’ll see in cinemas this year. (At least it was for this weirdo who still personifies all of his childhood toys and can’t bring himself to part with a one.)

The film’s final message for us all? (One I find so very important.) Every feeling is valid and shapes who we are. Sadness is as crucial as joy, anger as essential as fear or disgust. To force happiness when it isn’t immediately evident is to cause even greater sadness and disruption. Embrace who you are and how you feel in the moment, and embrace that honesty in others as well. We will all be that much happier as a result.

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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.

“To a canary, a cat is a monster. We are just used to being the cat.” Jurassic World

"Jurassic World poster" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jurassic_World_poster.jpg#/media/File:Jurassic_World_poster.jpg

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Regarding this weekend’s big summer blockbuster release Jurassic World, my animal advocate mom posted this on my Facebook wall earlier today: “But are they mean to dinosaurs? Are the dinosaurs the villains? Is it a glorified hunting movie? Inquiring minds want to know these things? Would Sarah Palin approve and reignite girls to wear clean sportsy clothes and hiking boots? Posing with bears and rabbits and deer and giraffes pretending they killed them? Because if so, my friend… ha!”

I can pretty safely say that it’s not a glorified hunting movie, and I don’t think the Sarah Palin-types would like it, as most of their stand-ins in the film get eaten pretty quickly by roaring, teeth-gnashing dinos. However, the film is a typically schizophrenic Steven Spielberg production (he executive produced this installment but directed the original Jurassic Park way back in 1993). Is the film making a satiric point about how horrible humans are to the environment, how we reap what we sow, and how we deserve any and all climate change payback which results from our rampant over-development of land, air, and sea? Or is Jurassic World just more yuppie disaster porn designed to sell Happy Meal toys, glistening Jeeps, and Patagonia safari gear? I’m still scratching my head. I just don’t know.

When you look at Spielberg’s filmography, as both director and producer, from Jaws to Close Encounters, E.T. to Gremlins, Poltergeist to, yes, Jurassic Park, he returns time and again to themes of man’s infinite ineptitude and limitless arrogance in the face of a planet, nay universe, full of mystery, wonder, and violent counterbalance. For Spielberg, karma is a four-color funny – build a beach home, destroy a burial ground, feed a cooing creature after midnight, genetically modify a reptile for an overpriced amusement park? You’re gonna get sliced, diced, and eviscerated, all to the strains of a symphonic John Williams score.

And you know what? That is ok by me!

The problem with Spielberg’s films is he wants to have his sardonic cake and eat it too. Spielberg’s movies are expensive and they make a lot of money; whether directed by Spielberg or under the auspices of Amblin Entertainment or DreamWorks, these big budget boogers are sold to every demographic quadrant an army of polished marketers can dream up, so ultimately the flicks dare not go too far. We don’t want to alienate any viewer, slurping over their Mr. Pibb and Kit Kat bites (yeah, that’s what I had today), and, consequently, any unique and incisive POV gets diluted in a gauzy haze of product placement, no matter how postmodern and ironic said placement may be.

No, Spielberg did not direct Jurassic World. Those honors (?) go to Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), but Spielbergian DNA is all over this sucker. Sorry, Colin. I can only imagine this must have been like being hired for a dream design job at Apple, only to find they really just want you to arrange, into artful displays, the new Apple Watches when they arrive in stores.

Jurassic World does its job efficiently and effectively. It entertains, and it will make a mint … but it has no real raison d’etre. (Yeah, I got all fancy. It doesn’t need to exist.) It basically lifts the very plot from the first film, but this time we get Bryce Dallas Howard (how is this mugging, one-note actor still making movies? oh, right, Ron Howard’s kid) instead of Richard Attenborough and Chris Pratt instead of Sam Neill. Jeff Goldblum is now Irrfan Khan, and Wayne Knight is now Vincent D’Onfrio. B.D. Wong? Still B.D. Wong – that man must be an automaton as he hasn’t aged one freaking bit.

Seriously, these actors may be playing different characters (obvi) twenty-some years later (natch) but their narrative functions are still the same.

Portraying a grizzled velociraptor trainer (and apologist), Pratt is the best thing in the film by far. Wearing a steady exasperation that seems to suggest he wishes he had a better script with which to work, Pratt does a fine job channeling Neill’s gravitas: just because you can make a dinosaur does mean you should make a dinosaur. Pratt is a delight, one of the few actors in the film who seems to believe where he is and what is doing and who has a genuine affection for the misunderstood creatures in this world (dino or otherwise).

Howard fares less favorably as the Isla Nubar theme park’s chief executive who in sexist Hollywood shorthand is an out-of-touch, controlling, insecure ninny with a severe bob, impractical shoes, and an ever present iPhone. Ugh. It doesn’t help that her emotions range from sweaty to panicked to rigid to … sweaty.

D’Onofrio is a kick in an underwritten role as a nebulous InGen contractor who wants to use these “assets” (that’s how mean people refer to animals in this cardboard world) for military purposes. Boo hiss. Blessedly, he has the chops to fill in the mile-wide gaps the script allows. He exudes the oily opportunism of those post-millennial types who see our natural resources simply as walking/breathing/pooping dollar signs. He may as well have had Monsanto painted on his backside.

At one point, Wong’s character (you may recall he is the ethically-dubious geneticist who figured out how to fabricate dinos from whole cloth in the first place) intones what passes for a philosophical thesis in the film: “To a canary, a cat is a monster. We are just used to being the cat.” Yup, amen to that.

There is a perverse joy in seeing blank-faced, cornfed tourists hoisted by their own petards, tossed like beach balls from one pteranodon to another above Jurassic World‘s Starbucks/Margaritaville/Pandora encrusted main street. I also loved the jab at Sea World with a dino sea creature (mosaurus?) that grudgingly entertains a nautical football-arena-size stadium of onlookers but gets the last laugh when he/she gobbles a few vacationers down.

Ultimately, by the final act, when the Frankenstein’s monster dino “Indominus Rex” (cooked up by Howard and Wong to sell more t-shirts and key chains) has shredded the park top to bottom and is now fighting a pack of velociraptors and a t-rex for no real explainable reason, I was in a Mr. Pibb/Kit Kat coma. I just didn’t care.

And the adult in me kept thinking … Who is going to put these dinos back in their paddocks? Is the Hilton corporation going to rebuild their opulent hotel on Isla Nubar for future product placement? Who is going to clean up this mess, and will Starbucks return to sell more mocha-choca-lattes? And why didn’t the dinos just finish off all the humans? That’s a movie I’d pay $10 more bucks to see.

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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.