Roy Sexton (MA, Theatre ’97) was recently named one of Crain’s Detroit Business’ “Notable LGBTQ in Business.” Roy serves as Director of Marketing for Clark Hill, an international AmLaw 200 firm with 26 offices and 650 attorneys. He is president-elect 2022 for the international board of the Legal Marketing Association, and he remains active in the theatre community serving on the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit board, writing reviews for EncoreMichigan.com and his own blog and books ReelRoyReviews, and helping co-found the The The Penny Seats theatre company. He still performs as well, most recently playing “Buddy” in Theatre Nova’s production of “Follies” in Ann Arbor, directed by Diane Hill. The leaders featured in the “Notable LGBTQ” list were selected from nominations by a team of Crain’s Detroit Business editors based on their career accomplishments, track record of success in the field, and effectiveness of their efforts. (September 10, 2021) #lgbt #lgbtq #theatre #detroit
Plus screen grabs of lovely support from Ronald McDonald House Charities Ann Arbor, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, Legal Marketing Association – LMA International, and Clark Hill Law (below).
So, we’ll have two comic-book-loving “Roys” on the show, and they’ll discuss the intersection of a career in legal marketing, a passion for writing and cultural analysis, and an obsession with superheroes.
Legal Marketing Coffee Talk is brought to you by: Jessica Aries’ By Aries and Rob Kates’ Kates Media: Video Production. Thank you, as always, to Katelynn McGuire for the promotional support!
A New Brain by William Finn (Falsettos, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and James Lapine (Falsettos, Into the Woods, Passion) is one of those musicals held in rapturous, nay obsessive esteem by the theater community but is virtually unknown by anyone who doesn’t know the difference between stage left and stage right. (Cue Hanna-Barbera’s Snagglepuss.)
And that’s a shame. Written in 1998, following Finn’s harrowing ordeal with brain surgery, this musical roman à clef resonates now more than ever, with its themes of isolation and stifled creativity, a jaded and callous medical industry, a business community that literally works its employees to their deathbeds, and ultimately the redemptive power of just slowing the eff down.
If you’ve never heard the clever score (that is part pastiche, part light poperetta, and all wit) via cast album nor ever seen a live production, then you are in luck … no matter what part of the world in which you live or how “busy” your schedule. Theatre NOVA, in collaboration with The Ringwald Theatre, released a brilliant filmed co-production of A New Brain this weekend on Broadway on Demand.
From their press release:
By the Tony Award-winning authors of Falsettos, A New Brain is a life-affirming, heartfelt, often comical musical about a composer during a medical emergency. As doctors and nurses fly in and out of his room, trying to figure out what’s wrong with his brain, Gordon drifts in and out of consciousness as he contemplates his life, legacy, and the meaning of music – all while navigating his relationships with his best friend, mother, and boyfriend. A New Brain is an unexpectedly funny, relatable, and ultimately touching meditation on how beautiful the world is when we slow down enough to look.
With special permission and a unique COVID-19 Contingency License from Concord Theatricals, Theatre NOVA and The Ringwald Theatre shot the musical over a period of two weeks to ensure that all COVID protocols and safety procedures could be upheld. The cast spent the month of March learning and rehearsing the all-sung show over Zoom with music director R. MacKenzie Lewis. At the beginning of April, the cast transitioned to socially distanced and masked in-person music rehearsals at Theatre NOVA. Finally, with all of the cast and crew partially or fully vaccinated and all participants COVID-tested, director Vince Kelley and cinematographer Jake Turner rehearsed and shot the show over a 12-day period, scene by scene, with arduous planning about how it would all be stitched together in post-production. This schedule allowed them to have the fewest people in the theatre at once, but also provided very new experiences for the stage actors who were accustomed to rehearsing a play for 4-6 weeks. The crew and cast wrapped the filming on April 24.
Read that previous paragraph again. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
This production – which will be aired three weekends this PRIDE month of June (appropriate) – is one helluva feat of logistics and moxie. Yes, right now we are all starting to peek out our front doors like the Munchkins when Dorothy dropped that house on the Wicked Witch of the West. But several months ago, when this production was being devised, most of us still were more worried about buying groceries safely than figuring out how to stage and film a full-blown musical between two cross-regional theatre companies. Theatre people will not be contained. Remember that!
So I’d be impressed by this production under any circumstances. However, it’s so damn good that I forgot within minutes that this incredible crew had any constraints at all. That may be the best compliment I could provide. This gleaming production may have been forged in the fires of pandemic but it transcends the moment, reflecting our fraught human condition both today and tomorrow.
The cast includes Jason Briggs, Arielle Crosby, Steve DeBruyne, Diane Hill, Vince Kelley, Alaina Kerr, Richard Payton, Jamie Richards, and Liz Schultz. This ensemble is tight, both in their vocals and their stage relationships. Given the compressed/limited rehearsal and filming schedule, that is testament to their talent, professionalism, and performance history.
The production team includes Vince Kelley (director, costumer), R. MacKenzie Lewis (music director, musical tracks), Jake Turner (set designer, cinematographer, sound engineer, editor), Dan Morrison (lighting designer), Brandy Joe Plambeck (additional camera work), and Briana O’Neal (stage manager).
This is an all-star team, and it shows. The cinematography, lighting, sound, and edits are all on point. There is the occasional bit of mic buzz and a randomly disruptive cutaway shot or two, but on the balance the production is staged in a nicely polished way, balancing the visceral immediacy of live theatre with the more controlled and directive nature of film. It’s a pretty thrilling hybrid and great fun to watch performers heretofore only seen live in such a recorded setting.
Every actor has iconic moments. Kelley, being an actor himself, is clearly a director who knows how to frame actorly impulses to benefit both the individual performer and the overall needs of the narrative.
Payton has the heaviest lift, rarely leaving the stage, and he plays our protagonist Gordon with an impish poignancy and deeply layered inner life. Payton is so gifted, and one of his superpowers as a performer is bringing distinct clarity to the relationships his characters have with others onstage. That talent propels this piece to new heights, notably in his interactions with a crackling good Hill as Gordon’s mother and a luminous Kelley as his life partner Roger.
Hill’s numbers – both with Payton and solo – are all standouts: the wry neurosis of “Mother’s Gonna Make Things Fine,” the incendiary comedy of “Throw It Out,” and the smoldering regret of “Music Still Plays On.”
Crosby electrifies whenever she enters the picture as a wise and whimsical homeless person/Greek chorus. Her line delivery and physicality can be piercingly funny and deeply heartbreaking, depending on the moment, and her singing his divine.
Speaking of soaring vocals, someone get DeBruyne and Payton to record an album of pop standard duets stat. Kerr and Briggs are also great fun in a handful of ensemble parts, bringing deft comic chops and a much-appreciated nibble or two on the scenery.
The production design is sleek and efficient, with onstage lighting rigs that serve a host of purposes from operating room to MRI to nightclub bistro. Turner is wearing many hats, and the slick integration of cinematography and design roles is evident in the final product. Morrison does fine work with the lighting cues which remain overtly theatrical (appropriate for the piece) while honoring the more naturalistic needs of the camera.
And Lewis deserves special recognition for his music direction here. Onscreen at times and always accompanying the cast on piano, he has created a lush and enveloping soundscape without the benefit of orchestra or, well, much time. It’s a remarkable achievement.
My only critique would be that the latter third – focused as it primarily is on the fevered imaginings of our hero’s coma-afflicted mind – doesn’t feel particularly differentiated from the rest of the show. Not dissimilar to, say, the “Loveland” sequence in Folliesor the musical numbers in Rob Marshall’s film treatment of Chicago, this section of A New Brain should take on a heightened, nightmarish quality. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite achieved here – other than a sequin or two, not much is offered to signal we as an audience are trapped in Gordon’s dreamscape. I don’t know that I have a recommendation but this is where the post-production that film affords (versus stage work) might have aided and abetted. But it’s a minor quibble.
Theatre NOVA and The Ringwald’s A New Brain is a revelation, attesting to the talent, ingenuity, and collaboration in our Southeast Michigan theatrical community. It is a show for the ages and should not be missed. Per one lyric in the number “And They’re Off,” “sometimes joy has a terrible cost.” Given the past year, we’ve all paid an extraordinary price for our safety and that of our loved ones. We all deserve a bit of joy now, so do yourself a favor and purchase a ticket for A New Brain.
A New Brain will be available ON DEMAND on June 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, and 20. Tickets are $25 per person. Ticket-holders may watch the show on Broadway On Demand on their computers, tablets, smartphones, and TV via the Broadway on Demand App, using AppleTV, Roku, all compatible Amazon Video devices. For tickets, visit www.TheatreNOVA.org.
From their press release:
Theatre NOVA is Ann Arbor’s resident professional theatre company. Its mission is to raise awareness of the value and excitement of new plays and playwrights and provide resources for playwrights to develop their craft by importing, exporting, and developing new work.
The Ringwald Theatre is based in Ferndale, and its mission is to engage diverse audiences through fresh, risk-taking theatrical experiences. This activity is supported in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Vince Kelley (Director) just returned to the Detroit area and is very happy to be back. After a lifetime of telling people what to do, he decided to legitimize his behavior and try his hand at directing. With decades of acting under his belt, Vince has performed all over Metro Detroit, a few places in New York City, and a handful of National Tours. One day about a decade ago Joe Bailey from The Ringwald asked if he would be interested in costuming a production of “Hurlyburly” and since then he’s enjoyed working behind the scenes. Making his directorial debut at The Ringwald helming “Company” in 2018, that show also starred Richard Payton and Diane Hill. Vince is looking forward to what show he can direct Richard and Diane in next. Maybe “Escape to Margaritaville?”
R. MacKenzie Lewis (Music Director, Tracks) is the composer/music director for Eastern Michigan University’s School of Communication, Media, and Theatre Arts and a lecturer and accompanist with the School of Music and Dance. Favorite projects outside of university life include music directing and orchestrating the National Tour and Off-Broadway premiere of “The Berenstain Bears Live! In Family Matters, The Musical,” “Titanic” and “Gypsy” at the Hangar Theatre in New York (Broadway World Award, Best Music Direction); “A Little Night Music” at the Performance Network (Wilde Award, Best Music Direction); “Legally Blonde” at MSU (Pulsar Award, Best Music Direction), “Irrational” (Composer, Wilde Award, Best New Script); and “Romance in Hard Times” with William Finn at the Barrington Stage Co. He composed music for the shows “Wings of Ikarus,” “Jason Invisible,” and “Mockingbird” (two Helen Hayes nominations), all of which were commissioned and premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. Lewis has also composed the musicals: “Video Games: The Rock Opera,” “Treasure Island,” “Pinocchio,” “A Very British Christmas,” “Sugar Plum Panto,” “The Elves and the Schumachers,” and “Soaring on Black Wings,” a world premiere with Ben Vereen.
William Finn (Music/Lyrics/Book) is the writer and composer of “Falsettos,” for which he received two Tony Awards, Best Book of a Musical (with James Lapine) and Best Original Score. He has also written and composed In “Trousers,” “March of the Falsettos,” and “Falsettoland” (Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, two Los Angeles Drama Critics Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, the Lucille Lortel Award, and Guggenheim Fellowship in Playwriting). Mr. Finn wrote the lyrics to Graciela Daniele’s “Tango Apasionado” (music by the great Astor Piazzolla) and, with Michael Starobin, the music to Lapine’s version of “The Winter’s Tale.” His musical “Romance in Hard Times” was presented at The Public Theater. Recently, he wrote “Painting You for Love’s Fire,” a piece commissioned and performed by the Acting Company, based on Shakespeare’s sonnets. For television, Mr. Finn provided the music and lyrics for the Ace Award-winning HBO cartoon “Ira Sleeps Over,” “Tom Thumb and Thumbelina,” “Pokey Little Puppy’s First Christmas,” and, with Ellen Fitzhugh, two “Brave Little Toaster” cartoons. Mr. Finn has written for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New Yorker. A graduate of Williams College, where he was awarded the Hutchinson Fellowship for Musical Composition, Finn now teaches a weekly master class at the NYU Tisch Graduate Program in Musical Theatre Writing. His most recent projects include “Elegies, A Song Cycle” (Lincoln Center), “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which had a three-year run on Broadway and has been produced nationally and all over the world, and “Little Miss Sunshine” with James Lapine. For the past four years, he has been the Artistic Head of the Musical Theatre Lab at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
James Lapine (Book) was born in 1949 in Mansfield, Ohio, and lived there until his early teens when his family moved to Stamford, Connecticut. He attended public schools before entering Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he majored in History. He went on to get an MFA in Design from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. After graduate school, he moved to New York City, where he worked part-time as a waiter; a page and tour guide at NBC; a free-lance photographer and graphic designer; and an architectural preservationist for the Architectural League of NY. One of his free-lance jobs was designing the magazine of the Yale School of Drama, Yale/Theater, then edited by Rocco Landesman and Robert Marx. The dean of the School of Drama, Robert Brustein, offered Lapine a full-time job designing all of the printed materials for the School of Drama and the Yale Repertory Theatre as well as a faculty position teaching a course in advertising design. While at Yale, his students urged him to direct a play during the annual January period when both faculty and students undertook a project outside of their areas of study or expertise. At their suggestion Lapine directed a Gertrude Stein play, “Photograph.” The play was five acts, and just three pages in length. Assembling students and friends, the play was presented in New Haven and came to the attention of director Lee Breuer, who helped arrange for a small performance space in Soho to present the work for three weeks. The production was enthusiastically received and won Lapine an Obie award. Lapine was approached to create a new piece for the Music-Theatre Group. He wrote and directed a workshop version of “Twelve Dreams,” a work inspired by a Jungian case history. The play was later presented at the Public Theatre and revived by Lincoln Center Theatre. Lapine eventually left the visual arts for a career in the theatre where he has also written and directed the plays “Table Settings,” “Luck, Pluck and Virtue,” “The Moment When,” “Fran’s Bed,” and “Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing.” He has written the book for and directed Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods,” “Passion,” and the multi-media revue “Sondheim on Sondheim.” He also directed “Merrily We Roll Along” as part of Encores! at New York City Center. With William Finn, he has collaborated on “March of the Falsettos” and “Falsettoland,” later presented on Broadway as “Falsettos,” “A New Brain,” “Muscle,” and the soon to be produced, “Little Miss Sunshine” which will open at 2nd Stage Theatre. On Broadway, he has also directed David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Michel Legrand’s “Amour, “and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” He directed Jenny Allen’s solo piece “I Got Sick and Then I Got Better” with Darren Katz. Lapine directed the 2012 Broadway revival of Annie. He is co-producing and directing the upcoming HBO documentary “Six By Sondheim,” which is due to be released this winter. In the Spring of 2014, Lincoln Center Theater will produce his stage adaptation of the Moss Hart memoir, “Act One.” Lapine has also directed several productions off-Broadway as well as three films. He is the recipient of three Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2011, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. Lapine is a member of the Dramatist Guild Council and, for the last twelve years, has been a mentor for TDF’s Open Doors Program. He is also on the board of Ars Nova Theatre. He currently lives in New York City.
Jason Briggs (Richard) Arielle Crosby (Homeless Woman) Steve DeBruyne (Doctor) Diane Hill (Mother) Vince Kelley (Roger) Alaina Kerr (Waitress/Nancy D.) Richard Payton (Gordon) Jamie Richards (Mr. Bungee) Liz Schultz (Rhoda)
Director/Costume Designer: Vince Kelley
Music director/musical tracks: R. MacKenzie Lewis
Set design, cinematographer, sound engineer, editor: Jake Turner
For kids of all ages – the #PiedPiper – with yours truly reading the title role. Thank you, Debbie DeCeco Lannen and Pass The Time Players, for having me. NOTE: no (virtual) rats were harmed in the making of this #Zoom event. You’re welcome. 😊 🐀 🎶
The Pied Piper of Hamelin Narrator: Debbie Lannen / Orlando, FL Merchant: Sally Daykin / DeLand, FL Erich – Kyle Coykendall / Wixom, MI Advisor: Tomothy Majzlik / Westland, MI Mayor: Joe Lannen / Orlando, FL Pied Piper: Roy Sexton / Saline, MI
Only I would take this beautiful day, and spend most of it indoors, working my way through the very long Zack Snyder’s Justice League. But it was worth it. Even if every 30 minutes John wandered through and said “Is this still on?”
I can barely remember the theatrical version, which is likely for the best. What I found in this updated version is that Snyder had room to explore ideas and relationships. And that made all the difference. I am not a fan of his work. By any stretch. But, perhaps because of what he has lived through the past few years, this film had something many of his previous efforts did not: heart.
My mom Susie Sexton’s take on Carey Mulligan’s Promising Young Woman:
GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY…already loved this actress … discovered her on PBS in a Dickens entry years ago. Outstanding!
This movie upends with its surreal treatment of a very real truth bedeviling this globe since the appearance of manKIND walking on its own evolved two feet – astounding, disturbing and so true and sad that it hurts, haunts and breaks any heart that is the least bit human.
The barbie doll sets and clothes simply enhance the deep damage done to humanity as we have all looked the other way and endured unnecessary heartache. Give it a look, enjoy!
No nudity, and only one supposed murder. An oddly wholesome at times comedic treatment of a tragic problem. Bravo!
Threw this viewer for a loop (which most all of us have existed within for all of eternity). Truth on film if there ever ever was. Whew?
If classic playwright Dario Fo wrote for Saturday Night Live in these technologically insular COVID days, I suspect he would have come up with something like Ron Riekki’s 4 Genres. That is a compliment BTW.
From Theatre NOVA’s press release: “Theatre NOVA, Ann Arbor’s professional theatre with an exclusive focus on new plays and playwrights, presents a new play written specifically for the Zoom format each month (January through April) with their PLAY OF THE MONTH series. 4 Genres by Ron Riekki, the second offering in the series, will be performed live on Zoom on Wednesday, February 24th at 8pm and available ON DEMAND for Series Pass holders through May.
“In 4 Genres, four characters reveal what they’ve learned after being trapped within four respective film/theatre genres (musical theatre, documentary, slapstick, and horror). A hilarious comedy exploring the role of art in life and society, 4 Genres is directed by Theatre NOVA Founding Artistic Director, Carla Milarch and features Jennifer Felts (An Almost British Christmas), Nate John-Mark (A Hero of Our Time, 2020), Dan Johnson (Kill, Move, Paradise) and David Moan (I’m Streaming of an Alright Christmas).”
The show uses its “high concept” as a lens to address (lightly) the existential dread we have all been experiencing for one year now under COVID – this week being the anniversary of first going into lockdown, if I recall correctly. My mind feels as rattled as those of the characters in this piece.
4 Genres moves briskly. More than a few technological mishaps (I’m assuming unintentional) – dropped sound, internet wobbles – aid and abet the viewing experience. We ain’t looking for polish in quarantine.
The four performers are marvels of commitment. John-Mark has the showiest role, and he doesn’t miss a trick. He mines comedy gold from the anxiety of being trapped in a “summer camp/asylum/orphanage” populated by werewolves, witches, chainsaw killers, but NO orphans. The richest laughs come from his exasperated delivery of quips aplenty.
Moan has a ball leveraging his musical comedy chops. Ironically, singing seems to cause his character physical pain, even as his dulcet tones delight the viewer. Spoiler alert: you may never hear “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen the same way again. And Moan’s “Rose’s Turn”-style nervous breakdown medley at the play’s conclusion is pretty damn brilliant. For that moment alone, this is one of the few Zoom shows I wouldn’t mind seeing staged IRL when and if this quarantine ever ends.
Felts and Johnson do reliably fine work in their respective roles. If Riekki were to make any revisions to the script, I might recommend taking another pass at these characters. These two roles don’t benefit from the same comically sharp definition as the others, so the piece suffers a slight imbalance. Again, that isn’t a result of Felts’ and Johnson’s performances. They both go all in, but they don’t have as rich of material to explore.
Director Carla Milarch knows how to position new works effectively. She has a marketer’s eye for pulling out a unique hook that will engage the audience. She leverages the immediacy of Zoom with its inherent isolating limitations – literally everyone is in a box – to provide a proper framework for the narrative. However, she also gives her actors *some* free reign, pulling the camera back a bit so that they each exist in three dimensional space, be it a charnel house, B&W soundstage, or velvet curtained cabaret. This offers the actors refreshing opportunity for physical business, in addition to the more typical “lines delivered directly at the camera” that we see so frequently in the ever-evolving pandemic-remote staging style.
I must admit that one of the things I find most appealing about this Zoom-based delivery mechanism for theater is that I can watch it on a Sunday afternoon, a week and a half after the premiere, knowing that my review can still benefit the overall experience, not only of this production but of the series. Will we ever go back to showing up collectively at one start time on one date and committing an evening to viewing theater? I hope so, but I don’t hate that this show is only 30 minutes and I could enjoy it while wearing my pajamas.
The show is a helluva lot of fun, as witty as it is thought-provoking, and serves as a nifty little showcase for four very talented local performers. Definitely check it out. If nothing else, it provides a lovely waiting room distraction as we all still figure out how in the heck to get vaccinated.
Tickets are $10 each month, or $30 for a Series Pass, which includes admission to four plays for the price of three and the opportunity to view all four plays ON DEMAND if any of the live performances are missed. Purchase tickets online at www.TheatreNova.org. For more information, pleaseemail email@example.com. All proceeds benefit Theatre NOVA’s ongoing efforts to stay alive through the pandemic. This activity is supported in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.
MEET THE CAST OF 4 GENRES:
Nate John-Mark (Horror) is originally from Grand Rapids, MI. He attended Western Michigan University where he pursued a degree in Organizational Communication. Nate has always had a passion for performance and poetry which he satiated by hosting events on campus to create platforms for artists like himself to be heard and seen. After undergrad Nate began an Audience Development Assistantship at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where he was later introduced to performing Shakespeare with the OSF school tour. He has since joined Universes Theatre Ensemble, performed in Shakespeare tours around the country and is now living as an actor and playwright in Detroit, MI.
Dan Johnson (Doc) returns to Theatre NOVA after previously appearing in James Ijames’ KILL MOVE PARADISE (Winner, 2019 Council Cargle Wilde Award) and has been fortunate enough to work in SE Michigan theatre for the past decade, including recently winning 2020 Wilde Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Play (MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY) and in a Musical (MAN OF LA MANCHA). Along with his partner, Ashley M. Lyle (blaqn.org), Dan has also co-created “Toward An Anti-Racist Michigan Theatre,” a statement and workshop meant to help facilitate the work of positive, transformative change in 2021 and beyond. Many thanks to the cast and crew, to Mom, Dad and Angela for their love and support and (now more than ever) THANK YOU for supporting live Michigan theatre and theatre artists. Enjoy!
David Moan (Musical) is honored to be back on the virtual NOVA stage as part of 4 GENRES. Originally from Pittsburgh, David was most recently seen as the Big Man in Red in the 2020 panto, I’M STREAMING OF AN ALRIGHT CHRISTMAS at Theatre NOVA. In the before times, David could be seen on real stages throughout southeast Michigan most notably as John Wilkes Booth in ASSASSINS and SWEENEY TODD at the Encore, God in AN ACT OF GOD at the Dio, and Martin in CANDIDE with the Michigan Opera Theater. Until Theatre is back in full, you can find David “performing” while playing video games at twitch.tv/davidmmoan. David would like to thank “everyone at Theatre NOVA for finding a way to make theatre happen, Monica and Kim for keeping me sane in quarantine and all of you for supporting the arts in the time we need you most.”
Jennifer Felts (Slapstick) is currently a lecturer of Theatre at Eastern Michigan University and received her Master of Fine Arts from The London International School of Performing Arts. She directed TROJAN WOMEN and THE BIRTHDAY PARTY at Eastern Michigan University and VENUS IN FUR at the Performance Network Theatre. She has created movement, choreography and stage combat for many productions including SPRING AWAKENING, ONE MAN, TWO GUV’NORS, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, URINETOWN, JULIUS CAESAR, ANGELS IN AMERICA, DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE, BUD, NOT BUDDY and EQUUS (Wilde award for Best Movement Direction). As a performer, she has worked at the London Gate Theatre in the UK, Tipping Point, Andiamo Theatre, Theatre NOVA, and Performance Network. She also enjoys devising and collaborating on new work such as SIMONE: AN EVENING IN CHAPTER TITLES at Detroit’s Planet Ant Theatre or SHOULDER TO THE WHEEL at the Riverside Arts Center.
This may be one of our wilder shows but rich with great content, pun intended! There is singing, there is dancing (sort of), there is personal reflection, there are quips, and there is a really robust and informative conversation about the power of data and relationship intelligence for marketing and business development.
Shout outs to Ricco Mashatt, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, John Kerry, WandaVision, Firefly Lane, Agatha All Along, Dearborn Public Library, and more. Thank you, as always, Rob Kates, Kates Media: Video Production, Jessica Aries, By Aries, for putting up with me!
The Tree Anthology – featuring Susie Duncan Sexton – is now available for purchase on Amazon for $16 per copy here.
“We are ordering a limited number of copies to sell at our library branches for $10 per copy (we had to charge more for online orders). Those will likely be available in the next few weeks. Any funds raised will go towards our next Big Read in Dearborn.
“We are also going to add copies to the collection for checkout, so with a Dearborn Library card, you will be able to check out a copy for free. Please visit bigreaddearborn.org and dearbornlibrary.org for updates.
“So sorry for all the delays. We tried to publish the book in early January, but there were some issues that we had to fix. That’s why the book shows a publication date in January, but it was actually just made available.”
Theatre in pandemic requires ingenuity, creativity, and miles and miles and miles of heart. Oh, and a good internet connection. Michigan’s Open Book Theatre Company is killing it.
Artistic Director Krista Schafer Ewbank has created an outlet for talented artists across the country and particularly here in Michigan to offer what could be best described as bespoke theatrical offerings. Whether it’s a musical staged at a drive-in, behind a picture window or in someone’s driveway or a ten minute, one person play delivered one-on-one (actor to audience), the company has kept theatre alive in these dark times with magnificent results. (I reviewed their production of iPoppyin October.)
Their latest offering is Emily Rosenbaum’s Home Less– as described on the Open Book website: “On her child’s eleventh birthday, a mom reflects on bravery, helping, and the Hogwarts sorting hat.” The conceit of the show is that the mother in question (local legend and, yes, my friend Carrie Jay Sayer) is recording on video a message that her son will read fourteen years hence on his twenty-fifth birthday.
The mother’s message is funny, heartfelt, often poignant, reflective of the unifying isolation of 2020 and the sense of helplessness throughout. The joy of celebrating her bright and adventurous child on his birthday is overshadowed by her guilt that she hasn’t been fully present for him, consumed as she is by the Sisyphean task of her day job: finding warm shelter for the ever growing numbers of homeless people.
The playwright offers in her notes on the piece: “But there’s no such thing as a homeless person. There are people who are experiencing homelessness, just as there are people experiencing food insecurity, domestic violence, and poverty. All of these traumas are human rights violations; none of them are characteristics of people. The systems that perpetuate these violences upon people are complex and deeply rooted. They are, in fact, our economic, educational, governmental, healthcare, and food systems. They serve some people well and are designed to keep others oppressed. … All sorts of circumstances can lead to homelessness, but there is only one remedy. A home.”
Sayer turns in a master class of nuanced understatement, with crisply drawn emotion and empathy, framing herself carefully in the Zoom-based “stage.” She is aided and abetted by Angie Kane’s steady, no frills direction, maintaining focus on words, message, and face. Sayer is a compelling presence, transcending the inherent limits of technology to connect with her singular audience member. We as viewer take the place of the birthday boy, with Sayer delivering her deepest thoughts and fears directly to us. The effect is as haunting as it is relatable. Sayer paces her delivery with varying rhythms and levels, taking us through the highs and lows of a mother grappling with widescreen societal issues and small screen personal ones. This is an exceptional performance, not to be missed. Instructive, cathartic, essential.
Remaining performances are available on January 18th, 21st, and 25th and can be scheduled here. Tickets are $20.
Join me for a panel discussion on January 27, 11:30 AM EST! Register here.
Almost every law firm currently using CRM and other marketing and business development software is looking for ways to increase the ROI on these technology investments. In the pursuit of success with technology, sometimes learning what NOT to do from people who have dealt with challenges can be more instructive than hypothetical discussions about what you could or should do.
Join us January 27 at 11:30 AM EST for part two of this four-part series examining some the top issues that can lead to “Epic CRM Fails.” You will hear from experienced marketing and business development professionals who will share real-life stories of how they overcame these obstacles. You’ll also see never-before-released videos that capture the frustration of failure – and get actionable ideas and best practices to succeed.
Here are just a few of the #EpicCRMFails “potholes” you will learn to avoid on the road to CRM Success:
Problems First, Products Second – Identify your needs and requirements first before attempting to evaluate software.
Let Lawyers Be Lawyers – Perhaps professionals who bill hundreds (or more) of dollars an hour shouldn’t be tasked with data entry. Minimizing their efforts by automating processes can maximize value – and adoption.
No Dog and Pony Shows – Don’t get distracted by shiny bells and whistles. Instead choose the features and functionality that match your needs and requirements.
Defeat the Deluge of Data – Don’t drown in dated data. Instead focus on getting information you need to succeed, keep it clean and turn it into actionable insights.
We hope you’ll join us for this fun and interactive discussion. We will also be accepting “fails” from the audience and awarding prizes for submissions.
Chris Fritsch, CRM Success Consultant and founder of CLIENTSFirst Consulting, has helped hundreds of law firms select and implement the right Client Relationship Management and eMarketing solutions to support their marketing and business development efforts and maximize return on investment. Her team of almost 100 data quality professionals helps firms clean and enhance data and maintain ongoing quality. A recognized authority on marketing and business development technologies, Chris writes and speaks nationally on topics including CRM, eMarketing and data quality. She was named among the top 10 Marketing and Business Development thought leaders in the JD Supra Readers’ Choice Awards. She was also inducted as Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management for her consulting contributions to the profession. Chris received her law degree from Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, GA.
Christopher Raymond, Intapp
Chris Raymond, Practice Group Leader, Marketing and Business Development at Intapp, has spent nearly 15 years in the legal industry, working with Knowledge Management, Marketing and Business Development teams of AmLaw200 firms across the country. He is Chair of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Northeast MarTech SIG.
Chris joined the Intapp team as part of the OnePlace acquisition and previously worked at LexisNexis.
Roy Sexton, Clark Hill
As Director of Marketing, Roy Sexton helps lead Clark Hill’s marketing, branding and communications efforts. Sexton has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, communications, business development and strategic planning. He has been heavily involved in the LMA as a regional and international leader and serves on numerous nonprofit boards and committees, including the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor, Royal Starr Film Festival, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit and encoremichigan.com. Sexton earned his Bachelor’s degree from Wabash College, and holds Master’s degrees from The Ohio State University (M.A., Theatre) and the University of Michigan (MBA). He is a published author with two books, “Reel Roy Reviews,” Volumes 1 and 2, taken from his blog of the same name www.reelroyreviews.com.
Joe: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
Norma: I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.
From Sunset Boulevard
“If you dream it, you can achieve it.” – Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) in Wonder Woman 1984
“Nothing good is born from lies.” – Diana (Gal Gadot) in Wonder Woman 1984
Sadly, this seems to be the season of watching big ticket blockbusters crammed onto a home screen. Furthermore, this seems to be the season where all of your Facebook friends march like lemmings to tell you what you’re supposed to think of said offerings before you even have had a chance to view them for yourself. Being the good-natured contrarian that my parents raised, I find myself in direct opposition to much of the feedback I’ve observed. To me, The Prom was kind-hearted escapism-with-attitude, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was a stagy self-indulgent slog, Midnight Sky was a resonant Truman Capote-meets-Ray Bradbury short (long) story, and Wonder Woman 1984 was a candy-coated (admittedly overstuffed) confection.
I loved The Prom. I, for one, like unapologetic musicals, and this Ryan Murphy production reads like Hairspray, The Greatest Showman, High School Musical, and Bye Bye Birdie had a socially progressive movie baby. Much needless ado has been made about (formerly?) beloved Carpool Karaokemaven James Corden playing a gay character, claiming his take is offensively stereotypical. Many critics’ descriptions have been as troubling as what they accuse Corden of perpetuating, if you ask me.
To me, it is one of Corden’s better and more thoughtful performances, layering broad comedy in a compelling gauze of pathos, to effectively depict a man struggling to find his path in the margins (in career, physicality, and, yes, sexuality). Corden is part of a free-wheeling quartet of Broadway narcissists (all compensating for respective ghosts of failures past) who descend on a small Indiana town to “rescue” it from its own prejudices after the local PTA shames and embarrasses a young lesbian (luminous newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman) in a way that would make even John Travolta’s character in Carriecringe.
Meryl Streep (channeling a caustic yet charming mix of Patti LuPone and Susan Lucci), Nicole Kidman (at her most winsomely fragile), and Andrew Rannells (all bounding and puppyish joy) are Corden’s partners in well-intentioned, occasionally misplaced crime, and they have fabulous chemistry. Kerry Washington is suitably evangelically vampy as the rigid PTA president, and Keegan-Michael Key is a pleasant surprise (both as a singer and actor) as the high school’s show tune loving principal. Tracey Ullmann pops up as Corden’s regretful Midwestern ma, and their reconciliation scene is a lovely little masterclass in heightened understatement.
Oh, right, I did say the movie is kicky fun, but nothing I’ve written here much indicates why. Working from Matthew Sklar’s buoyant Broadway production, Murphy and team overdo everything in all the right ways, juxtaposing all-too-real intolerance and heartache (basically everyone in the film is guilty of uninformed prejudice of one kind or another) with the metaphysical joys of unhinged singing, dancing, glitter, and sequins. All ends (predictably) happily, almost Shakespearean (if Shakespeare listened to Ariana Grande), and I dare you not to sit through the end credits with a stupid, hopeful grin on your face.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is also adapted from the stage, as legendary director George C. Wolfe brings August Wilson’s play to the screen. I suspect my disappointment is more to do with the source material than Wolfe’s sure-handed if claustrophobic direction. To be honest, I wanted more of Viola Davis’ dynamite Ma Rainey and less of … everyone else. Davis has one scene worthy of the Hollywood time capsule, eviscerating the misogynistic and racist capitalist machine that steals artists’ voices (quite literally as Rainey is committing her vocals to vinyl) and tosses people to the curb when they’ve outlived their usefulness.
The film depicts one day in a Chicago recording studio as Rainey fights with, well, anyone who crosses her path in defense of her vision and to retain her integrity in a world that reduces her to a commodity. THAT is the movie I wanted to see, but Wolfe gives preferred time to Rainey’s studio musicians, a group of men whose primary purpose seems to be representing inter-generational animosity among those with a Y-chromosome. Perhaps I’ve just had my fill for one lifetime of toxic male posturing, but I grew weary of their (endless) scenes.
In total, the film feels like it never really escapes the confines of the stage, and I may be among the few viewers underwhelmed by Chadwick Boseman’s performance. His work seems hammy and like he is in search of another movie altogether. I could be wrong, but the overwhelming praise for Boseman here feels like groupthink rhapsodizing given that he is no longer with us. I’m going to hell. See you there. Boseman remains a singular talent, but I don’t think time will be kind to this particular role, Oscar-winning as it likely will be.
Wonder Woman 1984 follows the loping narrative style of all inexplicably beloved films made in, well, 1984, and thereby is a kind of referendum on the cardboard excess and shallow instant gratification of that hollow era, nostalgia for which continues to plague us in insidious ways to this very day.
I found it nicely character driven with a strong cast and with a warm and (mostly) light touch, but plagued by some script/logic problems in its final act. All in all, it met my comics-loving expectations, and I enjoyed what they were doing. Gal Gadot remains a commanding presence in a way we just don’t see in screen stars these days. She’s not an actor per se, but she is a star.
Director Patty Jenkins has great Rube Goldberg-esque fun with one improbable action sequence after another. All were clearly nods to similar films of the 80s featuring, say, Superman or Indiana Jones but enhanced through modern Fast and the Furious-style tech and suspension of disbelief. I’m not looking for pragmatism in a movie like this. Sometimes I just want to be entertained, and WW84 did that for me
Jenkins makes the smart choice of casting talent who will connect the dots in a wafer-thin script. In the film, Kristen Wiig consistently makes smart acting choices as her character progresses from heartbreakingly nerdy sidekick to sullen and insolent supervillain, never losing the heartache of exclusion underneath it all. I thought she was a refreshing and inspired choice to play Barbara Minerva/Cheetah.
Dreamy/witty Chris Pine doesn’t get much dialogue/plot to work with as newly resurrected love interest Steve Trevor, but he shines nonetheless, wringing laughs from fish-out-of-water nuance without ever belaboring the joke.
Pedro Pascal balances Trumpian satire and Babbitt-esque tragedy as a gilded charlatan who believes 80s greed is the key to self-acceptance. He’s grand until the dodgy final act strands him somewhere on manic Gene Wilder-isle, and the film limps to its inevitable world-saving resolution.
I also think if people had watched WW84 on the big screen, they would have walked away with a different vibe. Some may disagree, but there’s a hidden psychological bump to paying for a ticket and investing time away from home (one WANTS the movie to be good) that is erased by the small screen – which has little to do with what is actually being viewed. IMHO.
The global warming parable Midnight Sky (directed by and starring George Clooney), however, benefits from small screen viewing. That said, the film’s outer space, nail biting, race-against-time elements have all been covered (sometimes better) in The Martian, Interstellar, Ad Astra, and George Clooney’s own Gravity. Hell, throw in Event Horizon, Sunshine, and The Black Hole for good measure.
Rather, I enjoyed the film’s quiet moments with Clooney as the sole (maybe?) survivor on an ice-covered Earth, as he fights the elements, time, and his own failing health to deter a deep-space crew from returning to their certain death on an uninhabitable planet. I didn’t give two hoots about the space mission, which included Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, and Tiffany Boone, all doing their level best to make us care. However, I was transfixed by an almost unrecognizable Clooney who checked his golden boy charm at the door and exquisitely projected the exhaustion and anxiety and fear of someone nearing the literal end. So, in other words, how most of us feel in 2020.
If it were up to me, I would edit out all of the space-faring scenes and leave the film’s focus on George Clooney alone in a post-apocalyptic arctic, yielding a transcendent hour-long Twilight Zone episode.
Now, let’s see how I fare in the Twitterverse when I finally turn to watching Disney’s/Pixar’s Soul …
Postscript …what follows is an email sent to my mother Susie Sexton this afternoon about 1960’s classic Cimarron. They don’t make movies like this any more, and that’s a shame.
From IMDB’s synopsis: “The epic saga of a frontier family, Cimarron starts with the Oklahoma Land Rush on 22 April 1889. The Cravet family builds their newspaper Oklahoma Wigwam into a business empire and Yancey Cravet is the adventurer-idealist who, to his wife’s anger, spurns the opportunity to become governor since this means helping to defraud the native Americans of their land and resources.”
I just finished Cimarron and liked it very very much. I do think that Edna Ferber captures perhaps somewhat formulaically but absolutely effectively, the passage and snowballing magnitude of time and life, with a lovely progressive sensibility (pun unintended).
Maria Schell is exquisite. I don’t think the film would’ve been half as good without her in it. I really like Anne Baxter too. Their one scene together is quite understated and powerful.
Glenn Ford is of course great too, but Maria Schell really got to me. She acts in a style ahead of its time. It’s a beautiful film, but at least in the first ten minutes I kept expecting them to burst into song. When it really digs into their struggle and unpredictable relationship, it’s very powerful. The supporting cast was of course great since all of those people had been in one million films already.
Thanks for recommending this! Love you!
My family loves movies. We always have. It is our cultural shorthand, and every holiday – until this one – has been spent in communion over what movies we saw, how they made us think and feel, and what these films might say about our culture and its advancement. That is in short why I write this blog. I can’t imagine watching a movie without having the opportunity to share how it speaks to my heart and mind.
Thank you for reading these thoughts of mine for nearly ten years (!), inspired as they are by a lifetime of loving movies.
2020. The artifacts of this momentous tire-fire of a year will be fascinating to view years from now. For all of the foolishness afoot in America these days, there has also been incredible ingenuity and anxiety-induced whimsy to spare.
Our Southeast Michigan theatre community rallied to find new ways to entertain, distract, and survive this year, employing ubiquitous Zoom technology to reinvent the much-needed art of storytelling.
Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova has reimagined its annual holiday panto tradition for this new era with sublime results. I’m Streaming of an ALRIGHT Christmas is, intentionally or not, a delightful throwback to children’s variety shows of the 1980s like Pee Wee’s Playhouse or Pryor’s Place.
Written by Carla Milarch and and R MacKenzie Lewis (who serves double duty as music director), the free-wheeling hour (just the right length!) features multi-talented David Moan, Mike Sandusky, Monica Spencer, and Charles the Puppy, with a cameo performance by a famous mystery guest (clue: “fairy ex machina”).
The story, borrowing liberally from holiday classics like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, follows the footprint of so many tv-specials of yore, as Santa, Rudolph, Friendly the Elf, Mrs. Claus (Sandusky is a Madea–like, culinarily-challenged scream here), Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowman, and an adorable puppy, yes, try to “save Christmas,” this year from the “Rona Monster” (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Philly sports mascot “Gritty”). Spencer’s Friendly and Sandusky’s Rudolph exclaim early on, “We may be essential workers but we aren’t expendable!”
While the “Rona Monster” concept may seem a bit too on-the-nose given what we are all living through, it ends up being just the right parable for these tricky times. The script is loaded with zany references that both adults and children will enjoy, not shying away from a political pot shot or two. And the daffy and delightful musical numbers are plentiful, with nods to The Knack (lead singer of which was none other than Detroit native son and Geoffrey Fieger-sibling Doug Fieger), Les Miserables, Hamilton, and … Buck Owens (!) among others. Moan shines in a “Bring Him Home” moment that not only captures his soaring vocals and incredible musicality but also his deft comic timing.
The show is winsome and sweet and nicely avails itself of the interactivity that the Zoom platform provides. There are many moments for the kids to get involved, kind of a 21st-century version of clapping to bring Tinker Bell back to life. This show is well worth your time not to mention your investment in supporting one of our most creative local theater companies.
And speaking of fab local theater companies that exude cleverness and irreverence, The Ringwald brings us Have Yourself a MISERY Little Christmas in their inimitable style. Directed by Brandy Joe Plambeck with a smart, economical eye, the production showcases a dynamite Joe Bailey as a Santa whose “biggest fan” Annie Willis (Suzan M. Jacokes aiming for the rafters and nailing Kathy Bates in a brilliant parody performance) cares for him after a sleigh mishap.
From The Ringwald’s website: “Written by Ringwald favorites Vince Kelley and Matthew Arrington … [the show] tells the story of Annie Willis, a lonely (slightly psychotic?) woman who lives in a remote cabin in Colorado. When she discovers a wrecked sleigh during a blizzard, she hauls the sole survivor back to her house to tend to him. When she discovers her patient is none other than St. Nick himself, Annie can’t believe her luck and she tries to persuade Santa to rewrite his Naughty and Nice lists to her liking. Will Santa’s Number One Fan succeed?”
Dyan Bailey is great boozy fun as Mrs. Claus, and Kelley vamps it up as Lauren Bacall. Production values are top notch, fully embracing The Ringwald’s unsung super powers around video design, editing, and execution. The cinematography and scenic design are polished and really add to the enjoyment. Unlike Theatre Nova’s offering, this one isn’t *quite* for kiddos, although teenagers of a certain satiric bent would adore it.
The Ringwald is offering a bonus holiday cabaret, and, at a brisk and breezy 30 minutes, it is well worth a viewing. Again, from their website: “Also included with your ticket is the The Ringwald Holiday Cabaret, a new virtual cabaret with some of your favorite holiday melodies. The cabaret features Ringwald favorites: Kryssy Becker, Alisa Marie Chirco, Jordan Gagnon, Dante Hill, Christopher Kamm, Vince Kelley, Richard Payton, and Matthew Wallace. The cabaret is accompanied by Jeremy St. Martin.” Payton, Kamm, Gagnon, and Becker are particular standouts, with engaging delivery, articulating nicely the heartache and pathos underlying the “HAP-happiest time of the year.”
Both productions are streaming online. Theatre Nova’s performances are scheduled in order to maximize the interactivity, and The Ringwald’s show is video-on-demand. Ticket details follow…
I’M STREAMING OF AN ALRIGHT CHRISTMAS
Sun, Dec 20 5pm Wed, Dec 23 7pm Thurs, Dec 24 7pm Sat, Dec 26 11am & 2pm Sun, Dec 27 5pm
GET TICKETS HERE. Ticket holders will receive a link to click on to view and maybe even participate in the fun! Tickets are $10 (one viewer), $15 (two people), and $25 (family).
Have Yourself a MISERY Little Christmas
Tickets for Have Yourself a MISERY Little Christmas are available at three different giving levels: $20, $50, and $100. Performances stream December 4-31. Purchase here.
Once you purchase your ticket, an email will be sent to you which will include links for Have Yourself a MISERY Little Christmas, a virtual program, and a special bonus video, The Ringwald Holiday Cabaret. All of the videos are hosted on Vimeo. You can watch these on your phone/computer/tablet or, if you have the capability, you can stream them to your smart TV. (You can follow these steps to make it work).
“The Sweetest Sounds” (click title for my rendition) from Richard Rodgers’ No Strings (later repurposed for the 1997 ABC/Disney television production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella with Brandy and Whitney Houston) … Want to join me in supporting a good cause? For my birthday this month (December 28 to be exact!), I’m raising money for Ronald McDonald House Charities Ann Arbor and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Just click donate on this fundraising page: https://lnkd.in/eQ_NVZD
I’m a proud board member and have seen firsthand how every little bit helps. This little fundraiser is nearing the $3000 mark because of wonderful support from kind and generous friends like you! #keepingfamiliesclose
Teen melodrama often has been an effective cinematic metaphor for the human condition. When it’s done well – with pathos and wit – it can be transcendent: Clueless; Easy A; Booksmart; The Edge of Seventeen; Mean Girls; The Fault In Our Stars; Saved!; Love, Simon. There’s now one more to add to that auspicious collection of films: The Never List.
Deftly directed by Michelle Mower, from Ariadne Shaffer’s sensitive screenplay, The Never List details the challenges facing two tightly bonded childhood friends Liz (Brenna D’Amico) and Eva (Fivel Stewart) while navigating the slings and arrows of high school and what happens when tragedy befalls one of the pair.
Stewart and D’Amico are compelling, luminous presences, and their dynamic as lifelong friends is as engaging as it is ultimately heartbreaking. One of the key differentiators in this film versus comparable efforts is how believably teen life is depicted: messy, ugly, tempestuous, deep-feeling, loving, and, yes, kind. There is no shortage of bullying in the film, but it is authentically portrayed, notably in the light it shines on quickly shifting sands of adolescence (re: who doles out vs. who is victimized by bullying) … sometimes in the span of just one afternoon!
The conceit of the film is that Liz and Eva, both straight-A over-achievers, have created impish, ill-behaved alter egos named “Vicky and Veronica” whose “never list” includes all the bad deeds they’d like to perform in real life but just … can’t. After the aforementioned tragedy, Eva, aided and abetted by neighborhood hooligans (with hearts of gold) Joey (Andrew Kai) and Taylor (Anna Grace Barlow), starts checking items off the list, spiraling to a point of no return that is at turns predictable and refreshingly dark.
Mower avoids the satirical light touch of, say, Mean Girls or Clueless, that might bring safe harbor to an audience, instead embracing the avant garde notion😉 that, well, nasty deeds hurt people and have consequences. Crazy that! Stewart turns in a nuanced performance, projecting beautifully the inscrutable and mercurial ways of a grieving teen.
Kai and Barlow offer a fresh take on the “bad influence” trope, revealing the sweetness at the core of the misunderstood and offering a nice redemption for those marginalized unfairly in the brutal gauntlet that is American high school.
Mower has offered some fun “Easter eggs” in her casting as well for those who follow this genre. All of the aforementioned actors have cut their teeth in any number of Disney/CW/Netflix productions (e.g. The Descendants, Atypical, Supernatural), but the real surprises are Jonathan Bennett (AKA Mean Girls’ Aaron Samuels) and Keiko Agena (AKA Gilmore Girls’ Lane Kim) as, respectively, high school teacher Mr. Snyder and Eva’s mother Jennifer.
Bennett is a winsome presence, bringing brightness to his classroom scenes. Agena knocks it out of the park as Eva’s anxious, beleaguered helicopter-parent, bringing the rapid-fire spark she always had as Rory Gilmore’s bestie but with heartbreaking poignancy that only a few decades of real living can bring.
Agena leaves it all on the field in her scenes and gives the film its emotional anchor, particularly in the film’s final act. Matt Corboy (from George Clooney’s – not Disney’s – The Descendants) is a great foil for Agena as her husband and Eva’s father, walking that fine line of sharing parental burdens while finding his own voice in the mix. Corboy and Agena have great chemistry, tracing realistically the trajectory of shared life through only a handful of scenes.
In addition to the exceptional ensemble, Mower has great fun using Eva’s pen and ink illustrations (she aspires to be a graphic novelist) to, literally, animate key moments in the film. Introduced about one-third of the way into The Never List, the cartoon versions of “Vicky and Veronica” offer silent commentary on the proceedings, adding some necessary comic relief without detracting from the film’s gravitas.
And the soundtrack is a pip too – angsty and poppy in all the right ways, consistent with the inner and outer lives of these rich characters.
The film is in limited release and more info can be found here: https://www.neverlistmovie.com/. I do hope this challenging but fun, sweetly affirming film find its audience in these trying times. It’s a keeper and worth seeking out.
Want to join me in supporting a good cause? For my birthday this month (December 28 to be exact!), I’m raising money for Ronald McDonald House Charities Ann Arbor and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Just click donate on this fundraising page: https://lnkd.in/eQ_NVZD
I’m a proud board member and have seen firsthand how every little bit helps. This little fundraiser is nearing the $2500 mark because of wonderful support from kind and generous friends like you!
Thanks to our donors-to-date: Gail Paul, Jan Anne Dubin, Tammy Zonker, Nathan Darling, Lauren Sargent, Zach and Lauren London, Deborah Farone, Kim Perret, Randi Lou Franklin, Megan Hill, Julie Flitz Maeder, Liz Doyle, Jon McHatton. Love you! ❤️