Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats Theatre Company opens Xanadu on July 14

5 Xanadu Penny SeatsOn July 14 at Ann Arbor’s West Park Band Shell, the Penny Seats Theatre Company launches their production of 2007 Broadway musical smash, Xanadu (based on the 1980 cult classic movie of the same name), with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar.

Tony nominated musical comedy Xanadu tells the tale of a Greek Muse’s descent from Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach, California, to inspire a struggling artist to achieve the greatest artistic creation of all time – the world’s first roller disco. And yes, there will be roller skating in the park!

With direction by R. MacKenzie Lewis and choreography by Sebastian Gerstner, based on concepts by Phil Simmons, the show will feature performers Paige Martin (Ann Arbor), Matthew Pecek (Adrian), Roy Sexton (Saline), Kasey Donnelly (Ypsilanti), Allison Simmons (Holland), Sebastian Gerstner (Ann Arbor), Logan Balcom (Hillsdale), Jenna Pittman (Waterford), and Kristin McSweeney (Ypsilanti). Musical Direction is provided by Richard Alder, costuming by Virginia Reiche, and set design and technical direction by Steve Hankes.

Paige Martin in rehearsal as Clio or Kira with her muse sisters - Jenna Pittman, Logan Balcom, Sebastian Gerstner, Kristin McSweeney, Allison Simmons, and Kasey Donnelly

Paige Martin in rehearsal as Clio or Kira with her muse sisters – Jenna Pittman, Logan Balcom, Sebastian Gerstner, Kristin McSweeney, Allison Simmons, and Kasey Donnelly

Martin, who has been nominated for an Encore Michigan Wilde Award for her performance as “Little Sally” in last summer’s Penny Seats production of Urinetown – the company’s first nomination in the prestigious competition, portrays muse Kira (played by Kerry Butler in the Broadway cast), whose positive intentions to inspire art and love quickly go awry. (Lewis and Gerstner are also nominated this year for Wilde Awards for their work last year at other area theatres.) Martin notes, “This is my third show with the Penny Seats, after playing Little Sally in Urinetown and choreographing Jacques Brel, and I really love the spirit of this company, blending professionalism, inclusion, and whimsy. Playing this muse – Clio or Kira or Kitty or whatever name she’s using at any given moment – is such a fun adventure. I get to play screwball comedy and romance and a little campy Greek tragedy all at once. It’s a hoot.”

Matthew Pecek in rehearsal as Sonny Malone

Matthew Pecek in rehearsal as Sonny Malone

Pecek, a graduate of Adrian College, portrays Kira’s romantic interest ‘Sonny Malone’ [played in the original Broadway production by American Horror Story’s Cheyenne Jackson], and it is Xanadus unique score that holds the greatest joy for him. “Electric Light Orchestra’s harmony-infused pop songs make for the perfect jukebox musical and adding Olivia Newton-John’s power ballads into the mix keeps the soundtrack fresh. I truly believe this is the best jukebox musical ever written. This soundtrack kept me alive during exams my sophomore year of college and now I get to rock out to it every night all over again.”

Martin, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, observes, though, that the show isn’t all fun and games, “I am beyond thrilled to be playing Kira, but the role has come with some significant challenges. Not surprisingly, the most difficult aspect of playing Kira has been the roller skating. It’s amazing how much the skates cause slight balance shifts and inhibit sudden, quick movements, thus greatly affecting my acting. Of course, performing on a stage of ‘rough rock’ [West Park’s stamped concrete patio] doesn’t make it any easier, but it certainly will add an element of adventure to each performance! I just love playing this quirky, Australian-accented muse from Ancient Greece, among a vibrantly talented cast and creative team, in this ridiculous, yet endearing show.”

Roy Sexton in rehearsal as Danny Maguire

Roy Sexton in rehearsal as Danny Maguire

Pecek adds, wryly, “Working with Roy Sexton [Sonny’s elder rival ‘Danny Maguire,’ played by Tony Roberts in the original stage show] has been an incredible experience. His poise and natural instinct onstage is rivaled only by his giving nature and his fierce passion for his art. I’ll never meet the likes of him again …and I don’t think I’d ever want to.”

The production process beautifully exemplified how cohesive the local theatre community can be when, due to unforeseen challenges, Phil Simmons was unable to continue in the director role. Penny Seats president Lauren London notes, “More than any other, this show has demonstrated to me the power of our theater community when we stick together. We were heartbroken to lose Phil Simmons as a director for this show, but literally within minutes we had Sebastian expanding his role, Phil’s colleague Ryan taking the reins, and friends from The Encore Musical Theatre Company offering their aid as well. The cohesion of this group boggled our minds, crystallized Phil’s vision, and touched all of us. We owe the whole community a huge debt of gratitude, and we can’t wait to share the result of this collaboration. And we look forward to working with Phil again on a future production.”

Xanadu production team including director R MacKenzie Lewis, stage manager Kerry Rawald, and costumer Virginia Reiche - with guest Brendan August Kelly

Xanadu production team including director R MacKenzie Lewis, stage manager Kerry Rawald, and costumer Virginia Reiche – with guest Brendan August Kelly

MacKenzie Lewis is currently the composer and music director for Eastern Michigan University’s Theater Department and a lecturer with their Department of Music. Lewis’ recent works include composing The Wings of Ikarus Jackson at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., orchestrating and music directing the National Tour and Off-Broadway productions of The Berenstain Bears LIVE: Family Matters, composing Video Games: The Rock Opera and the world premiere musical with Ben Vereen, Soaring on Black Wings. He has kept busy by music directing at the Hangar Theatre in New York, the Performance Network in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and recently performing in the Las Vegas production of Ain’t Misbehavin’.

Lewis is effusive about Xanadu and its kitschy era, “This is a show that takes us back to a moment when times were simpler, carefree, our hair was feathered, and roller skates reigned supreme. I love this cheeky and totally tubular love letter to the 80’s that both satirizes and celebrates the spirit of my childhood. And who can beat watching videos of Olivia Newton-John roller skating for show research?”

Pecek elaborates, “This show is certainly an irreverent romp through the 80s but at its core, it’s about a man who needs guidance and the woman who shows him the path to artistic fulfillment. The musical serves as both a ridiculous comedy and a feminist anthem and I think that’s one reason it’s been so successful in the last decade.”

Xanadu will run at West Park’s band shell from July 14th to July 30th at 7:00pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

Advance tickets are available for $10 at the group’s website, http://www.pennyseats.org. Although the curtain goes up at 7:00pm each evening, pre-show picnicking is encouraged for audience members, and the group will sell water and concessions at the park as well.

ABOUT THE PENNY SEATS: Founded in 2010, we’re performers and players, minimalists and penny-pinchers. We think theatre should be fun and stirring, not stuffy or repetitive. We believe going to a show should not break the bank. And we find Michigan summer evenings beautiful. Thus, we produce dramas and comedies, musicals and original adaptations, classics and works by up-and-coming playwrights. And you can see any of our shows for the same price as a movie ticket.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about The Penny Seats call 734-926-5346 or Visit: www.pennyseats.org.

Papa Weeze presents Stand Up Fashion event May 21 and 22 – Where standing up for a cause meets runway fashion

2016 Stand-Up Fashion Show Flyer_Page_1Sharing on behalf of my pal Barbie Weisserman – sounds like a fun event! Don’t miss it!

DETROIT – Presented by Papa Weeze, Stand Up Fashion is an annual event that brings together artists of all different mediums into TWO illustrious nights of events, May 21 and 22, at 31440 Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills. The event features an artists gallery and fine hors d’oeuvres (open and close in the lobby), an opening stand-up comedy performance, and a fashion extravaganza featuring local designers of all ages and experiences.  These are two days of fun and fashion you do not want to miss. 

 Now in its second year, Stand Up Fashion’s main event is a high-fashion show featuring local designers on Saturday night.  From stunning ball gowns to avant garde designs made from unconventional materials, the designers are sure to make jaws drop.  The first evening starts at 6pm for a wine reception and 7pm for the show.

Papa Weeze executive director Barbie Weisserman noted, “I can’t tell you how thrilled we are to see this event enter its second year. Papa Weeze’s mission to inspire and promote local artists has really resonated, and 2016’s Stand Up Fashion is even bigger, bolder, and more provocative than before. You will see it all: steam punk, cosplay. up cycle, vintage clothing and wedding gowns, costumes, wearable art, and more. Our emcee is the divine Ms. Lauren Jacobs. You are in for a treat!”

papa weeze collageSunday’s event is a breakdown of fashion trends, appreciating the art of clothing from all different walks of life – especially those often overlooked.  From cosplay to steampunk to drag, Sunday will inspire you to look at the unusual and unexpected in a different light.  Sunday’s proceedings begin at 1pm for refreshments and 2pm for the show. There will also be a silent auction, raffle, and opportunities for audience members to vote for their favorite designs.

Weisserman adds, “Earlier this year, our first short film, Getting Ed Laid, starring Ed Asner and Jean Smart and directed by Deborah Pearl, took the ‘Lou Costello Award for Comedy Short’ at the 2016 Garden State Film Festival. And now this event has grown from one to two days. I’m over the moon with the trajectory Papa Weeze has taken, and I invite everyone to come play with us!”

Stand-Up Fashion 2016 will take place Saturday, May 21st and Sunday, May 22nd at: 31440 Northwestern Highway Farmington Hills, 48334. Advance tickets ($20 for Saturday; $15 for Sunday; $30 for both days) are currently on sale at the Papa Weeze website: http://papaweezeinc.org/standupfashion/. (Tickets purchased at the door will cost an additional $5 each day.)

Design and artist gallery applications are still being accepted, also at this web address. If you are interested in modeling or have a vintage wedding gown to donate, please email Weisserman at papaweeze.inc@gmail.com.

 
About Papa Weeze:
 
There is no shortage of quality theatre companies in Southeast Michigan, but unlike other metro areas the success of “arts collectives” – marrying the spontaneity of theatre, cabaret, and improv with the abstract joys of movement and dance as well as the crafts of design, fashion and visual arts – has been more hit-or-miss.
 
PAPA Weeze” aims to “to provide collaborative opportunities for professional artists to create and display all forms of art, in an attempt to entertain, educate and expand.” The organization, led by long-time local theatre professional Barbie Weisserman, is named for her late father-in-law Harold Weisserman, an individual whose generosity and heart led him to support many creative and entrepreneurial efforts in the community.
 

The group’s flagship project for 2015 was crowd-funding/producing a short independent film Getting Ed Laid, written by Deborah Pearl (Designing Women) and starring Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant) and Jean Smart (Designing Women, Fargo). Recently, the film received the “Lou Costello Award for Comedy Short” at the 2016 Garden State Film Festival.

2016 Stand-Up Fashion Show Flyer_Page_2

_________________

89c5ae6d-f751-4b98-a71d-05a7775042f8Reel 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 BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.  My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

 

Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats Theatre Company with two offerings – The Canterbury Tales and Xanadu – this summer

From our press release … which is why I refer to myself in the third person on my own blog … or I’m just having a nervous breakdown. Or both.

Canterbury Tales

Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats Theatre Company is set to open its sixth summer season at West Park, performing outdoor professional theatre at movie-ticket prices, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays throughout June and July. This year, the group’s season will open with a modern adaption of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (by Lindsay Price), followed by the 2007 Broadway musical smash, Xanadu (based on the 1980 cult classic movie of the same name), with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar.

Canterbury Tales, directed by Anne Levy (Brighton), is set to star Matt Cameron (South Lyon), Dale Dobson (Milford), Jenna Hinton (Farmington Hills), Jeff Miller (Ann Arbor), Tina Paraventi (Ypsilanti), Debbie Secord (Ypsilanti), Jeff Stringer (Ann Arbor), and Jennifer Sulkowski (Plymouth). Tina Paraventi, who plays the show’s holier-than-thou Prioress, expressed great excitement about this new adaptation: “This is a wonderful adaptation of Chaucer’s Middle-English collection of stories, accessible to today’s audiences, very high-energy and entertaining. It’s also great fun for the actors, who not only play the travelers, but also act out different roles in the stories told by each traveler.” Debbie Secord (who plays the devilish Wife of Bath) agreed: “This cast and crew are phenomenal and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish with this show. I must say, I am particularly fond of the host of characters I will be playing in the show, most notably the Wife of Bath and the chicken—ahem—hen, Pertelote. I must say, I’ve never played poultry before and am looking forward to it!”

This hilarious, energetic show will run at West Park, in the band shell area, from June 16th to July 2nd at 7:00pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

Xanadu Penny SeatsNext up is the 2007 Tony nominated musical comedy, Xanadu. It tells the tale of a Greek Muse’s decent from Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach, California, to inspire a struggling artist to achieve the greatest artistic creation of all time – the world’s first roller disco. And yes, there will be roller skating in the park!

With direction and choreography provided by Phil Simmons, along with Musical Direction by Richard Alder, the show will feature performers Paige Martin (Ann Arbor), Matthew Pecek (Berkley), Roy Sexton (Saline), Kasey Donnelly (Ypsilanti), Allison Simmons (Holland), Sebastian Gerstner (Ann Arbor), Logan Balcom (Hillsdale), Jenna Pittman (Waterford), and Kristin McSweeney (Ypsilanti).

Roy Sexton, who plays Danny Maguire, the show’s curmudgeonly businessman, summed up the feelings of many in the cast about Xanadu‘s quirky place in the musical theatre cannon: “I’ve loved Xanadu since I first viewed it – about a million times – on HBO in the early 80s. I wore out two copies of the ELO/Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly soundtrack, but I always lived in shame because the film was such a notorious Hollywood bomb. When it was revived and reinvented so successfully on Broadway, I secretly (well, not so secretly) hoped the Penny Seats would eventually take on this campy, kitschy, satirical stage re-do of the movie. The score is crackerjack and the narrative is just so hysterically loopy that I knew it would be a great fit for us. I live in shame no more!”

Xanadu will run at West Park’s band shell from July 14th to July 30th at 7:00pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. 

Advance tickets to both shows 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 for audience members, and the group will sell water and concessions at the park as well. 

ABOUT THE PENNY SEATS: Founded in 2010, we’re performers and players, minimalists and penny-pinchers.  We think theatre should be fun and stirring, not stuffy or repetitive.  We believe going to a show should not break the bank.  And we find Michigan summer evenings beautiful. Thus, we produce dramas and comedies, musicals and original adaptations, classics and works by up-and-coming playwrights.  And you can see any of our shows for the same price as a movie ticket.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about The Penny Seats call 734-926-5346 or Visit: www.pennyseats.org.

_________________

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 BookboundCommon 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.


WCBN’s “It’s Hot in Here” features The Penny Seats, Jacques Brel, roller skates, & walkie talkies

[Production photo by Frank Weir]

[Production photo by Frank Weir]

Thanks to Pearl Zhu Zeng, Sam Molnar, and Rebecca Hardin for welcoming our Penny Seats hijinks back into the WCBN studio as part of their fabulous weekly “It’s Hot in Here” radio program. The show is billed as ushering in a “new era in environmentally themed college talk radio with a focus on soul and R&B.”

And, occasionally, show tunes.

wcbn

[Photo Collage by Author]

I think you’ll really enjoy our episode “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris: Feels That Connect Us All.” Just please look past the lingering laryngitis that makes me sound like Elaine Stritch … and the dodgy lyrical recall that makes me sound like Jonathan Winters.

The Hot in Here team have put together such a lovely overview here, with photos and descriptions that present the illusion we are consummate professionals! You can also link directly to the MP3 here if so inclined. (And if you missed seeing Jacques Brel live, five of the songs are performed during the broadcast!)

wcbn 2

[Photo of Lauren and Roy by Pearl Zhu Zeng]

Here’s an excerpt from their write-up: “During our one hour radio show, the cast and crew offer insights and takeaways from the Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris show. They go into the origin of the show and the story behind the production, including why they brought the show onto the local stage and how the music came together. Laura Sagolla shares with us her story of being moved by Jacques Brel songs growing up, how it resonated with her and why she brought the show to the Penny Seats.  Roy Sexton and Lauren London, with Rich Alder, Jr. playing piano in the background, bring their characters to life through on-air musical performances while also delving into their impressions of the characters they reenact. Their insights are a must hear and the tunes include Amsterdam, I Loved, Mathilde, Marieke, and If We Only Have Love.”

Xanadu posterWe received such wonderful support on this sold-out run – thanks to everyone who came to see Jacques Brel or helped spread the word or both! And, yes, there is more to come …

The Canterbury Tales, adapted from the book by Geoffrey Chaucer – on stage Thurs, Fri, and Sat, June 16 – July 2

Xanadu, book by Douglas Carter Beane; Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar; the 2007 Broadway Musical Comedy Xanadu, based on the 1980 film of the same name – on stage July 7-23.

You can get tickets at http://www.pennyseats.org shortly, and, yeah, I’ll be playing the Gene Kelly part in Xanadu. Can’t wait!

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

P.S. If you didn’t see Zootopia yet, I highly encourage you to do so. It’s just the satirical fable our nation needs right now. You can read my review here.

____________________________

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 BookboundCommon 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.

First dress rehearsal photos!

  
Thanks to talented Kerry Rawald for these great photos! You can view the full album on Facebook here.

We open tomorrow night! Only 10 tickets left for our first show! www.pennyseats.org

Doodles, yellow couches, legs, & selfies. Jacques Brel in rehearsal.

  
Cast member Brendan August Kelly (bottom left corner) masterminded an Instagram takeover during today’s rehearsal. Enjoy these results, or view the original posts (and hysterical captions) on The Penny Seats’ Instagram page here.

  

  

Join us Thursday evenings, from February 11 through March 3, for the mesmerizing music, humor, and sentiment of the one and only Jacques Brel. Originally performed off-Broadway in 1968, this show has enjoyed continuing success, and was revived Off-Broadway in 2006, to considerable acclaim. 

We are performing it as a dinner theatre event in partnership with Conor O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub and Restaurant. Thus, you can purchase dinner-and-a-show tickets for just $20 each (dinner seatings begin at 6pm), or show-only tickets for $10. Curtain at 7:30pm in Conor O’Neill’s Celtic Room. Seating is limited, to get your tickets now! www.pennyseats.org  

   

Singing, Dancing, Furniture Moving … Rehearsing Jacques Brel’s “Madeleine” (Video)

Enjoy this brief rehearsal footage (click here) of “Madeleine” from the cast (including yours truly) of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, presented by the Penny Seats Theatre Company and opening February 11 at Conor O’Neill’s on Main Street in Ann Arbor.

The Penny Seats return to the stage this winter for Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, a musical revue of the songs of Jacques Brel, translated into English by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman. The show kicks off the sixth season for The Penny Seats.

The cast rehearse "Marathon" with Paige Martin

Rehearsing “Marathon” with Paige Martin

It will run on Thursdays, February 11, 18, 25, and March 3rd, at Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, 318 South Main Street, Ann Arbor. Conor O’Neill’s and The Penny Seats continue a partnership to offer a dinner theatre-style show, with dinner seatings available starting at 6:00 p.m., and performances each night at 7:30 p.m. Audience members can purchase tickets for the dinner-and-show package for just $20, or for the show only, for $10. Advance tickets (which are encouraged) are available online at www.pennyseats.org or by phone at (734) 926-5346.

Jacques Brel

Jacques Brel

“We are very excited to continue our fantastic partnership with Conor O’Neill’s this year,” says Penny Seats President, Lauren London.  “Conor’s has been a champion of our work, and an enthusiastic partner, every step of the way. Their community spirit and support makes our winter show a joyous, warm, exciting event for everyone.  We hope to continue this tradition long into the future.”

The musical revue stars Brendan Kelly of Ypsilanti, Natalie Rose Sevick of Swartz Creek, Lauren London of Ann Arbor, and Roy Sexton of Saline. Laura Sagolla (of Ann Arbor) directs, Richard Alder (of Westland) serves as music director and as Paige Martin (of Ann Arbor) choreographs. Technical direction is provided by Stephen Hankes (of Ann Arbor).

Jacques Brel

Jacques Brel

“Rehearsals have reminded me how powerful and how fun this show can be,” said Director Laura Sagolla. “The cast is hard at work, and I’m really impressed with their creativity and their ability to put a modern twist on the Brel classics.”

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris will be the first of three shows comprising The Penny Seats’ 2016 season. The group plans to stage productions of The Canterbury Tales and Xanadu at West Park this summer, from June 16 through July 30.

#AnnArbor Observer on Penny Seats’ #JacquesBrel opening February 11

Ooh la la! Thanks, Ann Arbor Observer, for this Jacques Brel coverage – we open February 11 at Conor O’Neill’s. Get your tickets at http://www.pennyseats.org


See you there!:)

Jacques Brel

Jacques Brel

__________________

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 BookboundCommon 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.

“Just because you see me on TV, doesn’t mean I’m more enlightened than you.” Shatner’s World … We Just Live In It! at MotorCity Casino’s SoundBoard (Detroit)

William ShatnerLast night we saw William Shatner. Yes, THAT William Shatner. Priceline Negotiator. Denny Crane. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Captain Kirk. Cringe-worthy purveyor of spoken word psychedelia. He offered his one-man show Shatner’s World … We Just Live In It (originally presented in a limited run at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre) at Motor City Casino’s SoundBoard venue.

When I went to bed last night, visions of this D-level A-lister dancing around in my head, I was ready to write a snotty piece, dismissing his overeager schtick, rampant hamminess, cloddish sexism, sweaty egomania, and twitchy insecurity.

In the cold, hard light of this January day, I think, “Who am I to make fun of 84-year-old Hollywood legend William Shatner?! Granted he’s far from my favorite starship “Captain.” Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine are all far ahead in that line-up.

Shatner's WorldPlus, I’ve always found Shatner a rather desperate presence, sharing the same kind of icky balsa wood machismo that plagued contemporaries like Burt Reynolds, Robert Conrad, and Lee Majors throughout the 70s and 80s. Regardless, he’s sustained an acting career across stage and screen for sixty years; he’s a best-selling author; and he’s an icon. That is something to celebrate; yet, all that “Shatnerism” gets in the way of respecting his work and always has.

I was curious to see if Shatner’s World would allay or compound that conundrum. The answer, quite honestly, is that it did both. Whereas a Star Trek alum like George Takei has revealed a comic impishness and a (more or less) refreshing layer of self-mocking irreverence in the latter years of his career, Shatner has gleefully become more bloated, arrogant, and self-mythologizing as the years have passed. He capitalized on this to greatest effect as bloviating Denny Crane in Boston Legal, but he was aided in that enterprise by co-star James Spader (who could make an avocado interesting) and to some degree by Candice Bergen (whom one could argue is kind of the female Shatner when it comes to smart aleck self-absorption). His quirky Priceline “Negotiator” persona is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of Denny with a teaspoon of mannered Kirk-isms and a healthy portion of “drunk uncle at your family reunion.”

IMG_3769(My favorite Shatner moment remains The Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” wherein his character is convinced that gremlins – which only he can see – are dismantling a plane in mid-flight. If there ever was a place for Shatner’s hyperventilating hyperbole and pop-eyed claustrophobia, it was the black-and-white world of Rod Serling.)

Shatner’s World – the show – is like a cocktail party guest who lingers about 45 minutes too long. The first hour is fun, frothy, and full of empty calories. Shatner, with his squatty shenanigans, fancies himself a raconteur – the dirty-joke-telling kind who went out of style when they retired Johnny Carson’s guest couch. For precisely sixty minutes, Shatner’s creative retelling of an upbringing with a loving, middle-class, Jewish family in Montreal is engaging. He uses slide projections, video clips, and an office chair in rather ingenious and theatrical ways to illustrate key moments (e.g. the office chair doubles as a motorcycle and a horse at various points in the show).

IMG_3754His sentimental, albeit self-aggrandizing, descriptions of his early days in the entertainment industry are captivating, damn funny, and, I suspect, patently false: he worked with good buddy Christopher Plummer (who knew?) at Stratford (Canada), and supposedly saved the day once as Plummer’s understudy in Henry V; he, in his estimation, single-handedly turned Broadway bomb The World of Suzie Wong into a long-running comic hit; he, according to Shatner, gave an Emmy-caliber performance in an unnamed Playhouse 90 episode until legendary co-star Lon Chaney, Jr., started rattling off stage directions as if they were dialogue; Shatner discovered the glories of leadership and horsemanship starring as Alexander the Great (!) in a film none of us had ever heard of.

Dammit. I’ve fallen into making fun of him. I said I wouldn’t. Yet, that’s part of Shatner’s studied charm. He knows you want to mock him, so he does it first, but then he twists every anecdote into a celebration of self, of the sheer force of will that has allowed him to transform marginal talent and blandly handsome features into more success and longevity than any of his detractors have or ever could achieve. It’s rather fascinating in fact – like a piece of performance art or a social experiment to which we’ve all been subjected yet remain unaware of its grand design. In this day of virulent social media and steroidal self-promotion, is Shatner any worse than the rest of us? Or was he simply our forebear? A pop culture Thomas Edison to Kim Kardashian’s Steve Jobs?

IMG_3743As Shatner’s World proceeds into its second hour, the focus grows more diffuse and the self-celebration harder to take. He glosses over his Star Trek years, oddly enough, dedicating as much (if not more) time to his dubious career as a recording artist. This turns out to be a canny decision, though, as it allows Shatner to end the show (and reconnect with his flagging audience) with a “song” titled “Real,” co-written with country star Brad Paisley. It’s a pretty tune (spoken word overlay notwithstanding) and offers Shatner a chance to encapsulate his raison d’etre as vainglorious underdog, aptly noting: “Just because you see me on TV doesn’t mean I’m more enlightened than you.”

It is this struggle with external perception and internal reality that brings much-needed (and sometimes head-scratching) pathos to the evening. He owns the fact that he can be a lousy husband and a half-assed father, sharing anecdotes that are equal parts aspiration and humiliation – a little Father Knows Best, a little Honeymooners, and a little War of the Roses. He acknowledges that he isn’t always beloved by his co-stars, with a riotous bit where he allows Takei to call Shatner a sh*t while simultaneously suggesting Takei might not be all the sweetness and light he wants us to believe. Brilliant. He isn’t afraid to show us his infamous struggles with money either, the kind of struggles that led him back to Star Trek (films) in the 70s (when sci fi nostalgia wasn’t the sure thing it is today), to an endless stream of comic book convention appearances, and to doing casino gigs like the very one witnessed at SoundBoard last night.

IMG_3761Finally, the aspect of Shatner’s life that surprised and troubled me most was (is) Shatner’s adoration of animals. Complete shock to me. Images of Shatner with his beloved dogs, horses, and other creatures fill his slide show and his repartee, and the joy in his eyes is palpable. He speaks meaningfully about the special language and kinship one can only feel with and for animals and how they can tell us all we need to know if we’d only listen. Yet, he then talks about how he “studs” his prize pets (equine and canine) to this day, going into great detail about all the awards he’s received and money he has made from the practice. He also relays a lengthy anecdote about the “horse of a lifetime” – his spirit animal, if you will – whose existence he ruined by breeding, the creature consigned to unending days of isolation and misery as a result. Shatner seems to indicate deep regret, and he expresses hope that the horse, in his final moments, forgave Shatner; but he follows this heartbreaking moment by regaling us with tales of the horse’s award-winning progeny.

Is Shatner looking for redemption or rationalization? This horse tale is arguably the most unintentionally revealing moment in the evening. A sensitive and empathic soul may lurk beneath all that Shatner bravado, but he is so preoccupied by a maddeningly retro belief in what he thinks we expect of masculinity that he can’t quite let that soul breathe and evolve and teach. He wants to embrace his mistakes, but he is too afraid that those mistakes, if authentically understood, will make him less compelling. It’s a shame. Those mistakes make him more compelling. Maybe when he’s 94 years old, we’ll get that show. He’ll still be going strong, kept aloft by a self-sustaining gale of monomania.

IMG_3745_______________

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 BookboundCommon 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 production of Jacques Brel opens February 11 at Ann Arbor’s Conor O’Neill’s

Rehearsing "Marathon" with Paige Martin

Cast rehearsing “Marathon” with Paige Martin

The Penny Seats return to the stage this winter for Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, a musical revue of the songs of Jacques Brel, translated into English by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman. The show kicks off the sixth season for The Penny Seats. It will run on Thursdays, February 11th, 18th, 25th, and March 3rd, at Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, 318 South Main Street, Ann Arbor. Conor O’Neill’s and The Penny Seats continue a partnership to offer a dinner theatre-style show, with dinner seatings available starting at 6:00 pm, and performances each night at 7:30pm. Audience members can purchase tickets for the dinner-and-show package for just $20, or for the show only, for $10. Advance tickets (which are encouraged) are available online at www.pennyseats.org or by phone at (734) 926-5346.

Jacques Brel Penny Seats Poster“We are very excited to continue our fantastic partnership with Conor O’Neill’s this year,” says Penny Seats President, Lauren London.  “Conor’s has been a champion of our work, and an enthusiastic partner, every step of the way. Their community spirit and support makes our winter show a joyous, warm, exciting event for everyone.  We hope to continue this tradition long into the future.”

The musical revue stars Brendan Kelly of Ypsilanti, Natalie Rose Sevick of Swartz Creek, Lauren London of Ann Arbor, and Roy Sexton of Saline. Laura Sagolla (of Ann Arbor) directs, Richard Alder (of Westland) serves as music director and Paige Martin (of Ann Arbor) choreographs. Technical direction is provided by Stephen Hankes (of Ann Arbor).

Brendan August Kelly and Lauren London

Brendan August Kelly and Lauren London

“Rehearsals have reminded me how powerful and how fun this show can be,” said Director Laura Sagolla. “The cast is hard at work, and I’m really impressed with their creativity and their ability to put a modern twist on the Brel classics.”

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris will be the first of three shows comprising The Penny Seats’ 2016 season. The group plans to stage productions of The Canterbury Tales and Xanadu at West Park this summer, from June 16th through July 30th.

(photos by Kerry Rawald; poster by Autumn Vitale)

 

Brendan August Kelly, Lauren London, and Roy Sexton

Brendan August Kelly, Lauren London, and Roy Sexton

ABOUT THE PENNY SEATS: Founded in 2010, we’re performers and players, minimalists and penny-pinchers. We think theatre should be fun and stirring, not stuffy or repetitive. We believe going to a show should not break the bank.

And we find Michigan summer evenings beautiful. Thus, we produce dramas and comedies, musicals and original adaptations, classics and works by up-and-coming playwrights.

We also provide cabaret shows, acting classes, and wacky improv evenings. And you can see any of our shows for the same price as a movie ticket. FOR MORE INFORMATION about The Penny Seats call at 734-926-5346 or Visit: www.pennyseats.org.

Roy as Shepherd

__________________

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 BookboundCommon 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.