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.
[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!)
[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 Brelis 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.”
We 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.
WOW! What a fantastic opening weekend for Urinetown – capacity crowds, wonderful feedback, marvelous coverage, and an amazing review from Bridgette Redman for Encore Michigan – click here to read.
Here is an excerpt …
“Director Lauren M. London has her work cut out for her with the space. There is a moat between the bandshell where the orchestra plays and the main staging area where most of the action takes place. She has no choice but to let some of her actors be seen before the arrive on stage as they have a bit of a hike to get to the stage, but she manages that well and creates compelling stage pictures so that you’re not looking off to the sides.
Maika Van Oosterhout and Roy Sexton
“Roy Sexton plays Officer Lockstock, the narrator for the evening. He kicks off the musical with a speech that prepares the audience for what they can expect—an evening of satire and parody. Little Sally (Paige Martin) joins him in his early exposition and they frequently break the fourth wall to outright talk about the musical. Both are skilled in their roles. Sexton narrates with aplomb, moving in and out easily of narrator and police officer. Martin is loveable and innocent, asking naïve questions that Sexton answers magnanimously. She has great physicality, doing cartwheels and splits and interacting with the teddy bear she carries with her. She believably creates a child much younger than her actual age.
“Linda Rabin Hammell brings character and spice to the role of Penelope Pennywise. She’s peppery as the custodian of Public Facility #9, insisting that everyone pay the proper fee else not get to pee. Her voice is perfect for the role.
“Brendan Kelly makes a handsome lead as Bobby Strong, the revolutionary leader who follows his heart. He’s earnest and heroic, with a strong singing voice that carries him through his many songs. …
Sarah Ann Leahy, David Kiley, and Roy Sexton
“Playing opposite Kelly was Maika Van Oosterhout as Hope Cladwell. Hers was a fun role and she carried it off with style and grace. Her eyes were constantly wide, portraying an innocence and naîveté that fit the part well. She was especially amusing dancing while bound and gagged in a chair.
“There were no weak members in the ensemble either. Each of them had their own characteristics, making them individuals while still fulfilling the part of an ensemble. They were giving to each other and changed quickly between roles when doubled. They did an especially good job as the town’s poor who desperately needed to pee in the first act and in the second were revolutionaries that were brash and frightened.
Maika Van Oosterhout and Brendan Kelly
“The singing, under the musical direction of Richard Alder, was impressive, as was the pit band that performed the music to accompany it. There were complicated harmonies throughout and upbeat songs that often belied what they were singing about. …
“Victoria Gilbert’s choreography was most often amusing and always fit with the character of the show. Bridget Bly deserves a callout for her costumes. She provided good contrast between the UGC employees and the run-down poor of the city. She also made it possible to switch in and out of costumes, sometimes right on stage.”
AND a subset of the cast (including yours truly) appeared Friday on Rebecca Hardin’s charming WCBN radio show Hot in Here. The audio is here, and you can read about the special collaboration that prompted the broadcast here. Be sure to check out Hot in Here‘s page (here) if you want to hear me epically mangle the “Cop Song” from Urinetown. Plus, I say words like “crap,” “damn,” and “tinkle” on the air … probably why it took them a while to post it! 🙂 You will also hear our director and president Lauren London say really smart things about art and theatre and Ann Arbor as well as the mellifluous tones of fellow cast members Brendan Kelly, Maika Van Oosterhout, and Paige Martin, accompanied by our wonderful music director Richard Alder (BTW, a great article about Richard appeared in the latest Detroit Jewish News – see below).
Sarah Ann Leahy, Brendan Kelly, and Roy Sexton
Last but not least, a special thanks to the friends who made this opening weekend so special with their attendance (and apologies to anyone I missed): John Mola, Rachel Green, Kyle Lawson, Jim Lynch, Nick Oliverio, Brent Stansfield, Zach London, Sharon Steig, Ashley Kryscynski, Heidi Fisher, Matt Cameron, Kelly Cameron, Anne Cattermole Levy, Artun Kircali, Leanne Young, Ivan Procopovich, Robin Skiba Myler, Laura Sagolla, Barbara Davenport, Roxane Raffin Chan and Kevin and friends and family, Magda and Dan Johnson, Rachel Urist, Jen Esch and friends, Angie Choe and Sean, Roberta and Richard London and family, Jason Gilbert, Ivan Procopovich, Christopher Taylor, Eva Rosenwald, Narda Wishka, Kristy McDonald and Thatcher. Two more weekends (Thursday, Friday, Saturday performances, all 7 pm) – get your tickets at www.pennyseats.org before they’re all gone!
This art and engineering collaboration will be featured on the radio show It’s Hot In Here 88.3 WCBN FM (www.hotinhere.us/) on Friday July 31 at noon, with the recording to be posted shortly thereafter on the Penny Seats’ website and Facebook page. An Environmental Engineering research team from the University of Michigan is studying how human urine and products derived from it need to be processed to safely fertilize food crops.
The University of Michigan is one of five institutions involved in this first large-scale pilot project of its kind in the United States. They will be providing mobile restrooms during the Penny Seats’ performances of Urinetown in hopes that patrons will help with this unusual project.
“This is a fun and unique partnership to be sure. We are thrilled with the opportunity, and this aligns with the Penny Seats mission … it’s educational, it benefits society, and it brings value to our loyal patrons who are so kind to brave the great outdoors every summer for our shows,” comments Lauren London, Urinetown’s director and the Penny Seats’ president.
Urinetown: The Musical! The Tony-award-winning hit from 2001, will be performed by The Penny Seats Theatre Company July 30, 31, Aug 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, and 15 (all shows at 7 pm).
Set in an admittedly absurd dystopian future where one must pay to pee, the show lampoons corporate bureaucracy, pie-in-the-sky optimism, revolution without a plan, and the musical theatre genre itself. With a full pit orchestra (led by Richard Alder) on the band shell stage, the action takes place around the audience in the park. Featured performers include Brendan August Kelly (Ypsilanti), Roy Sexton (Saline), David Francis Kiley (Ann Arbor), John DeMerell (Walled Lake), Sarah Ann Leahy (Ann Arbor), Paige Martin (Ann Arbor), Cathy McDonald (Plymouth), Christina McKim (Albion), Jenna Kellie Pittman (Waterford/West Bloomfield), Linda Rabin Hammell (Detroit), Jeff Stringer (Jackson), Maika Van Oosterhout (Ann Arbor), and Daniel Bachelis (Howell). Production photos taken by Scarlett London.
Maika Van Oosterhout and David Kiley
London says the piece is a natural for the group: “Since its turn on Broadway, Urinetown has been a favorite of performers, for its snappy score and hilarious, wink-to-the-audience feeling. It’s a perfect show to place in our park, where the cast can interact up close with the audience, and take them into the show’s silly world. Our cast is filled with performers who excel at just this type of theatre, and we’re thrilled to bring it to the park.”
Advance tickets are available at the group’s website, www.pennyseats.org. Although the curtain goes up at 7:00pm each evening, pre-show picnicking is encouraged, and the group will sell water and concessions at the park as well. All performances will be at the West Park band shell.
Roy Sexton and Paige Martin
Patrons are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner to enjoy at the park before or during the show. Lawn chairs, hats, bug spray, and other outdoor gear are also encouraged. Alcohol may also be brought and enjoyed responsibly. Water and concessions will be available for purchase. More information about tickets, parking, and available packages, is available on the company’s website, www.pennyseats.org.
When Pat and Marjorie Lesko approached me after my recent book-reading at fabulous local treasure Bookbound and asked if I would like to be a regular contributor in their pages, I was thrilled.
[Alas, this is likely the last contribution I shall make. Another story for another day.]
However, their movie review slot was already taken. (Phooey! but if you want to read my views on popcorn epics, please check out my blog at www.reelroyreviews.com…oh, right, you’re already here!) So they said to me, “How about culture? You’re a theatre guy. You must love to write about culture. I mean, this is Ann Arbor!”
“You got it!” I sheepishly replied, fearful to reveal my true colors as a pop maven who prefers “The Harlem Shake” over Shakespeare, The Mighty Thor over Jane Austen, and Kathy Griffin over the ballet.
[You can read my first contribution to The Ann ArborIndependent about Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre by clicking here.]
Pat, ever the good journalist, could see right through my ruse. “You haven’t gone to anything here, have you? No festivals, no art installations, no opera?” The jig was up. I suspected that my seven-year-successful-dodge of anything of artistic substance was about to come to a crashing halt.
Her next comment surprised me even more: “Good! Then you’re a blank slate. Write about that!” And like rat-a-tat Rosalind Russell from screwball classic His Girl Friday, she gave me a quick “Off you go!” and clicked off the receiver.
So … here I go. May as well start at the top … Top of the Park, that is.
Entering its 31st season, Ann Arbor’s famed Summer Festival was founded in 1984, and Top of the Park, the free outdoor cornucopia of movies and concerts and activities is arguably the fest’s most famous component. Of course, the festival is so much more, running from June 13 to July 6 with many ticketed offerings sprinkled about Ann Arbor, in addition to the outdoor events. (You’ve already read about Lily Tomlin’s opening weekend concert in The Ann Arbor Independent – I wonder if Pat would let me do those interviews in the future? Hmmm. I better be a good kid!)
If you want to find yourself overwhelmed, just check out the festival’s comprehensive website at www.a2sf.org – talk about sensory overload.
If I have any (feeble) defense to offer for our household’s neglect of this Ann Arbor mainstay, it may be that, for a Tree Town neophyte, all of this activity can shut down a person’s central cortex. If you don’t know where to start or even how to navigate the various locations and parking challenges therein, you might be tempted to just to head to the Rave or Quality and watch the latest Channing Tatum/Michael Bay/Pixar offerings with their predictable start times, easy access, and pre-digested storylines.
However, the evil geniuses at the festival must have anticipated this quibble, and they have introduced a mobile app (free!) that can be your pocket guide to all things Fest related. Having done a quick spin through the app, they nailed it. It’s easily searchable, responsive, social, interactive and with just the right amount of content to help you have a good time. Kudos!
So, now that I have no excuses, I turn to the people who may shake their heads in shame at my ignorance but love me anyway – my long-time Washtenaw County-based pals – for some much-needed guidance and advice. (I won’t divulge who, but I did have one comrade-in-arms who emailed, “I have never been there [Summer Fest] either. Don’t tell anyone!”)
Rebecca Hardin, associate professor at U of M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment (not to mention someone who has suffered playing my spouse in The Penny Seats’ production of What Corbin Knew and helps host the fabulous radio show It’s Hot in Here on WCBN, Friday from 12-1 pm), offers, “Highlights of past summer festivals, for me, include the acrobats from Australia towering over assembled crowds on enormous stilts, swaying among the roofs of Rackham, the Michigan League, and the Alumni Center, in brightly colored clothes. I also loved the eruption of local talent ‘from the ground up’ during a Bollywood flash mob dance moment…just look for ‘Bollywood flash mob connects communities’ on YouTube. Nothing compares to the chance to see local bands like Hullabaloo, eat local brands like Sylvio’s Organic Pizza, and just be, together with so many other Ann Arborites, grateful for the beautiful evenings.”
Clearly, Rebecca’s comments get to the heart of what makes Ann Arbor – and any of its various activities like Summer Fest – so special: spontaneity, creativity, involvement. And what a wealth of opportunities there are.
Beth Kennedy, Ann Arbor teacher and blogger (check out her witty ididnthavemyglasseson.com for a nostalgic yet fresh look at life in Michigan), concurs, “I love the music, people of all ages getting up to dance together, uninhibited, feeling the rhythm. I love that they moved it from ‘top of the park’ on top of the parking structure down to street level and never went back up to the cement wasteland. That change alone puts people in a very festive and friendly mood. The beer garden is nice … I have never seen anyone unruly while there … a good thing. Most events are free, except for a few headliners. As a teacher, I adore that they have had the children’s bands perform here, giving them a friendly open space to play, with a receptive audience. I do wish there were more food stand choices, but those seem to be growing each year. Free movies at dark are great with classics and cult films. I will add that family ones are challenging because most kids are asleep by that time but that is just a consequence of Daylight Savings Time, alas!”
The challenges of kids, movies, and late sunsets seem to be a common refrain.
Ian Reed Twiss, an Ann Arbor resident and the pastor at Saline’s Holy Faith Church, remarks, “When the weather’s good, Summer Fest is a lot of fun to hang out and just listen to music. They have had some great high-wire and circus-type acts out on the green as well. When we were childless, we used to go for the outdoor movies too, but haven’t done THAT in a while. We haven’t participated in any of the ticketed items at, say, The Power Center, but the offerings look great.” (As an aside, Ian mentioned another event to pass along. Summer is a month of fun but it can also be a great time to re-establish community. “et al,” a group aiming to create an inclusive and affirming environment for LGBT individuals and families in the Saline community through education and legislative advocacy and support, hosted a Gay Pride event on June 20, at Mill Pond Park in Saline. It was a meet-and-greet, and local political leaders attended. It was co-sponsored by the Saline High Gay Alliance “Spectrum” and Diversity Circle. Thanks, Ian!)
Top of the Park definitely is the gateway for most attendees to Summer Fest’s offerings overall. One downside is that there seems to be some disconnect between the ticketed fare and what people commonly think of when they hear the words “Ann Arbor Summer Festival.”
Rebecca Biber, local music instructor, pianist, and conductor, remarked, “Is that where they have Top of the Park? I have enjoyed an outdoor movie on occasion, because there is beer for the adults and the audience tends to have good camaraderie, yell out lines, and so on. And some of the local bands are good. Actually, this month on my birthday, the Fest is featuring two bands I have been meaning to see for years: The Crane Wives and the Ragbirds. If you are up for some on-site research, I would love to drag you along.”
[Note: I didattend and it was fabulous!]
Well, look at that? My Summer Fest dance card is starting to fill up.
Linda Nyrkkanen, founder (and baker) at Flour Lab, Inc. (if you see her at the farmer’s market in Kerrytown, you must buy her cookies, eat immediately, and then buy some more), echoes Rebecca’s perspective, “I must confess that I am not a regular attender either, although I have been to a few of the free movies at Top of the Park. The first one was the Wizard of Oz back when I was in college, and it was pretty magical seeing my favorite childhood movie under the stars with my friends. And fast forward to current times – we saw E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial a few years ago with our friends Sean and Rachel. So fun! I don’t know if this helps you or not, but just wanted to share my limited experience. I know the musical performances are great too, but it’s the outdoor movies that hold the most memories for me. I think you and John should definitely try to catch one this year.”
Now that I have my marching orders, keep an eye out – you may just see us wandering about, iPhones in hand, scrolling through the many offerings, looking bedraggled, possibly dehydrated, but with big smiles on our faces as we’ve finally immersed ourselves in one of Ann Arbor’s signature events: “The Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s mission is to present a world-class celebration of arts and entertainment that enriches the cultural, economic, and social vitality of the region.” Well, all right – sounds good to me! See you next fall, Channing Tatum!
[P.S. Wonder what the heck “Tongues in Trees” indicates? One of the first monologues I ever delivered on-tage 20 years ago in Wabash College’s production of “As You Like It” directed by Michael Abbott – click here … not me reading it, but you get the drift.]