Todd Haynes wept: Ringwald’s Murder She Podcast … Baby One More Crime

Richard Payton as Jessica Fletcher

“Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture.”

“Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment. It doesn’t argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. What it does is to offer for art (and life) a different—a supplementary—set of standards.”

“The connoisseur of Camp [finds pleasure] in the coarsest, commonest pleasures, in the arts of the masses.”

Susan Sontag

Some of us old geezers might recall that auteur filmmaker Todd Haynes once directed a biographical film treatment of Karen Carpenter’s life – Superstar – using only Barbie dolls. Either Mattel or Karen’s creepy brother filed a cease and desist, and the film has only seen the light of day in bootleg copies on eBay.

Fortunately, Ringwald Theatre’s latest offering Murder She Podcast … Baby One More Crime has just arrived to fill that void.

Part of me doesn’t want to write a word as I don’t want to spoil any of the loopy fun for you. How do I net this out? Sublime Richard Payton channels Angela Lansbury‘s TV classic amateur sleuth/crime novelist Jessica Fletcher, now hosting an au courant pandemic “true crime” podcast. Pop singer Britney Spears, the recent subject of a tell-all documentary (#savebritney) appears to have been abducted and possibly murdered.

Spoiler alert, but as the cat is out of the bag via Ringwald‘s promotional materials, local legend Dave Davies is arguably the perfect thespian stand-in for Ms. Spears. He may be worth the price of admission alone. Never ridiculing his character, but fully in on the joke as to how absurd it is that he is playing the “Toxic” songstress, he is an absolute riot, both in TikTok style “found footage” and in podcast interview mode. I dearly hope there is a sequel.

Ringwald’s merry band of usual mischief makers is on hand in supporting roles. Joe Bailey is a gleeful Sherriff Amos Tupper, Fletcher’s dim bulb sidekick whose outsized adoration of Spears leads to a series of comedically nonsensical allegations. Suzan M. Jacokes is understated genius as harried producer Andrew Lark. Joel Mitchell nails Gene Smart, a store clerk whose great tragedy in life is being assigned his least favorite cash register. Nicole Pascaretta channels the sheltered charms of Britney’s baby sis Jamie Lynn. Dyan Bailey commands her moment as a Linda Ellerbee (remember her?) style newscaster. And Donny Riedel and Cory Shorter nicely round out the team as (respectively) hellzapoppin superfan Chris Crocker and louche hairdresser Jeffrey Bean.

The genius of the Ringwald is that they mine every aspect of pop-culture for mash-ups that are as unexpected as they are strangely logical. These are smart people using silly situations to comment on the real life comic tragedy of modern America. Susan Sontag meets Charles Busch meets Carol Burnett.

But back to the Barbie dolls. One of the great pleasures of seeing Ringwald’s evolution in pandemic is the way they are leveraging video production, one of the highlights of their prior stage work. Brandy Joe Plambeck deftly directs (with assistance from Dyan Bailey, Vince Kelley, and Katy Schoetzow) from a jam-packed script by Kelley and Matthew Arrington. Much like last winter’s Have Yourself a Misery Little Christmas, their filmed format has allowed the troupe to step up their production values exponentially. In that context, the lunacy has a beautifully heightened quality. The polish is in nice juxtaposition to the camp.

As for the dolls, when Sheriff Tupper devolves into his multiple theories surrounding Britney Spears’ disappearance, the reenactments are staged using Barbie dolls, playhouse furniture, and assorted other pink plastic accoutrements. It adds a layer of meta-commentary on American materialism and shallow celebrity obsession that is chiefly comic but more than a bit haunting. As another layer, the sequences employ the chilling orchestral version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” from Promising Young Woman’s pitch perfect soundtrack. And if you have been wise enough to check out that essential film, the Barbie doll scenes take on an even more devastating quality.

Back to Payton for a minute. Ultimately, his Jessica Fletcher is the ringmaster of this circus. Payton’s anarchic intelligence is like a wildfire across every scene. He is both eye of the hurricane and instigator. And his impish genius elevates any and all material he touches. I can‘t see him perform enough. Utter brilliance.

And do yourself a favor and stick through the credits. The cast vamps through Britney’s seminal hit “Baby One More Time.” You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Joe Bailey shimmy in a door frame.

The Ringwald’s press release follows, including dates and ticket information.

The Ringwald Theatre is pleased to announce the release of their latest show, Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime. Several Ringwald favorites have come together to (safely) film The Ringwald’s follow-up to their smash Yuletide release, Have Yourself a Misery Little Christmas. As with that show, Ringwald stalwarts Vince Kelley and Matthew Arrington return as writers.

In Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime, bestselling author, amateur sleuth, and trenchoat aficionado Jessica Fletcher is recording her latest podcast with her trusty sidekick and co-host, former Sherrif Amos Tupper, at her side. Today’s topic is the mysterious disappearance of music sensation Britney Spears. Where has the Pop Princess gone? Is it just a disappearance, or is something more sinister at play? As the investigation deepens, you will be asking, “Where’s Britney, bitch?”

Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime was developed prior to the release of the Framing Britney documentary. The Ringwald firmly stands in support of the pop icon, and shares this piece of art with love and affection.

Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime stars Richard Payton as Jessica Fletcher, Joe Bailey as Sherriff Amos Tupper, Suzan M. Jacokes as Andrew Lark, Joel Mitchell as Gene Smart, Nicole Pascaretta as Jamie Lynn Spears, Donny Riedel as Chris Crocker, Cory Shorter as Jeffrey Bean, and a super special secret guest star as Britney. Brandy Joe Plambeck directed with assistance from Dyan Bailey, Vince Kelley, and Katy Schoetzow. All safety precautions were observed during filming.

Tickets for Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime are available at www.theringwald.com at three different giving levels: $20, $50, and $100 and can be purchased Friday, April 16 through Sunday, May 2nd. The performance will be available to stream through May 10th. Once you purchase your ticket, an email will be sent to you which will include links for Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime and a virtual program. The video is hosted on Vimeo. You can watch on your phone/computer/tablet or, if you have the capability, you can stream the production to your smart TV.

The Ringwald opened the doors to their Ferndale location 13 years ago on May 11, 2007 with Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy. Quickly, The Ringwald became a mainstay of Detroit’s theatre community. Past highlights include: Head Over Heels, Clue, Company, Merrily We Roll Along, The Rocky Horror Show, Heathers The Musical, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Mr. Burns: a post-electric play, Angels in America, Into the Woods, A Streetcar Named Desire, August: Osage County, Mercury Fur, The Book of Liz, and Evil Dead: The Musical.

“We may be essential workers but we aren’t expendable.” Theatre Nova’s “I’m Streaming of an ALRIGHT Christmas” and The Ringwald’s “Have Yourself a MISERY Little Christmas”

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 Madealike, 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!”

Sandusky

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.

Ringwald newcomer Aurora Boarealis Pigdon plays Annie’s pet pig and (arguably) steals the entire show

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.

Bailey and Jacokes

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

“The Sweetest Sounds” from No Strings
Charles the Puppy
Moan, Sandusky, Spencer

“Everything old is new again.” The Dio’s production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder + a quick take on the film Bennett’s War

“Everything old is new again,” that Boy from Oz Peter Allen once musically observed. You live long enough and you see pretty much every trope and concept repeated in some form or fashion. In 2014, Robert Freedman’s and Steven Lutvak’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder was the belle of the Tony Awards, winning Best Musical among its other honors. The musical was itself based upon the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman which had inspired the 1949 Alec Guinness film Kind Hearts and Coronets.

That said, I hadn’t seen the musical until taking in The Dio Theatre’s exceptional production (currently running), and I was struck by how it made me think of so many other works: Cy Coleman’s Little Me with its succession of bumped off suitors all played by one wunderkind actor; Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians with its episodic structure framed around a steadily mounting drawing room body count; Rupert Holmes’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood with its winking neo-operatic hyperbole; the gothic gallows whimsy of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies with one absurdly alphabetically-inspired ghastly death after another; and maybe even a bit of Neil Simon’s Murder By Death with its cavalier and circuitous satire of the entire murder mystery genre

I’m not sharing all of this pedantry to sound pretentious and pompous … though that very well may be the inadvertent effect I’ve achieved. I offer this perspective to say that I’m not sure I was completely sprung on A Gentleman’s Guide‘s source material as I couldn’t shake what felt like derivative familiarity. The plot concerns Monty Navarro, the lost heir to the D’Ysquith family fortune, and his devious machinations as he systematically eliminates the eight legitimate D’Ysquith relatives standing before him and untold wealth.  A Gentleman’s Guide tells that tale, tongue firmly in cheek, as one actor plays all the ill-fated D’Ysquiths in an episodic style that is less grand guignol and more Carol Burnett Show meets Gilbert and Sullivan.

Three paragraphs in, I’m not here to evaluate the book or music – that ship has sailed, and the rest of the theatre community seems to universally adore A Gentleman’s Guide. My task is to talk about The Dio’s production, and, as with all of the company’s storied output, the show is beautifully, thoughtfully mounted with technical aplomb, spectacular talent, pristine music direction, and touring production-level costume and set design.

Director Steve DeBruyne in collaboration with an A-list team – Matthew Tomich (set, lighting and sound), Norma Polk (costumes), Eileen Obradovich (props), Carrie Sayer (assistant direction), and Marlene Inman (music direction) – offers a show that is by turns immersive, inspiring, layered, and sparkling. The look and feel is like an unfolding storybook: arch sartorial splendor that would put Colleen Atwood to shame; family portraits that open Laugh In-style for the Greek chorus to observe the onstage shenanigans; clever digital projections depicting locales as diverse as the D’Ysquith manor, a towering abbey, and the Egyptian pyramids.  Inman has created a sonic landscape that is as splendid as it is overwhelming; the voices onstage could fill a space three times the size of The Dio. The musical abilities of this cast, in Inman’s exceptional hands, are something to behold.

Olive Hayden-Moore, Sarah Brown, David Moan, Angela Hench [Image from The Dio’s Facebook page]

Standouts are David Moan (“Monty”) and Sarah Brown (“Phoebe,” Monty’s cousin … and dearly beloved). Moan and Brown have a deft touch for balancing the light comedy, dark themes, and vocal prowess required here. Moan is becoming a bit of a cottage industry around humanizing sociopaths, after his celebrated turns as Sweeney Todd and John Wilkes Booth (Assassins) at The Encore Theatre. Here Moan’s soaring voice is paired with a characterization that is as wry as it is poignant: an outsider always looking in, waiting for his moment to shine, even if that involves pushing a relative (or 8) off the proverbial (or literal) cliff.  Moan and Brown are at their best in the “slamming doors” number “I’ve Decided to Marry You” (also, arguably the most ear-wormy tune in the show) alongside Angela Hench (“Sibella”), depicting a love triangle gone zanily sideways. Hench is an incredible vocalist, but, at times, given the accent she employs, our table struggled to discern her lines.

Richard Payton as … The D’Ysquiths [Image from The Dio’s Facebook page]

Local legend Richard Payton, as expected, milks every moment of excess and bombast in his multiple roles as the self-important D’Ysquiths. The scenery practically has teeth marks from his work here, and, as much fun as he is clearly having, some nuance does get lost in The Dio’s tight quarters. He is balanced by an exceptionally strong ensemble (Lydia Adams, Michael Bessom, Olive Hayden-Moore, Jared Schneider, Carrie Sayer, Maika Van Oosterhout, Mark Anthony Vukelich) also playing multiple roles. Their collective high point (other than some really funny fake ice skating) is “Lady Hyacinth Abroad” wherein Payton’s entitled queen bee “Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith” launches a series of successively disastrous philanthropic voyages to far flung corners of the globe, her exasperated retinue in tow.

I’m glad I saw A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. I’ve been intrigued about the show, but, admittedly, in the end, I’m not sure I’m a fan of the concept. It is a lot of show, and coupled with dinner service makes for a lengthy evening. However, I am a fan of The Dio and the magic they weave in Pinckney, Michigan. Their production of A Gentleman’s Guide is accomplished, polished, and impressive. The degree of difficulty which this theatre company continues to embrace (and conquer) seemingly without a second thought is, in a word, inspiring. And the fact that they consistently deliver exceptional productions with grace, inclusion, humility, and kindness makes The Dio an absolute treasure.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder runs through October 6 at The Dio. Tickets may be purchased here.

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

So, like any household, we try to strike a balance in our choices, particularly where entertainment is concerned, hence we took in the low-budget motocross film drama Bennett’s War at my husband’s request.

It’s a formulaic sports-as-metaphor flick, but, on the balance, a likable one. Production values are that of a mid-range television pilot, and, other than country star Trace Adkins as a down-on-his-luck farmer, the cast is comprised primarily of unknowns. A few jingoistic moments made me cringe – notably a golden-hued Michael Bay-like opening wherein titular every man Marshall Bennett (a winning Michael Roark) has turned his motorcycle riding prowess into a tour of duty in Afghanistan. That tour doesn’t end well. Bennett ends up back home, injured and unable to race, his family farm facing foreclosure.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

However, Bennett has a beloved mechanic buddy Cyrus (a charming Ali Afshar, also serving as the film’s producer and curiously choosing to tell, in character, a couple of tone-deaf jokes at the expense of his fellow Arab Americans). The duo face down an enemy motocross team Karate Kid-style (remember that “everything old is new again” thing?), overcome a few narratively convenient setbacks, and save the farm (literally).

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

You know what? I enjoyed Bennett’s War. The movie is well-cast, nicely paced, and mostly good-hearted. Bennett’s War is pleasant entertainment, zips by in a breezy 90 minutes, and doesn’t leave an unpleasant aftertaste. Sometimes that’s just fine.

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Richard Payton [Image from The Dio’s Facebook page]

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.

Cost of feeling: Two Muses production of Next to Normal

Description: Film poster; Source: Wikipedia [linked]; Portion used: Film poster only; Low resolution? Sufficient resolution for illustration, but considerably lower resolution than original. Other information: Intellectual property by film studio. Non-free media use rationales: Non-free media use rationale - Article/review; Purpose of use: Used for purposes of critical commentary and illustration in an educational article about the film. The poster is used as the primary means of visual identification of this article topic. Replaceable? Protected by copyright, therefore a free use alternative won't exist.

[Image Source: Two Muses Theatre]

This isn’t a review. If anything it’s an ode to a phenomenal local professional production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal.

(In full transparency, several of my friends have been involved in putting this production together … and I even donated a nickel or two to the Kickstarter campaign that helped fund it.)

I had seen a few numbers from the Broadway production of this challenging show on the 2009 Tony Awards, and I promptly bought the two-disc cast album, but I had not yet ever had the privilege of seeing it.

It definitely exceeded my expectations.

Next to Normal, with music by Tom Kitt and book/lyrics by Brian Yorkey, details in rock opera form the travails of a young couple as they careen toward middle age, navigating Yuppie-dom, petulant teenagers, and a predilection for making sandwiches on the kitchen floor. A traumatic cloud hangs over their McMansion, the truth of which is revealed M. Night Shyamalan-style toward the end of the first act.

This narrative context – which shares its genetic code with such tragic familial dramas as The Subject Was Roses, Glass Menagerie, Fear Strikes Out, Ordinary People, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or All My Sons – is the perfect framework to explore the thorny topic of mental illness in today’s America. Our overeager societal penchant for pharmacological solutions receives the most caustic critique, though the authors have plenty to say about gender, age, economics, and the medical profession writ large.

The musical ends with an open-ended if nebulous note of hope, a hope that seems to rely chiefly on honesty, candor, risk-taking and acceptance as the true road to any mental recovery from a catastrophic event.

For those who haven’t seen this show, my words above may be, excuse the expression, maddening. I don’t mean to be coy (Roy! – with apologies to Paul Simon) but if I say more I will spoil the twist that sets the show toward its inevitable conclusion. So there. (You know you’re headed to Wikipedia right … about … now!)

Keeping in mind my admission that many of these folks are friends and acquaintances, the Two Muses cast, in my estimation, was uniformly excellent. With minimal staging, heartfelt performances, and a blessedly light touch, the six-person ensemble (Diane Hill, Nathan Larkin, John DeMerell, Aubrey Fink, Rusty Daugherty, and Richard Payton) delivered an exceptional show. Hill and DeMerell captured beautifully the delicate and painful dance of a couple perfectly wrong for one another, whose youthful good intentions have calcified into painful resentment.

With expert direction by Hill and Barbie Weisserman (including additional staging by Frannie Shepherd Bates) and strong musical support from Jamie Brachel (and fully visible musicians sharing the stage with the actors), this production strips away any visual distraction, simply and effectively using lighting, movement, and a simple chrome dining table and chairs to evoke a wide vary of locations, moments, and emotions.

So, here’s the punchline, Metro Detroiters. You only have one more shot to see this stellar production. Run don’t walk to the Two Muses website – www.twomusestheatre.org – and get your tickets for tomorrow (Sunday, June 30) afternoon. You won’t be sorry!