PHOTOS: Xanadu onstage at Ann Arbor’s West Park … Penny Seats!

 

Kasey Donnelly, Allison Simmons, Sebastian Gerstner, Paige Martin, Logan Balcom, Kristin McSweeney, Jenna Pittman as Muses with Kira

Penny Seats Theatre Company’s 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, runs July 14 through July 30 (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays) at Ann Arbor’s West Park Band Shell.

The Tony-nominated musical comedy 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. 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). Encore Musical Theatre Company’s Thalia Schramm and Matthew Brennan provided assistant direction. Musical Direction is provided by Richard Alder, costuming by Virginia Reiche, and set design and technical direction by Steve Hankes. Lauren London is producing.

Advance tickets are available for $10 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. Photos by Kyle Lawson and Lauren London, and video of the music of Xanadu in rehearsal here.

 

 

Matthew Pecek and Paige Martin as Sonny and Kira with Muses

3 Roy Sexton as Danny and Paige Martin as Kira

Roy Sexton as Danny and Paige Martin as Kira

4 Kasey Donnelly and Allison Simmons and Melpomene and Calliope

Kasey Donnelly and Allison Simmons as Melpomene and Calliope

5 Sebastian Gerstner Jenna Pittman Kristin McSweeney Logan Balcom Paige Martin as Muses and Kira

Sebastian Gerstner, Jenna Pittman, Kristin McSweeney, Logan Balcom, Paige Martin as Muses and Kira

6 Roy Sexton as Danny Maguire

Roy Sexton as Danny Maguire

7 Matthew Pecek as Sonny

Matthew Pecek as Sonny

8 Matthew Pecek as Sonny and Paige Martin as Kira

Matthew Pecek as Sonny and Paige Martin as Kira

9 Matthew Pecek as Sonny Performs Dont Walk Away with Muses

Matthew Pecek as Sonny Performs “Don’t Walk Away” with Muses

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: http://www.pennyseats.org.

Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats production of Xanadu (opening July 14) in rehearsal [VIDEO]

IMG_5255

On 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. Enjoy these photos and video clips from our first rehearsal with orchestra.

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!

 

[Photos by Jenna Pittman, who plays "Euterpe"]

[Photos by Jenna Pittman, who plays “Euterpe”]

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). Encore Musical Theatre Company’s Thalia Schramm and Matthew Brennan are providing assistant direction. Musical Direction is provided by Richard Alder, costuming by Virginia Reiche, and set design and technical direction by Steve Hankes. Don’t miss this crazy, campy, big-hearted show! The show runs Thursday/Friday/Saturday for three weekends (beginning July 14), and tickets are $10, available at www.pennyseats.org.

Clips of Xanadu cast members rehearsing with orchestra on Sunday, July 10 (here) … enjoy!

 

Three versions here …

Two versions here …

IMG_52335 Xanadu Penny Seats

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.

“What’s escrow?” Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

A couple of years ago, I really kinda hated the movie Neighbors with Zac Efron and Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen. I mean it got under my skin and creeped me out and gave me a stomachache because I couldn’t understand why people liked it so much. In that sense, it was probably more effective than I accepted at the time.

Yet, somehow I still found myself drawn to its sequel, the recently released Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. I had a profoundly unexpected reaction to this film, a movie that I would’ve otherwise suspected to be a completely superfluous studio money grab: I adored it. It is as crude and toxic as its predecessor, yet somehow is a perfectly redemptive bookend. Neighbors 2 is a counterpoint to its predecessor’s bromantic orgy of debauchery. It is a rowdy feminist anthem for acceptance and tolerance with a firm belief that, no matter how ugly life gets, anyone and anything can be saved (not in the religious sense but in the humanistic one).

As before, Rose Byrne is the secret weapon, her flinty worry creating comic sparks in the most absurd circumstances. Rogen does fine being Rogen, but he is aided and abetted by Byrne’s ability to be grounded and believable and cartoonish all in the same instance. You believe Byrne is a caring parent, a fretful homeowner, and a person striving for relevance in a world that can’t wait to leave us all in the dust. She’s magic.

And then there is Zac Efron. Not long ago, if you’d asked me if he could mature beyond a dreamy-eyed slab of beef into a thoughtful, nuanced actor, I would have given you a definitive “no.” How wrong I was. He is so poignant in this film, with a deft, surgically precise comic touch – the rare alchemy that can only happen when a character is played at the crossroads of disaffected heartbreak and well-intentioned vacuousness.  If Montgomery Clift and Judy Holliday had had a love child, it would be Efron’s character Teddy in this movie. He beautifully captures the nauseous yearning everyone feels with the passing of the comfortable, bohemian structure of college days. Efron’s Teddy is the little boy lost fraternity brother who had put so much of his energy and time into building superficially “timeless” bonds that he now is completely bewildered by the cruel, corrosive velocity of adulthood.

Through this lens, we are introduced to a sorority that moves in next door to Rogen and Byrne, causing no end of formulaic mischief, duplicating the narrative arc of the prior film. In this go-round, though, the story is shot through with a bold sense of millennial feminism, the kind of kids who want independence and tolerance, but don’t understand how vile their ageist, tech-obsessed lifestyles can be.

Chloe Grace Moretz is the sorority ringleader, and she is the perfect foil for Efron, who initially serves as house advisor to the girls. Moretz carries the same optimistic arrogance and uncertain certainty that Efron projected in the last film, with a sense of urgency and wrongheaded-determination that propels the film as her sorority sisters proceed to torture Rogen and Byrne. You see, the young couple are selling their cute bungalow to upgrade to a cookie cutter dream home, but have no idea that, when their current home is in “escrow,” the incoming buyers have 30 days to back out of the deal (if say, a sorority moves in next door and trashes the place). The film does such a fabulous job lightly skewering the hipster “mommy and daddy” culture, one foot stuck in their own college days and the other in a highly mortgaged plastic grave.

Dave Franco appears again as Efron’s best friend and fraternity brother, and there is a gently sweet subplot of Franco’s engagement to his longtime boyfriend, with Efron seamlessly stepping into the role of best man and abandoned confidante. There is a lovely “why is this a big deal?” to their interactions that bespeaks an American evolution that should give us all hope.

The film is plenty crass, with a boatload of cringe-worthy moments, but I found it such a loving and inclusive enterprise, as if someone had taken the blueprint from Neighbors and overlaid it with a healthy dose of Bridesmaids, that I am still smiling. I suspect my opinion will run counter to that of many fans of these sorts of films because we are living in a country that continues to see women as frightening, as something “other” to be ridiculed, demeaned, and contained. This film turns that wrongheaded notion on its head, unleashing the unapologetically jubilant female id and reminding us that we are all humans, frightened of what tomorrow may bring, attempting to enjoy whatever happiness we can today. #ImWithHer

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Zac-Efron-32Reel 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.

“What’s good for Detroit is good for America.” The Nice Guys

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

The Nice Guys. Imagine Boogie Nights as a frothy Abbott and Costello cinematic confection with a healthy sprinkling of The Rockford Files on top. Served with a side of Starsky & Hutch … or Bugs & Daffy.

Set in a smoggy/syphilitic 1977 Los Angeles, director/screenwriter Shane Black’s comic noir caper flick revels in just how damned ugly the Me Decade was. Film has a tendency to romanticize an era or to toy cutely with a period’s quirky extremes. Black time travels without commentary. The characters in this film aren’t living in a Smithsonian exhibit. They are simply living. Or attempting to live.

Beyond the flawless set decoration and precise costume design, Black is aided and abetted by the sparks that fly when you throw the unlikeliest of co-stars together: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Glowering gravitas meets wicked whimsy.

That said, the awkwardly delicious alchemy these two titans demonstrated on the talk show circuit promoting the film isn’t as evident onscreen as one might expect. Perhaps surprisingly, Crowe ends up garnering more laughs because he is always so. darn. grounded.  He’s funny simply because he’s not trying to be. Gosling indulges cartoonish impulses a few too many times, not trusting the comedy of situational contrast to do the heavy lifting. (Gosling has yet to outgrow the “isn’t it just a riot to see a handsome adult man let loose an ear-piercing community theatre shriek when he’s scared?” tic. Be careful, Ryan, for that way rests Johnny Depp’s sputtering career.)

Regardless, Crowe and Gosling are pretty freaking adorable together, and the whole enterprise plays like a pilot episode of a vintage TV-series that never got picked up. The plot is, well, kind of a meandering mess … just like a grainy 1970s TV crime drama. I kept waiting for Jaclyn Smith or Gavin MacLeod  to show up as a “very special guest star.” (We do get a Lynda Carter shout out, though.) There are double- and triple-crosses aplenty as a porn actress (literally) crashes through a family’s living room, and her death starts a spiraling series of murders and other sordid shenanigans. Oh, and there is intrigue about the auto industry and catalytic converters and how in the world Kim Basinger’s character managed to have Botox before the procedure was ever invented.

Gosling, as private eye Holland March, and Crowe, as hired muscle Jackson Healy, initially find themselves at cross purposes (with Gosling’s pretty mug on the receiving end of Crowe’s brass knuckles). Grudgingly, the duo partner up as the violence mounts and their befuddlement grows. A big part of the movie’s charm is that Crowe and Gosling gleefully portray characters whose detective skills are as suspect as their collective intelligence, with Holland’s precocious daughter Holly March (portrayed by a captivating Angourie Rice) serving as a wise-beyond-her-years Nancy Drew to Gosling/Crowe’s dim bulb Hardy Boys.

Rice’s performance is dynamite with a sharp feminist subtext. As  the “grown up” characters find themselves derailed by patriarchy run amuck (porn, corrupt manufacturing, prostitution, the Oil Crisis … the 70s at its worst), Rice’s Holly is clear-eyed, vigilant, incisive, defying the limitations and stereotypes society seeks to impose. “Don’t say, ‘And stuff.’ Just say there are whores here,” Gosling intones at one point, attempting to correct his daughter’s grammar and missing the misogynist irony in his declaration. The look in Rice’s eye reveals that her character does not lose the irony.

Holly is always ten steps ahead of her father and, without Holly’s continual intervention, the titular Nice Guys would still be attempting to solve the film’s mystery well into the late 1980s. Or they’d be dead.

I’m hoping this feminist dynamic is intentional on Black’s part, a storyteller whose filmography (from Lethal Weapon to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang through Iron Man 3) typically co-opts and reinvents B-movie formula, inverting its clichés as satiric critique of our baser instincts. I suspect this is by design, the film’s random (gratuitous?) naked porn stars notwithstanding.

With The Nice Guys, Black is trying to have his cake and eat it too. And he succeeds. Mostly. In a larger sense, Black is using the indulgent myopia of the 1970s as a reflection of how little we have changed as a nation. Basinger, plays a Department of Justice operative (in a bit of meta-casting, referencing her earlier – better – work in both L.A. Confidential  and 8 Mile) whose definition of “justice” is protecting the (then) fat cats in the Detroit auto industry. In the final act, she delivers the film’s punch line: “What’s good for Detroit is good for America.” Even as today’s Detroit reinvents itself as a hipster paradise of urban farming, artisanal soaps, and craft cocktails, the lesson in Basinger’s remark remains prescient. An America that lives for itself and only itself will quickly find itself trapped in yesteryear’s polyester leisure suit.

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The Nice Guys PostersReel 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.

“I can do this all day!” Captain America: Civil War

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Marvel’s latest offering Captain America: Civil War made me a bit cranky. The film is perfectly fine – good-to-great, in fact. So, why do I feel bowed and broken by the 2.5 hour superhero slugfest?

Returning to this fan-favorite character – after their exceptional work raising the genre to dizzying, political potboiling heights with Captain America: The Winter Soldier director brothers Anthony and Joe Russo now take on the unenviable task of adapting a year-long Marvel Comics event (2006’s Civil War) that encompassed hundreds of characters and decades of lore and centered on a contentious feud between Captain America and Iron Man over the very civil liberties that are sliding off the rails in the present-day 2016 presidential election.

Importing this plot, that benefited extensively from comic readers’ knowledge of Marvel Comics’ 50+ years of canon, into a popcorn blockbuster cinematic universe still in its infancy is no mean feat.

More or less, the Russos succeed brilliantly. The directors deftly juggle a baker’s dozen of colorfully clad Avengers, throwing some new ones into the mix (Marvel has to set up Phase 27 of this merchandising empire, naturally!), yet somehow still retaining focus on the character (Chris Evans’ Captain America) around whom the film ostensibly revolves.

Thank heavens for THREE factors which prevent the enterprise from becoming the kind of overpopulated, unholy, confusing movie slog we tend to associate with Marvel’s Distinguished Competition: 1) the Russos balance their reverence for the comics source material with a surgical ability to excise the nerd-centric minutiae, capturing the essence of this allegorical battle for the soul of America; 2) the filmmakers smartly realize Captain America works well onscreen as a sweet-natured, noble everyman whose motivation will always be, first and foremost, that of a 98-pound weakling out-of-touch with the ways of the modern world yet not giving one damn if his desire to put down bullies of every stripe sets him at odds with current mores; and 3) Chris Evans.

Yes, Robert Downey, Jr.’s motormouth Tony Stark (Iron Man), whose oily hustle as a Tin Woodman on steroids is all sparkle and no soul, slapped the verve into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the first place. (He is dynamite, and, while his rust is starting to show, it plays well through that character’s arc as the cynical pragmatist of The Avengers.) However, my money for the heart and soul of these films is and always will be on Evans’ Captain America.

The best bits of the extended Marvel television universe (Agent Carter, later seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) took root in the Captain America films, and the strongest humor and the most heart-tugging pathos have always centered around the character. Captain America: The First Avenger is as kind, humane, and inspiring a film as Marvel has produced, and Winter Soldier was a crackling spin on America’s obsession with a stalwart greatness we’ve never actually possessed.

So why am I a bit crabby this afternoon after viewing Civil War? Maybe it’s just because the pollen count is woefully high here in Michigan. Or the fact that summer is suddenly barreling down upon us, with the idea of five months of yard work less-than-thrilling.

It’s certainly not because there are any issues with Civil War‘s cast, a collection of champs as fine as they come: Scarlett Johansson (bringing Black Widow new levels of compelling internal conflict), Sebastian Stan (a haunted, hulking Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (his gleaming loyalty cut with a sly anxiety as Falcon), Jeremy Renner (a world-weary Hawkeye), Don Cheadle (a world-wearier War Machine), Paul Bettany (with a nice touch of metallic angst as The Vision), Paul Rudd (welcome comic relief as Ant-Man), Elizabeth Olsen (dodgy Slavic accent notwithstanding as the tortured Scarlet Witch), newcomers Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland (a glowering, intense Black Panther and a cagey yet-wheeling Spider-Man respectively) and a whole busload of “non-supers” caught in (or causing) the cross-fire (William Hurt, Emily VanCamp, Martin Freeman, Daniel Bruhl, John Slattery, Alfre Woodward, Marisa Tomei, Hope Davis).

There is not one false note among them – which is remarkable given that many of these pros receive mere minutes (if not seconds) of screen time. They all make the most of every moment, neither chewing the scenery nor fading into the background amidst all the pyrotechnics. That is a testament as much to the Russos’ direction as it is to the respective actors’ abilities.

I guess I’m a bit sour because the Marvel Cinematic Universe has started to feel like all work, no play. (And we know what effect that had on Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Not good.) The early films were rife with a joy of discovery and a whimsy that is starting to dissipate around the edges. The evolution of this vast Marvel machinery – all the cogs and spokes and wheels and widgets from the movies to the ABC shows to the NetFlix series to the tie-in books and cartoons and merchandise – is a wonder to behold but can also seem stiflingly corporate. It’s become terribly self-serious, all gravity, no air – each Marvel film trailer now peppered with phrases like “nothing will ever be the same,” “forget everything you know,” “this is the moment everything changes.”

The unrelenting bigness seems antithetical to the “little guy taking on the world” joie de vivre that makes Captain America such a special and uniquely American creation. As Evans’ Cap often declares in these films, to comic effect under the most dire of circumstances, “I can do this all day!” Unfortunately, where the Marvel empire is concerned, that sounds like more of a menacing declaration of war than a scrappy assertion of hope.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

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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.

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.

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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.


Once more with feeling (#LMA16): Perspectives from In-House Legal Marketers on Social/Digital Media

img_0348If you missed this week’s Social and Digital Media SIG webinar recapping our takeaways from #LMA16, the recording is now posted here: http://event.on24.com/wcc/r/1174915/B5ECC687155CBA1462A3D24E464C0D94. (You have to “register” to watch.)

Thanks to the incomparable Megan McKeon for joining me on this presentation! And listen for shout outs to Nancy Leyes Myrland, Lindsay Griffiths, Tasneem K. Goodman, Jabez LeBret, Jonathan Fitzgarrald, Heather Morse-Geller, Melissa Thomas, Amber Bollman, Bree Harms, Jim Jarrell, Gina Rubel, and more …

“As the influence of social and digital media continues to evolve and cross-over into all aspects of marketing the legal profession, legal marketers continue to become less generalized, and more focused on specific areas of expertise. These varying focuses and roles, result in differing approaches to the social and digital media in our profession. In other words, what a business development professional finds valuable about a digital media presentation, may differ from that of a marketing technologist. As such, the Legal Marketing Association Social Media SIG invites you to attend our LMA Annual Conference Recap Webinar involving in-house legal marketers from various areas of our profession to discuss their favorite digital and social media programs from this year’s conference. Discussion topics include key takeaways from our favorite sessions, general discussion of the hot topics you may have missed, and the impact of the 2016 LMA Annual Conference programming on our behavior as legal marketers.”

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LMA 16Reel 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.

The Digital Handshake #LMA16: ROI (Measuring So You Can Better Manage) … and PechaKucha!

pecha(Originally written for and posted on Legal Marketing Association Social and Digital Media Special Interest Group blog. This piece is summarizing two sessions I attended at the 2016 annual conference in Austin, Texas.)

 

In her blog entry “Referrals and First Impressions: How Technology Has Changed Them” (summarizing a recent Legal Coffee Break podcast by GNGF founders Mark Homer and Jabez LeBret), Lindsay Griffiths, Director of Global Relationship Management at International Lawyers Network, writes …

When a prospective client Googles you, and the only thing that comes up is a bio that is outdated, with a few lines about your practice, the year you graduated law school and passed the bar, it won’t matter if you are the smartest and most talented lawyer in the world. The firm’s website and your social media profiles are designed to support the word of mouth referral and their decision to hire you, to provide a level of comfort that we all seek when looking online for information these days – that feeling of “oh yes, I’m making the right decision in trusting this person with my business.”

 

What Lindsay has captured here is a key theme that resonated repeatedly for me during the recent Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference (LMA16) in Austin, Texas. The notions that digital and social media somehow exist in a vacuum and are to be discussed as some glorious abstraction or, worse, funky sideline experiment are defunct (not that they ever had any validity to start). We don’t have a special task force for “telephone usage” or “the art of cocktail conversation” (though, in fact, those are not terrible ideas, come to think of it). Social/digital presence is now essential to the business development and marketing conversation, from prospect research through lead generation, from ongoing client engagement to every facet of brand management. Let’s face it. Our digital footprint is often the first thing anyone sees about us these days.

That said, this blog entry, which started life as an assignment to summarize one social media-leaning presentation at LMA16 is going to be a mash-up of takeaways from two utterly unrelated sessions, sessions which nonetheless showed the essential value of digital and social as a matter of accepted course in the world of legal marketing.

Jonathan Fitzgarrald, Equinox Partners, presented “ROI: Measuring So You Can Better Manage,” an effervescent boot camp on law firm managing up and leaning in and breaking out. In the surest sense of “getting more flies with honey,” Fitzgarrald returned frequently to the truism that what you can’t measure doesn’t matter – and more to the point, if you don’t know what matters to your clients, no measurement in the world will help you. And if you are still encountering difficulty selling the importance of digital client engagement to law firm leadership, follow this recipe …

  • Ask your attorneys about their priorities. Don’t assume.
  • Are you mining social media to understand what your clients are seeking and how they are communicating? What are your competitors saying and to whom?
  • Form an unofficial board of advocates in your firm – mix of attorneys & other colleagues.
  • With firm growth priorities in mind, how can social/digital help? What are stakeholder concerns/fears?
  • Socialize unfamiliar concepts using data, outcomes, competitor examples, non-legal examples. Plant the seed, and let others champion the idea. Doesn’t matter who gets “credit,” if it benefits the firm.
  • Measure your social media efforts – quantitatively and anecdotally. Proactively circulate internal monthly measures/outcomes: reach/impressions, shares/likes, media mentions.
  • Actively demonstrate your value and that of social/digital.
  • Help linear folks see in 3D.

 

As social media has evolved from being a standalone topic to a vital communications/ engagement tool, discussions of use, value, measurement were woven throughout many LMA16 presentations across varied topics. Nowhere was that truer than in Tas Gooman and Jabez LeBret’s “Your Honor Awards Meet PechaKucha,” with presentations by Jann E. Dudley of Archer Norris; Daryl Drabinsky of DLA Piper; Sarah Fougere, of Oblon, McClelland, Maier, & Neustadt; Morgan Hall from McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland; and Andrea (Crews) Maciejewski from Levenfeld Pearlstein.

In fact the very presentation-style of the session reflected how social media has impacted our speaking styles and absorption of information. What is PechaKucha you ask? It’s a timed presentation  – six minutes and your slides keep moving whether you are ready or not – requiring the speakers (in this case the 2016 Your Honor recipients)  to focus on the key narrative points: what they did, how they did it, and what results they achieved.

Here’s the thing. Nearly every one discussed how social media/digital was essential to their strategy: targeting messages by audience segment, creating agility and ability to customize what is viewed/received, and offering bigger impact for lower costs. Some of the most memorable tips …

  • Microsites (as opposed to traditional web bios) for attorneys. One size does NOT fit all. For more digitally/socially active subjects, a microsite rewards by including social links, blog posts, etc.
  • In designing “book of content” style sites/microsites, send out private links for measurement and create customized marquees for respective audience interest.
  • Use images rather than text (which I’m failing at presently), and find ways to present information as stories, as narrative, not as cascades of bragging points.
  • Use social/digital to make your campaigns “come to life” with real voices – people want to talk to people, not entities.
  • What issues are trending on social media (e.g. marriage equality), and does that present a growth opportunity? Move fast, and engage … but “non-lawyer-ly.”
  • Hire a local up-and-coming fashion photographer to differentiate photos used in social.
  • Feature profiles, news in-line with business you hope to attract.
  • Explore platforms that allow you to provide easy-to-share content to attorneys, but avoid dreaded “auto-posting” appearance.

Based on these various ideas ping ponging around my brain (thanks, LMA16!), here are the challenges I see going forward …

  • Think less about social media in a “tactical bubble” and more as the accepted (and at times primary means) of strategically communicating. Why is there this “fire wall” around social/digital?
  • Build social/digital more prominently into reporting mechanisms. Where are our clients learning about us? What are they saying and where?
  • Think visually, communicate concisely, speak personally. There is a necessary precision to legal communications; however, our digital/social presence is competing against millions of messages (legal and non-legal) every day. How can we stand out, while walking that fine line of credibility and promotion?

And remember that the first handshake your attorney may have with a potential client is more likely than ever to occur in cyberspace.

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Roy Sexton is Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Trott Law, P.C., a Michigan-based real estate law firm serving the mortgage industry (www.TrottLaw.com). A graduate of Wabash College, he holds an MBA from the University of Michigan and an MA in theatre from the Ohio State University. He has nearly 20 years of experience in strategic planning, business development, marketing and communications, having worked previously at Deloitte Consulting and Oakwood Healthcare.

He is a published author with two books of arts criticism Reel Roy Reviews, compiled from his blog of the same name (www.ReelRoyReviews.com).  He is an at-large member of LMA’s Midwest Board, serves on the state Board of Governors of the Michigan Mortgage Lenders Association, and is a co-founder and board member of Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats Theatre Company. He is active in the Social & Digital Media SIG and is on the advisory board for Strategies. You can reach him by emailing rsexton@trottlaw.com or via the following social media channels:

  • Twitter: @roysexton
  • LinkedIn: /royesexton
  • Facebook: /roy.sexton

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LMA 16Reel 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.

#LMA16 – Keeping Austin Weird … and Making Legal Marketing GREAT (Again).

LMA 16 seriousI just returned from Austin, Texas where the annual Legal Marketing Conference was held. An amazing and eclectic city hosted an even more amazing and eclectic bunch of smart cookies, who shared their knowledge and insight freely, fiercely, graciously, profoundly.

If one could bottle the wit and wisdom in that hotel over the past three days, we could solve every world crisis, laughing and smiling every step of the way.

Yours truly was included in a number of session summaries posted by LexBlog (www.lxbn.com) throughout the event. You can check them out here …

Above the Law covered the conference here, and wonderful colleague Heather Morse offered her ode to LMA here. Check out these conference tips from talented legal PR expert (and attorney herself) Gina Rubel. You can also sign up for our LMA Social Media Special Interest Group wrap-up webinar here.

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Yes, there was no end of fun to be had as well, which you might detect from these photos (cheeky hats courtesy of Jonathan Fitzgarrald) …

LMA 16 3

(And, I promise … I’ll get back to movies soon.)

 LMA 16 2

LMA 16LMA 16 4

Join us Wednesday, April 20 for the Social Media SIG’s recap of the Annual Conference! (Registration Link)

As the influence of social and digital media continues to evolve and cross-over into all aspects of marketing the legal profession, legal marketers continue to become less generalized, and more focused on specific areas of expertise. These varying focuses and roles, result in differing approaches to the social and digital media in our profession. In other words, what a business development professional finds valuable about a digital media presentation, may differ from that of a marketing technologist. As such, the Legal Marketing Association Social Media SIG invites you to attend our LMA Annual Conference Recap Webinar involving in-house legal marketers from various areas of our profession to discuss their favorite digital and social media programs from this year’s conference. Discussion topics include key takeaways from our favorite sessions, general discussion of the hot topics you may have missed, and the impact of the 2016 LMA Annual Conference programming on our behavior as legal marketers.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Discuss the main takeaways from a handful of social and digital media breakouts from the perspective of three types of in-house marketers
  • Compare and contrast which of these presentations resonated with and provided value to our panel of in-house marketers
  • Assess how the 2016 LMA Annual Conference will affect future behavior for our panel looking to implement what they learned practically within their firms

Featured Speakers:

  • Megan McKeon, Senior Business Development Manager, Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP
  • Roy Sexton, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Trott Law, P.C.
  • Jacqueline Madarang, Marketing Technology Manager, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP
  • Jessica Aries (moderator), Business Development Manager, Andrews Kurth LLP

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 IMG_4792Reel 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.