From Theatre Nova: We’re pleased to introduce the all-star cast of SING HAPPY!

“Sing Happy!” opens October 28!!

These talented actors are in rehearsal now!

(counter-clockwise from top left)

Justin Scott Bays is excited to be making his debut on the Theatre NOVA stage. Mr. Bays has performed with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, West Edge Opera, and Toledo Opera. He has participated in the iSing! and Toledo Opera Young Artist Programs. Some of his favorite roles include the Emcee in CABARET, Nicely-Nicely Johnson in GUYS AND DOLLS, Malcolm in THE FULL MONTY, and Gordon Michael Schwinn in A NEW BRAIN. Justin has not only a love of performance, but he also has a great appreciation for coffee.

Kristin Clark is thrilled to be making her debut with Theatre NOVA after many seasons in the audience as the proud daughter of Diane Hill. Particularly at home on the classical concert stage, Kristin made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall in 2015, and she can be heard as Electre on the NAXOS recording of Milhaud’s L’ORESTIE D’ESCHYLE, which was nominated for a GRAMMY for best operatic performance. Kristin completed her doctorate in vocal performance at the University of Michigan and is currently a professor of voice and chair of the music department at Adrian College.

John DeMerell is ecstatic to be back Live on stage again and is excited to make his Theatre NOVA debut with this wonderful fundraiser! Some of John’s favorite musical roles consist of Billy Bigelow in CAROUSEL, multiple roles in I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE, Dan in NEXT TO NORMAL, and the role of his life so far, Don Quixote/ Miguel de Cervantes in MAN OF LA MANCHA, which garnered him his first Wilde Award. Favorite dramatic roles include McMurphy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, Selridge in BILOXI BLUES, and Valmont in LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES. 

K Edmonds is a multi-faceted performer whose stage credits include performances in Jeff Daniel’s ROADSIGNS and WILLOW RUN, both at the Purple Rose Theatre, Bessie Smith in DEVIL’S MUSIC and THE REVOLUTIONISTS, both at Theatre NOVA, GOOD PEOPLE at Open Book Theatre, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN‘ at Performance Network Theatre and RUINED at Plowshares Theatre. An accomplished musician, award-winning director (Boxfest Detroit 2011), and actress (Wilde Awards 2020), K is also an alum of Second City Detroit. She’s thankful of the support from her mother and inspired by her daughter and so many performers she’s been blessed to work with throughout her career.

Diane Hill has performed at many Michigan theatres including the Fisher Theatre, Meadow Brook, MOT, Detroit’s Gem Theatre, Purple Rose, Tipping Point, Encore Musical Theatre, Croswell Opera House, Open Book, and The Ringwald. She won Wilde Awards for Best Actress for WIT and THE HOW AND THE WHY, along with other acting awards for ‘NIGHT, MOTHER and I DO! I DO!  Favorite roles include Diana in NEXT TO NORMAL, Margaret in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA and Sherri in ADMISSIONS. Theatre NOVA audiences have also seen her in THE REVOLUTIONISTS, TOTALITARIANS, THE STONE WITCH and FOLLIES IN CONCERT.

Elizabeth Jaffe is excited to be back at Theatre NOVA where she was last seen in THE ELVES AND THE SCHUMACHERS. Favorite credits include Queenie in THE WILD PARTY (Wilde Award/Best Actress Musical) at the Dio Theatre, The Witch in INTO THE WOODS (Wilde Award/Best Supporting Actress Musical) at Flint Repertory Theatre, Lady of the Lake in SPAMALOT at Encore Musical Theatre, and Sally in CABARET at the Dio. Special thanks to the NOVA team for making this happen, her loving and supportive family and friends, her wonderful and caring husband Ken, and her new adorable and magnificent baby, Noah!

Roy Sexton has spent 25+ years “on the boards,” winning BroadwayWorld Detroit’s Best Actor Musical ‘17 (Ann Arbor Civic’s MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD). He authors the blog reelroyreviews.com, which also inspired two books. Roy is Director of Marketing for Clark Hill and serves on the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor, Legal Marketing Association (international president elect), Mosaic Youth Theatre boards. He was recently named one of Crain’s Detroit Business’ 2021 “Notable LGBTQ Leaders.” He thanks Diane for revisiting what was originally suggested five years ago to Penny Seats by his mother Susie Sexton, who passed away in August.

Many shows are selling out!
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As we reopen, the thing on everyone’s mind is “is it safe?” Here are the safety precautions we’re taking to ensure patron and artist safety, and do our part to mitigate the spread of Covid:

1. All artists and staff are fully vaccinated.
2. All personnel not on stage are required to wear a mask inside the building at all times.
3. All actors who are unmasked during the show will take a quick-response Covid test once a week.
4. All patrons are required to be fully vaccinated. Please bring your vaccination card or a photo or scan of it.
5. All patrons are required to wear a mask inside the building. Surgical masks will be available at the door for $1.
6. Two bathrooms (one upstairs) will be available for patrons.
7. High touch surfaces are wiped down after every performance.
8. Unvaccinated patrons will not be admitted.
9. According to Actors Equity guidelines, a ventilation audit is performed once a year.
10. Tickets will be sold at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing between parties.
11. We will not be selling concessions.

Policies are subject to change at any time, in accordance with fluctuating local, state, and federal guidelines. Please check our website for updates before attending.

As always, parking is free! But the parking lot is much nicer!
Gone are the days of dust and gravel. Our beautiful new parking lot awaits you!

Tickets remain at 2019 prices!
We’ve kept our prices affordable, with pay-what-you-can tickets available for all shows for those who need them.

*2019-2020 season subscribers will receive a credit for the shows they missed due to the mandatory shutdown in 2020.

Only child super powers activate! LMA Exec Director Danielle Holland joins us on Legal Marketing Coffee Talk

View on Facebook: https://fb.watch/8vb5IN8hqA/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/robkates_legalmarketingcoffeetalk-legalmarketing-lmct-activity-6851210961630691328-bj9Q

YouTube: https://youtu.be/4ne2FhvGL30

ONCE I got my internet (sort of) squared away, Rob Kates and I had a delightful chat with Legal Marketing Association – LMA International Executive Director Danielle Holland. There may be show-tunes.

We DEFINITELY discussed opportunities and challenges of leading in a crisis, the magic that is the LMA community, the power of building a great team, DEI, only child super powers, going to kindergarten in penny loafers, telephoto lenses, “sweep buses,” horse shows, marathons, Chicago fashion, cheerleading, gratitude, statement necklaces, and #LMA21 annual conference in two weeks.

Shout outs abound including Kelly MacKinnon, Jill Mason Huse, Brenda Plowman, Andrew Laver, Jaime Lira, Jessica Aries, Amy Payton Verhulst, Dianne Rychlewski, Cynthia Voth, Jay Majitov, Kelly Bache, Ashley Stenger, Gia Altreche, Gina Furia Rubel, “Sing Happy,” Theatre Nova, Diane Hill, Hudson, BarkBox, Adopt A Pet of Fenton, Michigan, and more. Enjoy!

Theatre NOVA presents “Sing Happy!” music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, musical arrangements by R. MacKenzie Lewis Oct. 28 – Nov. 7, 2021

It’s been too long. I needed this. Thrilled to revisit a concept my mom Susie Sexton and dad Don Sexton first suggested to The Penny Seats five (!) years ago. They had an acclaimed award-winning run, if I recall. Honored to be able to appear in it this go ‘round. Such a phenomenal cast and crew. Thank you, Diane Hill. Love you! ❤️

Theatre NOVA presents “Sing Happy!”
music by John Kander and Fred Ebb
with musical arrangements by R. MacKenzie Lewis

Oct. 28 – Nov. 7, 2021

ANN ARBOR, MI (September 29, 2021): Theatre NOVA, Ann Arbor’s resident nonprofit professional theatre presents a limited engagement of “Sing Happy!,” a celebration of the work of Broadway’s famous duo, Kander and Ebb.  

An ensemble of singers will take the stage with showstoppers from “Cabaret,” “Chicago,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and many others while weaving a tale of strength and determination. Directed by Diane Hill, with music direction by R. MacKenzie Lewis, “Sing Happy!” features Justin Scott Bays, Kristin Clark, John DeMerell, K Edmonds (“The Revolutionists,” ‘The Devil’s Music”), Diane Hill (“The Lifespan of a Fact,” “A New Brain,” “Follies in Concert,” “Admissions,” “The How and the Why,” “The Stone Witch,” “The Totalitarians,” and “The Revolutionists”), Elizabeth Jaffe (“The Elves and the Schumachers”), and Roy Sexton (“Follies in Concert”).

The production and design team includes Monica Spencer (scenic design), Jeff Alder (lighting design), and Briana O’Neal (stage manager).

For the health, safety, and well-being of our patrons, staff, and artists, COVID safety measures will be in place. All of the artists and staff participating in the season are required to be fully vaccinated, and patrons must bring proof of vaccination and wear a mask while in the building. Unvaccinated patrons will not be admitted. Tickets will be sold at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing between parties, and concessions will not be sold. This policy is subject to change at any time, in accordance with fluctuating local, state, and federal guidelines. Please check our website for our current policy before attendance. 

“Sing Happy!” will run for two weeks only, Oct. 28 through Nov. 7, 2021. Theatre NOVA is located at 410 W Huron St, Ann Arbor, MI 48103. Performances are on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. General admission tickets for this limited engagement fundraiser are $30.

Tickets, memberships, flex passes, and subscriptions may be purchased online at www.TheatreNOVA.org. Tickets may also be purchased in person one hour before each performance. Seating in the theatre will begin 30 minutes before each performance. There is ample free parking, and quick access to the city’s restaurants, bars, bakeries, and coffee shops. New patrons can find Theatre NOVA across Huron Street from Ann Arbor’s YMCA, through a parking lot entrance on the north side of the street. For more information, visit www.TheatreNOVA.org.

Theatre NOVA is dedicated to raising awareness of the value and excitement of new plays and new playwrights in a diverse and expanding audience; and providing resources and outlets for playwrights to develop their craft, by importing, exporting, and developing new plays and playwrights.

John Kander is an American composer who has produced many well-known scores for the stage, television and film. He is best known for working with his musical partner, lyricist Fred Ebb. Kander was born in Kansas City in 1927. From a young age he played the piano and began formal music training at college, where he composed his first theater scores. After college he worked as a pianist for pre-Broadway musicals in Florida. Kander credits his big break as chancing upon the pianist for a production of “West Side Story” in Philadelphia. He was asked to stand in while the pianist went on holiday and, shortly after, he played for a production of “Gypsy” and was introduced to Jerome Robbins who asked Kander to write the dance arrangements for the show. In 1962, Kander had his Broadway debut with the musical “A Family Affair” and worked with producer Hal Prince. Although the show was not a success, it led to a successful future relationship with Prince. The following year, Kander was introduced to Fred Ebb and the pair began to write together. Their first song “My Colouring Book” was nominated for a Grammy Award. From then on, Kander and Ebb’s writing partnership grew and was consolidated with a string of musical hits. After a slow start with the Hal Prince musical “Flora, the Red Menace” (which featured a young Liza Minnelli making her Broadway debut), the pair wrote the musical “Cabaret” (1966). Their next big success came with “Chicago” (1975) and a fruitful collaboration with choreographer Bob Fosse. Both “Cabaret” and “Chicago” were made into hit films in the 1970s and 2000s respectively. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Kander and Ebb produced a steady stream of musicals with varying levels of popular success. 1990 saw the pair score another musical hit with “The Kiss of the Spider Woman.” His most recent show (without Ebb this time) is “Kid Victory,” which was produced off-Broadway in 2017. As well as his theatrical works, Kander has written the scores for several films and collaborated Ebb on the 1977 film “New York, New York,” as well as “Funny Lady” and “Lucky Lady” (1975). In addition to multiple Tony Awards, Kander and Ebb were made Kennedy Center Honorees in 1998, as well as receiving the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theater in 2000. In 2013 Kander received the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Fred Ebb – One half of the dynamic musical duo “Kander and Ebb,” Fred Ebb was born in New York City in 1928. In 1955 he graduated from New York University with a degree in English Literature; in 1957, he earned his Master’s in Literature at Columbia University. Ebb partnered with other composers before meeting John Kander. He worked with Phil Springer to write individual songs (notably “Heartbroken,” made famous by Judy Garland). Later, Ebb partnered with Paul Klein for his first musical theatre endeavor, the Broadway revue “From A to Z.” In 1962, Ebb met Kander. Their first book musical to hit Broadway was “Flora the Red Menace” starring Liza Minnelli. Their next collaboration was “Cabaret” in 1966 (the 1972 film starred Minnelli). The duo went on to have a widely successful career, including many collaborations with directors such as Bob Fosse and Hal Prince: “Chicago” (1975), “Woman of the Year” (1981), “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1993), “The Visit” (2001). The pair’s last collaboration was “Curtains” (2006), a musical murder mystery. Unfortunately, Ebb died suddenly of a heart attack before it was finished. The pair’s last complete collaboration, “The Scottsboro Boys,” premiered in 2010. After Ebb’s death, the Fred Ebb Foundation and its award was established. The award is given to aspiring musical theatre writers – including Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, who won the Tony Award for Best Musical and Book of a Musical for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” (2014).

Diane Hill (Director) was founder and Artistic/Executive Director of Two Muses Theatre, a nonprofit, professional theatre in West Bloomfield. There she performed in and directed many plays and musicals each year and did the work of technical director, publicist, sound designer, webmaster, and graphic designer for every production. Diane was a professor at University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland Community College, where she originated and designed the Theatre degree program. She has a Ph.D. in Theatre from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts in Theatre from the University of Michigan. She previously taught high school drama and music in the public school system (Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor) for 20 years. Diane has additionally produced and directed shows for professional theatre companies including Breathe Art Theatre Company in Detroit, Opus Mime in Ann Arbor, Jewish Ensemble Theatre in West Bloomfield, Tipping Point Theatre in Northville, and Heartlande Theatre Company in Detroit. Diane has been a Producing Artistic Director at Theatre NOVA since 2017. At Theatre NOVA, she produced several Michigan Playwrights Festivals, directed “Clutter” (Wilde Award Best New Play), “Follies in Concert,” “Whatcha Doin?,” “The W.I.T.C.H,” and shares with her cast and design team the Council Cargle Award for Excellence in Diverse Storytelling for directing “Kill Move Paradise.” Diane also produced all the Zoom projects since the shutdown, including the Zoom Play Festival and the pro shot filmed version of “A New Brain.”

R. MacKenzie Lewis (Music Director/Musical Arrangement) is composer and music director for EMU’s School of Theatre Arts, and lecturer and accompanist with its School of Music and Dance. Some favorite projects include orchestrating/music directing the national tour and Off-Broadway premiere of “The Berenstain Bears LIVE! in Family Matters, the Musical,” orchestrating/music directing “Gypsy” at the Hangar Theatre in New York (Broadway World Award: Best Music Direction); music directing “A Little Night Music” at the Performance Network in Ann Arbor (Wilde Award: Best Music Direction and Best Musical); music directing “Legally Blonde” as a guest artist for MSU (Pulsar Award: Best Music Direction); composing “Irrational” (Wilde Award: Best New Script); associate music directing the workshop of “Romance in Hard Times” with William Finn at the Barrington Stage Co.; composing music for “Mockingbird” (two Helen Hayes nominations), “Wings of Ikarus” and “Jason Invisible” – all of which were commissioned and premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. He also composed the musicals “Video Games: The Rock Opera,” “Treasure Island,” “Pinocchio,” “Soaring on Black Wings” – world premiere with Ben Vereen, and all of Theatre NOVA’s Pantos.

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FACT SHEET

WHO:

Cast:
Justin Scott Bays
Kristin Clark
John DeMerell
K Edmonds
Diane Hill
Elizabeth Jaffe
Roy Sexton

Production Team:
Director: Diane Hill

Music Director: R MacKenzie Lewis

Set design: Monica Spencer

Lighting design: Jeff Alder

Stage Management/Props: Briana O’Neal 

WHAT:
“Sing Happy!” music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, musical arrangement by R. MacKenzie Lewis

Theatre NOVA, 410 W. Huron, Ann Arbor, MI 48103 Box office: 734-635-8450, 

Tickets: $30

ON THE INTERNET:

www.TheatreNOVA.org   

http://www.facebook.com/theatrenova  

http://www.instagram.com/a2theatrenova/ 

https://twitter.com/TheatreNova

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE

SING HAPPY! an evening of music by Kander and Ebb
October 28 – November 7, 2021

Fri., Oct. 28, 8:00 p.m. Opening Night 

Sat., Oct. 29, 8:00 p.m.  

Sun., Oct. 30, 2:00 p.m.  

Thurs., Nov. 4, 8:00 p.m.  

Fri., Nov. 5, 8:00 p.m.  

Sat., Nov. 6, 8:00 p.m.  

Sun., Nov. 7, 2:00p.m.

SAVE THE DATE(S) … SING HAPPY! music of John Kander and Fred Ebb – a fundraiser for Theatre Nova, 10/28 – 11/7

So … THIS is happening. 10/28 – 11/7. I should be ready to leave my basement by then. 😉 🎶 Thank you, Diane Hill, Ryan MacKenzie Lewis, and Theatre Nova, for your kindness, including me in this fabulous upcoming event!

SING HAPPY! music by John Kander and Fred Ebb with musical arrangements by R. MacKenzie Lewis – Theatre NOVA Fundraiser. More on the full season here: https://www.theatrenova.org/2021-22-season

A fundraiser for Theatre NOVA and presented in concert, Sing Happy! is a celebration of the work of Broadway’s famous duo, Kander and Ebb. An ensemble of singers will take the stage with showstoppers from “Cabaret,” “Chicago,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and many others while weaving a tale of strength and determination.

Directed by Diane Hill. Music Direction by R. MacKenzie Lewis. Featuring Jason Briggs, John DeMerell, Kalyse Edmondson, Diane Hill, Elizabeth Jaffe Smoot, Sarah Stevens, Connor Thomas Rhoades, Carrie Jay Sayer, and Roy Sexton (that’s me! 🤩).

Spoiler alert: my solos are “Mr. Cellophane” from Chicago and “A Quiet Thing” from Flora the Red Menace.

LIMITED ENGAGEMENT
October 28 – November 7, 2021
Single tickets: $30

Diane saw this post on social media a few weeks back, and subsequently lobbied Ryan to include “Mr. Cellophane.” I hadn’t told her this but – and imagine me at around four of five years old – Mr. Cellophane was (inexplicably) one of the first songs I ever sang spontaneously as a kid. My mom and dad captured it on a portable tape recorder. They must have been listening to the cast album a lot back then. And I took a shine to that song. Lord knows where that cassette ended up at this point!

“Sometimes joy has a terrible cost.” Theatre NOVA & The Ringwald Theatre’s filmed co-production of A New Brain

A NEW BRAIN by William Finn and James Lapine, produced by Theatre NOVA in collaboration with The Ringwald Theatre, via Broadway on Demand in June 2021. Artwork by Bob Hank.

A New Brain by William Finn (Falsettos, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and James Lapine (Falsettos, Into the Woods, Passion) is one of those musicals held in rapturous, nay obsessive esteem by the theater community but is virtually unknown by anyone who doesn’t know the difference between stage left and stage right. (Cue Hanna-Barbera’s Snagglepuss.)

And that’s a shame. Written in 1998, following Finn’s harrowing ordeal with brain surgery, this musical roman à clef resonates now more than ever, with its themes of isolation and stifled creativity, a jaded and callous medical industry, a business community that literally works its employees to their deathbeds, and ultimately the redemptive power of just slowing the eff down.

If you’ve never heard the clever score (that is part pastiche, part light poperetta, and all wit) via cast album nor ever seen a live production, then you are in luck … no matter what part of the world in which you live or how “busy” your schedule. Theatre NOVA, in collaboration with The Ringwald Theatre, released a brilliant filmed co-production of A New Brain this weekend on Broadway on Demand.

(L to R): Jason Briggs, Vince Kelley, Diane Hill, Alaina Kerr, Richard Payton, Steve DeBruyne, Liz Schultz, and Arielle Crosby in A New Brain by William Finn and James Lapine produced by Theatre NOVA in collaboration with The Ringwald Theatre. Photo by Jake B. Turner.

From their press release:

By the Tony Award-winning authors of Falsettos, A New Brain is a life-affirming, heartfelt, often comical musical about a composer during a medical emergency. As doctors and nurses fly in and out of his room, trying to figure out what’s wrong with his brain, Gordon drifts in and out of consciousness as he contemplates his life, legacy, and the meaning of music – all while navigating his relationships with his best friend, mother, and boyfriend. A New Brain is an unexpectedly funny, relatable, and ultimately touching meditation on how beautiful the world is when we slow down enough to look.

With special permission and a unique COVID-19 Contingency License from Concord Theatricals, Theatre NOVA and The Ringwald Theatre shot the musical over a period of two weeks to ensure that all COVID protocols and safety procedures could be upheld. The cast spent the month of March learning and rehearsing the all-sung show over Zoom with music director R. MacKenzie Lewis. At the beginning of April, the cast transitioned to socially distanced and masked in-person music rehearsals at Theatre NOVA. Finally, with all of the cast and crew partially or fully vaccinated and all participants COVID-tested, director Vince Kelley and cinematographer Jake Turner rehearsed and shot the show over a 12-day period, scene by scene, with arduous planning about how it would all be stitched together in post-production. This schedule allowed them to have the fewest people in the theatre at once, but also provided very new experiences for the stage actors who were accustomed to rehearsing a play for 4-6 weeks. The crew and cast wrapped the filming on April 24.

Read that previous paragraph again. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

This production – which will be aired three weekends this PRIDE month of June (appropriate) – is one helluva feat of logistics and moxie. Yes, right now we are all starting to peek out our front doors like the Munchkins when Dorothy dropped that house on the Wicked Witch of the West. But several months ago, when this production was being devised, most of us still were more worried about buying groceries safely than figuring out how to stage and film a full-blown musical between two cross-regional theatre companies. Theatre people will not be contained. Remember that!

So I’d be impressed by this production under any circumstances. However, it’s so damn good that I forgot within minutes that this incredible crew had any constraints at all. That may be the best compliment I could provide. This gleaming production may have been forged in the fires of pandemic but it transcends the moment, reflecting our fraught human condition both today and tomorrow.

(L to R): Jason Briggs, Steve DeBruyne, Alaina Kerr, Diane Hill, Richard Payton, Vince Kelley, Arielle Crosby, Liz Schultz, and Jamie Richards in A New Brain by William Finn and James Lapine produced by Theatre NOVA in collaboration with The Ringwald Theatre. Photo by Jake B. Turner.

The cast includes Jason Briggs, Arielle Crosby, Steve DeBruyne, Diane Hill, Vince Kelley, Alaina Kerr, Richard Payton, Jamie Richards, and Liz Schultz. This ensemble is tight, both in their vocals and their stage relationships. Given the compressed/limited rehearsal and filming schedule, that is testament to their talent, professionalism, and performance history.

The production team includes Vince Kelley (director, costumer), R. MacKenzie Lewis (music director, musical tracks), Jake Turner (set designer, cinematographer, sound engineer, editor), Dan Morrison (lighting designer), Brandy Joe Plambeck (additional camera work), and Briana O’Neal (stage manager).

This is an all-star team, and it shows. The cinematography, lighting, sound, and edits are all on point. There is the occasional bit of mic buzz and a randomly disruptive cutaway shot or two, but on the balance the production is staged in a nicely polished way, balancing the visceral immediacy of live theatre with the more controlled and directive nature of film. It’s a pretty thrilling hybrid and great fun to watch performers heretofore only seen live in such a recorded setting.

Every actor has iconic moments. Kelley, being an actor himself, is clearly a director who knows how to frame actorly impulses to benefit both the individual performer and the overall needs of the narrative.

Payton has the heaviest lift, rarely leaving the stage, and he plays our protagonist Gordon with an impish poignancy and deeply layered inner life. Payton is so gifted, and one of his superpowers as a performer is bringing distinct clarity to the relationships his characters have with others onstage. That talent propels this piece to new heights, notably in his interactions with a crackling good Hill as Gordon’s mother and a luminous Kelley as his life partner Roger.

Hill’s numbers – both with Payton and solo – are all standouts: the wry neurosis of “Mother’s Gonna Make Things Fine,” the incendiary comedy of “Throw It Out,” and the smoldering regret of “Music Still Plays On.”

(L to R): Arielle Crosby and Vince Kelley in A New Brain by William Finn and James Lapine produced by Theatre NOVA in collaboration with The Ringwald Theatre. Photo by Jake B. Turner.

Crosby electrifies whenever she enters the picture as a wise and whimsical homeless person/Greek chorus. Her line delivery and physicality can be piercingly funny and deeply heartbreaking, depending on the moment, and her singing his divine.

Speaking of soaring vocals, someone get DeBruyne and Payton to record an album of pop standard duets stat. Kerr and Briggs are also great fun in a handful of ensemble parts, bringing deft comic chops and a much-appreciated nibble or two on the scenery.

The production design is sleek and efficient, with onstage lighting rigs that serve a host of purposes from operating room to MRI to nightclub bistro. Turner is wearing many hats, and the slick integration of cinematography and design roles is evident in the final product. Morrison does fine work with the lighting cues which remain overtly theatrical (appropriate for the piece) while honoring the more naturalistic needs of the camera.

And Lewis deserves special recognition for his music direction here. Onscreen at times and always accompanying the cast on piano, he has created a lush and enveloping soundscape without the benefit of orchestra or, well, much time. It’s a remarkable achievement.

(L to R): Richard Payton, R. MacKenzie Lewis, Diane Hill, Vince Kelley, Jason Briggs, and Liz Schultz in A New Brain by William Finn and James Lapine produced by Theatre NOVA in collaboration with The Ringwald Theatre. Photo by Jake B. Turner.

My only critique would be that the latter third – focused as it primarily is on the fevered imaginings of our hero’s coma-afflicted mind – doesn’t feel particularly differentiated from the rest of the show. Not dissimilar to, say, the “Loveland” sequence in Follies or the musical numbers in Rob Marshall’s film treatment of Chicago, this section of A New Brain should take on a heightened, nightmarish quality. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite achieved here – other than a sequin or two, not much is offered to signal we as an audience are trapped in Gordon’s dreamscape. I don’t know that I have a recommendation but this is where the post-production that film affords (versus stage work) might have aided and abetted. But it’s a minor quibble.

Theatre NOVA and The Ringwald’s A New Brain is a revelation, attesting to the talent, ingenuity, and collaboration in our Southeast Michigan theatrical community. It is a show for the ages and should not be missed. Per one lyric in the number “And They’re Off,” “sometimes joy has a terrible cost.” Given the past year, we’ve all paid an extraordinary price for our safety and that of our loved ones. We all deserve a bit of joy now, so do yourself a favor and purchase a ticket for A New Brain.

A New Brain will be available ON DEMAND on June 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, and 20. Tickets are $25 per person. Ticket-holders may watch the show on Broadway On Demand on their computers, tablets, smartphones, and TV via the Broadway on Demand App, using AppleTV, Roku, all compatible Amazon Video devices. For tickets, visit www.TheatreNOVA.org.

From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured: Payton
From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured (L-R): Crosby, Kelley, Payton

From their press release:

Theatre NOVA is Ann Arbor’s resident professional theatre company. Its mission is to raise awareness of the value and excitement of new plays and playwrights and provide resources for playwrights to develop their craft by importing, exporting, and developing new work.

The Ringwald Theatre is based in Ferndale, and its mission is to engage diverse audiences through fresh, risk-taking theatrical experiences.
This activity is supported in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured: DeBruyne
From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured: Briggs

Vince Kelley (Director) just returned to the Detroit area and is very happy to be back. After a lifetime of telling people what to do, he decided to legitimize his behavior and try his hand at directing. With decades of acting under his belt, Vince has performed all over Metro Detroit, a few places in New York City, and a handful of National Tours. One day about a decade ago Joe Bailey from The Ringwald asked if he would be interested in costuming a production of “Hurlyburly” and since then he’s enjoyed working behind the scenes. Making his directorial debut at The Ringwald helming “Company” in 2018, that show also starred Richard Payton and Diane Hill. Vince is looking forward to what show he can direct Richard and Diane in next. Maybe “Escape to Margaritaville?”

From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured: Hill
From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured (L-R): Payton, Kelley

R. MacKenzie Lewis (Music Director, Tracks) is the composer/music director for Eastern Michigan University’s School of Communication, Media, and Theatre Arts and a lecturer and accompanist with the School of Music and Dance. Favorite projects outside of university life include music directing and orchestrating the National Tour and Off-Broadway premiere of “The Berenstain Bears Live! In Family Matters, The Musical,” “Titanic” and “Gypsy” at the Hangar Theatre in New York (Broadway World Award, Best Music Direction); “A Little Night Music” at the Performance Network (Wilde Award, Best Music Direction); “Legally Blonde” at MSU (Pulsar Award, Best Music Direction), “Irrational” (Composer, Wilde Award, Best New Script); and “Romance in Hard Times” with William Finn at the Barrington Stage Co. He composed music for the shows “Wings of Ikarus,” “Jason Invisible,” and “Mockingbird” (two Helen Hayes nominations), all of which were commissioned and premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. Lewis has also composed the musicals: “Video Games: The Rock Opera,” “Treasure Island,” “Pinocchio,” “A Very British Christmas,” “Sugar Plum Panto,” “The Elves and the Schumachers,” and “Soaring on Black Wings,” a world premiere with Ben Vereen.

William Finn (Music/Lyrics/Book) is the writer and composer of “Falsettos,” for which he received two Tony Awards, Best Book of a Musical (with James Lapine) and Best Original Score. He has also written and composed In “Trousers,” “March of the Falsettos,” and “Falsettoland” (Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, two Los Angeles Drama Critics Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, the Lucille Lortel Award, and Guggenheim Fellowship in Playwriting). Mr. Finn wrote the lyrics to Graciela Daniele’s “Tango Apasionado” (music by the great Astor Piazzolla) and, with Michael Starobin, the music to Lapine’s version of “The Winter’s Tale.” His musical “Romance in Hard Times” was presented at The Public Theater. Recently, he wrote “Painting You for Love’s Fire,” a piece commissioned and performed by the Acting Company, based on Shakespeare’s sonnets. For television, Mr. Finn provided the music and lyrics for the Ace Award-winning HBO cartoon “Ira Sleeps Over,” “Tom Thumb and Thumbelina,” “Pokey Little Puppy’s First Christmas,” and, with Ellen Fitzhugh, two “Brave Little Toaster” cartoons. Mr. Finn has written for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New Yorker. A graduate of Williams College, where he was awarded the Hutchinson Fellowship for Musical Composition, Finn now teaches a weekly master class at the NYU Tisch Graduate Program in Musical Theatre Writing. His most recent projects include “Elegies, A Song Cycle” (Lincoln Center), “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which had a three-year run on Broadway and has been produced nationally and all over the world, and “Little Miss Sunshine” with James Lapine. For the past four years, he has been the Artistic Head of the Musical Theatre Lab at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured (L-R): Payton, Kerr, Schultz
From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured: Richards

James Lapine (Book) was born in 1949 in Mansfield, Ohio, and lived there until his early teens when his family moved to Stamford, Connecticut. He attended public schools before entering Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he majored in History. He went on to get an MFA in Design from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. After graduate school, he moved to New York City, where he worked part-time as a waiter; a page and tour guide at NBC; a free-lance photographer and graphic designer; and an architectural preservationist for the Architectural League of NY. One of his free-lance jobs was designing the magazine of the Yale School of Drama, Yale/Theater, then edited by Rocco Landesman and Robert Marx. The dean of the School of Drama, Robert Brustein, offered Lapine a full-time job designing all of the printed materials for the School of Drama and the Yale Repertory Theatre as well as a faculty position teaching a course in advertising design. While at Yale, his students urged him to direct a play during the annual January period when both faculty and students undertook a project outside of their areas of study or expertise. At their suggestion Lapine directed a Gertrude Stein play, “Photograph.” The play was five acts, and just three pages in length. Assembling students and friends, the play was presented in New Haven and came to the attention of director Lee Breuer, who helped arrange for a small performance space in Soho to present the work for three weeks. The production was enthusiastically received and won Lapine an Obie award. Lapine was approached to create a new piece for the Music-Theatre Group. He wrote and directed a workshop version of “Twelve Dreams,” a work inspired by a Jungian case history. The play was later presented at the Public Theatre and revived by Lincoln Center Theatre. Lapine eventually left the visual arts for a career in the theatre where he has also written and directed the plays “Table Settings,” “Luck, Pluck and Virtue,” “The Moment When,” “Fran’s Bed,” and “Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing.” He has written the book for and directed Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods,” “Passion,” and the multi-media revue “Sondheim on Sondheim.” He also directed “Merrily We Roll Along” as part of Encores! at New York City Center. With William Finn, he has collaborated on “March of the Falsettos” and “Falsettoland,” later presented on Broadway as “Falsettos,” “A New Brain,” “Muscle,” and the soon to be produced, “Little Miss Sunshine” which will open at 2nd Stage Theatre. On Broadway, he has also directed David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Michel Legrand’s “Amour, “and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” He directed Jenny Allen’s solo piece “I Got Sick and Then I Got Better” with Darren Katz. Lapine directed the 2012 Broadway revival of Annie. He is co-producing and directing the upcoming HBO documentary “Six By Sondheim,” which is due to be released this winter. In the Spring of 2014, Lincoln Center Theater will produce his stage adaptation of the Moss Hart memoir, “Act One.” Lapine has also directed several productions off-Broadway as well as three films. He is the recipient of three Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2011, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. Lapine is a member of the Dramatist Guild Council and, for the last twelve years, has been a mentor for TDF’s Open Doors Program. He is also on the board of Ars Nova Theatre. He currently lives in New York City.

From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured (L-R): Payton, Schultz

Cast:

Jason Briggs (Richard)
Arielle Crosby (Homeless Woman)
Steve DeBruyne (Doctor)
Diane Hill (Mother)
Vince Kelley (Roger)
Alaina Kerr (Waitress/Nancy D.)
Richard Payton (Gordon)
Jamie Richards (Mr. Bungee)
Liz Schultz (Rhoda)

Production Team:

Director/Costume Designer: Vince Kelley

Music director/musical tracks: R. MacKenzie Lewis

Set design, cinematographer, sound engineer, editor: Jake Turner

Lighting design: Dan Morrison

Additional Camerawork: Brandy Joe Plambeck

Stage Management: Briana O’Neal

From Theatre NOVA’s Facebook page – pictured: ensemble

Alchemic, essential, transfixing: Theatre NOVA’s latest Play of the Month … The W.I.T.C.H

History shows that, when the majority in rule starts to feel that they are losing their cultural hegemony, they get ugly and they go on the attack, no matter what lip service they provide to the contrary. Even in some of my volunteer board service recently, I have seen it from others in ways that truly have shocked me.

My mother and I were having this conversation yesterday. The wonderful thing in this moment is that those who have been forced to live in the margins now have access to so many megaphones – digital and otherwise – by which to tell their stories and hopefully cement positive, permanent change.

One such example is Theatre NOVA’s latest “Play of the Month”: The W.I.T.C.H, a firecracker of a show, written and performed by incisive, chameleonic Morgan Breon and ably directed by Diane Hill with a keen eye toward economy of space, dance-like movement, and the rich language of the text itself. (THE W.I.T.C.H. stands for Wound Intervention Through Care and Healing.)

From the press release: “Theatre NOVA, Ann Arbor’s professional theatre with an exclusive focus on new plays and playwrights, presents a new play written specifically for the Zoom format each month (January through April) with their PLAY OF THE MONTH series. ‘THE W.I.T.C.H’ by Morgan Breon, the fourth offering in the series, will be performed live on Zoom on Wednesday, April 28 at 8pm and available ON DEMAND for Series Pass holders through the end of May 2021.

“‘THE W.I.T.C.H.’ shows the joys, pains, and struggles of Ms. Morgan, a newly hired Behavior Specialist at a Detroit public high school. When hope begins to crack open her students’ hearts and minds, Ms. Morgan’s office might just be the most dangerous room in the entire school. Directed by Theatre NOVA Producing Artistic Director, Diane Hill. Featuring Morgan Breon in a tour de force role as she portrays an array of characters in the public school setting including a behavior specialist, students, teachers and administrators.”

And that press release isn’t just hype. It is one of the most accurate descriptions I have seen in a press release about a piece of work in a long time. Morgan Breon in style and delivery is like this wondrous combination of Anna Deavere Smith and Zoe Caldwell. She is alchemic and transfixing. A one person show is never easy, let alone holding the audience’s rapt attention via Zoom for 30 minutes.

Like quicksilver, she depicts a host of characters – from teachers to multiple teenagers to school administrators – gracefully, sharply, rapidly morphing from one to the next, each clearly drawn and distinct. It is a remarkable performance, made that much more significant in service as it is to a message of inclusion and of the necessity for all of us to break down the fears that hold us back from authentic connection.

Highly recommend!

Note: the performance was followed by a talk-back about the play and the desensitization to trauma amongst youth experiences in and out of school. Interested attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and join the discussion.

Tickets are $10 each month, or $30 for a Series Pass, which includes admission to four plays for the price of three and the opportunity to view all four plays ON DEMAND if any of the live performances are missed. Purchase tickets online at www.TheatreNova.org. All proceeds benefit Theatre NOVA’s ongoing efforts to stay alive through the pandemic. This activity is supported in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Morgan Breon (playwright/performer) earned four degrees from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor—none of which are in theatre. She holds an: LLMSW, EdMA, BA Psychology and BA English. She kick-started her theatre career playing 15 of the 16 characters featured in Nilaja Sun’s, “NO CHILD” at Matrix Theatre Company. Morgan is an ensemble member of Shakespeare in Detroit and is an alumnus of Mosaic Youth Theater in Detroit, University of Michigan’s CRLT Players, and the University of Michigan Educational Theatre Company and has received awards for her plays “WAKING UP ALIVE” and “PORTRAIT OF A WISE WOMAN.” Morgan was a 2017 Mitten Lab Fellow, 2017-2018 University Musical Society (UMS) Artist in Residence, 2018 Playwriting Scholarship Recipient with PlayPenn Theatre in Philadelphia, PA, and a 2018 Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellow. Her docu-play “TELLING OUR STORIES” platforms the narratives of Black women in America, and a technology-infused version of the project was showcased at the 2018 TEDxDetroit Lab in collaboration with Metropolitan Museum of Design Detroit. The exhibit told stories through QR codes, and was entitled “smART: Telling Our Stories | Black Women in America.” In December, 2020, Morgan published “A Refugee of Me: A Collection of Poems and A Refugee of Me: The Workbook,” which uses poetry to guide readers into self-reflection and healing. Morgan credits Jesus Christ for her gifts of anything creative.

Diane Hill (Director) is a Producing Artistic Director at Theatre NOVA and was founder and Artistic/Executive Director of Two Muses Theatre, another nonprofit, professional theatre in West Bloomfield. There she performed in and directed many plays and musicals each year and did the work of technical director, publicist, sound designer, webmaster, and graphic designer for every production. Diane was a professor at University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland Community College, where she originated and designed the Theatre degree program. She has a Ph.D. in Theatre from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts in Theatre from the University of Michigan. She previously taught high school drama and music, where she produced and directed theatrical productions in the public school system (Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor) for 20 years. Diane has additionally produced and directed shows for professional theatre companies including Breathe Art Theatre Company in Detroit, Opus Mime in Ann Arbor, Jewish Ensemble Theatre in West Bloomfield, Tipping Point Theatre in Northville, and Heartlande Theatre Company in Detroit. Diane is an award-winning actor and member of Actors’ Equity Association and the American Guild of Musical Artists and has performed at many professional theatres in southeast Michigan, including the Fisher Theatre, Meadow Brook Theatre, Masonic Temple, Michigan Opera Theatre, Detroit’s Gem Theatre, Purple Rose Theatre, Tipping Point Theatre, Encore Musical Theatre, Croswell Opera House, Open Book Theatre, The Ringwald Theatre and Cherry County Playhouse. She was awarded a Wilde Award for her portrayal of Professor Vivian Bearing in “WIT,” a Rogue Critic’s Award for her work as Mama in “‘NIGHT MOTHER,” both with Breathe Art Theatre Project, and an Ann Arbor News Award for her work as Agnes in “I DO! I DO!” at Kerrytown Concert House. Diane also has performed leading roles in several independent films, television and radio commercials, and industrial films. At Theatre NOVA, she directed “CLUTTER,” “FOLLIES IN CONCERT” and “KILL MOVE PARADISE” (Council Cargle Award for Excellence in Diverse Storytelling) and has kept very busy this year producing, directing and stage managing several Zoom plays written especially for Theatre NOVA. Theatre NOVA audiences saw her play Olympe de Gouges in “THE REVOLUTIONISTS” (Wilde Award Best Production), Zelda in “THE HOW AND THE WHY” (Wilde Award Best Actress), Penelope Easter in “THE TOTALITARIANS,” Sherri in “ADMISSIONS” and Phyllis in “FOLLIES IN CONCERT.”

There won’t be … orphans: Theatre NOVA’s Play-of-the-Month “4 Genres” by Ron Riekki

If classic playwright Dario Fo wrote for Saturday Night Live in these technologically insular COVID days, I suspect he would have come up with something like Ron Riekki’s 4 Genres. That is a compliment BTW.

From Theatre NOVA’s press release: “Theatre NOVA, Ann Arbor’s professional theatre with an exclusive focus on new plays and playwrights, presents a new play written specifically for the Zoom format each month (January through April) with their PLAY OF THE MONTH series. 4 Genres by Ron Riekki, the second offering in the series, will be performed live on Zoom on Wednesday, February 24th at 8pm and available ON DEMAND for Series Pass holders through May.

“In 4 Genres, four characters reveal what they’ve learned after being trapped within four respective film/theatre genres (musical theatre, documentary, slapstick, and horror). A hilarious comedy exploring the role of art in life and society, 4 Genres is directed by Theatre NOVA Founding Artistic Director, Carla Milarch and features Jennifer Felts (An Almost British Christmas), Nate John-Mark (A Hero of Our Time, 2020), Dan Johnson (Kill, Move, Paradise) and David Moan (I’m Streaming of an Alright Christmas).”

The show uses its “high concept” as a lens to address (lightly) the existential dread we have all been experiencing for one year now under COVID – this week being the anniversary of first going into lockdown, if I recall correctly. My mind feels as rattled as those of the characters in this piece.

4 Genres moves briskly. More than a few technological mishaps (I’m assuming unintentional) – dropped sound, internet wobbles – aid and abet the viewing experience. We ain’t looking for polish in quarantine.

The four performers are marvels of commitment. John-Mark has the showiest role, and he doesn’t miss a trick. He mines comedy gold from the anxiety of being trapped in a “summer camp/asylum/orphanage” populated by werewolves, witches, chainsaw killers, but NO orphans. The richest laughs come from his exasperated delivery of quips aplenty.

Moan has a ball leveraging his musical comedy chops. Ironically, singing seems to cause his character physical pain, even as his dulcet tones delight the viewer. Spoiler alert: you may never hear “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen the same way again. And Moan’s “Rose’s Turn”-style nervous breakdown medley at the play’s conclusion is pretty damn brilliant. For that moment alone, this is one of the few Zoom shows I wouldn’t mind seeing staged IRL when and if this quarantine ever ends.

Felts and Johnson do reliably fine work in their respective roles. If Riekki were to make any revisions to the script, I might recommend taking another pass at these characters. These two roles don’t benefit from the same comically sharp definition as the others, so the piece suffers a slight imbalance. Again, that isn’t a result of Felts’ and Johnson’s performances. They both go all in, but they don’t have as rich of material to explore.

Director Carla Milarch knows how to position new works effectively. She has a marketer’s eye for pulling out a unique hook that will engage the audience. She leverages the immediacy of Zoom with its inherent isolating limitations – literally everyone is in a box – to provide a proper framework for the narrative. However, she also gives her actors *some* free reign, pulling the camera back a bit so that they each exist in three dimensional space, be it a charnel house, B&W soundstage, or velvet curtained cabaret. This offers the actors refreshing opportunity for physical business, in addition to the more typical “lines delivered directly at the camera” that we see so frequently in the ever-evolving pandemic-remote staging style.

I must admit that one of the things I find most appealing about this Zoom-based delivery mechanism for theater is that I can watch it on a Sunday afternoon, a week and a half after the premiere, knowing that my review can still benefit the overall experience, not only of this production but of the series. Will we ever go back to showing up collectively at one start time on one date and committing an evening to viewing theater? I hope so, but I don’t hate that this show is only 30 minutes and I could enjoy it while wearing my pajamas.

The show is a helluva lot of fun, as witty as it is thought-provoking, and serves as a nifty little showcase for four very talented local performers. Definitely check it out. If nothing else, it provides a lovely waiting room distraction as we all still figure out how in the heck to get vaccinated.

Tickets are $10 each month, or $30 for a Series Pass, which includes admission to four plays for the price of three and the opportunity to view all four plays ON DEMAND if any of the live performances are missed. Purchase tickets online at www.TheatreNova.org. For more information, pleaseemail a2theatrenova@gmail.com. All proceeds benefit Theatre NOVA’s ongoing efforts to stay alive through the pandemic. This activity is supported in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

MEET THE CAST OF 4 GENRES:

Nate John-Mark (Horror) is originally from Grand Rapids, MI. He attended Western Michigan University where he pursued a degree in Organizational Communication. Nate has always had a passion for performance and poetry which he satiated by hosting events on campus to create platforms for artists like himself to be heard and seen. After undergrad Nate began an Audience Development Assistantship at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where he was later introduced to performing Shakespeare with the OSF school tour. He has since joined Universes Theatre Ensemble, performed in Shakespeare tours around the country and is now living as an actor and playwright in Detroit, MI.

Dan Johnson (Doc) returns to Theatre NOVA after previously appearing in James Ijames’ KILL MOVE PARADISE (Winner, 2019 Council Cargle Wilde Award) and has been fortunate enough to work in SE Michigan theatre for the past decade, including recently winning 2020 Wilde Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Play (MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY) and in a Musical (MAN OF LA MANCHA). Along with his partner, Ashley M. Lyle (blaqn.org), Dan has also co-created “Toward An Anti-Racist Michigan Theatre,” a statement and workshop meant to help facilitate the work of positive, transformative change in 2021 and beyond. Many thanks to the cast and crew, to Mom, Dad and Angela for their love and support and (now more than ever) THANK YOU for supporting live Michigan theatre and theatre artists.  Enjoy!

David Moan (Musical) is honored to be back on the virtual NOVA stage as part of 4 GENRES. Originally from Pittsburgh, David was most recently seen as the Big Man in Red in the 2020 panto, I’M STREAMING OF AN ALRIGHT CHRISTMAS at Theatre NOVA. In the before times, David could be seen on real stages throughout southeast Michigan most notably as John Wilkes Booth in ASSASSINS and SWEENEY TODD at the Encore, God in AN ACT OF GOD at the Dio, and Martin in CANDIDE with the Michigan Opera Theater. Until Theatre is back in full, you can find David “performing” while playing video games at twitch.tv/davidmmoan. David would like to thank “everyone at Theatre NOVA for finding a way to make theatre happen,  Monica and Kim for keeping me sane in quarantine and all of you for supporting the arts in the time we need you most.”

Jennifer Felts (Slapstick) is currently a lecturer of Theatre at Eastern Michigan University and received her Master of Fine Arts from The London International School of Performing Arts. She directed TROJAN WOMEN and THE BIRTHDAY PARTY at Eastern Michigan University and VENUS IN FUR at the Performance Network Theatre. She has created movement, choreography and stage combat for many productions including SPRING AWAKENING, ONE MAN, TWO GUV’NORS, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, URINETOWN, JULIUS CAESAR, ANGELS IN AMERICA, DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE, BUD, NOT BUDDY and EQUUS (Wilde award for Best Movement Direction). As a performer, she has worked at the London Gate Theatre in the UK, Tipping Point, Andiamo Theatre, Theatre NOVA, and Performance Network. She also enjoys devising and collaborating on new work such as SIMONE: AN EVENING IN CHAPTER TITLES at Detroit’s Planet Ant Theatre or SHOULDER TO THE WHEEL at the Riverside Arts Center.

“Beauty as currency. Or a weapon.” Whatcha Doin? – part of Theatre NOVA’s new “Play of the Month” series

“Who’s zoomin’ who?” Detroit great Aretha Franklin once queried in song. Little did we know how prescient that sassy lyric would be some 30 years later. Here we all remain in our homes waiting for the cloud of pandemic to hopefully/eventually pass, anxious not only for our health and safety but for the chaotically mercurial state of a society that spins off its axis on a daily basis. How do we remain connected? Will human contact be forever limited to misleading social media messages and Zoom-enabled video jail cells? Only time will tell.

This existential dread hovers atop playwright Jacquelyn Priskorn’s incisive two-hander Whatcha Doin? The play is delivered via, yes, the ubiquitous Zoom, but makes effective use of the surreally detached intimacy that the platform provides.

From Theatre NOVA’s press release: “In Whatcha Doin?, a film student interviews a former child star turned voice over actor for a documentary project. Thrilled to witness Marnie’s work-from-home recording studio in action, Raven is surprised to learn about the difficulties Marnie had while portraying the goofy, unattractive kid on a TV series, but even more so, Raven is curious about why Marnie is now unable to leave her home. Whatcha Doin? is directed by Theatre NOVA Producing Artistic Director, Diane Hill and features Kate Stark and Megan Wesner.”

Stark and Wesner are compelling presences, defying the inherent limitations of webinar acting, with bright and engaging but wholly natural styles. Given Zoom’s challenges, the performer has to “pop” beyond a gauzy digital haze … but not *too* much. Not quite film, not quite stage, effective characterization has to break through the uncanny valley, remaining humanistic, yet not becoming flat. Stark and Wesner both excel, building a dynamic relationship in a brisk 20 minutes that is compelling, believable, poignant, and deeply affecting. To capture the ephemeral spark of unfolding friendship is tricky business on stage or screen, so it is a rare, almost voyeuristic thrill to watch Stark and Wesner’s nuanced work here.

With Hill’s expert direction, there is a beautiful embrace of the awkwardness inherent in online conversations. I haven’t really seen anybody capture as well the strange dance of smiles and pauses and sidelong glances that Zoom inspires. They nail it here. The script which is deceptively clever addresses the fluidity of identity in this modern age, supercharged as that can be across the bits and bytes of a computer screen.

Whether we realize it or not, we all are engaged in a minute-by-minute act of reclaiming, shaping, and reimagining who we are across digital platforms and IRL. This pas de deux of identity and belonging is deftly depicted in both script and production without hitting the viewer over the head. Highly recommend.

Tickets are $10 each month, or $30 for a Series Pass which admits ticket holders to a new play each month, January through April, 2021. Purchase tickets online at www.TheatreNova.org. For more information, please email a2theatrenova@gmail.com. All proceeds benefit Theatre NOVA’s ongoing efforts to stay alive through the pandemic.

Theatre NOVA, Ann Arbor’s professional theatre with an exclusive focus on new plays and playwrights, presents its new PLAY OF THE MONTH Zoom Play Series, featuring new plays written specifically for the Zoom format each month.

Due to the success of their Zoom Play Series Festival that ran in October, 2020, and in keeping with their mission to raise awareness of the value and excitement of new plays and playwrights, Theatre NOVA will present a new short play (20-40 minutes long) each month, January through April, 2021. The series opens with Whatcha Doin? by Jacquelyn Priskorn, performed live on Wednesday, January 27th at 8:00pm and available on video for the month of February.

Jacquelyn Priskorn (Playwright) has been writing plays since she took her first class with playwright Kitty Dubin in 1997. She has had several plays and screenplays produced since that first class, including the award-winning short film, “The Guest Room” (shown at the Strasbourg Film Festival in France), as well as a screenplay, “Love & Plutonium,” which is currently available on DVD. Her play “Love Shackles” was published in “Quick & Painless: Saturday Night Lites 2004-2005 Season” distributed by Original Works. “Glass Slipper, Size 8 ½,” “The Rot,” “The Reckless Romantic” and “Off Center” (Best Play at the Oakland University Actor Showcase) are currently available through Brooklyn Publishing. “Good Morning, Miriam” received the Jury’s Choice Award at the Detroit Fringe Forward Festival, along with Best New Play from New Plays from the Heartland, and The Chameleon Theatre Circle’s 17th annual one act play contest.

Diane Hill (Director) is a Producing Artistic Director at Theatre NOVA and was founder and Artistic/Executive Director of Two Muses Theatre, a nonprofit, professional theatre in West Bloomfield. Diane was a professor at University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland Community College, where she originated and designed the Theatre degree program. She has a Ph.D. in Theatre from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts in Theatre from the University of Michigan. At Theatre NOVA, she directed “Clutter,” “Follies in Concert” and “Kill Move Paradise” (Council Cargle Award for Excellence in Diverse Storytelling).” Theatre NOVA audiences saw her play Olympe de Gouges in “The Revolutionists” (Wilde Award Best Production), Penelope Easter in “The Totalitarians,” Zelda in “The How and the Why” (Wilde Award Best Actress), and Sherri in “Admissions.”

Kate Stark (Marnie) is a dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, and voice over artist based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. She holds BAs in Biological Anthropology and Broadcast Journalism from Miami University and in a previous life was a TV news producer. Kate performs and teaches with companies like Cincinnati Ballet, Carnegie Center for the Performing Arts, Cincinnati Landmark Productions, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, The Know Theatre, Dancing with Parkinson’s, InBocca Performance, and Pones Inc. Favorite roles: Judy Turner (“A Chorus Line”), Jean MacLaren (“Brigadoon”), Phyllis Dale (“42nd Street”), Nellie (“Nellie Bly: A Menace to Propriety”), and Texas (“Cabaret”).

Megan Wesner (Raven) is excited to be working with Theatre NOVA for the first time. They have previously worked as an actor, director, scenic painter, and stagehand for various Michigan theaters including the Wharton Center, Wild Swan Theatre Company, All-of-Us Express, the Purple Rose Theatre Company, and Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. Megan graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Arts & Humanities and Theatre. They currently reside in Chelsea, Michigan.

Speaking of Zoom …

Enjoy this video of today’s “Epic CRM Fails” webinar panel with yours truly – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KUh4OsOopIQ&feature=youtu.be

“How are law firms using CRM and other marketing and business development software increasing the ROI on these technology investments? Christopher Raymond of Intapp, Chris Fritsch, JD of CLIENTSFirst Consulting, and Roy Sexton (ME!) of Clark Hill Law share real-life stories of how they overcame these obstacles.”

Thank you to Rob Kates of Kates Media: Video Production for the video support and to Martha Lord and Sarah Goldfuss for their assistance throughout.

“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

Pulp Ann Arbor reviews Theatre Nova’s Follies in Concert

Well, this is about the nicest review anyone (who isn’t my mother) has ever written about anything I’ve done on stage. “Roy Sexton is outstanding as Buddy. He has some of the most complex songs exploring the most complex emotions. His takes on ‘The Right Girl’ and ‘Buddy’s Blues’ are vocally strong and emotionally engaging as he conjures up a dialogue with his girlfriend while still yearning for the love of his wife.” Read more: https://pulp.aadl.org/node/399787. Theatre Nova’s Follies in Concert runs ONE more weekend, starting Thursday: http://www.theatrenova.org

Photo by Sean Carter

“Follies” continues Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 14-16, at 8 pm and Nov. 17 at 2 pm. Theatre Nova, 410 W. Huron St., Ann Arbor. For tickets, call 734-635-8450 or go to theatreNOVA.org.

Love this! Just discovered that my mom Susie Sexton’s Honors Thesis from her time at Ball State University is available to read from their library site. Check out #HenrikIbsen: “An Enemy of the People” here: http://cardinalscholar.bsu.edu/bitstream/handle/handle/190162/D86_1968DuncanSusanE.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

I sure do love these sweet kids – thank you, Nikki Bagdady Horn, Colleen McConnell Fowler, Blaine D. Fowler, and Lauren Crocker, for being such wonderful and supportive friends. Really grateful for you! Fun Friday at #Follies!