Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







Entries in musicals (63)


Smokey Joe's Cafe

The Encore Musical Theatre Company jumps and rocks to the hits of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in Smokey Joe’s Cafe. The songwriting duo behind the hits “Jailhouse Rock,” “Love Potion #9,” and “Yakety Yak” were integral to the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll as well as solid contributors to the rhythm and blues catalog, as this production’s unbelievably long and memorable playlist attests. Unburdened by meddlesome plot strictures, director and choreographer Barbara F. Cullen and her ensemble cast find themselves free to dig into the jukebox for a whirlwind of reminiscence and lively celebration of 1950s sounds.

This musical revue doesn’t depend on a gimmick or hook to justify itself; its two acts are nothing more than a collection of tunes with their prolific songwriting team in common. Yet the anchor position of a nostalgic group number emphasizing togetherness and the keenly first-person perspective of the lyrics can give the impression that larger themes are going to unfold. Cullen and company wisely take a light hand with the contextual mire: the eight ensemble members suit character choices to the song and moment, never adhering to a single persona, and boys and girls pair off in combinations that avoid strict continuity. A viewer could go cross-eyed scouring the song list and background interactions for hidden meaning, but the company’s efforts are happily expended in a more rewarding pursuit: put simply, the play is the songs, and the songs are great.

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Nunset Boulevard

They’re nuns, they’re entertainers, they’re back for more. Meadow Brook Theatre’s Nunset Boulevard, directed by creator/writer Dan Goggin, is a recent entry in the decades-long Nunsense canon, and for better and worse, it shows. The musical readily takes shortcuts to tap into its already invested fan base, leaving the sense that potential content and character arcs have been pretty well picked over at this point. Yet whatever staleness leaks into the composition doesn’t weigh down this assembly of series veterans, who bring enthusiasm and delightful, sharp silliness to the highly concentrated entertainment of the revue.

On the heels of their growing acclaim from prior shows, here the sisters arrive in Hollywood, expecting to hit their career stride at the iconic Hollywood Bowl. Because the characters were built on being hapless comic foils for whom things go inevitably sour, they are chagrined, but not deterred, by the unexpected suffix “-A-Rama” in the venue name. Barry Axtell’s set design perks up the underwhelming bowling-alley-annex surroundings with loftier architectural elements that both recall the place’s namesake and comfortably house the band, led by music director Michael Rice. Mike Duncan’s barreling sound design glibly reminds viewers that in the world of the play, the sisters aren’t even the main attraction at this lowly establishment; lights by Reid G. Johnson similarly hang on to the conceit, but judiciously get caught up in the pageantry. Costumer Rich Hamson transcends the expected fare by layering on increasingly bizarre and unexpected show pieces that add to the humor of splashy ditties.

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A Jazzy Christmas

‘Tis the season for ubiquitous Christmas music, the beastly quantity and dubious quality of which is enough to wear on even the most spirited holiday shopper (and driver, and diner, and dental patient, and person on hold). Fortunately, Plowshares Theatre understands that the best cure for the unfortunate-Christmas-recordings blues is to do the tunes right. As a follow-up to its spring production, Jazz: Birth of the Cool, the company returns to Detroit’s Virgil H. Carr Cultural Center to celebrate A Jazzy Christmas with inviting warmth and seasonal style.

The large second-floor space is here configured with rows of chairs facing a temporary stage, from which the performers frequently step down and sing almost within reach of the front row. It’s an intimate, casual atmosphere that both evades a strictly concert feel and lends flexibility to performer/choreographer Brent Davin Vance’s staging of about three dozen numbers presented in two acts. LED lighting effects set the ladies’ luxe formal wear to sparkling and also wash over the blank backdrop with rich primary colors, supplemented by huge snowflake lights that keep the surroundings dynamic without being overly busy. The sound design has a similarly tech-infused feel, providing personal amplification that puts each of the five singers on even footing with the five musicians arraying the rear of the stage. Although the impressive accoutrements and close feel suggest counterintuitive purposes, the overall effect is coherent enough: a glimmering, jubilant, but highly personal experience.

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The All Night Strut Holiday Show

After reopening the historic theater two decades ago with The All Night Strut!, the Gem Theatre proudly comes full circle, celebrating its twentieth season and concurrently spreading holiday cheer in The All Night Strut Holiday Show (conceived and originally directed by Fran Charnas; musical arrangements by Tom Fitt, Gil Lieb, and Dick Schermesser, with additional orchestrations by Corey Allen). This production, recreated by Gary Thompson, fashions a revue of equal parts retread and sentiment that, beyond its seasonal appeal, promises to scratch the viewer’s every musical itch.

The show’s premise lies in its simplicity: revisiting beloved tunes circa the 1930s and ‘40s. Borrowing heavily from the original show, the first act finds performers Lianne Marie Dobbs, Marja Harmon, Jared Joseph, and Denis Lambert working their way through sparkling, peppy tunes with a hefty helping of wartime odes. For the second act, costume designer Mark Mariani turns the cheer up to eleven with dazzling plush ensembles as the score leaps headlong into Christmas songs (plus an extraneous bit of tokenism in a single Hanukkah number). A largely empty set is given dimension in Dana White’s cool lighting scheme, which puts the focus on the singers but also highlights the swinging three-piece band behind them (Ralphie Armstrong, Rob Emanuel, and music director Sven Anderson).

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Ain't Misbehavin'

Not to be confused with jukebox musicals (and their frequently shoehorned plots), the musical revue lets a collection of works stand on its own merits. In Ain’t Misbehavin’ (conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr., and Murray Horwitz, and created/arranged/adapted by a laundry list of contributors), the music is that of Thomas “Fats” Waller, the venerated jazz performer and prolific composer. With nothing more than a set list and an after-hours impromptu feel, this Performance Network Theatre revue, directed by Tim Edward Rhoze, doesn’t require fanfare: it makes its own.

In a sunken speakeasy-type joint in 1940s Harlem, five revelers and their four-piece jazz combo aren’t ready to call it a night, so they sing and dance to their hearts’ content. Seriously, that’s all the setup this show — and this team — needs. Set designer Daniel C. Walker introduces cabaret seating to the Network stage, creating a conspicuously cramped, make-do playing space that proves boundless in the director and cast’s collective imagination. Waller’s melodies are handled superbly by this group; under musical director/arranger R. MacKenzie Lewis, expert vocal proficiency is apparent, both alone and in groups. Yet the crowning achievement of the musical performances is their abundant spontaneity, a quality equally well represented in choreographer Robin Wilson’s jovial non-lockstep movement: the fresh and unscripted feeling was never so alive as it is here. The off-the-cuff music and dancing beats actually make some spoken exchanges feel comparatively hacky; even with an unobtrusive boost from sound designer Edward Weingart, the action puts on a temporary veneer to ensure the humorous ribbing can be heard above the uproarious party atmosphere.

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