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)


Five Course Love

Within the first year of its inception, HappenStance Productions has found a home base at Andiamo Novi’s upstairs theater. Now the company brings its latest in a string of musicals, Five Course Love (book, music, and lyrics by Gregg Coffin), a bodice-ripper of an international buffet. Under the direction of Aaron T. Moore, this production plays up the campy, soapy humor of its premise and embraces the addictive appeal of the empty calorie, to delectably tawdry effect.

There’s rhyme and reason behind the paperback book each woman character (all played by Maren Ritter) is reading when we first meet her, but the production wisely drops the through line like a hot potato, giving each of the musical’s five distinct vignettes an agreeably self-contained feel. The scenes, all featuring a woman, a man (Patrick O’Reilly), and a facilitating waiter (Moore), tell stories of first meetings, infidelity, betrayal, and fighting for love; what they have in common is their passionate themes, their restaurant settings, and their unabashed unreality. Befitting a handful of silly capers, the actors play to the audience at every available opportunity, giving the show a cabaret feel ideally suited to the utter absurdity of these pulpy escapades.

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Viewers familiar with Who Wants Cake? at the Ringwald will hear “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (book by John Cameron Mitchell, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask) and reflexively think “Yes, absolutely.” An ingenious fit for the boundary-pushing company and make-do space, this provocative and thrilling imagined rock set by an also-ran East German transgender singer-songwriter and her band doubles as a fictitious autobiography of oppression, sacrifice, disfigurement, playing gigs at the Sizzler, and other unspeakable indignities we weather for the sake of love. Here, cemented by Vince Kelley’s stellar turn in the title role, director Joe Plambeck’s subversive and infectious musical delivers both melodiously and dramatically.

The Angry Inch is Hedwig’s band, made up of four players on instruments as well as selectively spoken roadie/backup/husband Yitzhak (Sonja Marquis). In the world of the play, the group is following rock god Tommy Gnosis on his national tour, in a misguided attempt to vengefully tarnish his reputation and/or get his attention — Hedwig claims to have written or co-written all the songs that made him famous, only to be thrown over and ignored. Led by music director Eric Gutman, the numbers rattle the storefront Ringwald space, inspired by glam rock with a little edge of furious punk for good measure. Kelley is gamely supported vocally by Marquis and sometimes Gutman, but the lyrics are clearly plucked straight out of Hedwig’s soul, a connection aided by the unhinged electricity of live performance that is alive and well throughout this ninety-minute play.

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The American Crowbar Case

The New Theatre Project partners with local band Match By Match for its first ever original musical, The American Crowbar Case. Created by band member Gray Bouchard, with a book by Jason Sebacher, the play concerns itself with one of the most famous and inexplicable brain injuries in history — the ostensibly self-lobotomized railroad worker Phineas Gage, whose baffling survival was made all the more intriguing by his before-and-after personality shift. Accordingly, Keith Paul Medelis directs a production that, like its subject, seems to be of two minds, but the parts are pleasing enough to make a satisfying whole.

The music doesn’t follow the traditional mold of the musical: Bouchard is a featured singer, but doesn’t himself play a character; lyrics are thematically relevant, but not directly applicable. For their part, Bouchard and Sebacher don’t try to force the story to meet the existing songs, but instead allow for a prevailing feeling of concept album turned concert. This is confirmed and amplified by magnificent design choices: from the up-lit circular stage (set by Medelis) to the unrealistic, high-contrast lighting scheme to the complementary projection work (both by Janine Woods Thoma), the result is a unified vision that rocks along with the music. Melissa Coppola’s music direction fills the space with expertly blended sounds — one is reminded that this is not a house band assembled just for this production, but an actual band, an acoustic trio of guitar (Bouchard), piano (Coppola), and bass (Linden McEachern), playing its own catchy indie/folk songs.

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A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine

The danger in presenting a double bill is that the format encourages comparison of one half with another. This is borne out in a big way in the Hilberry Theatre production of A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (book and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh; music by Frank Lazarus): as directed by Michael J. Barnes, the show’s second half is a madcap comedy that plays to the performers’ strengths. There’s also an hour of song and dance.

The greater of the two is A Night in the Ukraine, the second act. An homage to the Marx Brothers’ comedy legacy in film, the story takes Chekhov’s The Bear and, to no one’s surprise, runs roughshod over it. The supporting performances are notable, in particular the young Nina (Danielle Cochrane) and Constantine (Alec Barbour), who fall in love at first sight, suffer a divisive misunderstanding, and reconcile in record time and without a smidgen of awareness of their staggering cliché. Loreli Sturm’s Mrs. Pavlenko is a willing, padding-stuffed butt of jokes by characters more wily than she — which is most of them. However, the starring Marx approximators deserve the greatest accolades: Dave Toomey is a steadfast lost-in-translation Gino; unmistakably greasepainted Andrew Papa puts his own wisecracking spin on the exhausting semantic gymnastics of Serge B. Samovar; and Carollette Phillips excels without uttering a syllable as the intent, obfuscating, hilariously vacant-faced Carlo. Moments of lull stand out only because the pacing generally gambols, and the combination of word play and physical/visual spectacle keeps the comedy rolling through a deliberately unimportant and improbable plot.

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Returning production — Evil Dead: The Musical

As part of the Rogue Critic's evolving efforts to cover as much theater as possible within a large geographical area teeming with culture, this season will see the end of re-reviews. Co-productions among theaters will receive a single review, and revivals of past productions will also escape the sting of the critic's lash.

The very fact that a theater elects to revive a recent production for another run suggests a measure of commercial and critical success — in essence, such shows generally have something excellent to offer. In keeping with this logic, I will be disappointed not to take my seat at the twice-returning Evil Dead: The Musical, mounted by Who Wants Cake? and Olympia Entertainment at the City Theatre in Detroit. This site's archives already boast not one, but two reviews of Who Wants Cake?'s delectably messy slapstick-horror efforts: one from the 2010 production, also at the City Theatre, and another from the initial 2009 production at the Ringwald.

Readers should keep in mind that these are past reviews; some of the players have changed, and the show has a new director in Michelle LeRoy, who has previously designed lights and effects. (Also notable among the differences from last year's show is the price point: all tickets are general admission at a flat $22, so everything — including the heralded splatter zone — is first-come, first-serve.) But with the same venue and much of the same creative team, these reviews should give any potential viewer a sense of what can be expected in this year's production.

Evil Dead: The Musical is no longer playing.
For the latest from the Ringwald Theatre (formerly Who Wants Cake?), click here.
For the latest from City Theatre, click here.

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