Thursday, November 21, 2013

"The Producers" a top-notch birthday gift at Saginaw Valley State University

Keith Schnabel, Isaac Wood and Blake Mazur
Schnabel as Hitler with director Ric Roberts second from right

Wood, Lexee Longwell and Dakotah Myers

review by Janet I. Martineau/ photos by Michael Randolph




The devil is in the detail.

We have said that for nigh unto 40 years of reviewing theater.

And the Saginaw Valley State University 50th anniversary production of the Mel Brooks musical "The Producers" is beautifully awash in it.

The show opened Wednesday night to a capacity audience, enticed there perhaps by the much-publicized fact the college had rented the actual Broadway set, props and costumes that helped earn the show 12 Tony Awards back In 2001. 

And yes, what a wonderful gesture that a university would so reward its theater department with a budget and confidence in celebration of the school's 50th. Impressive. That set was indeed gorgeous, and the props and costumes ever so rich, keeping the backstage crew hopping cleanly and with darn few glitches.

But what the audience got in addition to that was acting and sight gags awash in detail, detail, detail.

Director Ric Roberts and his 28-member cast have been rehearsing since May, a breathtaking six months, this first musical theater collaboration of the departments of theater and music and easily SVSU's biggest production ever.

It shows.

Every performance shines with delightful  bits of business that make the characters real.  The enunciation is crystal clear. The singing and dancing spot on. The energy explodes. Standouts and show stoppers are everywhere.

And yet, it is all kept in marvelous check.

"The Producers" is a farce, a spoof of musical theater, the story of two men seeking to produce the worst-ever musical so they can bilk a million or two. It offends left and right -- homosexuals, actors, old women, Hitler, Swedes, show business. It could so easily go too far over the top. But Roberts and his cast keep it in check.

Dakotah Myers in the Nathan Lane role and Isaac Wood in the Matthew Broderick role as the two producers are funny and charming, with gorgeous signing voices.

David Ryan as the Hitler-loving writer of the bad musical "Springtime for Hitler" nearly steals the show with his roof-top pigeons during "In Old Bavaria" ....but then comes along Keith Schnabel and Blake Mazur as the bad director and his partner,  with six others in their employ, in "Keep It Gay"....but then comes along Lexee Longwell as the Swedish  bombshell bad actress in "When You Got It, Flaunt It"....but then comes along a chorus of little old ladies and their walkers singing and dancing in "Along Came Bialy."

Watch the detailing in these performances, the energy, the strong voices, the reality of their characterizations despite being weirdo characters.

Schnabel later returns as the singing and dancing Hitler, with a hint of Charlie Chaplin thrown in, in a second scene stealing attempt. Myers shines in the difficult singing soliloquy "Betrayed."  And director/tenor Roberts puts himself in the show stopper number "Springtime for Hitler" a la Busby Berkeley.

And the ensemble members supporting them are also richly nuanced in their performances.

Bravo too to Roberts for outstanding choreography, which the cast executes like old pros, and assorted sight gags. And down in the pit, conductor Kevin Simons oversees a 16-member orchestra filled with music department teachers and other area professionals who are stellar as well. 

This year is a hallmark one in mid-Michigan theater, one in which companies bit off huge shows to tackle and so far have totally exceeded the expectations of this reviewer.

The Midland Center for the Arts took the badly written "Dracula" and gave it soaring production and acting values.

Pit and Balcony Community Theater delivered a hilarious and technically challenging "Young Frankenstein," another Mel Brooks creation.

SVSU chimed in with this Broadway set, props and costumes birthday gift that delivered acting chops galore. ("The Producers" runs through Sunday.)

Can't wait to see what the Bay City Players deliver next month with the biggie "Les Miserables."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Suzie Reid's "A Collection of Trees" art rooted in her lifelong issues

Saginaw Township artist Suzie Reid with three of her tree pieces

story and photos by janet i. martineau

On Thursday (Nov. 7 ), Saginaw Township artist Suzie Reid is taking a “Healthy Stand” at the Andersen Enrichment Center, 120 Ezra Rust...

...With her “A  Collection of Trees” pieces collectively thus titled,  created in the fine, fine art called pointillism -- using a micro-fine pen one tiny, tiny tip-point dot at a time until a piece is finished.

Why trees in the 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch pieces?

“Because I love their strength. That they are deeply rooted and I never have been. The fact they shed everything and then they begin anew.”

As Reid soon reveals, she has spent a lifetime battling depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar issues and social anxiety as well as a smoking addiction -- “and the labels, stigmas people put on you because of it; how they might see you.”

Finally, with counseling and medications, for the past decade she has been on more  of an even keel -- with counseling and medications AND getting lost in her art.

“It’s a big risk for me, doing this art show and talking about mental illness, but it is who I am and it is important to me to put it out there and hopefully destigmatize mental disorders and addiction. To suggest a path to wellness.”

So, she says, she rented a room at the Andersen, made affordable prints of 10 of her trees, framed some of them in unusual frames, and will hold forth from 3pm to 7pm Thursday to “open the lines of communication.”

And while each tree drawing has a theme about her lifelong battles and contains related words amid its branches, “from a distance they are just trees. You have to get up close to see the words.”

Saginawians may remember Reid who created Victorian houses out of Saginaw bricks and painted Michigan lighthouses on glass, among other themed art, and was a familiar face at art fairs. She also, over the years, has worked on set design at Pit and Balcony Community Theatre.

"When Lightning Strikes"
This new bent with pointillism she calls “very freeing, therapeutic, liberating” as she gets lost in the mechanics and any sense of time vanishes. She creates a basic outline, next come the branches and trunk, and then she fills in the twigs “and by this point I know where I am going with the verbiage. I have found the meaning of the tree.”

Some are created in a day; others may take up to a week. “You can make tons of mistakes with this art form and work them in. There is the fun of working with shadows and light -- figuring what way the sun is coming from.”

Among the titles of the the pieces are “Happy Face,” “Stunted,” “Deep Pockets,” “Stuck,” “Can’t Catch Me,” “When Lightning Strikes,” “Flagging Meadow,” and “In the Pits.”

The framed ones are framed in black oversized frames “because black speaks to depression. But they are unusual fames in that they are made of leather, linen

She will, on Thursday, discuss some of her emotions behind each piece -- what it is depicting and the finer points of the words -- if visitors wish. Or they can just enjoy the art at face value with its intricate dot patterns creating tree forms.

But just to offer a hint, “When Lightning Strikes” depicts a tree split in half. 

“We had this pear tree that was hit by lightning and split practically in half. Yet it still produced pears. This is symbolic of being bipolar. I cried when I was diagnosed. I didn’t want to be bipolar. But I was told, ‘You have no idea how many of our patients are.’”

Reid says she thinks society just focuses on the bipolar people who make headlines for their behavior, not realizing the hush, hush of people who are dealing with it effectively.

Next up Reid plans to explore “Family Facades” as a theme, using the old marble and granite architecture of Chicago as a basis.