Reviews!

Moe, Moe, Moe! Give us moe of ‘Five Guys’ at Mason Street

By Sue Merrell

Everything about Mason Street Warehouse‘s production of Five Guys Named Moe is bigger than life – from the high-enough-to-hide-an-actor boom box to a monster mama stick puppet who peeks in between the curtains. And the high-energy entertainment keeps building for two hours until the final medley is so big and powerful, it sounds like the room is going to explode.

Written by Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon to fans of HBO’s The Wire), the 1990 musical revue features the upbeat songs of Louis Jordan and other blues and jazz composers of the 1940s, presented by a rainbow-hued male quintet, with each member called some variation of Moe. Like a high-jumpin’, fast-movin’ basketball team of song, they put the full-court press on Nomax, a lonesome, foolish fellow who needs to get his act together and reclaim the woman he loves.

Okay, the plot is worse than weak and the show would probably be better off if somebody just pulled the thread, but thankfully the “story” doesn’t slow down the action much.

Director/choreographer D.J. Salisbury has put together a fast-paced show that seems to slide effortlessly from song to song, while highlighting the individual strengths and talents of each performer. They can move together as a synchronized ensemble, or stray way off into splits, back flips or just a sexy strut. Members are continuously wandering off stage and reemerging with a crazy prop or costume piece that fits into the song.

Four-Eyed Moe (Zachary D. McConnell), in his bright orange suit and orange glasses, dons a feathered hood when singing Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens in a high falsetto. Little Moe (Will Lee-Williams) is the most likely to add the splits or a back-flip to his dance routine, or go for the wide-eyed comic expression, which was especially effective in I Like ’em Fat Like That.

Lithe No Moe (Erick Pinnick) could wow the audience with his tap dance routine or act silly in a curly lion wig. Big Moe (Tony Perry) works well with the audience in the early Beware, Brother, Beware and leads audience participation in one of the best numbers of the evening, Caledonia. Eat Moe (Wayne Pretlow) keeps up the expected patter about food, but also nails the bluesy Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying, which features a great sax solo.

Nomax may need the quintet’s advice on life, but the actor playing the role, Charles Lowery IV, needs no help in the voice department, giving excellent jazz stylings to the opening number, Early in the Morning, as well as I Know What I’ve Got.

With the prominent on-stage band and Rosanna Stewart’s colorful cityscape setting, the show feels more like a night club act than a play, and certainly it functions that way with several opportunities for interaction with the audience including a conga line at the end of Act I.

For me, the biggest surprise was the country hoedown interpretation of Safe, Sane and Single, which showed off the versatility of the cast while adding lots of fun.

What a wonderful way to end a fun day in Saugatuck.

– See more at: http://www.encoremichigan.com/article.html?article=4917#sthash.947SLTYS.dpuf

Farmers Alley Theatre’s “Parade” is an intense, thought-provoking night out

REVIEW

KALAMAZOO — The musical “Parade” is, at first glance, a gamble for Farmers Alley Theatre. But if theater-goers want a powerful, moving and thought-provoking night out, then this is the one for the summer.

It’s not the usual light musical fare. It’s the true story of a Jewish Yankee who gets lynched for the murder of a girl in 1913 Georgia. With music by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”), the 1998 musical lasted on Broadway for a couple of months, though it did win best book and best score Tony Awards.

Farmers Alley is the first to stage it in Southwest Michigan. Director Kathy Mulay (with music director Catherine Walker Adams) had the piece moving at the pace of a speedy judicial railroading for its sold-out opening night Friday. The cast of local actors and visiting professionals — Todd Zamarripa, who has performed from Broadway to the Barn Theatre; Scott Burkell, a Barn favorite now based in Manhattan; and Tony Perry, a New York City actor/singer whose big voice doesn’t have enough opportunities in this show — gave their all. At the end, the emotionally drained audience gave the cast a rousing standing ovation.

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“Parade,” at Farmers Alley Theatre, June 11-27, looks at the politics and social dynamics in the murder trial of a man accused of murder in the Deep South.

Zamarripa is Leo Frank, a Brooklyn, N.Y., fish out of water managing a pencil factory in Marietta. He’s seen as a cold, arrogant and odd fish by the townsfolk. They wave the Confederate flag while parading for Confederate Memorial Day; he declares the day “asinine. Who wants to celebrate losing a war?” He doesn’t understand how his Georgia-born wife Lucille (Denene Mulay Koch) can be “Jewish and Southern at the same time.”

When a 13-year-old girl is murdered in the factory, he is charged and put on trial. The prosecutor (Burkell) finds it easy to get witnesses to paint Frank as a murderous pervert.
We’re teased with justice in the second act, but the mob wants vengeance, and it’s going to get it one way or another. “Parade” weaves together themes of justice, Southern pride, child labor, racism, anti-Semitism, politics and media manipulation.

But there is a more human aspect that keeps it from being a dry social studies exercise. Leo and Lucille strengthen their relationship during the ordeal and find a love that had been missing. That makes the final outcome more troubling. There are several humorous, fun and warm scenes, but an angry drumbeat leads to moments that are almost too intense in the close quarters of the theater.

Dazzling talent marches in ‘Parade’

By Bridgette M. Redman

Farmers Alley Theatre’s production of “Parade” is proof positive you don’t need a big space to do a big musical. The two-year-old group has attracted Broadway professionals to their intimate space and, together with their artistically high production values, has staged a musical that rivals any touring show.

“Parade” is a powerful musical that retells historic events. Alfred Uhry, playwright of several works about Jews in the South, pulls in dialogue from court transcripts and newspaper reports on the trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish pencil factory superintendent where a 14-year-old girl was raped and murdered in 1913 on Confederate Memorial Day. While all the evidence was circumstantial, there was great political pressure to indict someone and the Yankee outsider from Brooklyn seemed a perfect choice.

Director Kathy Mulay and scenic designer W. Douglas Blickle set the stage immediately with a set that stretches out to the entry door and beautifully painted murals that evoke the time period. There is haze in the air, produced with water rather than smoke to summon up the humid days of Atlanta where the play takes place.

Todd Zamarripa, a Michigan native with an impressive Broadway resume (including part of the original Broadway cast of “Miss Saigon”) nails the part of Leo Frank, an irascible New Yorker who knows he is out of place in the good ol’ boy atmosphere of Atlanta. He inhabits the role convincingly, telling the story with every movement, expression, inflection and word.

While Uhrey’s musical does treat on prejudice, hatred and the unthinking behavior of mobs, it is primarily the story of Leo and Lucille Frank. While they have already been married for several years, they have a coldness about their relationship — not the resentment of enemies, but the stiffness of strangers. Both are fulfilling their duties and wanting to do right by each other, but not yet knowing each other. Through the course of the musical, we watch as their relationship flourishes. Lucille (played by Denene Mulay Koch) transforms in Leo’s perception from the wife that he must provide for to a true partner. Their love scene is touching not because of its passion, but because of their transformation.

All but three of the 17 actors play multiple roles, with Tony Perry performing most impressively as Jim Conley, the factory janitor and an ex-convict, along with the parts of the governor’s household staff and the night watchman who reported the crime. So different were his characters that it was hard to believe that they were played by the same actor. Jim Conley, whom the district attorney coached to testify against Leo Franke because “hanging a Negro isn’t going to be enough this time,” makes a fantastic transition from the frightened suspect to the confident witness to the bitter and loud man serving out the terms of his deal.

Perry has a voice that fills the entire performance space with a clear strength that grips its listeners. The only reason he cannot be said to have carried the show is because all of the other performers were equally strong. Especially inventive is the choreography that has Perry and Alfrelynn J. Roberts making set changes while singing “A Rumblin’ and a Rollin’,” a song indicting the Northerners for objecting to Frank’s sentence while they are silent at the injustices done upon Negros.

Every number in the musical is beautifully sung and there is not a weak voice in the entire ensemble.

Kathryn S. Williams’ choreography was as intense as the topic and except for a few moments where overly affected movements detracted from the emotional intensity, it was perfectly executed. In the final scene of Act I, there is a sense of horror communicated solely by the choreography and the facial expressions of the performers.

Actresses Katrina Van Maanan, Mary Teutsch, and Anica DeGraff as the trio of factory girls could have been picked up and with a minor change of costume been dropped into “The Crucible” and not had to change their performance at all. Caught up in hate and prejudice, they seemed almost bewitched in the way they made their accusations.

Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, played by Augusta Barn favorite and Broadway veteran Scott Burkell, schemes for political purposes, coming across as evil in his disregard for anything but his own self-interest. He’s willing to send an innocent to his death or whip up a mob if it will get him where he wants — the governor’s seat.

Jason Roberts Brown’s lyrics and music turn Uhry’s story into a civil rights masterpiece that swings easily between subtlety, cynicism, tenderness and rage. There are numbers that seem to pay tribute to “Chicago,” “Brother Where Art Thou” or any number of Sondheim musicals.

The orchestra, which was placed behind the screen on which projections were made to indicate scene changes, performed the complicated music beautifully, never overpowering the singers and adding texture and mood to each scene. While Lanford Potts’ lighting design was complex and often beautiful, there were a few times when it drew focus, making the audience think about the lighting rather than what was happening in the story.

Likewise, the projections created by Kathy Mulay and Greg Laux were almost too distracting. While they were beautiful and appropriate, it tended to draw focus away from the very powerful action taking place on stage.

The Farmers Alley production is ultimately breathtaking and as powerfully presented as its creators could ever hope for. Take the trip to Kalamazoo. You won’t be disappointed in this polished performance that asks serious questions about the price we pay for mixing hatred and politics.

REVIEW:

‘Parade’

Farmers Alley Theatre, 221 Farmers Alley, Kalamazoo. Thursday-Sunday through June 27. $25. 269-343-2727. http://www.farmersalleytheatre.com

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