‘Unexpected Gifts’ and more on local stages

Photo by Lisa Nelson

Edsel Ford High School will present two short productions in “An Evening of Unexpected Gifts.” One of the two, an operetta by Gian-Carlo Menotti, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” features 14-year-old freshman Michael Nelson (left) as the page, 17-year-old senior Lucas Ramon as Kaspar, 15-year-old sophomore Benjamin Timpf as Balthasar and 15-year-old sophomore Nathan Booth as Melchior. The show runs Dec. 14 to 17 with a 7 p.m. curtain.

By Sue Suchyta
Audiences will find treasures this holiday season not under the tree but on stages all around town.

Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn will present “An Evening of Unexpected Gifts” at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 to 17 with Jon Jory’s “The Gift of the Magi,” based on the classic O. Henry story and “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” an operetta by Gian Carlo Menotti, which was the first opera ever written for television.

Director Robert Doyle said he hopes audiences will enjoy the gifts of seeing the students’ acting, singing and dancing talents on the stage, adding that he hopes the messages of the stories will come out as well.

Simone Calvas is choreographing “Amahl.”

In “The Gift of the Magi,” financially struggling newlyweds long to purchase special Christmas gifts for each other.

The couple is played by 17-year-old senior Meara Thierry as Della and 15-year-old sophomore Errick Lisk as Jim. Clare Russell, a 16-year-old junior, plays Dot, Della’s sister.

“The theme is not just Christmas – it’s about unexpected gifts,” Thierry said. “What you get out of the story is that they were willing to sacrifice their most prized possessions for love.”

“And even though the presents that they got each other were useless,” Lisk said, “they still love each other even more so in the end than they do in the beginning.”

Thierry said that they are not seeing it as a religious themed show, but as entertainment.

“There’s no religious background in this show,” Russell added. “It’s more… this is something that you should learn about giving. You should like to give, and you’ll receive if you do give.”

Other cast members in “The Gift of the Magi” cast include Lily Melekian as Clarice, Spencer Venis as Digsby, David Nycz as Art, Deanna Dib as Donna, Teria Berry as the woman with the umbrella, Meredith Brehab as the boot clerk, Kevin Talanges as the watch clerk, Joanna Franz as Madame Vodskaya and Lauren Dewulf, Katelyn Harrison and Lauren Wycka as carolers.

The second story, the operetta “Amahl and the Night Visitors” tells of a poor widow and her lame son Amahl, who might soon be reduced to begging to survive. When three wealthy kings seek shelter in their home, Amahl and his mother listen in wonder of the newborn king they have sought following a star. However, when the widow is tempted by the kings’ wealth to provide for her son, events unfold illustrating the selfless side of giving.

Amahl is played by fifth-grader Brendan Hay of DuVall Elementary School, with Annelise Folkema of Edsel Ford playing Amahl’s widowed mother.

The three kings are played by 17-year-old senior Lucas Ramon as Kaspar, 15-year-old sophomore Benjamin Timpf as Balthasar and 15-year-old sophomore Nathan Booth as Melchior. 14-year-old freshman Michael Nelson plays the page.

“‘Amahl’ is really a great classic Christmas story and I think that people will get a sense of wonder into their Christmas season with the play,” Timpf said. “And it has a lot of good morals in it and it’s just really wholesome opera.”

Timf explained that the show is not overt in its use of religious references, and people of other backgrounds should not feel uncomfortable with it.

“Most of the show they do not use ‘Jesus’ or they do not use any ‘Son of God,’” Timpf said. “It’s very general terms – it’s ‘the child,’ it’s never referenced to Jesus… we all know the three kings are going to see the Christ child, but it has so many other features with Amahl and everything that happens to him… I don’t want to give away the show.”

Doyle said that the show is about “the unselfishness of a little boy who has nothing and giving the only thing that he has” as a gift.

“We hope that the benefit that (Amahl) gains from that will spill over into the audience as well,” Doyle said.

Other Edsel Ford students sing in the chorus, and are joined by elementary school students from DuVall and Howe, and middle school students from O.L. Smith. Edsel Ford alumni, parents and Dearborn Public Schools music faculty members will also perform onstage and in the orchestra.

“I just want people to come and see the show,” Doyle said. “It’s a wonderful evening, (with) wonderful students – just a very enjoyable family show. You can bring kids of all ages from the young to the young at heart.”

What would the holidays be like without carolers offering the musical gift of the season’s songs?

The Gem Theatre, at 333 Madison in Detroit, is making spirits bright with “The All Night Strut Holiday Show.” Featuring songs from the late 1920s to late 1950s, you’ll tap your feet as you enjoy the beat. For tickets or more information call (313) 963-9800 or go to www.gemtheatre.com.

The first act offers a time trip sampler of favorite songs, while the second half adds a holiday flavor to the upbeat offerings. The performance is an hour and 45 minutes long, with one intermission.

The fantastic foursome of Jared Joseph, Marja Harmon, Lianne Marie Dobbs and Denis Lambert make the vocal music magic happen. They are a treat to hear, light on their feet and easy on the eyes with a wink, smile and the classic styles of the bygone era.

Every song has its praiseworthy parts. “In the Mood” showcases impressive big band era dancing, with the men performing impressive stunts. “A Fine Romance” showcases their ability to flirt and have fun.

“I Love Coffee, I Love Tea” is sung so sensually, it croons like a caffeine orgasm. “Rosie the Riveter” offers remarkable trilling, while “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” is a beautiful ballad with amazingly smooth four-part harmony.

Marja Harmon offers a jazzy, gospel-inspired “Operator,” while Jared Joseph offers a unique Beatnik-blend for a “Kool Yule.”

The quartet’s smooth as silk harmony is showcased again in “Dream,” then the group livens thing ups with some swing dancing to a jazzy bebop Rudolph theme.

Lianne Marie Dobbs reminds one of Marilyn Monroe with her breathy yet polished rendition of “Have Your Self a Merry Little Christmas.”

Denis Lambert amuses with his humorous song about a little boy discovering Santa looks a lot like his daddy.

The tempos change and offer much variety, from the slow and jazzy “What are you doing on New Year’s Eve” to the energetic “It don’t mean a Thing if it don’t got that Swing.”

They close with a wonderful jazzy rendition of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” complete with swirling stage snow.

As the Broadway music sensation “Wicked” flies into town, a local actress will be home for the holidays while still doing eight shows a week.

“Wicked” opens Wednesday and runs through Dec. 31 at the Detroit Opera House. Call (313) 961-3500 for tickets.

Dearborn native and 2004 Divine Child High School graduate Casey Quinn has been in the “Wicked” company for a year in Chicago and nearly three years on tour.

This is the first time the tour has brought her back to Detroit. The show’s only other engagement in Detroit was in 2008 to packed houses.

Quinn sings and dances in multiple ensemble roles: as a student at “dear old Shiz” with Elphaba and Galinda, as a citizen of the Emerald City, as a winged monkey and as an Oz citizen in other scenes.

She said she still experiences a sense of wonder each time the curtain goes up, and that no two shows are the same with different swings and understudies on stage.

“Different things happen every night,” Quinn said. “It’s not the same show eight times a week.”

She says that after almost four years, she knows all the music and every line. Not counting understudies, she has worked with five Elphabas and four Galindas.

The company spent three months touring in Canada this past summer, and has been to at least twenty different U.S. cities. She said Austin and Philadelphia are among her favorites.

After “Wicked” she would love to do a show on Broadway or in Chicago.

“When ‘Sweet Charity’ was on Broadway I wanted to do that,” Quinn said. “I eventually want to get back to New York City and do a show there… I love anything Fosse.”

Quinn danced competitively at the Noretta Dunworth School of Dance while growing up under the tutelage of her grandmother, Noretta Dunworth, and her mother, Loni Lane. She also took private voice lessons while growing up.

She advises teens seeking the spotlight to cultivate both talents.

“Once you make it through the dance cut you have to make it through the singing cut as well,” Quinn said.

“It was always one of my dreams to do ‘Wicked,’” Quinn said. “It has been a life-changer for sure.”