Tony Award-winners on local stages

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Photo by Sue Suchyta
A four-weekend run of Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” runs through May 19 at the Players Guild of Dearborn, 21730 Madison in Dearborn. The cast includes Julie Ballantyne Brown (left) of Dearborn, Mark Byars of Garden City, Shardai Davis of Dearborn, Jillian Drapala of Dearborn Heights and Brian Townsend of Dearborn as the Liebeslieder Singers, who serve as a Greek chorus.

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By SUE SUCHYTA
Two extravagant, Tony Award-winning shows offer original entertainment on local stages: The Players Guild of Dearborn closes its 85th season with Sondheim’s challenging musical, “A Little Night Music” while the Hilberry closes out its 50th season with “Marat / Sade.”

Local theater groups have announced auditions for summer shows. Southgate Community Players will do “And Then There Were None,” (formerly known as “Ten Little Indians”) while the Downriver Actors Guild in Wyandotte is doing a teen and adult production of “Grease” at Out-of-the-Box Theatre.

‘A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC’ SHINES AT THE GUILD
Imagine jewel-tone lights creating a spectacular sunset on an original hand-painted forest landscape while a sumptuously clad cast waltzes or sings rich harmonies.

Imagine you are spending a weekend in the country at a richly appointed chateau, drinking fine champagne, basking in a Scandinavian summer, and perhaps slipping away for a private liaison.

If the scenes sound appealing, and awaken the romantic in you, or appeal to the curiosity of your inner thespian, you will enjoy the heady and spectacular extravagance of Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”

The show, which runs weekends through May 19, is at the Players Guild of Dearborn, located at 21730 Madison. Friday and Saturday shows are 8 p.m., with 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees.

Tickets are $18, with group discounts available. For more information, call 313-561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

You will also appreciate why the interwoven adult-themed storyline is challenging from both a musical and technical standpoint, and why seldom performed: for example, there are over a hundred lighting cues alone.

Set in the turn of the century during a Scandinavian summer, and directed by the talented Harold Jurkiewicz, the musical is a feast for the eyes and the ears.

When middle-aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman takes his young still-virgin bride, Anne, to a play starring his former middle-aged mistress, Desiree Armfeldt, he rekindles the affair. This angers Anne, Desiree’s current lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, a weapon-toting military officer; and Carl-Magnus’ wife, Charlotte, Meanwhile, Fredrik’s seminarian son, Henrik, is in love with his young stepmother.

The couples weave together their intrigues and misbegotten plans during a weekend party at the country estate of Madame Armfeldt, Desiree’s mother, who is raising Desiree’s illegitimate young teenage daughter, Fredrika.

Petra, a lusty maid, and Frid, a ready-to-serve butler, add to the salacious mix.

There are many talented people onstage and behind the scenes. Jennifer Maiseloff’s set is amazing, especially the hand-painted birch forest backdrops, which reflect a rich and frequently changing pallet of light. Artist Helen Liljegren also helped paint the wonderful backdrops.

“A Little Night Music” has a demanding musical score. A quintet, the Liebeslieder Singers, with Julie Ballantyne Brown, Shardai Davis and Brian Townsend of Dearborn; Jillian Drapala of Dearborn Heights; and Mark Byars of Garden City sing some beautiful harmonies and act as a Greek chorus.

The strong, powerful vocals of Thomas Murphy of Allen Park as Frederik Egerman and Brett Reynolds of Pontiac as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm are a treat.

Lindsey MacDonald of Canton Township as Anne Egerman has a beautiful soprano voice, and Chelsea Burke of Plymouth as Petra will entrance you with her strong, lusty rendition of the Miller’s Son.

The adult playfulness between Petra and Henrik is amusing, and you will enjoy his emotive cello and dreamlike waltzing, coupled with his lovesick heart on his sleeve.

Sally Hart Goodman of Dearborn as Desiree Armfeldt and Valerie Haas of Inkster as Countess Charlotte Malcolm are strong actresses in wonderful roles who are a pleasure to watch perform. Goodman also has the memorable “Send in the Clowns” song with Fredrik.

Jade Reynolds of Oxford is a wispy delight as young Fredrika Armfeldt, and her scenes with her stage and real life grandmother, Diana Reynolds of Taylor as Madame Armfeldt, are a delightful bonus.

Kerry Plague of Canton Township provides welcome comic relief as Frid in his scenes flirting with Petra.

Others in the talented cast, without whom the scene changes would be next to impossible to do quickly, are Diane Cliff of Dearborn, Corrine Fine of Canton Township as Osa and chorus members Tim Carney of Livonia, Inez Hernandez of Ecorse, Deborah Lavely of Grosse Ile Township, Mark Ripper of Northville, and Takesha Walker and Dana Welsh of Detroit. Lavely deserves the good sport award for staying in the chorus after a painful facial collision in the dark with the set during a scene change early in tech week.

Pat LaFramboise and her team’s costumes are beautiful, richly appointed and flattering to the many body types in the cast, something often over-looked.

David Reynolds II creates the lighting magic so central to the visual richness of the show.

James Mayne keeps the stage magic moving, and makes it look effortless, which it is not.

Mary Ann Denyer and props crew deal with everything from formal dinners to casual picnics that end up looking like impressionist paintings.

Musical director Paul Abbott makes the music magic happen, a difficult feat with Sondheim’s challenging score. Actual musicians in the orchestra are a nice treat over synthesized music.

‘MARAT / SADE’ CLOSES HILBERRY SEASON
The Tony Award-winning “Marat /Sade” by Peter Weiss closes out the Hilberry’s 50th season with a show that is an immense challenge for its cast as well as an avant-garde treat for true theater lovers.

The show is a play-within-a-play, where inmates in an insane asylum present a colorful sampling of revisionist history with a slice of the French Revolution in amateur theatrical form.

It is not an easy to understand play. Treat it like a rich dessert: Savor and enjoy it, then move on, knowing that too much of a good thing can sometimes be overwhelming.

Pegi Marshall-Amundsen’s set design is remarkably different and original and opens up the multi-level set effectively.

The entire cast, which includes some undergrad students augmenting the graduate cast – is entertaining and seemingly tireless.

It is sadly the last performances for talented third year graduate company actors Edmund Alyn Jones (as Marat) and Vanessa Sawson (as Corday).

The show runs through May 11. Tickets are $12 to $30, and are available at the box office by calling 313-577-2972 or at www.hilberry.com.

UPCOMING SUMMER SHOW AUDITIONS
Southgate Community Players will hold auditions for “And Then There Were None” (also known as “Ten Little Indians”) at 7 p.m. May 6 and 7 at the Corner Playhouse, 12671 Dix-Toledo Road in Southgate. Performances are at 8 p.m. on July 12, 13, 19 and 20 at the playhouse.

The Downriver Actors Guild in Wyandotte will hold auditions for “Grease” for teens and adults at 7 p.m. May 20 and 21 at Out-of-the-Box Theatre, 1165 Ford Ave. in Wyandotte, with callbacks May 22 at the theater. Show dates are weekends July 26 to Aug. 4 at Out-of-the-Box.

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