‘Nuts’ Downriver and ‘Oz’ at the Opera House

Photo by Sue Suchyta
“Nuts – the Musical” cast members Lily Steele (left), 10, of Lincoln Park, and Emily and Anna Bruce, both 10, of Trenton, get into character at the Downriver Actors Guild. The youth production runs 7 p.m. June 28 and 3 p.m. June 29 at the Theater on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle in Wyandotte. For more information, go to http://downriveractorsguild.net.

“Nuts – the Mini Musical” showcases the talents of 34 children, ages 3 to 10, at 7 p.m. June 28 and 3 p.m. June 29 at the Downriver Actors Guild’s new Theater on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle in Wyandotte.

For an $8 ticket or more information, call 313-303-5269 or go to downriveractorsguild.net.

Director Debbie Aue of Taylor said the children in “Nuts” are an adorable group performing to fun, uplifting music in a 30-minute show.

“The children are constantly singing and dancing, so it’s entertaining for little children to come see,” Aue said. “It would be a great experience for somebody who wants to bring their child to their first live theater production because it is short, it is all music pretty much, and it is little kids dancing and singing. Everybody loves that.”

She said the story follows an acorn that falls from a tree, and through rain and sunshine songs, it sprouts and grows into a tree itself and drops another acorn.

“It’s the whole circle of life,” Aue said. “How everything starts, has a growth process and ends.”

She said youth theater productions are a good experience for the young actors as well, and is more than just the fun of acting and singing.

“The hidden benefits are the children learn teamwork, they learn self-control, self-discipline, they follow directions,” Aue said. “It gives the children self-confidence.”

She said most of the children do not even realize that they are learning skills now that will help them later in life when they need to present themselves confidently.

“They don’t even know they are gaining these skills and all these things that parents want children to have when they grow up,” she said. “(They will) be able to speak in front of people, be able to go on job interviews, (and) be able to sell themselves out in the world to survive. Those are all skills that you gain from theater.”

Aue said she has teen volunteers who help her teach skills to the young actors in the program. She said they do a lot of team building games and activities at each session in addition to rehearsing for the show.

Wyandotte children in the cast are Jana Funk, 8, as a fox; Griffin Gardner, 5, as a nut; Simon Gardner, 3, as an acorn; Starr Hammill, 6, as a blue bird; Adia Pettigrew, 7, as an acorn; Eliana Pettigrew, 9, as a rooster; and Tovah Pettigrew, 5, as a squirrel.

Allen Park children in the show are Elizabeth Antrassian, 8, as a rabbit; Emma Bury, 7, as a squirrel; Phoebe Davenport-Sequin, 8, as Chicken Little; and Ethan Fink, 6, as an acorn.

Others in the cast include Lincoln Park residents Caroline Nieves-Gueits, as an acorn; and Lily Steele, 10, as an oak tree; Yocelyn Perez, 10, of Melvindale as a macadamia nut; and Riverview residents Paris Fisher, 10, as a skunk; Marissa Jackson, 10, as an acorn; and Molly Pelky, 9, as a porcupine.

Southgate cast members are Isabel Perez, 10, as an owl; Joseph Stein, 8, as a squirrel; and Jalyn Stewart, 8, as Mrs. Duck.

Taylor cast members are Ziva Herring, 4, as a nut; Courtney Marsh, 10, as a raccoon; Kaylee March, 5, as an acorn; and Kaylyn Messer, 3, as a squirrel.

Trenton cast members are Anna Bruce, 10, as a tree; Emily Bruce, 10, as the sun; Jillian Roberts, 5, as a walnut; and Vivienne Roberts, 5, as a tree.

Also in the cast are Madelyn Small, 9, of Flat Rock as a nut; Grosse Ile Township residents Brayden Keding, 6, as a squirrel; and Dresden Keding, 6, as a bear; Monroe residents Joanna Bailey, 5, as an acorn; and Madalyn Bailey, 9, as a cashew; and Robert Frank, 3, of New Boston as a nut.

An updated “Wizard of Oz” is at the Detroit Opera House through June 29, with the classic songs audiences love and some new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

Tickets start at $24, and are available at 800-982-2787 or ticketmaster.com. For more information, call 313-872-1000 or go to BroadwayInDetroit.com.

Windsor, Ontario, native Danielle Wade makes a wonderfully believable Dorothy, with a youthful impetuousness that makes you believe she is a real Depression-era Kansas farm girl, and a naturally beautiful voice that doesn’t make you miss Judy Garland at all.

Webber and Rice created new songs to tie the show together more musically, with “Nobody Understands Me,” Dorothy’s opening song, probably the best of the lot.

However, audiences will be disappointed if they expect to hear blockbuster hits like the songwriting team produced for “Phantom of the Opera,” “Evita,” “Cats” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Not only would such hits overpower the simple and beloved Ozian standards like “Over the Rainbow” and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” they wouldn’t fit in with the simple homespun nature of the original songs.

So Webber and Rice have enriched the storyline with basic plot advancing songs for several characters: “Wonders of the World” for Professor Marvel; “Bring Me the Broomstick” and “Farewell to Oz” for the Wizard; “Bacchanalia” for the ensemble; “The Rescue” for the ensemble, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion; and “Already Home” for Glinda, Dorothy and the ensemble.

The high tech visual effects used in this rendition of “Wizard of Oz” offer almost three dimensional imagery projected on a stage-wide screen that make audiences feel like they are viewing the inside of a tornado and a black hole to another world. It also makes it seem as if the stage was full of flying monkeys, one carrying Dorothy.

The set pieces in Oz are rich in lavish color, topped by a vibrant neon rainbow above the stage, which are in stark contrast to the careworn, tired browns of a dustbowl Kansas.

Dorothy’s three otherworldly friends – the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion – have the luxury of some clever new lines and more fully fleshed characters, even if the joke of Scarecrow forgetting what he wants from the Wizard gets old after the second or third rendition. We still laugh at “the lion sleeps tonight” and “the lion in winter” one-liners.

Audiences will enjoy this enriched production of “The Wizard of Oz” even if Webber and Rice have not produced any new anthems for us to love and cherish. The rich production values of the rest of the show and the strong acting more than make up for it, providing a fun family evening of theater.