If you’re looking for a night of laughs and a flash back to a more “groovy” time, you’re in luck! Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s Barefoot in the Park is set in New York City in the 1960s. This Neil Simon play follows newlyweds Paul (David Hatter) and Corie (Lexee Longwell) in their first weeks of marriage . . . with all the challenges that come with living together, moving into a new apartment, and the “work/life” balance!
If you’re married, or living with your significant other, think back to that first week or two together – you had to agree what went where, adjust to each other’s schedules, and learn how to make do with what might not be ideal conditions! Paul and Corie play out on stage how a young couple meets these unexpected issues head on . . . not always so gracefully, much to the audience’s entertainment!
Corie is a free spirited young woman who never met a stranger – and she married straight laced “stuffed shirt” Paul, a new attorney trying to make a name for himself. The two couldn’t be more different, which only adds to the regular newlywed excitement. The play opens with Corie excitedly entering their new apartment and letting in the phone company representative to install a phone (yup – a cord to the wall rotary dial phone!!), and the laughs start immediately! Their New York apartment is on the top floor – six flights of stairs, if you count the stop – leaving Paul, Corie, and their guests winded by the time they reach the top! Corie sees the whole apartment and everything that goes with it (including the “coziness”) with rose colored glasses, while Paul is not so sure about the bedroom (they have to turn in unison the bed and room are so small) or the “fresh air” that their top floor skylight provides. Continue reading Grand Rapids Civic Theatre presents Barefoot in the Park→
Remember when the worst things in life were having a bedtime and eating brussels sprouts for dinner? Or how about when getting a kiss immediately required you to get your cootie shot? The things that seem so trivial to us now were once significant occurrences, which would make or break our day. Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’sAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Dayopened to the public on Thursday, April 23, bringing the book’s pages to the animated stage.
The story takes place over the course of one day in the life of a middle-class boy, Alexander, with a mother, father, and two older brothers. Alexander wakes up one morning, only to trip and stumble into bad luck by finding the gum he went to sleep with in his mouth ended up in his vibrant red hair.
“I have a feeling this is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” he says annoyed. He then begins to share his dreams for a world where kids ruled; a world where “every movie would be rated G,” and “ice cream with hot fudge and nuts would be a vegetable.” Alexander then hears a call out from his mother to hustle up and get ready for school.
The story then takes us to Alexander’s classroom, sparking nostalgia in audience members as each young student shares his/her homework assignment. Each of the students sings a song, from family to middle school crushes. Laughter broke out as Alexander’s classmate, Paul, sings about his love for Lizzie Pitofsky, and his hope that his efforts of “washing his socks” and “stop throwing rocks” will get her to like him. This scene tugs at the heartstrings, reminding us how simple love was and how terrible, horrible, no good, very bad it was to sit in those straight back wooden desks.
As the show progress, we continue to watch Alexander drag his feet through his dentist appointment with his brothers to after-school shopping with his mother. While Alexander’s bad luck may seem silly in the eyes of adult audiences members, it serves as a gentle reminder that all will be well in the end.
The show begins to close with a touching scene with Alexander and his mother, both sitting side-by-side on the edge of his bed. Exasperated, Alexander shares with her how no good and very bad his day has been. He sighs and rests his head on her shoulder, as she reminds him no matter what, she always wish him “the sweetest of nights and the finest of days.” The remaining cast members join Alexander and his mother on stage, their voices filling the theatre house with that hope for a better tomorrow.
Associate Director & Education Director, Penelope Notter, directed the show. After 28 seasons of direction with Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Notter is stepping down and retiring.
“I began directing with Civic Theatre with The Little Mermaid,” says Notter. “And it only seems fitting to close out my career with another children’s show.”
When 9 to 5 hit the movie theaters in 1980, I hadn’t seen anything like it. I was a teenager, and I went to see it in a West Michigan suburban movie theater with my middle-aged Canadian mother.
We both laughed ourselves silly throughout the entire film — and we weren’t alone. Everyone else in the movie roared at this now classic movie about three working women (played by Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda) who take their revenge on their “…sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss (played by Dabney Coleman).
If you haven’t seen 9 to 5, go see it for the laughs. Nine to Five: The Musical will be playing at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre from May 30 to June 15. Even if you’ve seen it at the movies or on TV, go anyway; because this very funny story is now a full-blown live musical with new lyrics and music by the phenomenal Dolly Parton.
The Grand Rapids Civic Theatre production will be directed by Penelope Notter, with Musical Director Charles Hutchins, and Choreographers William Schutte and Torry Thomas. Actors Emily Diener, Jenny Fischer, and Samantha Gauthier will play the three female leads. Actor David Duiven will perform the role of the villainous Mr. Frank Hart, Jr.
Like all groundbreaking stories, 9 to 5: The Musical is more than just good, plain fun. The play helps facilitate extremely helpful discussions about sexism and harassment in the workplace.
After seeing the movie back in 1980, my mother told me she had worked with villains just like Mr. Frank Hart in Canada, and later in the States. Everyone had. And because I was just about to enter college and the workforce, I asked my mom if guys like this cartoonish villain still existed.
Without 9 to 5, a mother-daughter conversation about real world workplace dangers might have have been prickly, tense, or preachy — but with the movie? The comedy bridges generational and cultural gaps in a way that a conversation alone cannot.
“The Civics’ role in the community is to entertain and to create community discussion.” show director Penelope Notter said. “This play is hilarious: it will entertain but it also shows a slice of history.”
Most people who see the play will cringe and laugh at the over-the-top, in-your-face sexism and harassment performed by actor David Duiven, who plays the evil Mr. Frank Hart, Jr.
Is there anything redeemable about this character at all? Is there anything good about him?
“Nope, not anything,” said Duiven, made up to look eerily like Dabney Coleman, down to his fake but completely realistic 1970’s porn star mustache. “He’s just a bad guy.”
“My character in 2014? This is sexual harassment. I am a bad, bad man. I need to be fired. I need to be told ‘it’s not appropriate’. I need to be told how to respect women. So I think it really makes a really strong statement in 2014.”
Today, many people in the workplace have learned to not say and do things that are as overtly sexist as the egregiously awful Mr. Frank Hart, Jr. They’ve gotten the message and received the “sensitivity” training. Instead of nearly bludgeoning women to death with overtly sexist remarks and actions, today is the era of ‘death by a million paper cuts’. Microaggressions and an oppressively systemic patriarchy are today’s insidious and frustrating forms of workplace evil.
At work, women might not get as many overt death or rape threats as we might have in 1980, but Bonnie Nawara, CEO of GROW (Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women) notes that equality in the workplace is still elusive.
“In the 1980’s, there were new guidelines for equal employment opportunities for women,” said Nawara. “The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was put forward in the 1970’s, but it needed 38 states to be ratified. And it never was ratified.”
Nawara shared a few poignant statistics. Currently, women are the majority owners of nearly 1 in every 3 U.S. firms. Women employ 7.8 million people, providing 1 in 7 privately held jobs, and over 1 in 16 in jobs nationwide.
GROW exists as a non-profit organization in Grand Rapids that helps women start and grow businesses. The organization does this largely through education, networking, and counseling. And yet, GROW felt the need to open a micro-loan program in 2012.
“A lot of banks don’t like financing small (women-owned) businesses, just because they don’t like taking a chance,” said Nawara.
In 2014, that old line about ‘women coming a long way’ seems quaint. Rather, covert sexism and systems that support a patriarchal workplace and deny women equal opportunity continue to make giant leaps forward.
That’s one reason why the appeal of 9 to 5 remains timeless. Even though it’s technically a period piece set in the 1970’s, you can look beyond the big hair and shoulder pads to see that many of the painfully sexist attitudes and behaviors are still with us today.
In the play, the three lead actresses fantasize about killing their obnoxious boss in ways that are every bit as spectacular and over-the-top as the sexual harassment they endure on the job. Today, as in 1980, these revenge fantasies are worth having — and well-worth watching. They’re comical, but they are also cathartic.
By all means, see 9 to 5: The Musical for the laughs — but don’t be surprised when it stirs up vivid, real-world, discussions both before and after the show.
Les Misérables will open tonight at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. It runs through March 30. Get your tickets now, because the entire run is already over 45% sold.
There’s something for everyone in this wildly popular, tear-jerking operetta.
Les Miz fans will come to gorge themselves on the lush music and high drama. High school teachers love that the play is based on the nineteenth century French historical novel by Victor Hugo. Teenage girls often identify with trials of the young women on stage. Snarkers love to protect themselves emotionally by making snide remarks about the misery and misogyny. Sophisticated adults insist that the play is about the moral triumph of courage and hope. Others argue just as passionately that it’s about the hopelessness of social injustice.
See? Something for everyone to love…or even love to hate.
“The licensing company was interested in knowing if (community) theatres would want to produce this piece. Their first call was to our very own Civic Theatre,” said Executive and Artistic Director, Bruce E. Tinker. “Let me be clear, there was no hesitation in our saying yes.”
The Civic is working hard to live up to the exacting expectations of Les Miz superfans. I walked through the costume department, adrift in a sea of petticoats. Awash in underwear, I watched a costume frenzy taking place before my very eyes.
Civic costume head Robert Fowle estimated that they will make close to 200 costumes for this production. The play features nearly 50 cast members.
“Right now, I have about 17 people that have been in working on this one so far,” Fowle said, as one volunteer busily sewed a costume. “And they come in, day and night.”
With a plethora of quick changes, the show requires four dedicated dressers, two deck crew, and two more working backstage on hair, wigs, and makeup. Because this is a period piece, the costume department is striving to make the outfits as authentic as possible.
“In period shows, I dress the women from the underwear out, which means corsets and pantaloons and petticoats,” said Fowle. “We’re not going as far as corseting, because there’s so much costume changing.”
However, dresses will be boned “within an inch of their lives” for structure. And since the show is chiefly grey and brown and drab, many of the costumes will need to be made dirty and distressed to make sure they don’t look brand new.
“The only really pretty scene in the show is the wedding,” said Fowle. “Because that’s not dirty and raggy.”
And yet, the show is going to be quite beautiful, insists Tinker, the show’s artistic director.
“It’s a tremendous cast,” he said. “The sound is beautiful. It is sung very, very well. And there’s great heart and emotion throughout the show.”
Jeremiah Postma will play the lead, Jean Valjean. This marks the first time the powerfully built actor will appear on the Civic stage.
“You’re just talking to a country boy,” said Postma. “You know, I grew up on a farm. Interestingly enough, I never did theater until my very last opportunity in high school.”
A friend at Thornapple Kellogg High School heard Postma sing in an offhand way and encouraged him to audition for a high school play. After a 14 year hiatus, Postma is returning to the stage to play this enormously challenging role.
When Postma auditioned, he did not try out for Valjean. However, the director asked him to sing Valjean’s parts. Postma’s vocal coach told him that if he was offered the part, that they’d make it work.
“I cannot believe that this country boy has been given the opportunity to portray Jean Valjean. Blows my mind,” Postma said.
Conversely, Audrey Filson, who plays the grown-up Cosette, is no stranger to the Civic stage.
“My very first show (at the Civic) was in 1997,” said Filson.
She admitted that being cast in the Civic’s 1997 Children’s Theatre production changed her life. Bitten by the theater bug, Filson took drama classes, voice lessons, and attended summer theater camps. Ultimately, she decided to go to college for musical theater.
When she moved back to Grand Rapids in the fall to attend grad school, Filson heard about the auditions for Les Miz. She couldn’t resist. Filson felt thrilled to land the part of Cosette.
“I have a pretty easy job,” said Filson. “I just have to be an adoring daughter. You know? She just loves her dad. And that’s really fun for me to play, because I love my own real dad. I think it’s a really sweet relationship to play.”
Die hard Les Miz fans will be interested to learn that the directors are inserting little touches from the original book into the show.
“There are little moments, I keep calling them Easter eggs because I love movies,” said director Scott Mellema. “And in movies, especially with like comic movies that are out, fans look for Easter eggs, which are little bits and pieces that only fans would know. So there are moments.”
One superfan hint? Read the book before coming to the show to help find the Easter eggs. (Pay attention, for one example, to the scene with Eponine at the barricades.)
And given that the play is going to sell out any second now, is there anyone who needs to be discouraged from getting tickets?
Civic Theatre’s Community Relations Director Nancy Brozek cautions people who don’t like musicals to stay away. There’s no spoken dialog in Les Misérables. It’s all singing, almost all of the time.
And remember, the word misérables is right in the title. Expect some tears to be jerked.
Imagine a world where everyone is universally polite and civil. All adults are gainfully employed in a position that suits their abilities and interests. The entire society is orderly and serene, and its people are free from pain and suffering.
Or could this dream come at an uncomfortably high emotional price?
This is the world you’ll enter when you see The Giver at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. The production runs from October 18-27, 2013. I attended the Civic’s Inside Dish program on October 1 to learn more about this production.
Try to understand my mindset as I entered the theatre. If you recall, October 1, 2013 was something of a hot mess. The Federal Government shut down. People began exploring health insurance options online as the sign-up for the Affordable Care Act went live. People all around me participated in overwrought shrieking about these two historic circumstances almost all day.
To top it off, ArtPrize was still going down. As I walked from my car to the theatre, I saw hordes of phone-gazing adults stumble on the sidewalks and into the streets, ignoring traffic signals, their children, and other pedestrians.
“Welp, I’m living in the dystopian future I was promised as child,” I thought cheerfully as I broke through one phone-gazing herd only to narrowly avoid colliding with a lone phone-zombie careening through Veteran’s Park.
Given our chaotic social, economic, and political climate — how could you not want to escape into the tranquil and organized world of The Giver?
And how is it that this not a utopian play but a dystopian one? How can a world where everyone gets along so perfectly go so horribly wrong?
A 1994 Newbery Medal winner, The Giver was often assigned reading for many middle school children in the late 1990’s and 2000’s. Both cerebral and emotional, the story pressures you to explore how you feel about balancing individual desires with the needs of the community.
The subject matter is decidedly timely and relevant. What else might you need to know to enhance your experience of this dark play? As it turned out, I learned three key things at The Inside Dish that might make you love this production a little more.
One of the first shocking things I learned is that The Giver is often a banned book in many communities. This blew my already weary mind.
Sarah McCarville, the Branch and Youth Services Coordinator at the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL), was on the 1994 Newbery Medal Committee. She helped select the book for the prestigious annual award. In her Inside Dish presentation, McCarville told us that The Giver is currently number 23 on the list of frequently banned books.
The Giver was written specifically for young adults. At the Civic, it will star 16 year old Jake Goldberg as 12 year Jonas. Most of the cast are children. There’s absolutely no foul language. No nudity. No violence. No sex. What could possibly make anyone want to ban this story?
A 25 year old Civic volunteer told me her class had read the book when she was in middle school. She went to Calvin Christian. If they didn’t ban it there, I reasoned, why would anyone ban it anywhere?
“They always ban the best books,” I overheard someone at the theatre murmur. I grinned at this bit of truth. Forbidding something can make it even more delicious.
The second fascinating tidbit I learned is that the book actually has sequels. To me, this seemed unlikely. The story ends ambiguously, which is a huge part of its allure. The ending creates an internal “what happened?” dialog. Viewed as a play, I suspect that this internal dialog is likely to spring into a lively discussion among family and friends. Now knowing there are sequels, I’ll want to get my hands on these books before Hollywood makes popular films out of them. The Giver is already slated to become a film starring Jeff Bridges. Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift have also signed on as cast members. If you move fast, you can probably get your hands on the sequels at your local library now, before the books become a craze.
This leads me to the third heartwarming fact I learned at Inside Dish: inspiring young people to read is a driving force behind this particular production. The Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Public Library, and the Student Advancement Foundation are partnering with Pooh’s Corner, American Seating, and Mercantile Bank to collect new copies of The Giver (as well as new copies of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells-Batman Smells, a Civic Theatre production slated for April 2014.)
“Our goal to is to have 150 new copies of The Giver to distribute to Grand Rapids Public School Middle and High School libraries. Students will be able to read the book, and attend a special viewing of the play,” stated Nancy Brozek, Civic Theatre Director of Community Relations. “We also want to have this book drive generate 1,200 new copies of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells- Batman Smells, so all Grand Rapids Public School Second Grade students can receive a copy prior to their visit to the stage in April”.
A provocative banned book, poised to be a popular film, inspiring children to read: those are three factors beyond our current dystopian climate that make me feel even more excited to see The Giver at the Civic this October. You can get your tickets at the box office online or at grct.org.
Man, I enjoy good live theatre. And I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan.
So when I learned that the Grand Rapids Civic Theatrewas sponsoring a one-hour after work Inside Dish to promote its upcoming performance of Sherlock Holmes from Sept. 6-21: I didn’t hesitate. I signed up to attend, pronto.
It fit my schedule. I was working downtown that day, so it would be easy for me to pop by, grab free off-street parking after 5, and hit the event at 5:30.
Lucky me, I backed into the sole on-street parking spot on S. Park Street at exactly 5:02. I could kill 15 minutes or so answering emails from the nearby Grand Rapids Public Library‘s free wifi before getting to the Inside Dish event 5 or 10 minutes early.
At 5:20, I walked a few hundred steps from the library to the theatre. Ruefully, I saw through the windows that a cocktail party with twenty or so people was already in full swing.
I’m not from Grand Rapids: I’m from Chicago. And I travel on business quite a bit. Even though I’ve lived here over 20 years, I perpetually feel out of the Grand Rapids cultural “everybody knows that” loop.
Make a mental note: in Grand Rapids, a 5:30 theatre event means 5:00. At 5:20, you’re late.
A sign outside the theatre requested that I enter through the East Tower. Since I was on the north side of the building, looking in at the cocktail party, I walked east. There was no entry. No door. No nothing.
I went back to the north. I looked in at the happy partiers, puzzled. How did they get in?
I went to the west side of the building, where a sign read “East Tower”.
Again, I’m out of the loop. “East means West” must be a Grand Rapids thing.
I have only been to the Civic for a performance once before. It was a mid 1990’s performance of Inherit the Wind. I would have enjoyed the play immensely had it not been for one thing: the horrible, awful, you’ve-got-be-kidding-me seating.
I’m 6’1″, with a 36″ inseam. My bad 30something self arrived wearing a green suede miniskirt.
Back in the 1990’s, the row of seats in front of me at the Civic were so close that my knees were nearly parallel with my shoulders when I kept my legs together. And my feet dangled a few inches off the ground. (Yes, really.)
Aside from looking idiotically awkward, it was nearly impossible to hold that crazy position for the duration of an entire play. And legally, I probably could have been arrested for indecent exposure if I sat with my legs spread in that miniskirt.
I activated my abs of steel to maintain the most ungainly position you’ve ever witnessed in public outside of a circus act. With stern resolve, I held this crazy pose for over two hours, with only a small break for intermission.
My weird pose and physical stamina gave my already hot date even raunchier ideas. But I felt sore and in no mood.
Later that night, I went home with only muscle cramps under a set of newly acquired six pack abs. After this sole Civic Theatre experience, I never went back to see another show. The performance was terrific: but here in the heart of ultra-conservative Furniture City, the theatre seating was an S&M fantasy camp nightmare.
But, hey: it’s almost 20 years later and I’m itching to see my beloved Sherlock. I figured in 2013, maybe things have changed. We’ve come a long way in few decades, right?
I learned in our one-hour tour that the theatre underwent a massive renovation in 2006. One of our tour guides, Dr. Nancy Dodge, assured me that the seats improved drastically.
Ever the skeptic, I insisted on checking this out myself. I sat in a middle section and felt thrilled.
My rear end is going to love Sherlock Holmes.
I could actually wear a miniskirt in these spacious, comfortable seats if I wasn’t so old now. Instead, I’ll plan on wearing something more modest. But I’ll still show up for Sherlock on the arm of one of Grand Rapids’ most handsome bachelors.
The rest of our tour was historically entertaining. We wandered through the cavernous basement, winding our way through a labyrinth of old stage props. I kept myself crouched, perpetually concerned about knocking my head on the low ceilings and pipes.
For about an hour, the tour group trooped around the theatre. The basement. The orchestra pit. A dressing room named after the late Julie Harris. And for our finale, we went up four flights to witness a vertigo-inducing view from one of the few remaining (but closed to the public) peanut galleries in the United States.
As our tour guide led us through the theatre, we’d be periodically interrupted by a costumed character in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes play. Watson in the basement. Holmes backstage. Moriarity in the balcony.
You know the scene: good, clean, cornball fun. Mugging for the camera and assorted silly hijinks. Schticky, cutesy, kitschy theatrics mixed in with local and national history.
I left with only one burning question: why is the East Tower on the West Side of the building?
None of the tour guides seemed to know. But I was assured that’s what it has always been called.
Yap. I’ll just add another “everybody knows that” to my giant heap of “that’s the way we do it around here.”
Twenty plus years, and I still don’t get this crazy town.
But I can personally vouch for the Civic’s comfy new seats. And I feel like I’m going to thoroughly enjoy some hot Sherlock Holmes action at the Civic this season.
And who knows? Maybe super-sleuth Sherlock will unlock the mystery of East Tower for us.
The SHERLOCK HOLMES FINAL ADVENTURE runs Sept 6-21, 2013. Tickets are available online: http://www.grct.org/memberoptions.html
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