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By John Quinn

Review: 'Miles Sent Me'

Dinner theater heats up a cold winter night

Saturday night brought back winter, but your intrepid reviewer had little trouble navigating the expressways of Oakland and Macomb counties. Maybe all the residents took off for Super Bowl parties in Detroit before I headed to Fraser for an evening at Mile's World restaurant, since the roads were pretty empty. Now, Rob Lee's interactive comedy, "Miles Sent Me!" isn't the "Maxim" party, but these days I'm happy to be invited anywhere.

Interactive dinner theater is an acquired taste, much like the rubber chicken the caterer served at your cousin's wedding. Local productions have ranged from the sublime ("Tony n' Tina's Wedding") to the ridiculous ("The Soapranos"). But the premise remains the same: the audience members are participants at an event - say, a wedding or a testimonial dinner. The actors are merely more participants, trained to interact with the crowd and help draw them into the play.

"Miles Sent Me!" transforms a banquet hall into a speakeasy on the edge of Detroit. It's 1929, the day after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago. The staff and patrons of the establishment are abuzz about the inevitable power shift in the Mob. They include stock characters of Roaring Twenties fiction: "businessmen" like Fat Tony and Big Sol, shady ladies Queenie and Taffy, a slick emcee dubbed "Taps" and a special agent named Ness. Agent? Oh, yes. There's going to be a murder, and we witnesses are expected to help solve it.

In this fluffy go-round of the interactive genre, the choreography is a little tentative, the vocal talent variable and a few flubbed lines and dropped cues still bedevil the performance. God knows what the guests at the birthday party in the next room thought about the gun-toting "mobsters" running in and out of the doors. But the audience who braved dire weather predictions warmly received the show and dutifully cleaned their plates (no rubber chicken on the menu at Mile's World).

This performance was marred by a balky sound system that, of course, chose the night the critic showed up to rebel. (This happens more than you would think. I'm a jinx.) The company's revenge was my participation in absolutely the lamest gag of the night - or possibly ANY night. Be prepared to join in the hi-jinks at a drop of a fedora.

"Miles Sent Me" is served Fri,-Sat. nights by StarBright Presents Dinner Theater at Miles World Italian Restaurant, 17689 Masonic, Fraser, through March 25. Tickets: $39.50, includes three-course dinner and show. For information: 586-415-4500 or http://www.starbriteprod.com

The Bottom Line: Like the Super Bowl, dinner theater is less about what you're watching and more about sharing the experience with family and friends.


News from the World of Professional Theater:

Compiled by Donald V. Calamia

National Opera Association honors MOT with two awards

DETROIT - At the recently-held 51st annual convention of the National Opera Association, the Michigan Opera Theatre Department of Community Programs and Michigan Opera Theatre Founder and General Director, Dr. David DiChiera were honored.

The NOA selected Department of Community Programs as recipient of the 2006 Outstanding Service in the Field of Opera for Youth award, and presented Dr. DiChiera with a Lifetime Achievement award. Other honorees for the evening included H. Leslie Adams, Phillip Creech, Leona Mitchell, Andrew Smith and Fred Popper.

MOT's Department of Community Programs was founded in 1977 by Karen VanderKloot DiChiera. The award-winning department provides educational opportunities to more than 200,000 people of all ages and backgrounds per year. Programs include touring productions, lectures, workshops and the summer learning series, "Learning at the Opera House."

Dr.David DiChiera, founder and general director of MOT, is a renowned educator, composer and arts administrator. He was the founding general director of Opera Pacific in Orange County, California (1986-1996), and has also served as the president of OPERA America (1979 to 1983), a national service organization for opera companies. Additionally, Dr. DiChiera served as artistic director of the Dayton Opera Association (1981 to 1993) in Dayton, Ohio. As General Director of MOT, Dr. DiChiera has been recognized for numerous achievements, including the commissions of two world premiere operas, the restoration of the Detroit Opera House and the creation of the soon-to-open Ford Center for Arts and Learning, among many other great milestones.

The Michigan Opera Theatre is now celebrating its 35th anniversary season. For complete information about the organization, call 313-961-3500 or log onto http://www.michiganopera.org

Icarus Falling presents 'Truculentus' by Plautus

LANSING - There's still time this weekend to rush out and catch Icarus Falling's second show of the 2005-2006 season, "Truculentus" by Plautus.

The run concludes Feb. 17 & 18 at 8 p.m. in the Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St. Lansing.

"Truculentus" is a satire written by the Roman playwright in 200 B.C., focusing on a courtesan and her efforts to juggle a country boy, a city boy and soldier. It offers a biting commentary on the foibles of men and their willingness to give everything in the pursuit of love. The play also establishes many of the stock characters that continue to this day in the various incarnations of modern comedy.

Richard Redman plays the title role of the surly servant Truculentus as he tries to save his employer's son from the wiles and poverty awaiting him at the courtesan's house.

Other cast members include Sara Frank as Phronesium, the seductive courtesan with a heart of iron; Laura Croff as Astaphium, handmaid to Phronesium; Robin Harris and Markitwia Jackson compete for Phronesium's affections as Stratophanes the soldier and Strabax the country youth respectively. Recent Michigan State graduate Roger Wingfield is the cast aside lover, Diniarchus.

"This show was a great treat to find," said IF's Artistic Director, jeff croff. "I didn't really know anything about Plautus or his work, but after stumbling upon this script I'm a great fan of his plays. This translation is still so accessible and funny; I think everyone will recognize the same shortcomings of certain people today. We've been having a great time exploring this script and bringing it to audiences unacquainted with Plautus. I think audiences will enjoy this bawdy, broad and earthy comedy."

Tickets are $10 at the door. Persons attending an IF show for the first time are encouraged to announce "I'm an IF virgin!" and receive half-price admission to any show.

For reservations or information, call 517-290-4375 or log on to http://www.icarusfalling.com

'Love Is' featuring Fox 2's Charles Pugh back by popular demand

DETROIT - February 16-19 marks the return of the hit stage-play "Love Is."at 1515 Broadway in Detroit. The stage-play written by Dorothy Tene' Redmond and Pamela Mercado features Charles Pugh and follows a colorful cast of characters trying to understand what love is.

Based on a series of real life interviews on love, Redmond and Mercado combined personal experiences and the interviews with a healthy dose of fictional fun. "I carried my tape recorder with me everywhere for six months," Redmond said. "When I met someone interesting, be it at work, at the bank, at the hair salon, I would ask them to tell me a love story. I never asked for names, just ages and occupations."

The result became a series of touching, insightful and often hilarious monologues.

In addition, the set designed by mix media artist Donald Calloway will feature fifty original art pieces from his popular "Heart" series. All artwork will be available for purchase.

1515 Broadway is located in the heart of downtown Detroit's theater district. All evening performances begin at 8 p.m.; weekend matinees are at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $20.

For more information, call 313-585-4921.

'Red Night' benefit at the Detroit Rep

DETROIT - The Detroit Repertory Theatre has a creative event planned for singles or sweethearts, young or old, who want an alternative Valentine date this year.

The theatre's Advisory Board and Trustees' present "Red Night 2006," a fund raising party scheduled at the Rep on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m.

A highlight of the evening will be recognition of Amyre Makupson, the Detroit author and TV personality, as the "Irma Wertz Patron of the Year."

Proceeds raised will be used to support the theatre's artistic, neighborhood improvement and educational services.

"'Red Night 2006' will be a celebration of the color red," said DRT Board Member Carol Bowie. "Since we are raising funds for a theatre organization, we wanted to evoke a sense of drama, and focus on the artistic expression of a valentine message. We also wanted to bring a sense of daring excitement, like the color red, instead of just the usual romantic connotations of the holiday. We want to make all those artistic souls, regardless if they have a date that night or not, feel excited to celebrate."

The excitement will be provided by the auction of premium tickets to several Major League sporting events, courtesy of Dow Automotive. Winners of the auction will be seated "on the glass" at a Red Wings game, "on the floor" at a Pistons game and "in the box" for the Detroit Tigers. Also auctioned will be airline tickets courtesy of Southwest Airlines and hotel accommodations donated by the Detroit Renaissance Marriott and Hotel St. Regis.

Motor City Casino and MGM Grand Casino have both donated dining certificates to their premier restaurants as door prizes.

The evening will include a performance of the DRT's current production, "Going to St. Ives," plus readings from poet Brenda Perryman. Perryman has received many honors for her work, and recently was chosen to write and perform a poem for the Detroit Institute of Arts' special guest, Sidney Poitier. Perryman will also act as auctioneer for the Board's Silent Auction.

The ticket price of $35 includes champagne and appetizers, poetry readings, a silent auction, and the performance of "Going to St. Ives."

Tickets buyers are encouraged to be creative that night. "We dare everyone to wear something with the color red to symbolize their creative expression," said Board Member Maryl Kacir.

Tickets can be purchased at Detroit Repertory Theatre by calling 313-868-1347.

Return to the 'The Wonder Bread Years' at the Macomb Center

CLINTON TWP. - "Seinfeld" writer Pat Hazell's hit comedy "The Wonder Bread Years," starring John Mueller, comes to The Macomb Center for the Performing Arts Comedy Box February 14-19.

In this funny, nostalgic salute to America's collective youth, Mueller takes the audience back to a simpler time when Kool Aid stands were big business, green army men ruled and the only thing you had to watch out for was falling Lawn Jarts.

Hazell's writing and direction provides an insightful journey back to the good old days and gives audiences permission to think and act like a kid. Variety says "It quite successfully offers a glimpse back at a mythical period in American life."

This fast-paced production gracefully walks the line between stand up and theater, and it allows Mueller not just to recall memories, but to relive them, often taking on the role of himself as a young kid. The nostalgic performance fills the evening with genuinely funny Americana humor and impeccable storytelling.

Ticket prices for "The Wonder Bread Years" range from $25-$30, with discounts available for students, senior citizens and for groups of 20 or more.

For tickets or information, call 586-286-2222 or log on to http://www.macombcenter.com

Gala to be held in honor of Mosaic

DETROIT - A special sneak preview of "Magnificat-Mosaic Singers in Concert" will be held Thursday, Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. in the Music Box at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit to raise funds for Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit.

The "Mosaic Gala at the Max" will feature a strolling dinner catered by Epoch Events and include a silent auction of one-of-a-kind treasures, along with a special preview concert performance of "Magnificat," directed by Artistic Director and Mosaic alum, Kenneth Anderson. The celebrated Mosaic Singers will demonstrate their vast range, fluidly segueing from traditional works - including choral music and classical pieces - to more contemporary outings such as material from Broadway musicals.

After the concert, patrons will have an opportunity to meet the young artists of Mosaic as they join everyone for sinful signature desserts, tea and coffee and the announcement of the lucky silent auction winners. Complimentary valet parking is available for all guests. Business attire is recommended.

Tickets are $200 per guest.

To purchase tickets or for further information, call Paul Collom at 313-872-6910, ext. 4012.

The annual "Magnificat-Mosaic Singers in Concert" will be held February 17-19. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 8 p.m., and matinees are on Saturday at noon and Sunday at 4 p.m. "Magnificat" is a two-hour performance with a 15-minute intermission.

General admission is $18 per person. Senior and student discount rates are $12 per person.

For tickets to the "Magnifcat" performances, call 313-576-5111.


Community Theater Corner:

Kazoo Civic and Symphony Orchestra present 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

KALAMAZOO - In a rare and wonderful collaboration with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre will present a very special production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Blending Shakespeare's text with the music of Mendelssohn, this romantic comedy will be presented in Miller Auditorium for two evenings, Feb. 17 and 18 at 8 p.m., with a prelude talk by Maestro Harvey at 7 p.m.

Mendelssohn first announced his intention of "dreaming the Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1826. The result was his miraculous overture, with its picturesque themes and shimmering orchestration. Many years later, Mendelssohn returned to his "favorite among old Will's beloved plays." One of the wonders of the score is the way it recaptures the spontaneous poetry of adolescence.

Maestro Raymond Harvey conducts the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, with Pat Daniels directing "the most magical of Shakespeare's comedies." Pat Plaska serves as Choreographer.

The large ensemble features Hannah Schubkegel, Doss Teagan Freel, Cassandra Sandberg, Tony Serrra, Pedro Martinez, Lindsay "Zay" Weaver, David Senecal, Darren Johnston, William L. Cole, Scott Wiltsie, Travis Jessup, Mandall Lewis, Dave Emmert, Ben Fergus, Dan Carroll, Heather Anne Cerridwen, Allison Williams, Kathryn Hribar, Will Brolle, Robert Dozzi, Joseph Shoup, Michael Winslow, Amanda Galmiche, Andrea Hernandez, Sarah J. Morris, Heather Dolan, and Meacha Coon.

Civic Subscribers may order tickets by calling the Civic Box Office at 269-343-1313. All other tickets may be ordered by calling the Miller Auditorium Box Office at 269-387-2300.

Sunsets with Shakespeare offers romantic 'Shakespeare's Valentine'

LANSING - The wildly successful annual fundraiser, "Shakespeare's Valentine," returns bigger and better than before!

Jim Fordyce, news director and entertainment reporter at ABC 53 News Now, has agreed to be master of ceremonies for the event. Matt Ottinger, host of "Quiz Busters"; Mark Nixon, editor of the editorial page of the Lansing State Journal; and Chad Badgero, artistic director of Peppermint Creek Theater Company have all confirmed their participation.

Also new this year, Gone Wired Cafe will cater the event.

The fundraiser will be held on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14 at the R E Olds Anderson Rotary Barn in Lansing. The show will begin at 8 p.m.; dinner will be served for those reserving in advance at 6:15 p.m.

Tickets for two are $30, which includes dinner and show; $5 per ticket for show only.

For information, call 517-484-4492.

Whole Art opens 'Bug'

KALAMAZOO - The Whole Art Theater is proud to present the area premiere of Tracey Letts' new drama, "Bug."

In this critically acclaimed theatrical thriller, Agnes White has turned to drugs and alcohol to escape her past. She learns that her abusive ex-husband has just been released from prison, and she sees her life spinning out of control. Enter Peter Evans, who claims he was subjected to germ warfare experiments and that the government has infested him with microscopic bugs to spy on him. Through their emotional tumult, an unconventional relationship develops between the two. In a series of sometimes humorous, sometimes horrifying events, Peter re-ignites Agnes' lust for life. But will he eventually infect her with his obsessions?

Directed by Preston Misner and featuring Kalamazoo favorites Susan Rafferty, Dan Sytsma, Tara Sytsma, Randy Wolfe and James Sanford, "Bug" will play Friday's and Saturday's through March 4 at the Epic Theatre at 8 p.m.

Tickets for this thriller are $20 general admission, $14 for seniors and $10 for students.

For reservations, call 269-345-7529 or visit the Whole Art Web-Site at http://www.wholeart.org


From Our Hallowed Halls of Learning:

EMU Theatre presents a modern twist on the Greek classic, 'Antigone'

YPSILANTI - EMU Theatre's winter season opens with a staging of Jean Anouilh's adaptation of Sophocle's "Antigone." Directed by P. George Bird, this contemporary look at the classic Greek tragedy opens Feb. 10 in the Sponberg Theatre on Eastern Michigan University's Ypsilanti campus.

"Antigone" is a story of the clash of heroism and authority, ending in an ultimate act of civil disobedience. Competition between Antigone's two brothers over the control of Thebes leads to civil war that ends in the death of both brothers. Their uncle, Creon, ascends to the throne and honors one brother as a hero while ordering the body of the other to remain on the battlefield to rot. When Antigone attempts to bury her shamed brother, Creon asks her to collaborate with him in a criminal cover up. Antigone's refusal leads to a powerful exploration of martyrdom, civil authority and religious dogma.

Jean Anouilh's adaptation, written in Paris in 1943, challenged Germany's New Order with Antigone embodying France herself. These two opposable forces confronting one another in the name of tragedy convinced the Nazi leaders to allow its staging throughout Europe in WWII. Today, a modern translation by Lewis Galantiere further strips Anouilh's adaptation of Sophocles' original. In Galantiere's translation, and under the direction of P. George Bird, only a few Greek references remain. A Greek tragedy mask compliments a classic three door set and the cast makes mention of Dionysus, the Greek God of Theatre and Wine. With only these Greek attributes remaining, it is left up to the actors to remain true to Sophocles' original story while, at the same time, balancing Anouilh and Galantiere's contemporary twists.

Antigone runs Feb. 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. and February 12 at 2 p.m. in the Sponberg Theatre on EMU's Ypsilanti campus.

Ticket prices are $10 for Thursday performances and $15 for all others. There is a $3 discount for tickets purchased more than 30 minutes in advance.

Phone the EMU Theatre Box Office at 734-487-1221 for complete information.

HOW TO CONTACT 'CURTAIN CALLS' AND 'THEATER EVENTS': Please send all press releases and promotional materials at least three weeks prior to the scheduled event, and your story ideas, comments, brickbats and accolades - preferably via e-mail - to curtaincalls@pridesource.com or by snail-mail to Curtain Calls, Between The Lines, 20793 Farmington Road, Suite 25, Farmington, Michigan 48336.

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