By Sue Suchyta
From the Front Row
From school violence to reporters injured in the line of duty, shows opening on local stages seem ripped from the headlines.
Wyandotte’s Downriver Actors Guild presents the edgy “Heathers – the Musical,” based on the cult film, and laced with bullying, suicide and threats of school violence, while “Time Stands Still” at Trenton’s Open Book Theatre Company focuses on two journalists recovering from traumatic overseas assignments.
Even “On Your Feet – The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Musical” is more than a song show, as it follows family drama and the bus crash that nearly killed Gloria.
DAG PRESENTS ‘HEATHERS – THE MUSICAL’
With school violence, bullying, homophobia and teen suicide appearing too often in the news, “Heathers – the Musical,” seems more probable today that when it was written three decades ago.
The playwrights, Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, are rewriting parts of the show, and Wyandotte’s Downriver Actors Guild may be the last group authorized to perform the original version of the musical.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. May 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19, and 3 p.m. May 20 at the Catherine A. Daly Theatre on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle, Wyandotte. There is no show May 13, Mother’s Day.
The show has adult content, and anyone under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Director Denny Connors of Allen Park said “Heathers” is a dark comedy with positive themes.
“It has a positive message about bullying, sexual harassment and date rape, and acceptance is the overall tone of the show,” Connors said. “But it is wrapped in a very dark, very satirical comedy.”
Connors said he liked the movie that preceded the musical, and he has always like the musical scores of Laurence O’Keefe, which include “Bat Boy – the Musical,” and “Legally Blonde – the Musical,” which O’Keefe wrote with his wife, Nell Benjamin.
“Every song in the show is great,” he said. “The music is just wonderful. It takes the best elements of the movie, but it also puts a fresh spin on it as well. It is an amazing show.”
Connors said the musical is more meaningful now than when it was written in 2014 because it preceded Sandy Hook, Parkland and the Me Too movement against sexual harassment and assault.
“I really hope that people walk out of this going ‘OK, I was entertained, I was a little uneasy,’ but I hope it starts a dialogue about these very important topics,” he said.
Spencer Genrich of Wyandotte, who plays Heather Duke and is choreographing the show, said the show is relevant, and the content is important.
“Even though it is funny, it also borders on that line of pushing it too far,” she said. “It goes just to the edge, but then it wraps up and has a happy ending.”
Genrich said her character is hated throughout the show.
“I was more of a bookworm person in high school, so it is really interesting to play this bratty girl,” she said. “It is a fun dynamic, and I am enjoying playing this character.”
Genrich said the message against bullying is an important part of the show that she hopes audiences take to heart.
“I think it is important that we are talking about these serious issues of mental health, of sexual harassment, and bullying,” she said. “I think it is better for us to talk about these issues with a comedy behind it, but there is still that darkness where this is real. The horrible, nasty things that we are saying are things that kids are saying to one another. I think we are bringing this musical to the community at a good time.”
Lara Keathley of Trenton, who plays Heather Chandler, said the high school issues that were laughed about in the 1980s are very real now, and she hopes the show will spark post-show discussions about violence, bullying, suicide and body shaming.
“I hope they laugh a little, cry a little, a have a deep thought of some sort,” Keathley said. “I think the play talks about real teenage issues that transcend into adulthood, that we as adults kind of ignore and downplay.”
Emily Noble of Wyandotte rounds out the trio of mean girls, playing Heather McNamara, with Novi residents Kayla Aue as Veronica Sawyer.
Also in the cast are Allen Park residents Ashley Blevins as an honor student and a teacher, and Paige McElmury as a stoner chick; Trent Dory of Dearborn as Kurt Kelly; Jacob Dray of Dearborn Heights as Ram Sweeney; Tommy Koch of Grosse Ile Township as Kurt’s dad; and Jim Steele of Lincoln Park as Veronica’s dad and Principal Gowen.
Jon Darling of New Boston plays a dumb jock, with Novi resident Kyle Harwood as Ram’s dad, Big Bud Dean and Coach Ripper. Southgate residents include Brianna Bielak as a Young Republicanette, and Tyler Goethe as a preppy student and Officer McCord; and Taylor residents include Melanie Aue as Mrs. Fleming and Veronica’s mom, and Jacob Partrich as a beleaguered geek and Officer Milner.
Westland residents Jaavan Arnold plays a hipster dork, with Ashley Gatesy as a New Wave girl; and Wyandotte resident Amanda Aue plays Martha Dunstock, with Ryan Kusibab as Jason Dean, or J.D.
Tickets are $16, with a $3 discount for students and seniors. For more information or to order tickets, call 734-407-7020 or go to downriveractorsguild.net.
OBTC PRESENTS ‘TIME STANDS STILL’
A journalistic couple who work in dangerous situations around the world take a hard look at their lives and weigh their future when home recovering from trauma in the field in Donald Margulies’ Tony Award-nominated play “Time Stands Still.”
The show runs 8 p.m. May 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26 and 31 and June 1 and 2, and 2 p.m. May 13, 20, and 27 at the Open Book Theatre Company, 1621 West Road, Trenton.
Margulies said the show is about people and not ideology, what the couple have been through together, and where the future might take them.
Director Wendy Katz Hiller of Ann Arbor said the show has a great script and an amazing cast.
“These actors find the humor and reality of these characters,” she said. “Although it covers some tough subjects, this play should definitely be an enjoyable evening of theater.”
Hiller said the show deals with issues with which everyone struggles.
“With all the terror and world crises in the news, how can we connect with our own needs and maintain strong relationships with those we love, when the world can seem increasingly chaotic and meaningless?” she said. “How do we each choose what’s the right answer for us?”
Krista Schafer Ewbank of Grosse Ile Township, who plays Sarah, a photo-journalist recovering from injuries caused by a roadside bomb, said that while the characters struggle with world issues, the core of the story is how they deal with each other.
“As they change and grow, they have to navigate that together,” Ewbank said. “Do they want the same things? Their situation is unique and dramatic, but the true arc of the story is how they deal with the aftermath and the healing — physically, intellectually and emotionally.”
She said the show is smart and funny, and makes you think.
“The show is engaging, and you’ll care about the characters and what happens to them,” Ewbank said. “It’s also a conversation starter: the characters present different points of view, all worthy of discussion.”
She said she hopes people talk about the gray areas after seeing the show.
“One of the things theater can do is create empathy for different viewpoints,” Ewbank said. “It can help us see people and an issue in different ways.”
David Galido of Novi, who plays James, a foreign correspondent, said “Time Stands Still” is more of a people story than an issue-driven play.
“What most interests me is the relationships and desires of the characters and how that unfolds,” Galido said. “The show covers some heavy topics, but the characters are smart and witty, and throughout most of the play, we see their humor on display.
“When you tell someone you are in a play about war correspondents recovering from roadside bombs and PTSD, the general impression is, ‘Wow, that is one depressing play,’ and it’s not.”
Galido said he hopes audiences think about the journalists who put themselves at risk to report on events around the world, and the impact it has on the reporters’ lives.
“I hope our performances are truthful, and reflect real relationships with which the audience can identify,” Galido said.
The cast also includes Robert Shorr of Novi as Richard, a photo editor, and Anna Doyle of Detroit as Mandy, Richard’s young girlfriend.
All tickets are $30 open night, and $20 for other performances, with a $5 discount for students and seniors. For tickets or more information, call 734-288-7753 or go to openbooktc.com.
BROADWAY IN DETROIT BRINGS ‘ON YOUR FEET’ TO THE FISHER
Whether it’s “Rhythm is Gonna’ Get You,” “1-2-3,” “Get on Your Feet” or “Don’t Want to Lose You Now,” unless you’ve been in isolation the past 40 years, there is a Gloria Estefan song that resonates with memories, very likely of dancing or romancing.
“On Your Feet,” based on the lives and music of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, runs 8 p.m. May 5, and May 8 to 12; 2 p.m. May 5, 6, 12 and 13; and 7:30 p.m. May 6 and 13 at the Fisher Theater, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit.
The Broadway tour is brimming with talent, is fast-paced, and is filled with Estefan’s magical music from start to finish. The costumes by award-winning designer Emilio Sosa are stunning and a trip down memory lane. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is mesmerizing and fascinating, and showcases the male dancers as much as the women, which is a treat.
The show, though, is about the music, and the memories it evokes. Whether one recalls parties dancing to one of Gloria’s songs, or hearing a song on the car radio, or even doing aerobics to one of the tunes, the memories and feelings come rushing back as the songs pulsate from the stage.
The entire cast is strong, and support leads Christie Prades as Gloria and Mauricio Martinez as Emilio. At the May 2 performance, the children in the cast were played by the talented and versatile Carmen Sanchez as young Gloria, and Jordon Vergara as Nayib, Jeremy and young Emilio.
For tickets or more information, call 800-982-2787 or go to broadwayindetroit.com or ticketmaster.com.