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Wednesday, December 26,2012

2012 Wrap-Up

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

by City Pulse Staff
Mid-Michigan got a ton of cool, new stuff this year. The Eagle Monk Brewery in Delta Township put beer lovers in good spirits, Studio C! in Okemos redefined upscale moviegoing and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum brought contemporary art to East Lansing in what is inarguably (and conservatively saying) the area’s most distinctive-looking building. 

Some innovative restaurants added to the mix, such as the creative/eclectic menu of Red Haven in Okemos and the carnivore’s delight fare of Meat in Old Town. Additionally, Eastwood Towne Center expanded to include a new borough featuring specialty pizza parlor Tony Sacco’s and Miami-minded nightclub Bar 30.

Of course, it wasn’t just all about new business — plenty of engaging entertainment came our way, too. The Wharton Center hosted acclaimed NPR storyteller Mike Birbiglia and the powerhouse musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” The East Lansing Film Festival brought international blockbusters “The Intouchables” and “Headhunters” to the area, while the visionary Capital City Film Festival fired on all cylinders with a combination of concerts, educational talks and, of course, independent, foreign and local movies. 

The Over the Ledge Theater Co. moved into its new home in Grand Ledge, becoming Greater Lansing’s latest addition to the richly diverse theater scene, and Michigan State University held the progressive “Whom You Love: the biology of sexual orientation” speaker series, which brought in experts from around North America to discuss how homosexuality is a natural part of the human experience. And then there was Gino Federici, a Las Vegas-honed crooner who threw his hat in the ring to be one of the area’s distinguished performers in a dynamite concert at REO Town’s Art Alley this fall. 

So as we wait for the odometer to flip to 2013, some City Pulse staffers took a look back at what kept us entertained this year: the plays, the movies, the cultural events and a certain cooking school in Eaton Rapids. 


The ambition and the innovation 

By MARY C. CUSACK 

It’s easy for Lansing-area audiences to take the phenomenal quality of live theater for granted. Even we reviewers get jaded and become negative nellies when analyzing individual shows. Writing a year-end wrap up puts it all back in perspective, reminding me that the Lansing theater scene rocks harder than New Year’s Eve in Times Square, whether it’s with Dick Clark (we miss ye already!) or Ryan Seacrest.

The year 2012 was one of innovation for local theater. Let’s begin with Rick Dethlefsen, whose ambition puts him on par with Michigan State University Department of Theatre’s workaholic Rob Roznowski. Dethlefsen directed back-to-back summer hits for Over the Ledge Theatre Company, beginning with “The 39 Steps.” A talented cast with great comedic timing and a fantastic use of stage and props made the show a delight.

Dethlefsen followed that win with “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which also featured a fantastic cast. Doak Bloss was hysterical as the patience-challenged vice principal, and Shantel Hamilton was heart-achingly beautiful as the abandoned Olive.

Meanwhile, Roznowski continued his bid for burnout dominance by directing two plays simultaneously, Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and a companion piece, “Anton in Show Business.” Yes, he had help from assistant directors, but that just seems like more cats to herd. “Anton” was funny and poignant, the perfect pick-me-up from the Russian emotional malaise of “Three Sisters.” This was primarily due to Michelle Serje’s no-holds-barred performance as sex kitten Holly, an ambitious Lindsay Lohan-type Hollywood starlet.

That rat bastard Iago was also well known for his ambition, and Mark Colson was exceedingly eely as the classic Shakespeare villain in the American Shakespeare Collective’s innovative presentation of “Othello” this summer. The stage and props were minimal, relying on color symbolism and Genesis Garza’s skilled lighting to heighten the drama. 

Speaking of skin crawling, Timothy Busfield starred as a cross-dressing loner in Lansing Community College Theatre Program’s production of “Vigil.” LCC pursued a grant to bring East Lansing-native Busfield back to mid-Michigan to play Kemp, a misanthrope who responds to an aunt’s cry for help — and he met his match with the indomitable Carmen Decker as the dying Grace.  

So make a New Year’s resolution to see at least one more theatrical production than you did in 2012. Your ambition will continue to push the theater companies’ innovation.

When not writing about theater, art or drag queens, Mary C. Cusack shoots fine art and travel photography and pushes paper as dean of Fine Arts & Social Sciences at Mott Community College.


Two geniuses 

By MARK NIXON

It is always a revelation to watch a master performing his craft. This autumn, I was fortunate to see two masters at work — Cole Porter and Jiro Ono.

All right, so Porter has been dead for more than half a century, but his show-stopping lyrics lived on in the revival of his 1934 musical comedy “Anything Goes.”

The cast thrilled the Wharton Center crowd with amazing dance sequences and had us guffawing at vaudeville-paced jokes sprinkled through a plot as thin and transparent as shaved ice.

The enduring star, however, is Porter with his impossibly witty, complex rhymes that froth over like shaken champagne.

The musical’s title song wryly observes the post-war world of the “Lost Generation” that wallowed in bootleg whiskey, gangsters and flappers. Think “Boardwalk Empire” without the blood:

“… If bare limbs you like/

If Mae West you like/

Or me undressed you like/ 

Why, nobody will oppose!/ 

When every night/

The set that's smart/ 

Is intruding in nudist parties in studios/ 

Anything goes.”

Porter was a genius, pure and simple. 

And so is Jiro Uno, someone most people have never heard of. He is the sushi master of a tiny restaurant squirreled away in a Tokyo subway stop and the subject of the documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”

Uno is 85 years old in this 2011 film and a culinary legend. To say he is persnickety about the selection, preparation and presentation of sushi doesn’t even approach this man’s obsession. And that passion has paid off — his restaurant has earned a rare Michelin three-star rating. Make reservations today and expect to be seated in six months. Oh, and bring lots of money.

The beauty of this film is that it captures Uno the artist, fully enthralled by both his art and the medium he uses to achieve excellence. If you had told me beforehand I would fall for a film about an old guy fussing over raw fish, I would have slapped that box of popcorn out of your hand.

But I fell, and happily so. Thank you, East Lansing Film Festival, for bringing “Jiro” to our community in November.

Award-winning writer and editor Mark Nixon has written for both national and Michigan-based publications about cooking trends, the new American cuisine and Michigan-made food and drinks.


The best of what’s around

By SHAWN PARKER 

A familiar stretch of Michigan Avenue got an update when Gone Wired Cafe briefly closed for renovations and emerged as The Avenue Caf'. Same open space, perfect for meetings or study sessions, same delicious menu, including maybe the best veggie burger in town. But now the former coffee shop includes a full bar, featuring a selection of Michigan beers on tap, and a stage for performances and open mic nights. It’s a favorite spot for a morning pick-me-up or evening wind-down.

Celebration! Cinema remains the go-to movie theater in town, featuring all the major, wide-release films as well as art house and indie titles. Their popular “Cult Classics and Popular Picks” series lets movie hounds catch a different midnight showing each weekend. That they partner with local film festivals for screenings and participate in special events — like the live broadcast of the RiffTrax gang, verbally eviscerating that cinematic sinkhole “Manos: The Hands of Fate” — seals it.

For vinylphiles, Record Store Day is like Christmas in the spring. Flat, Black and Circular in East Lansing always secures a robust selection of the limited edition releases, and this year the highlight was the single remaining copy of “The LHI Years,” a collection of psychedelic pop masterpieces by the woefully underappreciated Lee Hazlewood. But FBC’s regular assortment of new and used records, CDs and DVDs is worth the visit and an hour of crate-digging any day.

Lansing was treated to an acting showcase this fall, when LCC and community actors debuted a reinvigorated “Ragtime: the Musical.” Featuring a large ensemble cast filled with memorable performances, “Ragtime” painted a musical picture of class and racial strife, and the violence capable of someone pushed to the brink rings true to this day. 

Shawn Parker, a 30-year Lansing resident, is a freelance writer and theater critic. A bookseller by day, his passion is film, particularly the forgotten trash cinema of the ‘70s and ‘80s. He continues to champion the works of Dario Argento to anyone who will listen.


Oh, Henry

By RICH TUPICA 

Punk legend Henry Rollins talked for almost three hours at his spoken word “Capitalism Tour”  performance this fall, telling some great stories about his touring days and the present state of the country. When I heard Rollins was headed to Lansing, I knew I had to interview him. And he was great —somehow, this 51-year-old manages to stay relevant. 

Rollins talked about a female fan who lost an eye during a mosh pit accident at an ‘80s Black Flag show. He told an amusing bit about catching crabs multiple times from the floors he’d have to sleep on while touring the punk circuit 30 years ago. But he also delves heavily into today. Rollins likes to travel to faraway places just for the hell of it, and he remembers every second of it. Of course, he also rants about politics and his disdain for injustice and intolerance. He offers up theories and ideas of how our country could be a better place, and while I wouldn’t bet on any of his concepts ever materializing, sometimes it’s just nice to hear positive talk. Don’t let his tattoos and angry demeanor fool you — Rollins is somewhat of a softy and he shows that side of himself at his shows. 

Rich Tupica has written City Pulse’s local music column "Turn it Down"column since 2009. He’s also a collector of old, dusty vinyl records.


Buy local

By PAUL WOZNIAK

Sometimes the love and passion spent on a homemade present outweighs the expense of the store-bought variety. Similarly, some Lansing-area theater productions this year more than made up for their bare-bones budgets with commitment and passion. One of the best examples was Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.’s production of “Good People,” itself a show about getting by with limited resources. Director Blake Bowen took this critically acclaimed script and made magic, blending the best of borrowed furniture, borrowed art and borrowed talent.

Several musicals requiring complex coordination similarly surpassed their financial resources. Riverwalk Theatre’s take on “Spring Awakening” left a strong impression despite technical difficulties; and Peppermint Creek’s production of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” killed.

Even collegiate theater bested its professional competition with the MSU Theatre Department’s “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” Director Rob Roznowski could have let his outgoing seniors rest on their laurels but instead he lit a fire within the entire cast that engulfed the auditorium.

Sure, some productions went over like fruitcake or an ugly hand-me-down sweater, but the best ones were authentic, original, non-returnable experiences to remember.

Paul Wozniak is a freelance arts writer for City Pulse and a full-time student/devoted husband.

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