Dixie Longate embodies everything brilliant about drag. She’s beautiful, buxom and bawdy; she throws shade at everyone in the room and makes them laugh so hard they nearly pee their pants; her entire show is a wildly satirical cultural critique of heteronormativity and capitalism — while simultaneously capitalizing on both; and yet, in the end, she’s really just a big ball of love who makes everybody feel good for having been in her company.
On the Tuesday night after Labor Day weekend, three actors and seven musicians transformed a giant barn in Augusta, Michigan into an outrageously energetic yet intimate and beloved Vegas lounge act. Just as The Barn Theatre morphed into the Sands Hotel and Casino, 2017 became 1960 as tribute artists The Vegas Rat Pack took the stage for the summer stock theater’s final week of performances this season.
Sometimes it pays off to put yourself out there.
Dixie Longate is quite the character, in every sense of the word.
At the start of the show, the house lights go down and the curved screen at the back of the stage lights up with the face of a man named Lee Rifield. See, Rifield is the man who got Mitch Albom — yes, the guy who has written stories for the Detroit Free Press and novels like Tuesdays with Morrie — to finally write a musical about hockey, an idea Albom had brought up years prior.
Twenty years, four Tonys, a Pulitzer, a film, a cult following, innumerable national tours and regional and high school productions later, the musical that took Broadway by storm and opened up possibilities within the rock musical genre still has the power to move its audiences to laugh, cry, think and feel real empathy.
Who among us doesn’t love a good summer wedding? Sweating in your best clothes to celebrate the holier-than-thou aggrandizement of heteronormativity, complete with behind-the-scenes jealousies tearing families apart, shelling out for gifts you didn’t really want to give, eating overpriced catered food and getting blisters in stiff shoes dancing to bad music.
The Barn Theatre’s Newsies is everything a musical should be — and more than one might expect. It’s a wonderful vehicle for the very talented ensemble cast who’ve been hard at work all summer long, and yet they enthusiastically leap, twirl, tap, sing their hearts out, and otherwise powerfully tell a fictionalized account of the newsboy strike of 1899 — a tale very much worth telling.
Hate letters. State government threats. Mayoral involvement. Armed police in the theater. Fred Sebulske had no idea what he would one day be getting himself into when he founded Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids in 1980, or even when the group decided to stage one specific show in 2003.
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