For as long as I can remember, I’ve been experiencing theatre in the Ann Arbor area. Growing up in neighboring Lenawee County, I was fortunate to have parents who recognized and encouraged my appreciation for music and theater, and who also looked forward to seeing new, classic, professional, and amateur shows. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are of nights out with family, enjoying dinner and a musical or play, and then discussing it during the car ride home. Questions like “What did you think of the way they staged the finale?” and “Who did you think had the strongest voice?” and “How did you like the dance numbers?” fostered conversations that shaped the way that I still enjoy and appreciate the arts.
Luckily, there have always been plenty of theatrical performances for my family to choose from when planning our outings. Now, I’m an Ann Arbor resident, and am frequently astounded by the sheer quantity of opportunities to experience the performing arts. I could quite literally go to a different Ann Arbor area show every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and still not see it all. I happen to truly enjoy most all theatrical performances, but certainly those who favor musicals, Shakespeare, avant-garde, improv, or other genres of theater will be able to find shows that fit their unique preferences as well. Here are some of the spectacular venues and producers of high-quality theater in the Ann Arbor area.
U-M boasts an award-winning, renowned program for musical theater, and throughout my life I’ve been privileged to see the yearly spring musical. I can tell you, it NEVER disappoints. The sheer talent of the students, the world-class orchestras, the impeccable costumes and sets — it all compels the audience to admire the rich history of utter excellence at this University department. In the spring of 2018, the SMTD will present Me and My Girl, a classic musical comedy from the 1930s, the final large-scale production in a season that also includes performances of the opera Dinner at Eight, Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Dancing Globally, a dance show with international influence and inspiration.
Whenever I participated in southeastern Michigan-wide vocal or theatrical groups growing up, the kids from Chelsea were always rock stars. No wonder, because the Chelsea community is incredibly supportive of performing artists and of art itself. Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre Company is a great example of the high-quality, interesting work that this small city produces throughout the year. Their upcoming season will feature the 2009 Tony Award winning play, God of Carnage; a new play about Sherlock Holmes and Vincent van Gogh, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear; as well as two very locally-inspired productions. Flint is “a heartfelt and brutally honest story of two couples struggling to endure and believe in the American dream” in a city where “generations of men and women earned good pay and benefits manufacturing automobiles and the things that go into making them” and is written by actor Jeff Daniels, who is also the founder of the Purple Rose Theatre Company. Willow Run features music by Jeff Daniels and his son, Ben Daniels, and is a world premiere show about the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti where women originating from all over the country built B-24 Bombers during the second world war.
The Encore is a personal favorite of mine when it comes to Washtenaw County theater. I absolutely adore musicals, and showtunes are the Encore’s specialty. Their upcoming season features both classics and new favorites: Sweeney Todd, known to some as the musical-turned-movie musical starring Johnny Depp; Anything Goes, a beloved classic; Million Dollar Quartet, a jukebox musical for 1950s music fans; School of Rock (Youth Version), based upon the 2003 film of the same name starring Jack Black; Big Fish, a new tearjerker musical; and West Side Story, beloved by fans of Sondheim, Shakespeare, Natalie Wood, and anyone who enjoys snapping along to songs.
There are plenty more shows to see in the Ann Arbor area as well. I highly recommend the Wild Swan Theater for younger audiences. They recently announced their 2017-2018 season and it includes fun shows like Under the African Sky, Little Women, A Thousand Cranes, and The Wizard of Oz. Another great option for younger audiences is the Spinning Dot Theatre, which creates new and adventurous shows for children. Theatre Nova produces brand-new shows in an experimental fashion, and its new season will feature a political fantasia called The Revolutionists, a “spellbinding, romantic journey” raising questions about choice and destiny called Constellations, and others. Pointless Brewery & Theatre is always offering hilarious improv shows with great beer. And, Ann Arbor in Concert does one performance per year. That’s it! One night! And, it’s always incredibly well-done musical.
I hope you find the theatrical community here in Ann Arbor just as deep and interesting as I do. Heading out to see a show this weekend or anytime? We’d love to know what you think! Hashtag #VisitAnnArbor on your social media posts, or take some photos and send them our way!