Spoiler Alert: A review of Hollywood/Ukraine from the Detroit Examiner

The Marx Brothers have invaded the Hilberry … don’t miss it.

, Detroit Theater Examiner

(Read the original review here.)

Last night, September 23,  the Hilberry Theatre opened its 49th season with the musical double feature, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.

This is a must-see show for anyone who loves old movies in general and the Marx Brothers in particular.

The Tony-nominated musical, with books and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh and music by Frank Lazarus, is a nostalgic, red-carpet musical tribute to the screen stars and productions of the 1930s. But in this show, all the smaltz is replaced with smart, clever lyrics that celebrate … and send up … the silliness of the old favorites.

The first act takes place at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and can be summed up by one of the  usher’s exclamations, ‘a smile-a-minute, musical mirthquake!’ With a transparent nod to the great Hollywood film stars, it’s a mash-up of trivia, songs by such favorites as Jerry Herman and Johnny Mercer, and outrageous parodies of famous scenes.  For example, a faux Jeannette McDonald serenades a cardboard cutout of Nelson Eddy with lyrics that dish the dirt on their off-screen relationship.

The second act, A Night in the Ukraine, transports the audience to a black-and-white ‘film’ — and if you don’t leave during intermission, you can watch the cast transform Pegi Marxhall-Amundsen’s set into a Ukrainian manor home.

This half of the show is loosely based on Anton Chekhov’s The Bear and tightly played as if it were a formulaic Marx Brothers movie. The result is the funniest musical the Marx Brothers never wrote, featuring all the usual zany suspects – complete with a Margaret Dumont parody and the handsome young couple who fall instantly, inexplicably in love.

We were amazed by this Hilberry performance, which was directed with obvious affection by Michael J. Barnes. For starters, who knew that so many members of the company could tap-dance? And then there’s the whole Marx Brothers thing. Clearly, Andrew Papa has been harboring an inner Groucho Marx that was pining for release. And Dave Toomey, who has played a large variety of characters in past productions, must have spent hours studing the subtleties of Chico’s well-timed comebacks and pseudo-Italian malaprops. More surprising is that Carollette Phillps, who was so lovely as Lady Ann in Richard III, convincingly reproduces the blank stare, elaborate pantomime, and antic lechery of  Harpo Marx.

The original Broadway production was directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune, and won the Tony Award for Best Choreography. We can’t imagine a production any more fun than the one currently running at the Hilberry.

The outstanding Hilberry cast members include Lorelei Sturm (Mrs. Pavelenko/Usher), Dave Toomey (Carlo/Usher), Carollette Phillips (Gino/Usher), Andrew Papa (Serge B. Samovar), Danielle Simonian (Nina/Usher), Alec Barbour (Constantine/Usher), Sara Hymes (Masha/Usher), David Sterritt (Sascha/Usher) and Topher Payne (Usher). The Production team includes Jill Dion (Choreographer), Michael J. Peters (Production Stage Manager), Pegi Marshall-Amundsen (Scenic Designer), Rudolph C. Schuepbach (Technical Director), Becky Garcia (Sound Designer), John D. Woodland (Costume Designer), Thomas H. Schraeder (Lighting Designer), Peter Schmidt (Properties Master), and Rebecca M. Pierce (Publicist).

A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine runs four weeks until October 15, 2011. Tickets are $12-$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock.

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