Summer Fun in the Sun with Thaddeus and ‘Tila

The Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance is pleased to present its annual season of Summer Children’s Theatre, this year featuring a performance of Thaddeus and ‘Tila  (A Crane and Frog Tale), winner of the 2004 Macy’s New Play Prize for Young Audiences.

Thaddeus is a frog who dreams of flying. One day, ‘Tila, a teenage crane with poor eyesight, crashes into Thaddeus’ pond and a friendship quickly blossoms when he saves her life. When they find out bulldozers are on the way to clear the swamp and make way for a housing subdivision, Thaddeus and ‘Tila must overcome the bullying of fellow swamp creatures, Mos and Sala, as well as their own personal obstacles to save themselves and their fellow swamp residents. Don’t miss out on the excitement!

2015 Summer Show

Bonnie Holmes as ‘Tila (top left), Maria Simpkins as Birdie (top right), and Tayler Jones as Thaddeus (down front)

The production plays at the Hilberry Theatre June 18 – 20 and June 25 – 27 at 10:30 a.m. as well as June 20 and June 27 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $5 for children (up to age 12) and $8 for adults. They may be purchased by calling 313-577-2972, visiting, or visiting the Wayne State University Box Office located at 4743 Cass Ave. on the corner of Hancock St.

“My vision of the play is ‘Flying to a world of possibilities,’” says director Billicia Hines. “Even though he was bullied over it, Thaddeus held strong to his dream of flying. I hope the children of Detroit will be inspired to fly to their own world of possibilities. You may be surrounded by bad circumstances, but that should not deter you from staying positive and going after your dreams.”

Thaddeus and ‘Tila also tours Detroit Public Schools free-of-charge during the months of May and June, reaching over 5,000 students at 21 schools. This tour is part of an ongoing commitment to educational arts outreach by the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance.

The Cast (In Alphabetical Order)
Bonnie Holmes (‘Tila), Jada Johnson (Mos), Tayler Jones (Thaddeus), Michaella Mallet (Sala), Maria Simpkins (Birdie)

The Production Team
Billicia Charnelle Hines (Director), Stephanie Baugher (Scenic Designer), Anne Suchyta (Costume Designer), Mike Hallberg (Lighting Designer), Derek Graham (Sound Designer), Lyndee Hallahan (Stage Manager), Brian Dambacher (Technical Director), Jason Goldman (Publicist)

About the Hilberry Theatre Company
Wayne State University’s Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance serves students as a nexus of performance, production, and research in the fields of dance, theatre, and performance studies.  It provides a wide variety of degree programs that allow students the flexibility to study these disciplines broadly or to concentrate more specifically in performance, design, or management.  The Hilberry Theatre hosts a professional theatre company that is staffed by graduate students and runs on a rotating repertory schedule.  Each academic year, graduate students receive assistantships to work for the Hilberry Theatre and study for advanced degrees.  The company performs and produces an annual season of six plays, including high school matinees for nearly 6,000 students.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 29,000 students.

Calendar Information
June 18 – June 27
Thursday, June 18            10:30 a.m.
Friday, June 19                 10:30 a.m.
Saturday, June 20             10:30 a.m. & 2:00 p.m.
Thursday, June 25            10:30 a.m.
Friday, June 26                 10:30 a.m.
Saturday, June 27             10:30 a.m. & 2:00 p.m.


‘The 39 Steps’ is must-see theatre for all who like to laugh

‘The 39 Steps’ at the Hilberry Theatre

Rating: 5 Stars

By Patty Nolan of The Examiner

The funniest play you are likely to see this spring traces its unlikely origins to the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “The 39 Steps.” This Hilberry Theatre production – the season finale – should be mandatory viewing for anyone wishing to understand either the mechanics of comedy or the essentials of theatrical storytelling.

Michael Phillip Thomas and Brandy Joe Plambeck in 'The 39 Steps'

Michael Phillip Thomas and Brandy Joe Plambeck in ‘The 39 Steps’

Hitchcock based his thriller on a novel by John Buchan and reset it in pre-WWII Britain to leverage the imminent Nazi threat as a dramatic device. Playwright Patrick Barlow discovered comic alchemy by rendering the Hitchcock film, scene by scene, as a manic theatrical parody staring four hardworking actors. The hero is Richard Hannay, featuring Michael Manocchhio as the blasé Brit with a flair heroism and hilarious side patter with the audience. The Woman, played by Bevin Bell-Hall, is a brilliant send up of Hollywood’s best female stereotypes – the seductress, the innocent ingénue, and the good-hearted farm girl – in this case, one with a decidedly Scottish accent. All of the other roles are played by the two “Clowns” – Brandy Joe Plambeck and Michael Phillip Thomas – who flip characters, costumes and accents faster than IHOP pancakes, and with even similar variety. As the play reaches its climax and the chase sequences demand a larger cast of characters, Plambeck and Thomas are required to portray multiple roles within a single scene; the frantic costume changes and clever devices that make this possible give this farce its breathless charm.

Read the full review here:

REVIEW: Hilberry scores a laugh-fest with “The 39 Steps”

By David Kiley for Encore Michigan. Read the full review here. Buy tickets here!

It isn’t often a reviewer gets to say “I laughed ’til I cried,” but that is exactly what happened at The Hilberry Theatre Company’s production of The 39 Steps. At one point, I almost had to leave my seat. But since I wasn’t alone in my break-down, it was all right.

39 Steps Blog Photo

This is the third time I have seen this farce produced, and I always wonder what percentage of the audience has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” film from the 1930s. The staging of the film’s story in British-farce style is extremely funny for anyone, but it is downright hilarious for anyone who is a fan of the Hitchcock film catalog and has seen “Steps” multiple times.

The play rolls out as if a drama teacher told a group of talented improv actors who had seen the film twenty or so times to stage the film using whatever happened to be in the costume and prop rooms.

It is a seven-member cast. Manocchio plays Hannay throughout with great flair and comedic timing, with his Errol Flynn-cool comedic timing and dash, and athletic maneuvering around the stage–including using the backstage ladder and catwalk as the Forth Bridge in Scotland. Bell-Hall plays multiple roles with several costume changes–from the spy to the seemingly innocent, but really very randy, farmer’s wife to Hannay’s love interest and cohort in the story. She carries a big load in the show, and is marvelous and sexy at every turn.

It is Brandy Joe Plambeck and Michael Phillip Thomas, though, billed as “clowns” who keep the audience in stitches. They do a dizzying number of character and costume changes in rapid fire, sometimes doing a scene requiring four people as they duck behind a steamer trunk and slide on a coat or beard to each play two characters, other times as when Thomas wears a trench coat half-on/half-off and just keeps turning side to side as he does a conversation between two characters both played by him. Sometimes, the changes happen so fast, it seems like a Houdini trick. It looks like an exhausting show for the two of them, but they could soar with these roles on any stage in the world, and the Hilberry is lucky to get them for this run. They do some turns in drag, and bring such gaiety to it, with touches of improved bits of business, that you’ll be laughing and tearing up the next day just thinking about it. It helps that the two of them have faces seemingly created by nature to do sketch comedy.

Three “stage-hands” are part of the on-stage ensemble–played by Devri Chism, Julian David Colletta and Santino Craven–who portray a couch, chair, a car, doors, sound effects, etc. Their presence throughout, moving set pieces around and then performing, as they do–for example, forming a car with their bodies and the steamer trunks, and then transitioning to sheep blocking the road–is all part of the wondrous cleverness of the show and excellent direction by Russel Treyz and company.

Read the full review here. Buy tickets here!

REVIEW: Hilberry has fun with Shakespeare

Reviewed by: Robert Delaney, New Monitor Detroit

Click HERE to read the review on Encore Michigan’s website.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

Vanessa Sawson (Constance) and Joe Plambeck (Servant) in Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) at the Hulberry Theatre
Photo: Felix Li

A doctoral candidate’s notion that she has found the missing key to two Shakespeare plays leads to an amazing and very funny experience in Ann-Marie MacDonald’s “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet),” the newest production of the Hilberry Theatre on the campus of Wayne State University.

Constance Ledbelly has come to believe that both “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet” were based on earlier sources that were not tragedies, but in fact comedies. And they certainly take on comedic aspects when she is somehow magically transported – not only through time, but also from reality to fiction – right into the action of first one play, then the other. Her arrival changes the course of both plays, and we see sides of their well-known characters we never would have guessed were there.

The play is a fanciful romp that is sure to amuse anyone familiar with the Shakespeare plays, and this is a very fine production of it, thanks to the efforts of director Anthony Schmitt and a very talented grad student cast.

Vanessa Sawson is a delight as Constance, who goes from being an overworked and appreciated doctoral candidate to having the astonishing experience of getting to know Shakespeare’s characters first-hand. From being walked over by her students and dissertation adviser alike, she goes on to play a pivotal role in two of the greatest classics of English literature. The concept might sound far-fetched, but it really is great fun – for cast and audience.

SHOW DETAILS “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)” continues in rotating repertory through Feb. 9 at the Hilberry Theatre, at Cass and West Hancock on the Wayne State University campus. For performance and ticket information, call 313-577-2972 or go

Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, Nov. 21, 2012

PRESS RELEASE: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

The Hilberry Theatre “Shakes” Things Up with the Modern Comedy
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) - Hilberry Theatre, Detroit

Royal Oak Native Vanessa Sawson Stars in this Modern Comedy
Photo: Kevin Replinger

DETROIT – On November 16, 2012, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald will open as the third production in the Hilberry Theatre’s 50th season. Incorporating the storylines of both Othello and Romeo and Juliet, the play tells the story of a young academic who proposes Shakespeare had two different, comedic endings in mind for two of his most beloved tragedies. This modern comedy will be playing in rotating reparatory with Shakespeare’s Othello. Patrons interested in seeing both shows can save $10 off the regular price when mentioning coupon code 30R8. Individual tickets for Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) range from $12-$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online at, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock.

MacDonald’s take on these two Shakespearean classics places the young professor, Constance Ledbelly, at the center of a fast-paced plot where she encounters many characters from Romeo and Juliet and Othello. As she works out the details of her dissertation, she determines these plays were originally comedies and became the tragedies we know today by the removal of a “Wise Fool” from each plot. The “Wise Fool” archetype is a common device used in Shakespearean drama.

Royal Oak native and third-year Hilberry actor Vanessa Sawson plays the charismatic and quirky Constance. “It’s really The Wizard of Oz meets Alice in Wonderland meets Shakespeare,” said Sawson. “Because it’s a full company show, this role gives me the chance to work with so many talented and hilarious actors in every scene. The play would not be nearly as much fun without them.”

Anthony Schmitt is delighted to return to the Hilberry Theatre as guest director. Before retiring from the Wayne State University Department of Theatre, he was Associate Director in charge of the Hilberry Graduate Repertory Theatre Acting Program and Company. In his 24 years at Wayne State, Schmitt directed over 60 productions. His varied experience from classics like Romeo & Juliet at the Utah Shakespeare Festival to the humor of Noises Off at the Cherry Country Playhouse make him well suited for this hilarious, classic reimagining. For more information about the production, please visit

Cast Includes:

Vanessa Swanson (Constance), Chelsea Ortuno (Desdemona), Chris Call (Othello), Danielle Cochrane (Juliet), Ty Mitchell (Romeo),  Joshua Miller (Tybalt), Miles Boucher (Iago), Topher Payne (Claude Night), Sarah Hawkins Moan (Juliet’s Nurse), David Sterritt (Mercutio), Megan Dobbertin (Julie), Brandon Grantz (Soldier), Annie Keris (Ramona), Joshua Blake Rippy (Ghost), Joe Plambeck (Servant), and Alec Barbour (Chorus)

Production Team:

Anthony Schmitt (Director), Nira Pullin (Choreographer), David Sterritt (Fight Choreographer), Mercedes Coley (Stage Manager), Michael Wilkki (Scenic Designer), Brian Scruggs (Lighting Designer), Anne Suchyta (Costume Designer), Leah McCall (Sound Designer), Kimbra Essex (Property Master), Leazah Behrens (Technical Director), Max Amitin (Asst. Technical Director),and Kevin Replinger (Publicity Manager)

About the Hilberry Theatre Company

The Hilberry Theatre Company is the nation’s only professional theatre company that is staffed by graduate students and runs on a rotating repertory schedule.  Each academic year, about forty or more graduate students receive assistantships to work for the Hilberry Theatre and study for advanced degrees from Wayne State University. The company performs and produces an annual season of six plays, including high school matinees for nearly 6,000 students. For box office hours and information on performances, tickets, and group discounts and corporate packages, visit the theatre’s website at

The 2012-2013 Hilberry season is sponsored by CBS Outdoor, Between the Lines, and Encore Michigan.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
By Ann-Marie MacDonald

Calendar Information:

Wednesday 2 p.m.      Nov. 28 (Postshow Talkback)
Thursday 8 p.m.          Nov. 29 (Preshow Discussion), Jan. 24, Feb. 7
Friday 8 p.m.               Nov. 16 (Opening Night), Jan. 18, 25, Feb. 8
Saturday 2 p.m.           Nov. 17, Feb. 2
Saturday 8 p.m.           Nov. 17, Jan. 19, Feb. 2, 9