Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats Theatre Company’s most recent production, “Sing Happy!”, had its eighth and final performance at Conor O’Neill’s Irish Restaurant in Ann Arbor. The cabaret was conceived by director Thalia Schramm, producer Lauren M. London and musical director R. MacKenzie Lewis, who teaches musical theatre at EMU, and showcased the work of musical theatre giants John Kander and Fred Ebb, the creators of such landmark musicals as “Chicago” and “Cabaret.”
The show, besides introducing the audience to lesser known material as well as familiar favorites, was a brilliant vehicle for all of its performers. Sara Briggs, Lindsay Frischmuth, Elizabeth Jaffe and EMU alumnus Kristin McSweeney each possessed different qualities as singers and actors, but they all complemented each other beautifully, and had a wonderfully connected, sisterly rapport onstage. They also interacted well with the audience and their fabulous band, consisting of Lewis on piano, Chris Mike on reeds, Leer Sobie on bass and Billy Harrington on drums.
“The lush and complex arrangements by R. MacKenzie Lewis were a fitting tribute to Kander and Ebb, and a special gift to the performers and audience alike,” said Heather Nordenbrock, a first year MFA candidate in Applied Drama and Theatre for the Young at EMU.
One of the highlights of the evening was Jaffe’s jubilant and uproariously funny “Arthur in the Afternoon,” in which Lewis, from his place at the piano, became the object of Jaffe’s affections, Arthur, with wry, non-verbal humor. Other strong moments in a night comprised of strong moments were Briggs’ brassy “Don’t Tell Mama,” McSweeney and Briggs’ poignant medley of “Love and Love Alone” and “Sorry I Asked,” Frischmuth and Jaffe’s tongue-in-cheek “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Very Far From The Tree,” McSweeney’s touching “A Quiet Thing,” and “Dear One,” a stirring ballad sung by all four performers.
Penny Seats is quickly establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with on the local theatre scene, and this production only enhanced their growing reputation for producing exceptional musical theatre. From the first chords to the final bows, “Sing Happy!” made us all very happy indeed.