Encore Michigan

Moby Dick is a “whale of a show.”

Review February 13, 2023 Julie Linderleaf

ANN ARBOR, MI–When my editor asked me to review a production of a musical version of the 1851 classic novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville, I could not believe that someone actually penned music to the classic, if snoozy, revenge tale.  I was skeptical, but curious. Extra curious when I was handed a program with 3D glasses inside.  

Apparently this is not just ANY musical.  Moby Dick! The Musical, originally written by Robert Longden and Hereward Kay with musical arrangements by Martin Koch, had lots of staging assistance from Cameron Mackintosh, the British theatrical genius with his name associated with many big shows like Les Miserables, and Phantom of the Opera. When the show was originally staged in the West End in the 1990s, it formed a cult-like following, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

So much of a following, it left an indelible mark on Ronald P. Baumanis, when he watched it in London, over 30 years ago.  So Baumanis brings his white whale to life directing it on stage with the Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works at the Children’s Creative Center in Ann, Arbor, Michigan.

But this isn’t just the classic Melville tale set to music. Oh no. The twist is this is a struggling Catholic girls school, St. Godley’s Academy for Girls, run by Headmistress Trunk’Ortreatia Glydenbollocks played by Dalton Cahill. They need to raise money or else the school is going to close. Student Fifi Clapwell played by Kylie McElrath tells the headmistress that she just finished her own interpretation of Moby Dick as a musical.  So, this is a play within a play:  The school girls and some staff all assume roles as the seafaring male sailors.  The Headmistress, played by a male playing the female, takes on the role of the lead male, Ahab. 

The show does a pretty decent job of telling the original “whale of a tale” and even though the program specifically states that literally no whales “even appear in this production,” they do an extremely creative job of staging the climactic scene between Ahab and the great white whale. 

Since the Children’s Creative Center Stage is home to little kids during the weekdays, they added to the seaside ambiance by creating a mural wall of sea worthy animals. 

The director and set designers–Baumanis and Tom Koch–use other unique ways to tell this massive tale of revenge at sea by using lots of fabric, puppets, toy ships, and Barbies. I mentioned 3-D glasses, correct?  After intermission, the St. Godley’s Science Club had a mini science show to display some impressive light work designed by Jason Atwood. 

As the Graphic Designer, Atwood also incorporated the play within a play directly into the program. One side reads as the official company program and when flipped, it’s the St. Godley’s Academy for Girls Drama Club complete with constructed bios for the actor’s characters. 

For a girls’-school production of a “dick” show, I highly expected more dick jokes. Or even childish giggling for that matter. I counted less than a dozen in the entire production. Hannah Wiles playing Sarah-Marie Farquad playing Stubbs, did by far the best job of keeping the allusion of high school girls putting on a production.  She often broke character, twirled her hair, and just acted like a little girl while acting out the Stubbs parts.  

Zack Pearlman playing Crayola Detroit Shyster playing Captain Gardner, also threw in a kid moment and called “line?!” to the pianist while he was on stage.  Pearlman, a native Michigander with significant film credits, was fun to watch as a bonus character to the show. 

Director Baumanis and Musical Director Kristin Danko made some wise choices with their actor selections and musical direction. Jayna Schmid played Roxanne Thunderblau playing Esta – Captain Ahab’s wife. Jayna has a stunning voice making her solos and duets highlights to the show. 

Daniel Bachelis did a superior job as the only accompanist to the cast of 12. 
After selling out their opening night, tickets are still on sale at http://annarbormusicaltheaterworks.com for February 16-19.