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Music, theater talents to merge in 'Riffs' cabaret

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Music, theater talents to merged in 'Riffs' cabaret



Characters evolved from Ann Arbor night life take the stage at Performance Network this week and next in a rare fusion of local musicians and theater types in “Riffs: A Theater & Blues Cabaret.”

Self-help books, New Age gee-gaws, the business of networking and other forms of addiction both physical and philosophical are satirized in “Riffs,” the brainchild of Nina Moore, who also directed and developed last year’s successful fundraiser of the same name.

Opening Wednesday, the play integrates the best Network improvisational tradition with live blues music. A dance party follows every show — all starring Ann Arbor’s best musicians and actors, who are contributing their energies to benefit the experimental performance space.

Three more performances take place — on Thursday, and on June 7 and 8.

Moore began the project by asking the cast to find characters who appealed to each actor’s sensibilities.

“We went out to local bars and observed people,” she says. “(The cast) didn’t reproduce the people they saw in the bars, but they got ideas from them. Then we did extensive character work, talking about what was in the person’s refrigerator, in their medicine cabinet, their love history, what the house they grew up in was like.

“Essentially we got to a point where everyone knew their characters really well. With improvisations in a bar setting, just by those characters being in that one room together, that makes a play itself.”

Among the actors: Jeff Asch, Jody Carlson, Norman Grant, Kellie Henderson, David Salowich, Jon Smeenge and Anne M. Stoll. More than 50 musicians, actors and crew are involved in the production, a cross-section of the people who use Performance Network.

Scenes from the play alternate with live performances by Rockfish, a band featuring Tracey Lee Komarmy of Tracey Lee and the Leonards; Steve Nardella; and a yet-unnamed band with bassist Chris Goerke and vocalist “Pontiac Pete” Ferguson (both of Drivin’ Sideways), Conqueroots guitarist Dave Kaftan, keyboard player Doug Koernke and drummer Jackson Spires.

Each night of the run, a different band will play for the dance party following the cabaret: on May 31, Jeanne & the Dreams; June 1, Fully Loaded; June 7, Johnny Yarddog Jones with Rockfish; and June 8, Idyll Roomers.

“It’s a way for the theater community to get in touch with the musical community,” says actress Anne Stoll. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to see some of the best Ann Arbor has to offer in both music and theater.”

“It’s exciting to be able to write your own character,” Stoll continues. “Some of (the material) is really funny and some of it’s not. It’s about people we all know. It’s immediate. Each night will be done as if it’s happening right now in town.”

Performance Network presents 'Riffs: A Theater & Blues Cabaret'  on Wednesday and Thursday and June 7-8. Tickets are $9 for all seats; no discounts or Passports will be valid. Call 663-0681 for advance reservations.