DETROIT: Union Street & Bonstelle Theatre

17 May

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I love live theatre. Each year I look forward to the spring musical performed by Wayne State’s undergrad company at the Bonstelle; this year’s production was Hairspray. The show didn’t start until 8pm, giving us plenty of time to enjoy a pre-show dinner with friends. Our restaurant of choice for the evening was Union Street located on Woodward, just a short distance from the theatre.  The atmosphere at Union Street is unique; patrons vary from students and professionals to the theatre crowd and hipsters. Built in the early 1900’s the building started out as a hardware store. In the 1930’s Arturo’s opened in the space; it would turn out to be the first of many Italian restaurants in this building. The wood is dark and glossy, the ceiling unique; indirect lighting glows a soft reddish-orange from the recess surrounding  the room. Art Deco details are evident in the distinctly shaped ceiling, cool medallion, swanky bar and lighting. The current owner bought the place in the late 80’s, by the mid 90’s he put in a new kitchen and remodeled the Michigan Room in the same Art Deco style and colors as the main dining room. One of my favorite things about Union Street is they have something on the menu for everyone! The food is good, from pasta and fish to sandwiches and jambalaya; portions are generous, prices affordable. At our table of six each person ordered something different; it was all delicious. It was almost showtime, we drove the few blocks south to the theatre, parked and dashed through the downpour to the lovely Bonstelle.

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The Bonstelle began life as the Temple Beth El, built in 1902 in the Beaux Arts style, it too was designed by Albert Kahn; by now you are probably wondering if there are any buildings in Detroit not designed by him. In 1922 the building was sold to Jessie Bonstelle who converted the temple to a theatre with the help of  C Howard Crane (think Fox theatre here). In 1951 Wayne State University took over the building and then purchased it in 1956, the rest as they say is history. The layout here is not like your average historic theatre; there is not a lobby per say, more like a hallway. The main floor is attractive; dark wood, pretty sconces decorate the walls. The wet plaster is the bumpy style giving the walls texture and character. Our seats were in the balcony; we climbed the stairs, made our way to the front row and settled in. From here you get a birds-eye view of the place; the intricate details of the ceiling have been long painted over with ivory colored paint. Antique chandeliers still hang, reminding us of the former glory the room once held. Overlooking the main floor and stage, we have an uninterrupted  view, these are my favorite seats in the house.  I like to peruse the program before the show starts, kind of get familiar with the cast. The lights dimmed, the curtain went up, the orchestra began playing. 

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From that moment on a smile was plastered across my face as my feet tapped along to the music. If you are familiar with Hairspray, you know what a fun show it is; set in the 60’s both the sets and costumes were fabulous. As usual the singing exceeded my expectations; the current company is an exceptionally talented group. At intermission we wandered to the concession area; Junior Mints and a cold bottle of water for me. Taking advantage of the break we visited with friends until the second act was about to begin. The singing and dancing continued, entertaining all in attendance; Edna and Wilbur’s You’re Timeless To Me stole the show! When the finale concluded the audience rose to their feet in a well deserved standing ovation.

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Too keyed up to go home yet, we stopped for a nightcap at Woodbridge Pub. This neighborhood spot is the perfect place to relax and unwind; the environment is laid back and drinks are good. Kris is content with VO and Coke, I don’t have a favorite, so I like to try different things. Woodbridge carries a line of Vodka called Hard Luck Candy Flavored Vodka, better yet, it’s made right here in Michigan. So far the only one I’ve tried is the Root Beer Barrel; it also comes in Red Fish, Orange Dream and Lemon Drop. They make a drink here with the Root Beer and locally made ginger ale, tastes like a root beer float…..with a kick….Yum!

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