Review : Willow Run – Presented by the Purple Rose

Written by Kim Williamson

The Purple Rose ends their 2017-2018 season with a riveting portrayal of the heroines at home during World War 2 with the World Premiere of “Willow Run”, written by Jeff Duncan and directed by Guy Sanville.  The show opens in 1940’s Ypsilanti and the Willow Run bomber plant, to follow the stories of four courageous women whose hard work and dedication helped shaped the war effort right here in local Michigan.

Liz Marie Calhoun, played by Rhiannon Ragland, is a Southern beauty who longs for a chance to do more with her life than just be a waitress and coal miner’s wife.  Berenice Summers, played by K. Edmonds, is a Tennessee maid who also leaves home behind to head North for a chance at a better life.  Donna Malone, played by Michelle Mountain, is a local hairdresser in Ypslanti raising two young children while her husband is away at war.  And Evelyn Stillwell, played by Lauren Knox, is a young local girl who wants to help by working in the office of the plant, much to the dismay of her parents.

Accompanying them are multi-talented variety of characters played by the chorus; David Bendena, Angela Kay Miller, and Caitlin Cavannaugh.  Brad Phillips plays the pilot beau of Evelyn, as well as providing the enchanting music that is interspersed throughout their stories.

The set is simplistic and industrial in design, immediately giving the ambiance of a WWII bomber plant with corrugated metal sheeting walls, packing crates, and four propellers along the ceiling. The main stage is open, with moveable packing crates that are used throughout the production.  Steps lead to upstage where musical instruments and a chair sit; the music of this production truly takes the audience in and enriches the stories of these women’s experiences, as they learn to work jobs that men thought that they couldn’t do. All while facing the challenges of racism, sexism, and the fear of losing their loved ones in the war.

As a Kansas native, I honestly knew nothing about the Willow Run bomber plant before I went to this play.  It’s quite fascinating to learn that the women there were turning out B-24 bombers at the rate of one every 55 minutes during the war.  Jeff and Barbara Duncan interviewed eight original Rosie the Riveters during their research for this play; which gives a fascinating insight into the history of women’s equality and Michigan’s part in WWII.

There is still plenty of time to see “Willow Run” at the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, with performances through September 1, 2018.  Ticket prices range from $20.50 to $46 with special discounts for students, seniors, teachers, member of the military and groups.  For more information or to make reservations, call (734)433-7673 or go to


Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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