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'Lost In Yonkers' Finds Best Of Simon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 21:49

Most theater-goers, movie and TV fans know Neil Simon for his fast-paced comedies, filled with sharp one-liners and frequently bumbling characters.

Lost in Yonkers South Bend IN Civic Theatre“Lost in Yonkers,” the Simon play which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Theatre is not one of these.

Not that there is a lack of typical Simon humor, but it is blended with deeply touching character studies and frequently painful reality. As one character in another playwright’s comedy declared “Laughter through tears is my favorite kind.”

There is a great deal of that in “Yonkers” where teenage brothers Arty (Noah Hickey) and Jay (Noah Johnson) Kurnitz are brought by recently widowed father Eddie (Casey St.Aubin) to stay with their Grandma Kurnitz (Mary Ann Moran) while he takes a traveling job to pay off loan shark debts incurred during his wife’s illness.

Grandma Kurnitz is a grim, strict survivor of Nazi Germany and the unrelenting struggle to survive in a new country with a large family. Sympathy, empathy, understanding and forgiveness are not in her vocabulary.

Lost in Yonkers  South Bend IN Civic TheatreTo say the boys are unhappy is putting it mildly.

The only bright spot in the Yonkers household is their Aunt Bella (Crystal Ryan), a mentally challenged 35-year-old given to emotional outbursts. She is their ally in spite of sharing a fear of Grandma Kurnitz.

Into the mix creeps (literally) another relative, Uncle Louie (Tucker Curtis), a bag man hiding himself and his little black bag from the mob. He stirs the boys’ imaginations of life on the wild side and tells them how he survived his mother’s severe punishments and is the only one of his siblings who is not afraid of her.

This includes the Aunt Gert (April Sellers) whose vocal anomaly is the remnant of her traumatic childhood.

Put them all together and it is difficult to say which is the most lost. Only Jay and Arty leave Yonkers with a real chance of survival.

Lost in Yonkers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreUnder the direction of Scot Shepley, the actors bring each of the strikingly individual characters believeably to life. The boys are typical brothers, baiting each other yet solidly together if one is the object of adult scrutiny. As the older, Johnson takes the lead in their daily life adventures, and his frustration is increasingly obvious. Hickey is the sometimes unwilling follower. His soup showdown with Grandma is familiarly hilarious.

Lost in Yonkers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreRyan’s Bella is both the victim and the heroine of this Yonkers household. A positive persona in spite of her handicap, she deals with her limitations and accepts the disintegration of her dream, emerging as a surprising survivor.

Curtis brings a blast of energy to the suffocating atmosphere, albeit the energy is primarily bravado. He is the sibling who left in order to live and who, finally, warns his nephews of the danger in repeating his choices.

St. Aubin gathers strength as his character deals with illness and work on the road, returning at last to find a way out for himself and his sons.

As Grandma Kurnitz, Moran is unyielding, ruling her fractured household with an iron grip which today would definitely be described as abusive. It is not important that her grandsons like her, she declares. It is only important that they live. Alone at last, whether or not she will remain so is left to the individual .

Set, costumes and props all work well to recreate a typical middleclass apartment in the 1940s. Love the sofa antimacasars! Wigs are not as successful, however, especially Moran’s iron braid.

It is said that all of Simon’s plays are at least in some degree related to his own life. In 1991, “Lost in Yonkers” earned him the last of his three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Obviously Grandma was right.

“LOST IN YONKERS” plays through Jan. 25 in the SBCT Warner Theatre. For performance dates, times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 January 2015 22:13
 
'The Odd Couple' Going Strong At 50 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 13 January 2015 17:22

Opposites may attract, but not for long as the increasingly combative protagonists of Neil Simon’s comedy “The Odd Couple” quickly discover.

The Odd Couple Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe Elkhart Civic Theatre production which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House under the direction of Karen Johnston marks the 50th anniversary of Simon’s first Tony Award-winning play.

The love/hate relationship of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison obviously is one that never grows old. It began on Broadway in 1965, moved to film in 1968, segued easily to TV from 1970 to ’75 and will return to the small screen in the upcoming season.

The set design by John Shoup goes from trashed to immaculate with the flick of a duster. Along with the costumes coordinated by Shoup and Dawn Blessing, it easily evokes an earlier era when an eight-room apartment on Riverside Drive could serve as a bachelor pad.

The Odd Couple Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INOscar is played here by Carl Wiesinger, complete with bristling mustache, Hawaiian shirt, baseball cap, ever-present cigar and belligerent attitude. A sports writer with a careless lifestyle, the character is said to be the prototype for Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch. Both live contentedly in less than sanitary environments.

Into this unkempt atmosphere comes his best friend Felix, a buttoned-up, buttoned-down hypochondriac news writer played with persnickety persistence by Dave Kempher. Oscar is divorced and Felix, recently separated from his home and family. Convinced that his large apartment holds plenty of room for them both, Oscar invites a distraught Felix to room with him — temporarily.

In a very short while, fastidious Felix has moved in and cleaned up everything in sight, putting a definite damper on Oscar’s lifestyle and on the weekly poker game.

As the players — Murray the cop (Patrick Farran), allergic accountant Roy (Zach Rivers), henpecked Vinnie (Roy Carlson) and sarcastic Speed (Bob Franklin) — grow disenchantd with Felix’ persistent housekeeping (napkins, coasters, ashtrays, air spray), they quit the game, leaving Oscar to deal with his now-unwelcome houseguest.

The Odd Couple Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe final straw comes in the person of the Pigeon sisters. Upstairs neighbors Cecily, a divorcee (assistant director Carrie Lee), and Gwendolyn, a widow (Elise Davis), are invited to dinner by Oscar over Felix’ objections. They are immediately sympathetic to the weeping Felix, ruining Oscar’s less-than-platonic plans for the evening.

The third of playwright Simon’s comedies, “The Odd Couple” depends on broad characterizations and snappy one-liners for its fast-paced humor. Timing is definitely the prerequisite here.

There is an old saying, attributable over the years to several famous performers, that “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” On opening night, the truth of this was often apparent.

In spite of the frequently stop/start rhythm, however, audience members who braved the decidedly inclement weather obviously enjoyed the angst-ridden repartee. Whether it was familiar to them or not, there was no lack of laughter as the slob and the neat-freak escalate their verbal battles.

When the linguini settles, things gradually return to near normal but with some new perspectives. As an exiting Felix declares, “Marriage may come and go but the game must go on.”

After a half century of laughs so, it seems, must “The Odd Couple.”

“THE ODD COUPLE” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on S.R. 120 in Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 January 2015 18:12
 
WW Musical 'Story' A Holiday Must-See PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 08 December 2014 21:03

For more than 15 years, a large part of the television viewing public has tuned in to one or more showings in the 24-hour TNT Christmas Eve/Day marathon of “A Christmas Story.”

A Christmas Story, The Musical  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INIt is my favorite, never-miss holiday show.

Being a believer in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” theory, I was in no hurry to see “A Christmas Story, The Musical,” a production which premiered in 2009 and toured several major cities before landing on Broadway in 2012.

The musical itself was an outgrowth of the 2000 play based on the 1983 movie. How good, I wondered, could yet a third incarnation be and how have they transferred a film filled with so many memorable moments to the admittedly limited theatrical stage?

A Christmas Carol, The Musical  Wagon Wheel Theatre warsaw INIf this is taking a long time to get to the point, it is to underscore my initial reluctance to check out “A Christmas Story, The Musical” which opened Friday evening at the Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Five minutes into the opening number, I was sold. At the end of the less-than-two-hour production, I was wishing it would begin again.

Under the direction of artistic director/choreographer Scott Michaels, the outstanding cast delivers an evening that brings smiles, laughs and well-deserved cheers throughout. And everything I love about the film is there — and frequently better!

As always, the adult performers are excellent, with WW favorites Matthew Janisse as The Old Man and Kira Lace Hawkins as the understanding Mother. Janisse’s exultation at winning “A Major Award” is frantically hilarious while Hawkins’ description of “What A Mother Does” strikes a solid chord of recognition.

As Jean Shepherd, Hoosier author of the tale and show narrator, Kenneth D’Elia is properly in-and-outside the action as required, and Ellen Jenders as Ralphie’s teacher, Miss Shields, gives a whole new meaning to “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”

A Christmas Story, The Musical  Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INIn this production, however, it is the younger generation that is absolutely amazing!

In the hands of talented Parker Irwin (6th grade), Ralphie Parker is loveably determined. Bespectacled eyes fixed firmly on the prize (“Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun”), Ralphie dreams of heroic scenarios (“Ralphie To The Rescue”) and methods of achieving his goal (“Up On Santa’s Lap”).

Irwin is not only a strong singer but delivers a solid character, never missing a lyric or a line, honestly portraying all Ralphie’s ups and downs in pursuit of his dream gift.

Beside him is Alek Fehlmann (5th grade) as brother Randy, struggling with mealtime and his restricting winter garb. Their friends Flick (Callen Hoskins, 5th grade) and Schwartz (Caleb Mouat, 6th grade) are as true blue — and as self-protective — as kids that age can be. Nicholas Lowman and Jackson Moeller (both 6th grade) as school bully Scot Farkus and his toady, Grover Dill, respectively, recall everyone’s elementary school nightmares.

In addition to these young performers, this “Story” boasts seven more singers/dancers ranging from 3rd to 6th graders. From the busy opening to the grand finale, they are a major part of the production numbers, and “A Christmas Story” has many! Throughout they sing, dance and inhabit many characters with a confidence many adult actors would envy. All, according to Michaels, are participants in the theater’s Wagon Wheel Jr. program, and it shows!

The extremely mobile set designed by Michael Higgins requires large set pieces to come and go frequently and as swiftly and silently as possible. A Christmas Story, The Musical Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INTo the credit of the movers and shakers, it is never a distraction.

As always, the excellent orchestra led by musical director Thomas Stirling does well with a score that is unfamiliar but thoroughly enjoyable. Stephen B. Hollenbeck’s costumes, circa the 1940s, recreate the colors and shapes of the gentler time recalled by this holiday memory.

If you are looking for one holiday show for this year, I definitely put this production of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” at the top of the list. A word to the wise: Several of the public performances already are sold out.

“A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL” plays weekends through Dec. 21 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2515 E. Center Street, Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org

Last Updated on Monday, 08 December 2014 22:11
 
Berlin Melodies Shine In Holiday Musical PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 22:59

In 1940, composer Irving Berlin put words to a melody that had been in his head since 1935. It became part of  the all-Berlin score of a Paramount musical titled “Holiday Inn.” Sung by one of the film’s stars Bing Crosby, it was not the White Christmas South Bend (IN) Civic Theatretune all thought would be the breakout hit.

How wrong they were.

Not only was the film a huge success, “White Christmas” (and Crosby’s recording) became the best-selling single of all time, and lead to yet another film and then to a theatrical musical of the same name.

The last, which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Theatre, promises to join “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street” and a myriad of other seasonal productions as a Christmas regular.

White Christmas  Sotyh Benf (IN)  Civic TheatreLike most other film-to-stage musicals, a number of “not in the movie” songs (happily all by Berlin) have been added  and minor characters have been expanded, not always for the best.

The film’s already thin plotline has been stretched to the max to make room for non-Christmasy numbers like “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano” and “How Deep Is The Ocean.”

Under the direction of Jewel Abram-Copenhaver, a major plus in the SBCT production is principals who display voices that make ballad-listening very pleasant.

Chief among these is Sean Leyes, who seems to be every area community theater’s choice for leading baritone. White Christmas South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Bob Wallace, the vocal half of the team of Wallace and Davis (the other half is William Heckaman as funny man Phil Davis), he handles the slow songs easily. His eventual love interest is Betty Haynes, played by Natalie MacRae, who displays a warm, clear voice on her share of the show’s loveliest ballads.

Heckaman takes care of the requisite dancing along with Allison Jean Jones as Betty’s sister/show biz partner, Judy Haynes. The duo acquits themselves admirably in “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” and “I Love A Piano.”  A vocal quintet backs them in the former and the dance ensemble adds to the fun in the latter, a pull-out-all-the-stops production number led by a talented tap dancing Jones.

SBCT veteran Gary Oesch delivers an appreciably low-keyed characterization as the “Old Man,” retired General Henry Waverly, the reason for the holiday hoopla. His speech recognizing veterans and active military in the audience is heartfelt and moving.

Supporting the general are his former sergeant Martha Watson (Anna Thompson) and his granddaughter Susan (Lucy Barron), both of whom take their turns in the spotlight via “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”

One jarring note is blasted too frequently by the troupe stage manager who mistakes bellowing for the way to get things done.

White Christmas  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAfter a bit of “after you, no after you” with the chorus in the opening number, the on-stage orchestra did well with the familiar score.

The mostly-singing, some-dancing chorus is exactly as good as non-dancing singers are expected to be both with the frequent changes of costumes and characters and Callie Lorenz’ choreography.

The use of projections designed by SBCT artistic director Mark Abram-Copenhaver establish the full-stage scenes effectively, especially on the “Snow” train to Vermont — although how Bob fails to realize he’s not en route to Florida is another mystery in a script that contains quite a few.

Costumer Donald Eugene Willman has assembled a number of colorfully appropriate outfits for both principals and chorus and those familiar with the movie won’t be disappointed by the final definitely-Christmas tableau which, of course, contains a title-tune sing-along.

“WHITE CHRISTMAS” plays through Dec.21 in the Wilson Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574)234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 December 2014 20:09
 
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