Little Heat In SBCT's 'Anna In The Tropics'

The Wilson Mainstage Auditorium is the venue for the South Bend Civic Theatre production of Nilo Cruz’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Anna in the Tropics,” which opened a two-weekend run Friday evening.

In spite of the excellent scene design by David Chudzinski and Doug Hildeman’s mood-setting lighting, this is one play that might have been better served in the theater’s smaller and more intimate alternative space, the downstairs Warner Studio Theatre, aka the black box.

The intimate nature of the narrative and the sultry atmosphere of the Ybor City, Fla., warehouse in which the action is set seem to loose depth in the ultra-airy auditorium.

Under the direction of Kevin Dryer, the eight-member cast never drops a line or misses a directional change. What it does, however, is to miss the smoldering intensity that must underscore each of the changing relationships.

The Wilson Mainstage Auditorium is the venue for the South Bend Civic Theatre production of Nilo Cruz’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Anna in the Tropics,” which opened a two-weekend run Friday evening.

In spite of the excellent scene design by David Chudzinski and Doug Hildeman’s mood-setting lighting, this is one play that might have been better served in the theater’s smaller and more intimate alternative space, the downstairs Warner Studio Theatre, aka the black box.

The intimate nature of the narrative and the sultry atmosphere of the Ybor City, Fla., warehouse in which the action is set seem to loose depth in the ultra-airy auditorium.

Under the direction of Kevin Dryer, the eight-member cast never drops a line or misses a directional change. What it does, however, is to miss the smoldering intensity that must underscore each of the changing relationships.

The Hispanic workers who roll cigars with owners Santigo (Patrick Trimboli) and his wife Ofelia (Alicia Flores) each have their own problems and dreams. Cheche (Steven Cole), Santiago’s half brother, is slowly buying up shares in the business by covering Santiago’s gambling losses. He is the one who pushes for mechanization, declaring that quantity over quality is the wave of the
future.

Against his wishes, Ofelia and her daughters Marela (Amorena Ruffolo) and Conchita (Consuela Howell-Wilson) have pooled their money to pay for a new lector, traditionally a man who reads to the workers — newspapers, poetry, books — to lighten the monotony of their work. When Juan Julian (Jared Roy) arrives, his choice of material is Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.”

Anna in the Tropics South Bend Civic Theztre INThe passionate tale of love and loss speaks to each of the workers differently and ignites emotions that have dramatic and violent results.

Conveying the passion beneath the dialogue is of upmost importance in making “Anna” more than just well-delivered conversations, where people talk “at” rather than “with” each other.

Conchita’s husband Palomo (Patrick Gring), whose illicit affair has contributed to the disintegration of their marriage, tacitly agrees that she be allowed to have her own affair. No surprise, her choice is Juan Julian, a fact that eventually wears on the jealous Palomo who demands that she share their intimate moments with him.

Cheche blames the lector for the workers refusal to accept the cigar-making machinery he wants to install, as well as for Marela rebuffing his romantic advances. Fueled by liquor, his anger and resentment take a tragic toll.

Santiago, who creates a new cigar named for Tolstoy’s heroine, and Ofelia are firmly rooted in the past and attempt unsuccessfully to calm the troubled waters, refusing to acknowledge the inroads cigarettes and modernization must have on his way of doing business.

Costuming does little to establish character here. Especially Conchita wearing modern high heels working in a warehouse and Marela’s funereal “Russian” coat in which she would have dissolved in Florida heat.

“ANNA IN THE TROPICS” plays Wednesday through Sunday in the theater at 403 N. Main Street in South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

WW's 'Legally Blonde' Is In The Pink

OMG!

Everything is absolutely positive and positively pink on stage at the Wagon Wheel Theatre where “Legally Blonde” opened Wednesday evening.

The story of Elle Woods and her determined pursuit of happiness in the form of Warner Huntington III is offered with the usual spit and polish of every WW production.

Complete with director/choreographer Scott Michaels always amazing dance numbers (how do they do that on such a small stage???), Michael Higgins’ absolutely appropriate set (towering pink hair rollers moved to define one location after another), Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s maximum pink costumes, a multi-talented cast and two canine characters that go straight to the heart, “Legally Blonde” is the perfect way to spend a couple of hours in a cotton candy world without gaining an ounce.

Beginning its life as a novel, then moving to the big screen in 2001 as a straight comedy and finally, with music by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, coming to Broadway in 2007, “Legally Blonde” may hold the record for the number of touring companies (two U.S. and nine foreign) in the shortest amount of time.

OMG!

Everything is absolutely positive and positively pink on stage at the Wagon Wheel Theatre where “Legally Blonde” opened Wednesday evening.

The story of Elle Woods and her determined pursuit of happiness in the form of Warner Huntington III is offered with the usual spit and polish of every WW production.

Complete with director/choreographer Scott Michaels always amazing dance numbers (how do they do that on such a small stage???), Michael Higgins’ absolutely appropriate set (towering pink hair rollers moved to define one location after another), Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s maximum pink costumes, a multi-talented cast and two canine characters that go straight to the heart, “Legally Blonde” is the perfect way to spend a couple of hours in a cotton candy world without gaining an ounce.

Beginning its life as a novel, then moving to the big screen in 2001 as a straight comedy and finally, with music by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, coming to Broadway in 2007, “Legally Blonde” may hold the record for the number of touring companies (two U.S. and nine foreign) in the shortest amount of time.

It’s easy to see why.

No interpreter is needed to translate the enthusiasm of Elle (played with non-stop energy by an endearing Mary Little) and her Delta Nu sorority sisters. Like that well-known pink bunny, Elle keeps her eyes on the prize and, in the end, discovers that although you may not get the one you want, you love the one you get.

Following Elle’s path from sorority house to Harvard Law School, is a real trip as are the characters who accompany her and those she meets along the way.

Chief among these are three sorority sisters (Leigh Ellen Jones, Annie Yokom and Erika Henningson) who are a part of the Delta Nu “Greek chorus” that offers help when needed; Emmett Forrest (a properly hirsute Matthew Janisse), a law professor who finds Elle’s unique approach to a legal problem more than interesting; and Paulette Bonafonte (Kira Lace Hawkins), a beautician with a heart of gold and an eye for the UPS man (Robert Montgomery), whose delivery style received well-deserved laughter..

Legally Blonde  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INWhen an expected proposal turns into a breakup, Elle sets her sights on Harvard Law where ex-boyfriend Warner (Stephen Anthony) is in grad school and already has a seriously more appropriate “other” (Emily Trumble). I do not recommend Elle’s path to admission but, for her, it works.

Before graduation, she encounters lawyer/law professor Callahan (a wonderfully sharky Mike Yocum), who demands his students go for “Blood in the Water” and, after a brief side trip to navy blue, returns to her signature color to win the case and the guy!

There are no familiar melodies in “Legally Blonde” and I doubt any will enter the American Songbook even with the passage of time. But in the moment, and as interpreted by the excellent WW singers and dancers, they definitely are to be enjoyed.

As always, there are several show stopping moments. One is when Paulette shares her dream of a life in “Ireland” and, with Elle, details the secret of the “Bend and Snap.” Another comes as exercise maven (and accused murderer) Brooke Wyndham (Hillary Smith) leads her TV audience in a killer routine designed to get them “Whipped Into Shape.”

Applause breaks out whenever Elle’s dog Bruiser (an adorable Yorkie named Lillie) or Paulette’s reclaimed bulldog Rufus (a dignified Princess Ariel!) are on stage.

Many of the performers play several roles. Even though they may be recognizable (it’s difficult to disguise 6 ft + Andy Robinson) each gives his/her characters often-hilarious individual definitions.

“Legally Blonde” is almost non-stop music. The up-tempo beat that sets Elle’s pace is difficult to resist.

“LEGALLY BLONDE” plays through June30 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org.

New Wrappings, Same Old Joey

Sometimes it’s better to let well enough alone.

Such is the case with the latest rewrite of “Pal Joey,” the 1940 musical with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, which opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich. The latest book is by Patrick Pacheco.

“Pal Joey” was reportedly the first musical to have an anti-hero as its primary character. Since then, audiences have become familiar with that type, even when he is singing and dancing. The key is charm, with a capital C. If this is lacking, the show has two strikes already.

The Barn cast has a number of very charming characters. Joey (Joseph Anthony Byrd) is not among them. Byrd has a pleasant baritone and adequately executes the limited choreography created by Jamey Grisham but his portrayal of a shallow but charismatic climber who uses everyone to his own ends falls short, even in spite of the Sinatra-style Fedora hat he wears almost constantly, and the hint of reconciliation with his waitress/artist girlfriend Linda, which is much more than he deserves.

Sometimes it’s better to let well enough alone.

Such is the case with the latest rewrite of “Pal Joey,” the 1940 musical with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, which opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich. The latest book is by Patrick Pacheco.

“Pal Joey” was reportedly the first musical to have an anti-hero as its primary character. Since then, audiences have become familiar with that type, even when he is singing and dancing. The key is charm, with a capital C. If this is lacking, the show has two strikes already.

The Barn cast has a number of very charming characters. Joey (Joseph Anthony Byrd) is not among them. Byrd has a pleasant baritone and adequately executes the limited choreography created by Jamey Grisham but his portrayal of a shallow but charismatic climber who uses everyone to his own ends falls short, even in spite of the Sinatra-style Fedora hat he wears almost constantly, and the hint of reconciliation with his waitress/artist girlfriend Linda, which is much more than he deserves.

If Joey is not a strong character, those around him come more naturally to center stage. Chief among them is Kim Zimmer, multiple Daytime Emmy Award winner as Reva Shayne Lewis in the former CBS serial “Guiding Light.” As Vera Simpson, the bored wife of a dairy millionaire (no surprise, there are a lot of cow jokes in the script), Zimmer is an audience favorite and retains her dignity as Vera’s affair with Joey progresses. She has the show’s best known ballad, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” and delivers it first with anticipation, then with anger as Joey comes and goes in her life. She definitely is a strong stage presence.

The character of Ted, Joey’s best friend, accompanist and music arranger, is not in the original show. Here, as played by Kevin Robert White, he quietly becomes a primary figure. Ted serves as the narrator, a la each of the Four Seasons in “Jersey Boys.” The matter of his homosexuality is a major but unnecessarily added plot device. Ted’s gradual disenchantment with Joey and eventual dissolution of Pal Joey  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MItheir relationship, personal and professional, would be just as believable if he were not “in love” with him. White plays and/or sings a majority of the better-known songs retained from the original score, and there are several, plus a number of R&H classics that have been added, including “The Lady Is A Tramp.”

Annette Moore is Linda, the diner waitress/artist who loves Joey in spite of himself. She also delivers several of the shows highly recognizable tunes but her character is bland and too low-key to be believable as THE one who would catch the elusive Joey. (And you have to wonder why she — or anyone — would want to.)

Bright spots in the dark scenario are the three chorus girls who brighten the club throughout its managerial changes. Val (Julie Grisham), Gladys (Amy Harpenau) and Trixie (Emily Fleming) stop just enough this side of caricature to be delightfully entertaining. All sing and dance well with Grisham and Harpenau each belting out “That Terrific Rainbow” and Fleming earning laughs with numerology that is always one number off.

The multi-locational scenic design by Steven Lee Burright, Dusty Reeds and Fred Gillette works well for the small stage with minimal interruption of the action for changing set pieces, especially challenging when a grand piano must remain on throughout, as must the five-piece band.

The production is directed by a former Barnie, Peter Schneider, Broadway producer of “The Lion King” and producer/director of “Sister Act, The Musical” and former president of Disney Animation.

”PAL JOEY” plays through July 1 at The Barn Theatre on M62 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 between 10 a.m. and 10 p..m. daily or visit www.barntheatre.com.

'Peter Pan' Flies High at Wagon Wheel

For more than a century, J.M. Barrie’s story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, has held the imagination of children of all ages.

One of its most popular incarnations is the 1954 musical created for television and transferred to the theatrical stage. The reason for this popularity is obvious in the production which opened the 2012 season Wednesday for Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

The large and enthusiastic audience had no problem buying into the impressive aerial effects which allowed Peter (Lee Slobotkin) and the aptly-named Darling children — Wendy (Leigh Ellen Jones), Michael (Derek Stiffler) and John (Chase Stiffler) — to magically soar aloft from their London nursery to the exciting shores of Neverland.

Once there, the adventures began, as the Lost Boys (Stephen
Anthony, Jennifer Dow, Lucas Thomas, Shay Dixon and Carolyn Miller) eagerly welcomed their “mother” while villainous pirates lurk above and a band of Indians went from foes to friends thanks to Peter’s rescue of their chief, Tiger Lily (Hillary Smith).

For more than a century, J.M. Barrie’s story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, has held the imagination of children of all ages.

One of its most popular incarnations is the 1954 musical created for television and transferred to the theatrical stage. The reason for this popularity is obvious in the production which opened the 2012 season Wednesday for Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

The large and enthusiastic audience had no problem buying into the impressive aerial effects which allowed Peter (Lee Slobotkin) and the aptly-named Darling children — Wendy (Leigh Ellen Jones), Michael (Derek Stiffler) and John (Chase Stiffler) — to magically soar aloft from their London nursery to the exciting shores of Neverland.

Once there, the adventures began, as the Lost Boys (Stephen
Anthony, Jennifer Dow, Lucas Thomas, Shay Dixon and Carolyn Miller) eagerly welcomed their “mother” while villainous pirates lurk above and a band of Indians went from foes to friends thanks to Peter’s rescue of their chief, Tiger Lily (Hillary Smith).

The double role of Mr. Darling/Captain Hook is every scenery-chewers dream and WW veteran Andy Robinson makes the most of it. Waving his gleaming hook aloft, he sets a variety of tempos while plotting the capture of Peter who fed Hook’s hand to the Crocodile which now pursues the Captain, eager for the rest of him. As the hungry, tick-tocking lizard, Zack Vandever earned spontaneous applause on his first slither across the stage.

The pirates and the Indians — Matthew Janisse, Noah Ricketts, Kevin Niertzel, Derek Grose and Javier Ferreira — do double duty, claiming the “never a dull moment” award as they are on stage singing and dancing and off stage changing personas. Only Dan Smith as Hook’s sidekick Smee, is piratical throughout.

There is little if anything to fault in this production. The pirates/Indians are outstanding in their dance sequences, as are the Lost Boys. ”I Won’t Grow Up” and “Ugh-A-Wug” are outstanding examples of director Scott Michaels’ choreographic talent. The same is true of the pirates’ execution of “Hook’s Tango, Tarantella and Waltz.” Never was a bloodthirsty “Yo ho” so hilarious.

As noted, the flying sequences are impressive, especially considering the lack of height allowed. Peter flies frequently and even duels with Hook while aloft. When Peter and the Darling kids take to the air in “I’m Flying,” it earns well-deserved applause. Especially appealing throughout is the smaller Stiffler brother. Derek flies up rapidly when thinking his loveliest thought and carries his Teddy bear along on the trip.

In addition to the aerial effects and the enthusiastic performances of the actors, a good portion of the credit for the impressive factor of this “Peter Pan” must go to the production staff.

The eight piece orchestra, under the direction of Thomas N. Sterling, delivers a full-bodied interpretation of the music by Moose Charlap and Jule Styne. In conjunction with sound designer Chris Pollnow, it supports but never overpowers the singers or the action.

The lighting is outstanding, especially as Peter and the children fly over London at night. In this story, an important character is created by a fast-moving light and a chiming keyboard. There is never a doubt about what Tinker Bell is feeling — or where she is — at any moment — and when her light is fading, the audience responded instantly to Peter’s request for life-giving applause.

As always, costume designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck has created the perfect ensembles for every character, from the childrens’ bedwear to Hook’s strikingly flashy outfit (Love that coat!). Note: character hair is always important and here it is hats’ off to wig designer Jennifer Dow for all, especially Hook’s great black mane!

Even for those of us who have grown up, this “Peter Pan” provides a brief but welcome return to believing

“PETER PAN” plays at the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw through Saturday. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or (800) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org

Ludwig Farce Takes A Swing At Golf

The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., opened its 66th season Tuesday evening with a fast-paced production of “The Fox on The Fairway,” a skewed look at man’s favorite sport — golf, of course (what did you think?!).

Golf, along with sex and mixed messages, is the subject of the newest offering from playwright Ken Ludwig whose other farcical targets include opera (“Lend Me A Tenor”), theater (“Moon Over Buffalo”) and cross-dressing (“Leading Ladies”).

There is no actual animal running amok on the greens, instead the title alludes to the setting, the Tap Room of the Quail Valley Country Club, where the club’s annual golf tournament with deadly rivals— the Crouching Squirrel Golf and Racquet Club — is about to get underway.

Before the championship is decided, Ludwig has brought out all the tricks in his comedy bag, excepting mistaken identity. In “Fox,” everyone knows who he or she is supposed to be, excluding one final shot out of the rough.

The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., opened its 66th season Tuesday evening with a fast-paced production of “The Fox on The Fairway,” a skewed look at man’s favorite sport — golf, of course (what did you think?!).

Golf, along with sex and mixed messages, is the subject of the newest offering from playwright Ken Ludwig whose other farcical targets include opera (“Lend Me A Tenor”), theater (“Moon Over Buffalo”) and cross-dressing (“Leading Ladies”).

There is no actual animal running amok on the greens, instead the title alludes to the setting, the Tap Room of the Quail Valley Country Club, where the club’s annual golf tournament with deadly rivals— the Crouching Squirrel Golf and Racquet Club — is about to get underway.

Before the championship is decided, Ludwig has brought out all the tricks in his comedy bag, excepting mistaken identity. In “Fox,” everyone knows who he or she is supposed to be, excluding one final shot out of the rough.

The five member cast starts in first gear with some defining quotes describing various authors’ opinions on the game and quickly ratchets up to high, without missing a beat or stopping to take a breath.

“Fox” is definitely the most raucous of Ludwig’s plays and the “combatants” spend a major portion of their time racing around the set, in and out of many doors (another Ludwig trademark) and facing each other eyeball to eyeball while shouting at the top of their lungs.

The “plot” is appropriately convoluted and, as in all Ludwig creations, the audience is required only to sit and laugh at the outrageous goings on, a requirement The Barn audience was eager to fulfill.

Fox on the Fairway The Barn Theatre Augusta MIBarn veterans Roy Brown, Eric Parker, Emily Fleming and Patrick Hunter are old hands at playing rapid-fire farce and are ably assisted by Bethany Edlund and Amy Harpenau under the direction of Brendan Ragotzy.

Parker and Brown play opposing club presidents Dickie Bell and Henry Bingham, respectively, with Fleming as Pamela Peabody, Bell’s obviously bitter ex. Hunter is Justin Hicks, a Quail Valley employee who becomes its secret weapon when its top player defects to Crouching Squirrel. Edlund is Louise, a QV waitress engaged to Hicks, and Harpenau is Murial Bingham, Henry’s overbearing antique-loving wife.

Parker blusters beautifully with his constant bragging as blatant as his mix-and-mismatched outfits. Brown goes swiftly from newfound confidence to recurring hysteria as his ace-in-the-hole seems about to blow the game on which he has wagered too much cash and his wife’s antique shop. Fleming shifts from sarcastic onlooker to invested participant as her emotions fix on the beleaguered Brown.

Edlund, whose hysteria frequently muddles her dialogue, and Hunter, who shares her hysteria but for different reasons, are well matched as the couple who finally come in under par.

The set design by Steven Lee Burright combines the rolling greens with the Tap Room for an interesting indoor/outdoor effect. Michael Wilson Morgan’s costumes could undoubtedly go right to the first tee.

“THE FOX ON THE FAIRWAY” continues through June 17 in the theater on M-96 west of Augusta, Mich. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatre.com