Playing Who's Who in Barn's 'Mrs. Markham'

“farce (fars) n. Fr 1(an) exaggerated comedy based on broadly humorous situations 2 an absurd or ridiculous action, pretense, etc.”

These, according to Webster’s, are definitions for the goings-on going on at The Barn Theatre where “Move Over. Mrs. Markham” opened Tuesday evening.

What it doesn’t say is that the broader and more absurd the situations, the more difficult it is to create and enact them properly. In other words, playing farce is not as easy as it has to seem to the audience.

Farces by British playwright Ray Cooney were frequent additions to The Barn seasons in a good many of its 68 seasons. In recent years, his spot has been taken by playwright Ken Ludwig, whose locations were more Americanized (and required no accents, just distinct enunciation).

For “Mrs. Markham,”by Cooney and John Chapman, the accents are back, some with more successful than others. The plot (?), however, remains as frustratingly stupid as ever. Must confess that my aversion to farce is because one honest statement early on could avoid the increasingly involved situations; but then, it wouldn’t be farce, so here goes!

This production is more than fortunate to have veteran comedic actress Penelope Alex in the title role. Her timing is impeccable and the more frantic the situations, the more she pulls incredible explanations out of — thin air! Her ability to remember the many fictitious names — and connections — she has given each character is enviable. Her delivery — audibly and physically — is equally “spot on,” as they say, with facial reactions responsible for more than half of the increasing hilarity.

Move Over, Mrs. Markham The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe same can be said of Kevin Robert White in the role of Alistair Spenlow, Mrs. Markham’s decorator. Although there is a bit too much of the “poof” in his early scenes (is he really anxious to get sexy maid Sylvie (Bethany Edlund) alone?), it proves there is nothing “really” about any of this. His reactions hit home with the opening night audience. Watching his exits, each one with a different take on the on-stage shenanigans, drew more and more extended (and well-deserved) laughter. And his gymnastic turns give new meaning to bedroom acrobatics.

Mr. Philip Markham is played with pompous naivete by another Barn veteran Eric Parker, who blunders blindly through the obvious until he receives a sharp-but-totally-misinterpreted “wakeup call” that rouses his inner Jeeves.

With the exception of the Markhams, every character has his/her own agenda, all focused on the use of that couple’s flat which each of the pairs supposes to be empty — and available — for the evening.

In and out in various stages of undress are Melissa Cotton as Linda Lodge, wife of Philip’s partner Henry, who has an assignation arranged with stuffy Walter Pangbourne (Patrick Hunter), who never goes anywhere without his bowler and his brolly.

Move Over, Mrs. Markham The Barn Theatre Augusta MIHenry Lodge is played by Bruce Hammond with the unflappably dashing demeanor associated with philandering Englishmen whose “stiff upper lip” never quivers.  His target for the evening is Miss Wilkinson (Lindsay Maron), a telephone operator he has heard but never seen, an omission that adds greatly to the eventual mass confusion. Both she and Sylvie are costumed primarily in their underwear, a requisite for attractive girls in a Cooney farce.

The only fully-clothed female is Jillian Weimer as Miss Smythe, prudish author of a series of children’s books in search of a new (and sex-less) publisher. Consider that her main characters are dogs and the double entendre rises to a new level.

The split set (side by side rooms) by Kerith Parashak works well and the one necessity in any farce — ultra sturdy doors — do not fail the actors who slam in and out with increasing speed and intensity.

Sex (implied, never demonstrated), mistaken identity and the double entendre are the building blocks of farce. What holds them together is timing. There is no way to teach good comic timing. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not….but there is enough in this “Move Over, Mrs. Markham” to make it a fun evening.

MOVE OVER, MRS. MARKHAM’ plays at The Barn Theatre on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI through Aug. 3. For performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily or visit www.barntheatre.cob

'Fiddler On The Roof' In A Circle Of Life

It seems like only a short time ago that  I was writing about a production of “Fiddler On The Roof.”

Oh, wait. I was.

Well, currently there is another Tevye pulling his dairy cart onto the stage of another area summer theater, this time at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw.

Which proves you can never get too much of a good show, especially when differences — one is on a proscenium stage and the other, in the round — allow for creative challenges.

Directed and staged at WW by artistic director/choreographer Scott Michaels, the story of the Jewish dairyman, his wife and five daughters and their neighbors in the Russian village of Anatevka moves along at a steadily up-tempo pace. The aim, no doubt, is to reduce “Fiddler’s” almost inevitable running time of three hours (including intermission). With the elimination of one song, some dialogue and advancing the exodus, Michaels & Co. succeed by about 15 minutes.

Must concede that the difficulty level of putting Anatevka and its population into what is essentially a circle (side areas are elevated for interior scenes) is at least an 11 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. There also is no doubt that Michaels, as always, rises to the challenge. He also is responsible for successfully recreating the dances based on the original choreography by Jerome Robbins — who had a huge proscenium space in which to work.

From the introductory kaleidoscope that is “Tradition,” to the rousing celebration of “To Life,” to the gasp-inducing fantasy of “The Dream,” to the mesmerizing slow motion of the Bottle Dancers, the number of ensemble dancers proves no problem, and the duo, trio and solo numbers are equally at home.

Fiddler on the Roof Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INHeading the large cast is Robert Joseph Miller as Tevye. His portrayal of the bushy-bearded patriarch is well-layered, a gruff exterior hiding a caring interior and struggling always to determine the right thing to do for his family and his village. He bends whenever possible but refuses to break. His interpretation of Tevye’s famous “If I Were A Rich Man” (and its accompanying “shimmy”) received well-deserved cheers. The intimacy of his frequent conversations with God, however, is somewhat  lessened by focusing them partially on the Fiddler who appears, unnecessarily, whenever Tevye looks heavenward.

Tevye’s long-suffering wife Golde is played by Kristen Yasenchak, whose vitriolic delivery softens only infrequently. Katie Finan does double duty as Yente the Matchmaker, who proposes a match for Tzeitel, and Fruma-Sarah, the deceased wife of the intended groom. Her vocal appearance in Tevye’s “nightmare” underscores one of the show’s most impressive scenes.

Fiddler on the Roof  Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAs Tevye’s oldest daughters, Tzeitel (Rachel Eskenazi-Gold), Hodel (Monica Brown) and Chava (Alison Schiller) express their feeling humorously in “Matchmaker,” and Brown’s “Far From the Home I Love” poignantly echoes the parting of all parents and children, no matter the distance. Their (eventually approved) fiances Motel (Dan Smith) and Perchik (Matthew Janisse) deliver their solos (“Miracle of Miracles,” “Now I Have Everything” respectively) in strong, clear baritones. The Russian fiancé, Fyedka (Jeremy Seiner), stands out in “To Life” but never wins Tevye’s approval.

Fiddler on the Roof Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INMusical director Thomas N. Stirling’s lush arrangements for the nine-piece orchestra do justice to Jerry Bock’s emotional score. Familiar choral highlights — “Sabbath Prayer” and “Sunrise, Sunset” — do not disappoint and the bittersweet “Anatevka” provides the perfect description of the pain of leaving home and hearth for an uncertain future.

Special praise to the designer for “The Dream,” which is not credited in the program but is a definite show-stopper! Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s costumes are necessarily drab (they all are peasants and soldiers, after all) with enough touches of color to brighten the special occasions.

If the set and the design hold to shades of brown and gray, the dances and vocals supply enough brilliance to lighten this familiar tale of undying faith and hope.

“FIDDLER ON THE ROOF” plays through Saturday in the theater at 2517 E. Center St., Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org.

Brooks' Musical Produces Laughter

When the 2001 Tony Awards ended, one musical — “The Producers” — had won 12 of the coveted medallions. The man behind them all was playwright (here with Thomas Meehan)/composer/lyricist Mel Brooks who turned his 1968 film into a Broadway musical and, in 2005, back into a movie.

Evidence of his multi-area talent is on stage through Aug. 3 in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Auditorium.

The satirical behind-the-scenes look at the making of a Broadway show is, more particularly, the making of a Broadway producer. In this case, that’s producers, plural: Max Bialystock (Ted Manier) and Leo Bloom (Nick Hidde-Halsey). The former has the reputation for producing major flops and the latter hides the desire to produce behind his “day job” as an accountant.

When Leo shows up to audit Max’s books, he muses that the producer could make more money with a big flop, an idea that Max instantly runs with (“We Can Do It”). Getting the timid number-cruncher away from the remnant of his blue baby blanket is the first step in a daring partnership.

The Producers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThere are many, many laughs in “The Producers” caused by many, many characters but the laugh-buck stops — or goes — with Bialystock and Bloom. Manier and Hidde-Halsey (who has the most ear-piercing shriek in SBCT history) work very hard — and quite successfully — to create this comedic partnership. Each has individual moments to shine and each makes the most of them, especially Manier who belts out the “11 o’clock” number “Betrayed” handily, in spite of a bench attached to prison bars that wobble every time he sits down.

Along the way, the men are aided and abetted ably by Allison Jean Jones as showgirl/receptionist Ulla, whose resemblance to Marilyn Monroe is more than accidental; by Mark Torma, who puts on a helmet and steps out of the pigeon coop as former (?) Nazi and fledgling playwright Franz Liebkind; by Sean Leyes as bad director Roger De Bris, who recreates the Chrysler Building and yearns for a Tony; by De Bris’ “creative” staff headed by Nicholas Salay as Carmen Ghia; and by a slew of Little Old Ladies (some  of whom are men), showgirls, officers, prisoners, singers, dancers, etc.

The Producers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreWith Brooks, the laughs are ultra-obvious or semi-shaded. “Bialystock,” for example, is both a town in Poland and a flat onion roll while “bris” is a Jewish rite of circumcision. But you don’t have to look too far. If you don’t get the joke, there is a song to explain it or make fun of it or, usually, both.

When B&B go to director De Bris and his flamboyant staff, the song is “Keep It Gay.” Ulla’s “interview” is “If You’ve Got it, Flaunt It” (and Jones definitely does!), and Leibkind’s allegiance is no secret after “Der Guten Tap Hop-Clop,” which he insists B&B dance with him.

The Little Old Ladies who bankroll Max after considerable “game playing” reveal all in “Along  Came Bialy”  (complete with walkers) and the tune everyone is humming is the catchy “Springtime for Hitler.” Or it could be Leo’s theme “I Want To Be A Producer.” Whichever sticks with you I guarantee it’s difficult to leave behind after the final blackout.

The Producers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe use of a recorded orchestral track is extremely supportive and rear-screen projections of cityscapes and NY marquees designed by artistic director Mark Abram-Copenhaver define the scenes successfully, requiring the addition of only a few set pieces. The art of moving these quietly, however, still has not been achieved and, when furniture is removed, it should be completely out sight.

Director David Case keeps the action moving briskly  throughout the show which runs almost three hours (including intermission).  Choreographer Callie Lorenz does well with principals, showgirls and old “ladies” and the costumes are in keeping with characters, regular and “bizarre.” The overall lighting tends to be rather dark and the follow spot doesn’t seem to know on which character to focus, but that may be resolved over the next several weekends.

Special “salute” to Dave Rozmarynowski who designed Franz Liebkind’s feathered friends and to whoever huddles under the “coop” to keep them moving.

“THE PRODUCERS” will be presented through Aug. 3 in the Wilson Mainstage at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

'Shrek's' Musical Journey A Treat For All

“Things are looking up in Duloc” — and on the stage of the Bristol Opera House where the Elkhart Civic Theatre opened its production of “Shrek, The Musical” Friday evening.

FYI: Duloc is a mythical kingdom and getting there has been nothing but fun since Shrek, a grumpy green ogre, came to life — in animated movie form in 2001 (+ four sequels) and in real time in 2008, when composer Jeanine Tesori and author/lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire recreated his world for the Broadway stage.

The live version is complete with a happily extended score and a definitely upbeat message — be true to yourself no matter what — applicable to children of all ages. And there were plenty at the sold-out opening night.

The cast of villagers, fairy tale characters, animals, a dragon and, of course, an ogre, was led solidly by Jared Yoder in the title role, gruff and growly and definitely green. His slightly-Scottish accent is just enough and his strong baritone voice made his several solos a pleasure. His transition
Shrek The Musical Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INfrom definitely negative to absolutely positive was well done and his final realization that “Beautiful Ain’t Always Pretty” delivered the requisite “happily ever after.”

On the road with Shrek is Donkey, a stumblingly loquacious equine, created hilariously by ECT newcomer Timothy Bailey in a truly memorable theatrical debut. Never too much, he threw himself (sometimes literally) into the role of Shrek’s right hand (or hoof) and evoked waves of well-deserved laughter throughout the journey.

The object was to convince Lord Farquaad to let the fairy tale residents of Duloc return home. His edict had moved them to Shrek’s swamp and the ogre was determined to regain his solitude.

Lord Farquaad is played with deliciously vaudevillian deviltry by Brock Butler. Undaunted by his lack of perpendicular distance (just knee-high to his guards), Farquaad/Butler makes the most of his diminutive stature and is an obvious audience favorite.

The heroine of this tale is Princess Fiona (Brittny Goon) who has a secret of her own. She handles solos, duets and trios with ease and, being a “Morning Person,” joins the tap dancing Rat Brigade with a smile. Her competition with Shrek, “I Think I Got You Beat,” smacks of “Anything You Can Do,” but concludes with some loud noises related to bodily functions which delighted the audience, especially the younger members.

Shrek The Musical Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INThe large ensemble — it’s difficult to tell exactly how large as most play double, triple and even quadruple characters — shifts gears (and costumes) smoothly and swiftly.

And speaking of costumes, the extremely large number required might have daunted a less determined designer (Linda Wiesinger) and her 13-member construction (sewing) crew. Instead, the bright and colorful assemblage was a highlight of the show, with special kudos to that of the Dragon (Jenny DeDario). Shocking pink pleated wings and a sparkling tunic created a force to be reckoned.
And even more applause for the two outfits for Farquaad which not only required velvet suits and hats and swirling capes but tiny mobile legs —and knee pads for Butler.

Considering the number of varied locations — from swamp to forest to castle to cave to sunflower field (and back) — the easily shifted set, again the design of director John Shoup, worked quickly and silently with never a doubt as to the current site.

Shred The Musical  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INRoutines for the dancing Dulocians (and other creatures) were choreographed by Tom Myers, Jennifer Carlson and Karen Pajor and extremely well-executed.

Sandy Hill, vocal director, is behind the quality of the soloists and the excellent blend in ensemble numbers.

Percussionist Mark Swendsen and keyboardist Stephanie Reed share credit for the seven-piece orchestra which was supportive but never overpowering.

Behind the excellent work of the performers is the equally excellent work of the stage and production crews, here especially props, wigs and makeup, with a special nod to sound man Garry Cobbum, for his timing in the Act 2 duet.

The message of “Shrek,” as outlined in “Who I’d Be” and “Freak Flag,” is not unfamiliar, but it’s nice to know that even storybook characters need to hear it.

“SHREK, THE MUSICAL” plays through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, S.R. 120 in Bristol. For performance times and reservations call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org.

"Fiddler" Tale Still Timeless and True

This obviously is the summer of the classical (aka old) musical. Probably at the top of this list (excluding the Big 5 from R&H), is a book by Joseph Stein with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.

If the title escapes you, hum a few bars of “If I Were a Rich Man” and I’m sure you’ll  identify “Fiddler On The Roof,” which opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich.

In a talented cast led by guest star Robert Newman, the tale of Tevye the dairyman, his wife and five daughters was told with humor and pathos and lots and lots of marvelous music.

Under the direction of Barn regular Eric Parker, life in the little Russian village of Anatevka was somehow, if not completely new, at least delivered with the welcome familiarity of an old friend.

Fiddler on the Roof  The Barn Theatre Augusta MINewman, whose versatility as an actor may surprise those used only to his longtime portrayal of Josh Lewis on the CBS daytime drama ”The Guiding Light”  (last Barn show he was a hot-tempered Texas sheriff), certainly is the best-looking Tevye in this reviewer’s memory, which has absolutely nothing to do with his  portrayal of the long-suffering peasant.

After a rather over-blustery beginning in the overture “Tradition,” which serves as an introduction to the town and its most colorful inhabitants, Newman delivered a beautifully-grounded portrait of an everyman, bounded by his duty to God and family, and ready to bow but never break before the slings and arrows of … well, Shakespeare said it all.

His push-me, pull-you relationship with his sharp-tongued wife Golde (another fine characterization from Penelope Alex) is never on one level and their duet, “Do You Love Me,” is guaranteed to evoke more than a few tears.

As THE PAPA, he can find acceptance as his two oldest daughters (Melissa Cotton, Hannah Eakin) break with traditions for love. For the third (Alexandra Jaeb), however, he has no way to compromise.

Other familiar residents of Anatevka are evoked solidly by Jackie Gubow as Yente, matchmaker and town busybody; Charlie King as a towering (literally) Lazar Wolf, the butcher whose proposal is thwarted by a dream; choreographer Jamey Grisham as Perchik, a revolutionary student who brings in the outside world; Kevin Robert White as Motel the tailor, who stands up to Tevye to get his “miracle;” Bruce Hammond as the long-bearded Rabbi, with a blessing for everything; and Patrick Hunter as the Russian Constable, an ominous presence in spite of his friendly words.

Fiddler on the Roof  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIFrom the rousing “Tradition” to the wrenchingly poignant “Anatevka,” “Fiddler on The Roof” remains a constantly popular choice of theaters from professional (four Broadway revivals since 1964 with another planned for 2015) to regional to community because of its tribute to the indomitable spirit of man and, no surprise, because of its wonderful music.

“L’Chaim” rattles the beams in The Barn Theatre as the men drink “to life,” while Tevye’s “Dream” (which includes a couple of “undead” visitors in Lindsay Maron and Jillian Weimer) is a real show-stopper. The same goes for the “Wedding Dance,” with applause to the four “flat-headed” bottle dancers!

The wonderfully fluid and exceptionally evocative set design by Kerith Parashak instantly establishes the overall feeling of the piece and allows the action to shift quickly AND QUIETLY(!) from one locale to the next. Coupled with Paul Collins lighting design, it is real gem and bound to be imitated (the sincerest form of flattery) in many “Fiddlers” to come.

The only off note is the costumes which rarely, if ever, change from one season to the next. I doubt the women would wear their aprons to the wedding or Hodel would head for Siberia with only a small scarf for warmth or Golde leave home wrapped in a lacy shawl while Tevye dons a heavy coat. Easy fixes but worth their weight in credibility.

One cautionary note: No matter how sharply played, “Fiddler” always runs about three hours.

“FIDDLER ON THE ROOF” plays through July 20 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 between 10 am. to 10 p.m. or visit www.barntheatre.com.

 

'Gypsy' Follows Rise Of Burlesque Star

In the literature of American musical theater, there are only a handful of composers and shows that have stood the test of time.

In 1959, two of the former — Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim — collaborated on one of the latter, a tale of show business based on the rise to fame of burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee, and on the power behind the ascent, her mother.

 Since its Broadway debut, “Gypsy” has had four Broadway revivals (to date), one movie and one television production, plus tours around the globe and innumerable productions on regional and community stages.

With music by Styne, lyrics by Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents, “Gypsy” added one more to the list when it opened Wednesday evening in the Wagon Wheel Theatre.

The recurring musical theme here is “Let Me Entertain You,” and for 2 ½ hours, that is what this “Gypsy” does.

From the first notes of its familiar overture, this look behind the scenes at the early days of vaudeville — and at a woman considered the archetype of stage mothers — is filled with memorable melodies and equally memorable characters.

Under the fast-paced direction of Tony Humrichouser, the story of Rose Hovick and her daughters June and Louise is not one of easily-acquired rags to riches.

The driving force behind Baby June and, eventually, Louise, is their Mama Rose, played here with unswerving determination by Carrie McNulty, a WW alumni returning to deliver a solid characterization in one of the theater’s most challenging roles.

Center stage in almost every scene, Rose is the make-or-break in every “Gypsy.” Whether conning a kiddie show host, stealing restaurant silver, holding a failing show together or reinforcing dreams, McNulty never takes her eyes, or her voice, off the prize.

Gypsy  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INNothing stands in the way of her desire to make a star of Baby June (Ellie Irwin, who gets the prize for high kicks and ear-piercing shrieks)/June (Jillian Slade), with Baby Louise (Faith Delp)/Louise (Rachel Eskenazi-Gold) mainly ignored in her march to top billing (“Some People.”). Slade and Eskenazi-Gold are empathetically long-suffering and most effective in expressing their real desires in “If Momma Was Married.”

Early on, Rose attaches Herbie (Matthew Janisse), a candy salesman, to her entourage, recruiting him as an agent and eventual fiance. Janisse makes the soft-hearted Herbie the real linchpin in Rose’s ambitious schemes. Their meeting (“Small World”) and relationship (“You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” “Together”) are as touching as the inevitable outcome.

Gypsy  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INWhen June finally escapes, Mama Rose doesn’t miss a beat in turning her stargaze on Louise (“Everything’s Coming Up Roses”). When her new troupe  (“Toreadorables”) is mistakenly booked into a burlesque house, advice from seasoned strippers Mazeppa (Katie Finan), Electra (Christiani Pitts) and Tessie Tura (Jennifer Dow) results in the show-stopping “You Gotta Get A Gimmick,” a number that certainly bears repeating!!

Louise’s metamorphosis into Gypsy Rose Lee, the star Rose always dreamed of, turns the emotional tables and forces Rose to examine her non-stop ambition in “Rose’s Turn,” one of the tour-de-force 11 o’clock numbers in the musical theater lexicon.

Gypsy Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INMoving times and locations believably through several periods and sites is no easy task in any theatrical production, especially one presented in the round. The assignment is made no easier here with David Lepor’s confusing set design. The use of many poles deters a clear vision, especially since several of the scenes are set in lower areas off the stage. The draped archways set above the stage posed another question. I kept expecting the dingy folds to be removed at some point, a la “Follies,” or, at least, when Louise becomes Gypsy. Mysteriously, they remained dull and drooping throughout.

Stephen Hollenbeck’s costume designs, for the most part, fit the required level of tackiness with special applause for the strippers’ ensembles. Gypsy’s gowns-on-gowns, however, evolving as she climbs to stripper stardom, could be less prom, more burlesque and easier to shed. And since Rose supposedly shares at least in Gypsy’s financial success, she deserves something better than a trench coat for her final entrance.

 “GYPSY” plays through July 12 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St. in Warsaw IN. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org.