Wopat And Rogers: A Likeable Pairing

There is nothing so good for an actor as having a faithful fan base, which means that Tom Wopat should be feeling very good right about now.

The singer/actor opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI in “The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue” and the audience erupted in applause, whistles and cheers even as the top of his western hat cleared the platform stairs spanning the stage.

It was Wopat they came to see and he did not disappoint.

Actually, like the role of Frank Butler in “Annie Get Your Gun” which earned Wopat a Tony nomination in 1999, that of Will Rogers fits him like a glove. His ability to communicate with the audience is a hallmark of Will Rogers’ low-key, straight-to-the-heart personality and it works well.

The Will Rogers Follies  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIFor those too young to remember, during the 1920s and ‘30s, until his death in 1935, Will Rogers was the best-known man in the world, his sly humor and all-encompassing good nature reinforced his best-known statement “I never met a man I didn’t like.”

The musical recap of his life, with book by Peter Stone, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is presented as a revue, resembling the Ziegfeld Follies in which Rogers starred on Broadway for several years.

The Barn production, directed by Ann Cooley, has an impressively sparkly show curtain which hides the aforementioned stairs, the edges of which light up when required.

Up (and down) these stairs climb the important players in Rogers’ life: his dad Clem (Charlie King), his wife Betty Blake (Brooke Evans), and a variety of Indians, showgirls and cowboys, all singing and dancing, frequently together. The stages of is life and career are introduced by Ziegfeld’s Favorite (Julie Grisham), a perky showgirl who enjoys the spotlight. One of the most significant characters, however, fellow flyer Wiley Post (Hans Frederichs), remains in the audience, moving the years along with his never-changing request “Let’s go flying, Will.”

The Will Rogers Follies  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIEvans delivers a well-sung, sympathetic portrait of the lady who mostly waited for Will, first to be married, then to come home. On opening night, she was the target of an angry insect which Wopat managed to eliminate. Neither missed a note.

For whatever reason, the four Rogers children unfortunately are missing from this production as are the opulence and glamour for which Ziegfeld was famous, especially in the extremely bland costuming of the showgirls who frequently seem to be ads for a brassiere company.

The Will Rogers Follies The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe most theatrical excitement comes in Act Two, beginning with AJ Silver who opens with a show-stopping “Roping Act,” followed soon by the show’s best-known number “Our Favorite Son.” Flanked by showgirls in red, white and blue, Rogers accepts his state’s request to run for president. The rapidly precise hand-and-foot work of the ladies — with Wopat in sync most of the time — was an example of what should have been displayed in the rest of the ensemble numbers.

For most of the evening, singers and instrumentalists were at odds, with the orchestra frequently overplaying the vocalists. Hopefully, a better balance has been achieved.

No matter what the plus and minuses of this “Follies,” the title character delivers the unmistakable humor and honesty of the man. His radio talk at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt is taken from Will Rogers’ actual speech. As recreated by Wopat, its impact remains stronger than ever and, sadly, even more relevant today than during the dark days of the Great Depression.

Also ahead of its time (the show was written in 1991) is a ballad, “Look Around,” sung by Wopat to his own guitar accompaniment, which warns of the continuing disappearance of America’s heartlands.

Note: For Wopat fans who can’t get enough, the star is on the bill in the after-show cabaret in The Rehearsal Shed where he IS the third set (except between the Saturday matinee and evening performances).

It’s definitely worth the wait!

“WILL ROGERS FOLLIES A Life in Revue” plays through Sept. 6 in The Barn Theatre on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, Mi. For performance times and reservations, call (269)731-4121.

'The Winter's Tale' Is Number 16 for NDSF

In 1623. the first published collection of the works of William Shakespeare, aka the First Folio, contained his 36 plays, divided as comedies, tragedies and histories.

Number 14 among these is “The Winter’s Tale,” a production of which opened officially Thursday evening in the Patricia George Decio Theatre in the Marie P. DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame — a location worthy of the works it houses every summer.

“The Winter’s Tale” marks the 16th production in the annual Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival which has, to date, presented many of the best known works by the prolific Bard of Avon.

This “Tale” is listed in the First Folio as a comedy, a designation that seems to me rather iffy, considering others in this category including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “Twelfth Night,” offer a good many more laughs than this tale which, looked at in modern times, really has a closer connection with daytime (and sometimes primetime) drama.

The Winter's Tale NDShakespeare Festival South Bend INConsider the characters: a king whose undying love flips to raging hate faster than you can say paranoia; a queen who is punished harshly for following her husband’s request; a mysterious lady friend of the queen; a good friend who becomes the target of murderous rage; a faithful follower who puts his life on the line; an abandoned baby; a simple peasant (and his even simpler son) who unknowingly save the day, and a giant bear.

And that’s just act one.

Not a lot of laughs there, although the bear (considering the recent sightings in the area) gets a big reaction.

Everything does come right in the end, however, with happy pairings of all ages, and even a magical resurrection.

The Winter's Tale ND Shakespeaare Festival South Bend INComedy, tragedy or history, Shakespeare gets the royal treatment at the NDSF. The cast, which combines professional actors with students (and a very pre-teen young prince played alternately by local elementary students, a boy and a girl) is headed by performers whose resumes are extremely impressive and, for the most part, filled with Shakespearean credits.

But, credits aside, the proof is in the doing and this ensemble definitely does things right.

Heading the cast are the two kings Leontes of Sicilia and Polixenes of Bohemia, played by Grant Goodman and Jens Rasmussen, respectively.  Shanara Gabrielle is Leontes’ long-suffering, much-castigated and really too-good-to-be-true Queen Hermione. His faithful follower Camillo is Joneal Joplin,

The Winter's Tale  ND Shakespeare Festival  South Bend INThe mysterious lady Paulina, an obvious ancestress of Gloria Steinem and Elphaba, is Wendy Robie. L Peter Callender is Paulina’s husband Antigonus (act one) and The Old Shepherd (act two).

The young lovers who have no knowledge of their actual connection are Perdita and Florizel, portrayed with true Elizabethan restraint by Alison Morse and Xavier Bluel.

All work beautifully under the direction of Drew Fracher on the latest in a continuing line of amazing sets designed by Marcus Stephens. Costume designer Christine Turbitt has followed the scenically neutral color palette in dressing the players, excepting one brilliantly colored gown for Paulina and one for Perdita.

A crucial moment comes in the end of act one when lives and locations are forever disrupted by a monumental storm. For this, and for its flashingly thundering reality (faint-hearted take note!), credit goes to sound designer Matt Callahan and lighting designer Kevin Dreyer.

As mentioned, everything comes up roses (except for Paulina’s husband who is, unfortunately, eaten by that bear). The only question remaining for us was “Where did the title come from?’

So, right or wrong, I recalled Prince Mamillius’ (ill-fated son of Hermione and Leontes) answer when his mother asks him for a tale “As merry as you will.”

“A sad tale’s best,” he replies, “for winter.”

Especially one provided by Shakespeare!

“THE WINTER’S TALE” plays through Aug. 30 in the Patricia George Decio Theatre in the DeBartolo PAC on the ND campus in South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 631-2800 or visit Shakespeare.nd.edu

World Premiere of Local Play At The Firehouse

Summer is a very exciting time for theater.

In addition to local groups’ big summer musicals, area seasonal venues offer classic and familiar shows from June through August.

Not often, however, is there the actual first-time-ever production of a brand new play, especially one by a local author.

Such an event is in progress through Saturday in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Firehouse Theatre where “A False Lie” by Matt Benedict made its wotrld premiere Friday evening.

In the intimate (aka very small) space afforded by the reconfigured Firehouse, the story of family conflict and resolution plays out fairly well. There are no big dramatic surprises but the relationships are well-defined and mostly believable.

At the crux of the story are sisters Grace (Kimberly Gaughan) and Lorrie (Rebecca Frederick) who share a home in New England.

Grace is a lawyer and former Olympic swimmer who shared the team relay silver medal and is recovering from a mastectomy. She is in the midst of ending a relationship and her outlook on life is, to say the least, less than positive.

A False Lie South Bend (IN) Civic TheaatreLorrie, who finds work as a seamstress, has a better attitude but also deals with her live-in boyfriend Jonas (Justin Williams) and his young son Toby (played opening night by Matthew Siler), an enthusiastic hockey fan. Jonas is increasingly frustrated by his lack of steady employment, which adds to the increasing tension.

Into this mix comes the proverbial straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back in the person of Kane (Steven Matthew Cole), recently-divorced and a would-be writer, renting the house next door.

Like a reverse version of the man who came to dinner, he stops in to use the telephone and accepts Lorrie’s invitation to dinner.

As days go by, Kane becomes an adjunct family member, charming Lorrie and helping Toby with his math homework and tales of his time as a hockey player. Grace, however, remains suspicious and Jonas becomes even more taciturn and hostile.

A False Lie  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreNo surprise, the players swirl in ever-changing configurations, the varied triangles Kane explains to Toby obviously a metaphor for the relationship patterns. The finale finds all triangles congruent.

The strength in this production lies with Gaughan and Frederick, both of whom make their characters extremely believable.

Gaughan could make Grace an insecure whiner. Frederick’s Lorrie could be an impossible Pollyanna. Instead, they bicker and share and fight and support with amazingly recognizable familiarity. I believed both.

The role of Toby is shared by Siler (whose dad Scott appears very briefly as the UPS Guy, no connection to “Legally Blonde”!) and Owen Glassman. Siler was an extremely convincing pre-teen, enthusiastic without being obnoxious.

Williams has little to do but look dour and Cole frequently goes way over the top as a neighborly glad-hander.

The premier production was directed by Deb Swerman with a convincing set design by Fred Kiefer and original music by Sebastian Giraldo,

Note: We were still a bit confused by the title but concluded that a false lie must be the truth.

“A FALSE LIE” plays through Saturday in The Firehouse Theatre on Portage Ave., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.

Classic Tale Is Wagon Wheel Season Finale

At the request of her publisher, American author Louisa May Alcott wrote two books in 1868 and 1869 that have survived the test of time to be as popular today as they were a more than a century ago.

Published in one volume in 1880, “Little Women” has moved to film (two silent, four sound), to television, to opera and, most recently, to the stage.

Alcott’s semi-autobiographical tale, based on the young lives of herself and her three sisters, came to Broadway in 2005 in a musical version which opened Wednesday evening in the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw.

As the final offering of the 2015 WW season, “Little Women the musical” maintains the high standards that have marked the theater’s presentations throughout the summer.

Little Woman Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INIt is impossible to fault any part of the production, directed and choreographed by artistic director Scott Michaels who once again does the seemingly impossible, space-wise. Jacki Anderson’s set design is, in keeping with the Civil War period, appropriately crowded making the frequently vigorous dance numbers even more amazing.

The story of the four March sisters and how they grew, their individual hopes and dreams and the triumphs and tragedies, large and small is one that resounds in any century.

The book by Allan Knee pretty much follows Alcott’s story line with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein set to music by Jason Howland underscoring the diverse familial connections.

The WW cast features some of the summer’s best singer/actors. Elaine Cotter as tomboy Jo believably directs her own lurid dramas and defends her impulsive actions, determined to find life in her own way. Her character has two “11 o’clock” numbers — “Astonishing” and “The Fire Within Me” — and Cotter handles them impressively.

This is Kira Lace Hawkins’s summer for playing mothers. Each has been completely individual and each has been beautifully acted and sung. Marmee is no different. Her solos — “Here Alone” and “Days of Plenty”— lyrically describe the emotions of a loving wife and mother left single by war and sharing her strength with her family.

Each of the sisters — Ellen Jenders as Meg, Alison Schiller as Beth and Laura Plyler as Amy — has her own time to shine and each creates her familiar character without a hint of caricature.

Curmudgeonly Aunt March is played to the hilt by Kristen Yasenchack who, once again, is assigned more than one role and who, once again, makes the most of each assignment.

Little Women  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INThe men get short shrift in “Little Women” but Keaton Eckhoff’s Laurie is ingratiatingly sweet as the unlucky suitor who winds up with the right sister after all.

Scott Fuss, minus a wig/plus an accent, is Professor Bhaer who finds the cure for his lonely life in Jo, while Danny Burgos is the dashing tutor who shares Meg’s dreams. Mike Yocum plays Laurie’s growly grandfather, who softens quickly when faced with Beth’s persistent sweetness.

Several play swashbuckling roles in the enactments of Jo’s penny dreadful tragedies.

The vocal talent is surrounded and supported by the excellent nine-piece orchestra led by musical director/keyboardist Thomas N. Sterling.

The various locations of the action all are singularly illuminated in the lighting design by Greg Griffin and Chris Polnow’s sound design lets every word and lyric come through.

As always, the wrapping on this 19th century romance is provided by Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s period-perfect costumes, topped by Jennifer Dow’s stay-put wigs.

Special applause to the stage crew and production stage manager Caitlin Denney-Turner who, throughout the season, have run at least a marathon-and-a-half up and down the raked aisles carrying all manner of props and furniture AND doing it silently!

“LITTLE WOMEN The musical” plays through Aug. 22 in the arena theater at 2517 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations call (574) 267-8041

Perseverance Pays In Fact-Based Musical

When you hear the words “hard body,” what comes to mind first?

I’ll bet it’s not a new pickup truck.

But that’s exactly the prize in the 2013 Broadway musical ‘Hands on A Hardbody” which opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich.

I guess that space makes the difference, although in the theatrical “Hardbody” there are a number of hard bodies, including the truck.

The bright red Nissan pickup revolving center stage is the silent centerpiece of this story by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright, with music by Anabda Green and Trey Anastasio. It is based on a documentary about an actual competition held for more than 20 years in Texas.

Even as you wonder what drives someone to stay, longer than anyone else, with one gloved hand on the body of that truck in temperatures frequently soaring above 100 degrees with rules that forbid leaning or squatting and infrequent 10-minute breaks, the characters in this fact-based musical let you know.

Hands on a Hardbory The Barn TGheatre Augusta, MIEach of the 10 contestants (there were 24 in the annual Texas competition) has his/her reason and, led by stage and TV star Rex Smith, each makes their case, sure that winning this truck will be a real life-changing experience.

This includes dealership manager Mike Ferris (Kevin Robert White) and saleswoman Cindy Barnes (Brooke Evans), both hoping the accompanying publicity will boost their sales.

Some are holding on alone and a few have on-site support. J.D. Drew (Smith), the oldest competitor, is accompanied by his wife Virginia (Penelope Ragotzy) who worries about his health and provides as much assistance during the breaks as the rules allow. His resistance drives her away but when he finally recalls what “Used to Be,” (the show’s loveliest ballad, delivered with palpable empathy by Smith) it’s time for the tears to start.

Hands on a Hardbody The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe most disagreeable contestant is a past winner, Benny Perkins (Eric Parker), not above using mind games and sarcasm (“Hunt With The Big Dogs”) to intimidate the opposition. His final revelation (“God Answered My Prayers”) is stunning and Parker has the vocal and dramatic power to make it matter.

Norma Valverde (Dani Apple) is a little girl with a big voice. Norma’s support comes from her prayer chain which, she says, includes fellow Christians around the world. Her gospel number, “Joy of the Lord” is a real showstopper.

Each of the players has his/her chance to vent vocally. One is an embittered soldier (Michael Tuck) determined to be “Stronger,” while the token Hispanic (Cody Stiglich) lashes out against their ignorance in “Born in Laredo.”

Janis Curtis (Jackie Gubow), mother of six, is championed by hubby Don (Charlie King) who circles the fast-fading group wearing a KFC bucket and joins his wife in declaring “It’s A Fix.” They are not far off as Heather Stovall (Bethany Edlund) relies on age-old tricks to achieve a leg-up (no pun intended) on her competitors.

Outlining “My Problem Right There” is Ronald McCowan (Aron Hudson), the only African American contestant and the first one to take his hand off the truck. Dreams of going “anywhere” are shared by Kelli Mangrum (Samantha Rickard) and Greg Wilhote (Brandon Michaud) who declare “I’m Gone.”

If the script is more than a bit predictable as each contestant steps into the limelight (or onto the truck bed) to share his story, I will say that it went right down to the wire as to which would drive off into the sunset.

The increasing effects of the extreme heat, however, were lacking.

This is the third set this season to feature stairs and wooden planks, but it works well, The orchestra maintains support of the soloists and the ensemble numbers are powerful, especially the initial “Joy to the Lord,” begun acapella by Apple.

The only problem seems to be sound at the top level and the floor level. Dialogue in these areas is lost almost completely and loud crackles abound.

Director Hans Fredrichs gets as much physical action as possible into a script that basically call for all the protagonists to stand in one area throughout.

”HANDS ON A HARDBODY” plays through Aug. 23 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121.

Brevity Here Definitely Is The Soul Of Wit

The average theater-goer facing an evening of Shakespeare might find the prospect just a bit daunting.

Never fear.

A veritable explosion of Shakespearean proportions began Tuesday evening in the Philbin Studio Theatre at Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center where it will repeat its classical madness through Aug. 30, and there is no need to know the works of The Barn of Avon or to be a big fan — or even a little one.

Created by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)” joins their long list of abridged works that have compacted a wide variety of subjects from history to the Bible to Hollywood, touching each with irreverent hilarity.

The duo, managing partners in the Reduced Shakespeare Company, often perform in their works. At ND, however, the mind-boggeling assignments are handled by three outrageously talented actors — Dan Saski, Teddy Spencer and Chad Yarish.

Lost Shakespeare Play Notre dame South Bend INNo need to ask which roles they play. After the whirlwind character switches, it’s difficult to tell. Enough to say that whether you are familiar with all (or any) or Shakespeare’s 39 plays, it doesn’t make any difference.

From the opening by “Chorus,” a generally neutral character who delivers scene-setting prologues and ties up loose ends with epilogues, you know its time for Shakespearean mix-and-match!

For the next two hours (including intermission), the audience is treated to one hilarious mashup after another, all delivered at a break-neck pace by the actors who not only change roles but robes and wigs and voices and accents and . . .well, it has to be seen — and heard — to be believed!

Shakespeare's Lost Play Notre Dame South Bend INTheir tongues go so trippingly on the text that even Hamlet would be impressed!

The premise is based in fact.

In the fall of 2012, a skeleton was found under a parking lot in Leicester, England. Months later the bones were confirmed as those of King Richard III. (Fact)

The authors claim to have seen, in that lot, a 435-page manuscript of the first play by William Shakespeare. Believing this to be the true find, they took the pages and threw the bones away. (Not fact.)

Since the manuscript contained all Shakespeare’s plots, characters and situations, the authors pared down its “100 hours traffic of our stage” to a comfortably watchable length and let the fun begin.

Shakespeare's Lost Play Notre Dame South Bend INAlong the rocky path to the epilogue are found Ariel (The Tempest) and Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), both of whom claim to have the best magic and begin a contest to prove their boasts..

Enlisted in the competition are three witches, three daughters, a murderous queen, a drunken knight, ill-fated lovers, a narcissistic steward, twins, fairies, kings and commoners, all summoned in the name of magical one-upmanship, plus nods to the present day including Gilligan and the Kardashians — and that’s just for starters!

Even the audience gets to take part, volunteers and/or recruits!!

As impressive as the work of the acting trio is, praise must go to the equally impressive trio of stage hands who aid and abet the performers in their seconds-long character changes! Just having to learn which wig and what gown goes on which actor at what time has to have been a Herculean task.

Like the talented trio on stage, they never miss a change!

And if, when the curtain falls or the lights go out or whatever, you by some unlikely chance still say “It was Greek to me,” guess what?

You are quoting Shakespeare!

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE”S LONG LOST FIRST PLAY” (Abridged) plays daily (except Mondays) through Aug. 30 in the Philbin Studio Theatre of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame. For performance times and tickets (it is general seating), call (574) 631-2800 or visit Shakespeare.nd.edu.

'Fiddler On The Roof' Plays In The Park

Let me begin by saying it is very difficult to review a show if you can only see the stage by standing up, which is not an option when the show is close to three hours long.

That was the problem Friday when we arrived at St. Patrick’s Park in South Bend for the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Fiddler on The Roof.”

Curtain time was 7:30 p.m. and we foolishly thought getting there at 7 would be plenty of time, especially since we were informed that there was no spraying for bugs and the other outdoor hazer — cigarette smoke — was a thing of the past, so arriving when the park opened at 6 p.m. was really not an option.

In my younger days, I did a lot of standing for Broadway shows. But the key word is younger and the area was a solid floor and semi-wall on which to lean.

After weighing the options, we decided to stay. After all, a large number of people were in about the same location. We could see what they could see, which turned out to be not much.

Standing allowed a view of the stage and the performers who were, at this distance, more like miniatures than real people. Sitting down allowed a view of the backs of peoples’ heads.

We settled on standing for production numbers and sitting to listen to the rest. Having seen many productions, the visuals offered few surprises. Actually, the sound was much better in the park than in the SBCT Wilson Theatre. Dialogue and lyrics were, for the most part, easily understood and the voices, both solos and ensemble, were excellent, although the coming and going of bad accents was obvious.

Fiddler on the Roof South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThere is no doubt that any “Fiddler,” large or small, depends for its success on the singer/actor portraying the leading role of Tevye, the dairyman of Anatevka. The father of five “daughters!” he deals with constant poverty in an increasingly hostile environment, but his strong relationship with God and strict adherence to the traditions of his race and faith, support him throughout.

Fiddler on the Roof South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreSBCT is fortunate in having a Tevye for all seasons in Jason Medich. Younger than most who play this role, his interpretation carried more suppressed anger and less meek subservience. It was different but it played well. His accent was consistent and his rich and powerful voice filled in all the gaps

Numerically, this has to be the largest production staged to date by SBCT. It numbers a cast of 27, an ensemble of 29, an orchestra of 14 directed by Roy Bronkema and a flexible, multi-wagon set designed by David Chudzynski. Director David Case is a SBCT veteran.

Fiddler on the Roof  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe familiar Jerome Robbins choreography (I said we stood for the big numbers) is the basis for that done by Callie Lorenz. I missed the familial groupings for “Sabbath Prayer” and the mass exodus that brings the show to a close, but the Bottle Dancers were, as expected, drop-less, and the Russian dancers literally flew.

Rather surprising that “Miracle of Miracles” became a duo song-and-dance for Motel (Sean Leyes) and Tzeitel (Natalie MacRae) which rather undermined the shock value of Perchik (Justin Green) asking Hodel (Bree Haler) to dance at the traditionally segregated wedding.

It seems almost impossible that, after a nine-Tony Award Broadway debut in 1964 which played to more than 3,000 people, four revivals (a fifth is planned for this winter), a popular 1971 movie, countless tours and endless productions in schools and community theaters, some remain who have never seen “Fiddler on The Roof.”

It is most definitely a music theater classic.

Now is your chance.

NOTE: There are no programs. For cast, crew and other information, consult your smart phones or computers. Concessions available.

“FIDDLER ON THE ROOF” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in St. Patrick’s County Park in South Bend. For information and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.

'Midsummer' Laughter Spans Centuries

If you’ve ever heard that true love never runs smooth, believe it or not, you were hearing Shakespeare — almost.

The age-old explanation of the entanglements of that emotion is found, in it’s more erudite form, in the first act of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare’s most popular comedy (circa 1595), which opened Wednesday evening in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Whether you are an avid fan, avoid Shakespeare whenever possible or are a newcomer to his plays, the WW production is just right for all.

Ok. If there is a choice, you may never select Shakespeare over Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” etc), but, at least, you’ll be willing to give The Bard of Avon another try.

Midsummer Nigjht's Dream Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INThe WW show makes this a definite possibility, for a goodly number of reasons.

First: directors Andy Robinson and Ben Dicke work well at highlighting aspects of ageless humor that definitely appeal to all. Harking back to the silent screen days of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and the great Charlie Chaplin, they allow the underlying humanity of each character to at least peep through the exterior. Even a jackass can shed a tear.

Second: the assembled cast brings each role to life, whether a noble or a fairie or a working man, and their joy, even when in deep “sorrow,” is highly contagious.

Third: the events (with apologies to R&H) of this enchanted evening are played out on a set designed by David LePor and in beautifully fantastic costumes created by Stephen R. Hollenbeck that could not be anything but magical. Elves and fairies pop in and out of the swirling platforms which collectively resemble a giant seashell, all in frequently shimmering light by Alexander Rodgers.

Everything takes place in one night during which mortals and fairies alike become hilarious entangled but, by dawn, manage to pair properly and resolve all differences.

The story begins stolidly with an approaching wedding, veers to a romp with mis-matched lovers, sidesteps to the preparation of a theatrical production and careens around spells mislaid by a mischieveous fairie.

Leading the earthly contingent are Hermia (Laura Pyler), Helena (Kira Lace Hawkins), Lysander (Angel Lozada) and Demetris (Alex Dorf), gathered for the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens (Jordan Edwin Andre) and Hippolyta,          Queen of the Amazons (Elaine Cotter).

When it becomes evident that Demetrius is engaged to Hermia who loves Lysander, who loves her, while Helena is in love with Demetrius, who also loves Hermia, it’s obvious that there is trouble ahead.

Midsummer Night's Dream Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAll four wind up in the nearby enchanted wood where fairie King Oberon (Danny Burgos), is quarreling with fairie Queen Titania (Ellen Jenders), who refuses to give him a changeling boy in her care. To expedite his demand, Oberon sends Puck (Jennifer Dow) with a magic flower that, when applied to sleeping eyes, makes the sleeper fall in love with the first person he/she sees when awakening.

Of course, Puck applies the flower’s juice to all the wrong eyes and mayhem ensues.

Midsummer Night's Dream Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INTo add to the confusion, a group of workmen are in the woods to rehearse their play, to be presented at the reception. Peter Quince (George O. Vickers V) assigns roles to Bottom the Weaver (Scott Fuss), Flute (Sean Watkinson), the Bellows Mender, Snout the Tinker (Keaton Eckhoff), Starveling the Tailor (Asher Durbin) and Snug the Joiner (Dylan Troost). Bottom, sure he can play every part, loudly directs everyone.

No surprise then, that Puck puts the head of a donkey on the braying Bottom and the flower’s juice on the wrong Athenian resulting in a chaotic mix-up of lovers.

It would be difficult if not impossible to name a standout in the talented cast. Dow is consistently delightful as the impish Puck and Fuss is hilarious as the arrogant would-be actor (check his instruction on attention to consonants). Hawkins is perfect as the neglected Helena who responds with outrage — and outrageously — to sudden romantic attentions, while Lozada and Dorf earn applause for their overkill in proving who is the best man.

The “finale,” the workers’ presentation of “Pyramus and Thisbe,” is the comedic icing on this frothy fare which proves with century-spanning accuracy “What fools these mortals be!”

“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM” plays through Saturday in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041u