NDSF 'Tempest' Feast For Eyes, Spirit

In the world of theater, undoubtedly the best known name is that of Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare.

You either love him (and his works) or …

Afraid I have been on the “or …” side for a goodly number of years.

Not that I don’t appreciate his incredible output and the depth of his characters, but I have always had a problem with the language. Not in the sense that I have a problem with Quentin Tarantino’s language — too much of a bad thing is a bad thing — but somehow I always have difficulty getting into the rhythm.

With the current Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival production of “The Tempest” however, (with apologies to “Hairspray”) “You just can’t stop the beat.”

From the moment the Ship-Master (Paul Hanft) lashed himself to the wheel in anticipation of the coming storm as thunder boomed, lightening flashed and towering waves threatened to overtake even the audience, I was hooked.

So what if some of the terminology went by me. There was never any doubt as to who was who, what was going on and why.

The Tempest  NDSF  South Bend INAs always, this production — as have all of the preceeding 17 mainstage shows since the Festival’s beginning in 2000 — is solidly cast.

Leading the beautifully articulate ensemble is Chicago actor/director Nick Sandys as Prospero,

rightful Duke of Milan. Cheated of his duchy by his jealous brother Antonio (Brian Sprague), with the help of Alonso, King of Naples (Jon Herrera), Prospero and his daughter Miranda (Rebecca Leiner) were cast a drift and survived with the help of Gonzalo (Alan Sader), a friendly noble, to live on an uncharted island for 12 years. Possessed of magical powers, Prospero uses his for good and waits patiently for the chance to exact his revenge.

Opportunity arrives as the story opens and, for the next two hours-plus, the stage of the Parricia Decio Theater in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center becomes the setting for love, laughter, treachery plotted and foiled, and magic, lots and lots of magic!

The Tempest  NDSF  South Bend INMiranda meets (and, of course, falls in love with) Ferdinand (Xavier Bleuel), son of King Alonso. Unfortunately, Ferdinand’s uncle, Sebastian (Guillermo Alonso) aided Antonio in his murderous attempt. But Shakespeare never lets things like this stand in the way of true love.

A generous dose of comedy is supplied by Trinculo (Jacob D’Eustachio) and Stephanie (Patricia Egglesto), servants of the king, and Caliban (Alex Podulke), deformed son of a witch. Caliban serves Prospero. The trio helps themselves to the contents of several casks of wine “liberated” by the storm and drunkenly devise their own plot.

Aiding Prospero is Ariel (Sarah Scanlon), a magical spirit rescued by Prospero and bound to serve him until he decides to release her.

The Tempest  NDSF  South Bend INAs the plots, subplots and counter plots uncoil on the magical island, it is clear that director West Hyler not only has a clear line on each of the characters but uses his association with Cirque du Soliel to underscore the enchantments, which are enabled by the use of what seems like a dozen electric floor fans.

Trust me. After the first storm rises, you don’t even notice them. In act two they provide the winds which billow gorgeous clouds of silk at the magician’s command and swirl leaves in a beautifully contained upward spiral, all the imaginative work of air designer Daniel Wurtzel, possibly best known for his paper tornado at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics closing ceremony.

Equally impressive are the effortless attitudes of Scanlon, who maintains Ariel’s mid-air perch (on a trapeze!) throughout, making each sinuous movement seem as effortless as you know it cannot be.

In act one, one of Ariel’s Quality (unnamed singers, dancers and musicians) descends via two long red fabric panels and creates a cocoon in which he/she “sleeps” for a good portion of the action.

Add to that D’Eustachio’s constant and near-perfect demonstration of the art of juggling, all the while maintaining his wily character, and you have a “Tempest” that literally has something for everyone, as evidenced by the reactions of the audience of all ages!

The overall excellence of the production is solidified by the supportive original score by Scotty Arnold, by Kevin Dryer’s mood-enhancing lighting and Marcua Stephens’ impressive scenic design.

This NDSF season is billed as “Shakespeare’s Last Words,” but after this you can be sure there will be many more to come.

“THE TEMPEST” plays through Sunday in the DeBartolo PAC on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. For performance times and reservations, call 631-2800 or visit Shakespeare.nd.edu. Children under 18 admitted free.

Classic Film Musical On The Barn Stage

It’s difficult to recreate a classic, but that’s what theater companies all over the world have been doing — or trying to do — since the M-G-M musical “Singin’ in the Rain” hit the silver screen in 1952.

The latest recreation opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI.

Actually, the theatrical version didn’t happen overnight. It was 31 years after the film that the songs of Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, combined with the book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, made its debut in London, followed by a Broadway production in 1985.

Like that famous battery-operated bunny, it just keeps on, refusing to be stayed by one of the most difficult first act finales in live theater history (especially for small venues) — a stage full of rain.

Obviously, no matter what the level of imitation, audiences keep on lovin’ it, and The Barn production — headed by Jamey Grisham as Don Lockwood, Hannah Eakin as Kathy Selden, Sam Balzac as Cosmo Brown and Melissa Cotton Hunter as Lina Lamont — is no exception. And it works hard to keep that love alive.

Singin in the Rain The Barn Theatre nAugusta MIHunter doubles as choreographer with director Hans Friedrichs also scenic designer and on stage as Don’s diction coach. In fact, the entire company is “on,” most playing several characters.

Friedrichs’ set is definitely era-setting, with Erte`-style calla lily sconce cutouts and pedestal palms saying “1920s” without a word. Carly Heathcote’s costumes reinforce the aura with ample helpings of sequins and flapper fringe.

For many, the most unforgettable character is the dumb blonde silent screen star who destroys her image whenever she opens her mouth. Hunter’s Lina captures the “nice house, nobody home” persona of the glamour girl who only believes what she reads in fan magazines. Her solo “What’s Wrong With Me?” (added for the stage version), says it all. She does a good job of delivering Lina’s “nails on a blackboard” voice but her sometimes too-rapid-fire delivery makes it difficult to get much of her dialogue.

Gresham and Balzac have the unenviable assignment of making the audience forget their film counterparts. The former is The Barn choreographer and sometime leading man. He most resembles the perennial juvenile with a wide grin and wavy hair. To his credit, he is unfazed by the literally gallons of water through which he must dance. Even when his upturned umbrella dumps water on him, he keeps on smiling … and dancing … and singing.. Unfortunately, his light baritone voice is plagued by an ever-widening vibrato.

Balzac’s long arms and legs are most reminiscent of the late Ray Bolger and he handles the famous “Make ‘Em Laugh” sequence awkwardly but with definite promise. He and Gresham make a good team in “Fit As A Fiddle” and “Moses.”

They add Eakin for another show-stopper, “Good Morning.” She sings and dances well and delivers two lovely ballads, “Would You” and “You Are My Lucky Star.”

Singin in the Rain  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIIn addition to Lina’s “lament,” the theatrical score has one non-film song, “You Stepped Out of A Dream,” sung by Lockwood and the ensemble for absolutely no reason at all — but, hey, this is a musical comedy, right? Disbelief suspended!

Barn veteran Eric Parker is properly bombastic as studio owner B.F. Simpson and John Jay Espino is frustrated director Roscoe Dexter, a cross between Cecil B. DeMille (costume) and Eric von Stroheim (accent) … only in Hollywood!

Of course, all’s well that ends well with everyone getting what’s(or who) is coming to him/her and the audience getting another dose of rain as the entire company reprises the title tune all the while — what else — singing and dancing and smiling!

It’s that kind of a show!

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN plays through Aug. 28 in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.

(NOTE: Next up is the season-ending, one-week-only comedy “Red, White and Tuna” with returning Barn favorites Scott Burkell and Joe Aiello.)

Cast, Script Shine In Dark Comedy

When a bio of playwright Martin McDonough lists his influences as Quentin Tarantino, Samuel Beckett and David Mamet, you should have some idea of what you’re in for in the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan.”

And you don’t have to be Irish to laugh out loud at some of the dark humor with which the award-winning play is laced.

Director Jim Geisel has assembled some of the best from SBCT’s roster of veteran actors — David Chudzynski and his wife, Deborah Girasek-Chudzynski, Chelle Walters, Marybeth Saunders and Bill Svelmoe — as well as a few relative newcomers — David Weist, Jonathan Gigler, Conner Correira and Miranda Manier.

Together on Jacee Rohick’s easily-revolving set pieces, they tell the story of Cripple Billy Claven (Correira), an orphan who lives with his adoptive aunts Eileen Osborne (Girasek-Chudzinski) and her sister Kate (Walters) and suffers the constant casual slurs and taunts of his family, friends and neighbors.

Especially stinging (and frequently physical) are those from Helen McCormick (Manier), a tough-talking girl on whom Cripple Billy has a crush. Helen and her slow-witted brother Bartley (Gigler), whose primary interest is the candy sold in the Osborne sisters all-purpose store, seem to have no purpose but tormenting Cripple Billy and each other.

When Johnnypateenmike (Chudzinski), the self-proclaimed town crier, arrives with three pieces of news (which he shares for a food fee) the word is out that an American film company is headed for the island of Inishmore to make a movie and may use locals. Cripple Billy decides immediately to audition and gets a ride from Babbybobby (Weist), a widowed boatman.

Cripple of Inishmaan  Souith Bend (IN) Civic ThetreMeanwhile, Johnnypateenmike is at home with his bedridden mother Mammy (Saunders), age 90. She has been drinking herself to death for 65 years, much to the delight of her son, who keeps her supplied with Irish whiskey, in spite of the dire warnings from Dr. McSharry (Svelmoe),

After a few days, it becomes apparent that Cripple Billy is missing and the residents of Inishmaan are disturbed — or not. When he does return, reactions are mixed as are the long-buried details surrounding the death of his parents which, it seems, everyone is finally determined to share.

The cast, each with his/her own degree of Irish accent, does a remarkable job of creating characters that are, with a few exceptions, much more than caricatures.

Girasek-Chudzynski and Walters are totally believable as aging siblings, each aware of the others idiosyncrasies — Eileen hides candy, Kate talks to stones — but ready to defend each other and Cripple Billy.

Chudzynski is the big blowhard you can’t hate but can’t stand and, of course, have to laugh at. His defense of his right to announce any news first is hilarious and frightening and he strikes just the right bullying notes. Saunders is actually delightful as the senior citizen who lets nothing stand between her and a medicinal nip.

Cfripple of Inishmaan South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreSvelmoe’s doctor is the one voice of reason in a rising chorus of … well, not exactly insanity but more and more disfunctional. Weist is the man with the boat. Caught between a flood and a rip tide, he struggles to stay afloat.

As Cripple Billy’s peers, Gigler is an Irish marshmallow dough boy, too soft and spongy to make a difference, while Manier is an Irish crag, all offense and deliberately jagged edges and way too sharp to elicit any sympathy. A softening would have helped.

The action, as one might suppose, swirls around Cripple Billy. Correira does an admirable job of keeping his “cripple” always in tact, not an easy thing to maintain for two hours. His determination to get out of Inishmaan is understandable as, eventually, is the reverse. His character is sympathetic without being pitiable and, finally, almost heroic.

The characters interact as easily as the set slides into different locations and the accents are not an impediment. The sound, however, is a different story.

This production was scheduled for the Warner Theatre (aka the Black Box) a downstairs space in which many of SBCT’s very best productions have been presented.

The venue was changed to the cavernous Wilson Theatre in which, whenever an actor turns away from your direct line of hearing, the dialogue, no matter how well delivered, vanishes or becomes mumbles.

This is a problem which has plagued SBCT since the first play in the Wilson and which no one seems able to solve.

It is unfortunate that when solid productions like “The Cripple of Inishmaan” are in the lineup, everyone will have to sit in the center of the auditorium to be able to hear the whole show.

“THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN” plays Wednesday through Sunday in the Wilson Theatre, 215 W. Madison St. For show times and reservations, call 234-1112 between 3 and 6 p.m. weekdays or visit www.sbct.org.

'Grease' Is The Word On Wagon Wheel Stage

“Grease” is the word at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre where the popular musical opened Wednesday evening as the final offering of the regular 2016 season. (The Encore show, “The Full Monty” opens a one-week run Aug. 30.)

The Chicago-originated “Grease” has survived Broadway and West End (London) first runs plus multiple revivals and seemingly endless tours, all without skipping a doo-wah beat.

Its original content, however, has been toned-down, a good thing considering its appeal to younger generations.

It still, in this reviewers opinion (which is shared by many), presents a less-than-acceptable premise — the young and innocent leading lady transforms herself into a less-than-innocent “babe” in order to fit in and win the affections of the gang leader.

Smoking, drinking and casual sex are presented as a matter of course and prerequisites for acceptance by ones peers. Not the premise sought in this age of “be yourself” and hopefully accepted strictly as a part of “the good old days.”

That said, the up-tempo score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who also wrote the book and lyrics, seems to transcend the script and strikes home with viewers of all ages.

That was the obvious consensus Wednesday evening as a large portion of the WW audience happily joined in when the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds (formerly the Burger Palace Boys) let go with “Born to Hand Jive.” Some muscle memories never die!

As always, the WW production shines with the sharply executed choreography of director Scott Michaels which lifts the production above the ordinary and provides one solid reason for being there.

Grease Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INKayla Eilers and Sean Watkinson are Sandy and Danny, the miss-matched sweethearts whose relationship is dependent on the opinions of their peers.

He is the leader of the T-Birds, who ignore more rules than they obey, she is the new kid. Their “Summer Nights” romance, which each sees differently, turns cold in the light of high school.

She is befriended by the Pink Ladies, female counterparts of the T-Birds. Members are Jan (Elaine Cotter), who never met a left-over she didn’t like; Marty (Laura Plyler), who has a boyfriend (“Freddy, My Love”) in the Marines; Frenchy (Elaine Cotter), who plans to drop out and enter beauty school; and Rizzo (Lexi Carter), whose “I don’t care” attitude (“There Are Worse Things I Could Do”) seemingly applies to everything.

Her comment to non-smoking Sandy, who refuses a cigarette, “It ain’t gonna kill you,” got a justifiable laugh.

Rizzo’s boyfriend is Kenickie (Keaton Eckhoff), whose primary focus is his car “Greased Lightnin’.” Other T-Birds are Doody (Barrett Riggins), who is learning guitar for “Those Magic Changes,” Roger (Noah Kieserman), who delights in “Mooning”; and Sonny (Caleb Fath), whose comb is his favorite appendage.

Grease  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INOutside are “lesser” characters who prove the old saying about no small parts.

Evan Duff, who has contributed a gem to every production this season, is Eugene, the class nerd, paired with Aria Braswell as Patty Simcox, head cheerleader and all-around goody goody. Miss Lynch (Kathy Hawkins) echoes the frustrations of every high school teacher, Joey Birchler is radio DJ Vince Fontaine, a Dick Clark wanna-be., and Akilah Sailers kicks up her heels (literally) as Danny’s prom date Cha-Cha DeGregorio.

Chuckie Benson delivers a real show-stopper with his second act appearance as Teen Angel. In sequined jacket, pink shoes and Little Richard “do,” he descends with his angelic quartet to urge Frenchy (“Beauty School Dropout”) to go back to high school.

The colorful costume designs by Stephen R. Hollenbeck help greatly in setting the time, as do the equally colorful set design by production designer Michael Higgins and the late Roy Hine and the ‘50s-era wigs by Jennifer Dow. Again. Music director Thomas N. Stirling and his blue ribbon band supply the perfect accompaniment. Chris Pollnow’s sound design keeps everything in balance.

Scott Fuss, most usually seen on stage, served as assistant director.

‘GREASE” plays through Aug. 20 in the theater at 2515 E. Center St. For show times and reservations call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheelcenter.org

'Rocky Horror' No. 11 At The Barn

If “The Time Warp” is among your dance favorites and science fiction/horror films are your top movie choices (at the B-level, of course), then The Barn Theatre has the answer to your entertainment fantasy.

The Augusta, MI playhouse opened its 11th (right, eleventh!) production of “The Rocky Horror Show” Tuesday evening and, while the number of costumed audience members seemed down — it was a week night, after all — those who followed their Transylvanian urge deserved the stares they received from those in “regular” garb.

Director Brendan Ragotzy repeated the “no props” request which thankfully was respected., although one theater-goer was seen entering with a role of toilet paper and a loaf of bread in a large purse. (For those familiar with “Rocky Horror,” no explanation is necessary. For those not, well, it would take too long.)

Enough to say that, since its beginning in the 1970s as the creation of out-of-work British actor Richard O’Brien, the campy mash-up has taken on a life of its own. From its start in a small experimental theater space in London to a full-scale production (and a revival) on Broadway, to national and international tours, to a now-cult film and upcoming “live” TV production, “The Rocky Horror Show” just keeps coming!

The latest Barn Theatre production, according to Ragotzy, is in answer to the repeated requests from audience members for its return. Here I have to say that I was not among them, having seen this show in many forms from summer stage to Broadway to film, but, as my grandmother used to say, that’s what makes horse racing.

Rocky Horror Show The Barn Theatre Augusta MIEnough to report that those in attendance were definitely “Rocky Horror” fans. This was obvious by their vocal participation (and kudos to the actors for staying in character and never missing a best as lines were shouted from the audience). As my fellow attendee noted: “This is theater for people who don’t know theater.”

Whatever the on-lookers’ mind-set, it was obvious that those telling the tale of honeymooning Brad (Cody Stiglich) and Janet (Sarah Lazar) were enjoying it fully.

Those roles are played by actors costumed primarily in their underwear, for this is their garb-of-force when taking refuge from a storm in the castle of Dr. Frank N. Furter (Jay Poff) and his minions Riff-Raff (Eric Parker), Magenta (Penelope Alex) and Columbia (Kasady Kwiatkowska), and a large group of others, all scantily clothed in sparkling outfits.

Rocky Horror Show  The Barn Theatre Augusta MNIDr. Frank, who introduces himself as a “Sweet Transvestite from Transylvania,” has just completed creating Rocky (Jamey Gresham), a Charles Atlas-wannabe, strong on muscle and short on brains. He insists Janet and Brad stay the night and that’s when the “fun” (make that sex) begins.

Out of the freezer pops Eddie (Patrick Hunter), a biker in love with Columbia from whom Dr. Frank extracted Rocky’s brain. His appearance is short-lived. When wheel, eventually,chair-bound scientist Dr. Everett Scott (Charlie King), arrives looking for his nephew Eddie, the truth is revealed and eventually everyone goes home to their respective planets.

A minor electronic glitch opening night got the show off to a slightly “rocky” restart (pun intended), but it was smooth sailing from then on.

Since the last “Rocky Horror” incarnation at The Barn (2012), Riff-Raff’s hair has gotten longer and whiter, the mellow-toned Narrator (John Jay Espino) more closely resembles a character from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” leggy Poff is more at home in the doctor’s fishnets than the last Frank N. Furter, and the glitter-and-glitz ratio has been ramped up at least 75 per cent.

Aside from that, the camp classic hit home with its long-time fans and undoubtedly made many more. signaling no doubt that the theater will go for an even (or uneven) dozen.

‘THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW” plays through Aug. 14 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatreschool.org