‘Hairspray’ Beat Is Unstoppable

“You Can’t Stop The Beat”!

This pulse-pounding song ends The Barn Theatre production of “Hairspray” which opened Tuesday evening in the Augusta, MI playhouse.

Tracy Turnblad (Rachel Grindle) realizes her dream to dance on TV in The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

Like many other numbers in the Tony Award-winning score, it is definitely one that remains in your mind long after the curtain closes on the saga of Tracy Turnblad, her (almost) sky-high “do”and her winning impact on the young people of the city of Baltimore.

The roots of this “Hairspray” go back three decades to 1988 and the original black-and-white film by director John  Waters. It came to Broadway in 2002 with book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and ScottWittman and earned eight Tony Awards, including best musical. It ran for six years before launching national and international tours and became one of the most popular choices of professional and amateur theaters in the world.

TV host Corny Collins (Jonnie Carpathios) shares the mike with Tracy Turnblad (Rachel Grindle) as Amber Von Tussle (Rachel Mahar, left) looks on in The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

The bottom line is that a good production of “Hairspray” means a really good time, no matter how often you have seen it, and The Barn production is most definitely a good one.

The main character is Tracy Turnblad, a slightly overweight teen with an unsinkably positive outlook and a beehive hairdo (remember those?). As played by Rachel Grindle, she has an absolutely infectious personality and a voice that, when necessary, can raise the roof. The last is shared by several of the principal players, most notably Shinnerrie Jackson as record shop owner Motormouth Maybelle and Kasady Kwiatkowska as Tracy’s  BFF Penny Pingleton. In addition to giving a scene-stealing comedic performance, Kwiatkoska also choreographed the many high-energy dance routines.

The surprise of this production, however, comes in the person of the actor who plays Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s equally overweight mom. In a wig and overly-sufficient padding, Robert Newman (yes, THAT Robert  Newman) obviously is having a great time in plus-size drag, complete with pumps and purse and appropriate avoirdupois! His second act duet “You’re  Timeless To Me,” with Charlie King as hubby Wilbur, is a real show-stopper.

Motormojth Maybelle (Shinnerrie. Jackson) delivers a message of hope to teens in her record shop in The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

Ditto Jackson’s incredibly relevant “I Know Where I’ve Been,” a tribute to self-awareness and self-confidence that has the power to bring the audience to its feet.

Just for fun, however, it’s difficult to beat Penelope Alex as Tracy’s TV nemesis, Velma Von Tussle, deliver the  self-congratulatory tale of her rise to fame as “Miss Baltimore Crabs” or the enthusiasm of Jonnie Carpathios as Corny Collins, host of the TV teen dance show (based on a real 1960s Baltimore show) or the sinuous moves of Maybelle’s son,  Seaweed J. Stubbs (Este’Fan Kizer), who would be at home on the basketball court.

Tracy’s determination to desegregate the Corny Collins Show, which currently features Negro Day dancing once a month, lands her in jail where she and Link Larkin (Ian Lah) discover their love.

His determination to win a recording contract, however, derails their relationship but only until the really rousing finale.

Okay. You know it has to come but it still gets cheers when the final can of hairspray opens!

Under the direction of Hans Friedrichs, this “Hairspray” is the perfect way to spend two hours!

Velma Von Tussle (Penelope Alex) describes her win as Miss Baltimore Crabs to Fender. (Derek Gully) in. The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

The era-appropriate costumes of designer Taylor Burke made me glad that crinolines are no longer the undergarment of choice, The bright colors, especially on the sequined Dynamite Trio, the dancing teens  and everyone in the finale, were  in keeping with the positive message of the show.

Samantha Snow’s flexible scenic design features triangular pillars that rotate to fit the location, plus one moving platform for the Turnblad home.

The energy of the entire cast plus the toe-tapping score and the much-needed (especially today) reminder of the necessity for social change make “Hairspray” even more relevant.

The one jarring note (literally) is the way-too-loud band under the direction of Matt Shabala. The decibel level of the drums and the keyboard frequently eliminated the vocals and often made all lyrics unintelligible. It is a matter of balance which hopefully can be remedied,

HAIRSPRAY plays through July 1 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatreschool.or

 

Disco Beat Turns Back The Clock

In 1997, Paramount Pictures released a musical — or a movie with music — that changed the life of its star and left a vivid image in the memories of the disco generation.

Tony Manerp (Trevor McChristian) and Stephanie Mangano (Alana Pollard) strut their stuff in the disco dance contest in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. (Photos by Scott Michaels)_

The movie was “Saturday Night Fever,” the star was John Travolta and the image was Travolta in a white suit striking a defiant dance pose.

The success of the film made its follow up by a live theatrical version almost a certainty and it didn’t take long before “Saturday Night Fever: The Musical” hit the stages of the world.

That was two decades ago (in London), followed in 2000 by a Broadway production and national and international tours that continue today.. The latest incarnation opened Wednesday evening at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw.

For SNF fans, it’s all there — the pounding disco beat and haunting themes of the Bee Gees cinematic score (along with a number of songs written by several other composers just for the stage); the insistent beat of the disco dances; the whirling of the requisite mirror ball and the sadly unfocused lives of the young people, specifically in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

Tony Manero (Trevor McChristian) and his “crew” rage against their “Dog-Eat-Dog” life the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

At the center is Tony Manero’s drive to get out and find a better life across the bridge in Manhattan. In a dead end job, he finds expression, and some relie in dancing weekends at the 2001 Odyssey discoteque and, yes, that white suit dances again, here on the person of Trevor McChristian as Tony.

Along with the rest of the principals — Alana Pollard as Stephanie Mangano, Tony’s dance contest partner; Laura Plyler as Annette, his former partner who loves him; Ashlyn Maddox as Pauline, his sister; Cameron Sirian as Bobby, his friend and Pauline’s lover;

The local disco is filled with whirling dancers in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

Michael Pacholski as Monty, Odyssey DJ; De’jah Jervai as Candy, disco singer, and the rest of Tony’s “gang,” Joe (Logan Foster), Gus ( Nick Case) and Double J (Ian Laudano) — they supply the powerful voices that provide words for the familiar songs and, for many in the enthusiastic audience, the energetic dance moves of that psychedelic decade.

It is definitely turn back the clock time!

One of the highlights of any “SNF” has got to be the now-classic melodies of the Bee Gees. Even those who are not familiar with the film or musical know “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “More Than A Woman” or “Jive Talkin’” among others. All are given full vocal, dance and instrumental treatment.

They are not the Brothers Gibb but the 11 musicians,  under the direction of guest conductor/keyboardist Andrew Callahan, give solid definition to the entire score. There is no mistaking that disco beat!

The costumes by Stephen R. Hollenbeck are as reminiscent of the smoke-filled ‘70s as the music, with plenty of shine and vivid colors forming a solid backdrop for that eventual white suit.

Tony Manero (Trevor McChristian, in white) leads the dancers in the last dance of the evening in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

Michael Higgins’ spare but inclusive set design allows the urban locations to flow easily from bridge to disco,

and there is a generous center area allowing plenty of room for the talented dance ensemble to kick up its heels (literally) in the pulse-pounding dances choreographed by director Scott Michaels.

As in many Wagon Wheel shows, the dances are the very high points of this production with the ballads beautifully sung but, of necessity, slowing the action. SNF is set to a ‘70ys beat which is just right for the hip-swinging stride of the Strut.

Betcha can’t leave the theater without it!

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER plays through June 23 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheelcenter.org

 

‘Noises Off’ Theatrical Mayhem

The Barn Theatre opened its production of “Noises Off” Tuesday even and, sad to say, it will be played for one week only.

Sad because, in spite of my real aversion to the usually senseless machinations of farce — and “Noises Off” has more than its fair share — there is something about this super-tangled tale of a less-than-A-list theatrical company that put it at the top of my “see-it-whenever-you-ca“ list!

Actors Jonnie Czarpathios a d Melissa Cotton Hunter play actors Garry Lejeune and Brooke Ashton in The Barn Theatre production of NOISES OFF.

If The Barn production is a little rough in spots, the escalating laughter covers almost everything.

AND the fact that the brave band of nine performers (plus, of course, production people) assembled this production in a week is astounding if not mind-boggling.

As required in all farces, there is a goodly number of frequently-slammed doors (and a bay window). Added obstacle here is that the doors are divided, upstairs and downstairs, with two flights of stairs, either being the access to the upper level.

Not only must the players remember which doors to enter/exit but the number of times most have to run up and down is enough to qualify them for any steeplechase.

The action centers around the bumblingly inept professional touring company of a sex farce titled “Nothing On.” It is midnight before opening and the director Lloyd Dallas (guest star Robert Newman) is having little or no success in holding his cast together.

Penelope Alex as Dotty Otley playing Mrs. Clackett joins the free-for-all in The Barn Theatre production of NOISES OFF.

Leading lady (and primary investor) is Dotty Oatley (Barn veteran Penelope Alex), playing Mrs. Clackett, housekeeper for Phillip and Flavia Brent  (played by Patrick Hunter and Andrea Arvanigian as Frederick Fellowes and Belinda Blair playing the Brents), a couple currently hiding out from the tax authorities.

Into their supposedly vacant house come rental agent Roger Trampleman (played by Jonnie Carpathios as Garry Lejune) and his girlfriend Vicki (Melissa Cotton Hunter as Brooke Adams) hoping to have a little alone time . They are followed closely by the Brents making an undercover visit. The final player is a rather ancient (and alcoholic) burglar (Seledon  Mowbray as played by John Jay Espino).

Standing by are Poppy Norton-Taylor, assistant stage manager and understudy for all female parts (Samantha Rickard) and stage manager Tim Allgood (Christian Edwards),  whose assignments include fixing the set, understudying all the male roles and running errands for the director.

”Noises Off” written by British playwright Michael Frayn, is in three acts which, decades ago, was the norm. Here, however, it is necessary as acts one — the final rehearsal — and three — the final performance in the tour — are from the audience view and act two is backstage at a matinee performance about one month in the tour.

Robert Newman as directorLloyd Dallas sends stage manager Tim Allgood (Christian Edwards) on an errand in The Barn Theatre production of NOISES OFF

And that is all I have to say  — plot and character-wise — but must add that certain props are integral to the comedy, especially plates of sardines that appear and disappear with regularity, as do Brooke’s contact lenses (and her clothes).

Alex’s Clackett moves through the increasing pandemonium, sardines in hand (or not), like a battleship in a storm and the Hunters both earn special applause, she for playing almost the entire show in very scanty (but more than a bikini) underwear and he, for literally jumping up the many stairs with his trousers around his ankles!

As the entanglements increase, upstairs and down, inside and out, the action — and the dialogue — become faster and sharper and it is to the credit of the company, and director Brendan Ragotzy, that the pace hardly ever wavers.

Emotions run high backstage as (from left) Brooke and Frederick (Melissa Cotton Hunter and Patrick Hunter) try to fend off Garry (Jonnie Carpathios) in the The Barn Theatre production of NOISES OFF.

The two-story, reversible set designed by John Dobson comes out in tact, withstanding more punishment than required of most. It is because of this turn-around requirement that many smaller theaters are unable to produce this show.

Possibly “Noises Off” is special to this reviewer as, having been backstage for many many productions, I can say it is, of course, greatly over-exaggerated for the sake of humor — or is it?

NOISES OFF plays through Sunday in the playhouse on  M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (26u)731-4121 or visit www.barntheatreschool.org

 

‘Skylight’ Shines on Relationship

“Skylight” by British playwright David Hare, is proof that everything old is. . .well, you know.

As presented by South Bend Civic Theatre, “Skylight” opened Friday evening in the Barbara K. Warner Studio Theatre and offered the audience a good play with solid performances and a lot to think about.

Kyra (KatieJung-Zimmerman) offers a cup of tea to Edward Sergeant (Sion Shipley) in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of SKYLIGHT.

The setting is a small coldwater flat in East London circa 1995. In Cliff Shoults’ monochromatic set design, all the appliances actually work including the stove, sink and refrigerator! Quite unusual, especially in a studio production, but definitely effective and a test to the actress who must cook dinner and boil water for tea all according to the timing in the script. Even the kettle whistles on cue or, at least, it did opening night!

In the cast of three, under the direction of Mark Abram-Copenhaver, are Sion Shepley as Edward Sergeant who begins the action with a brief but unexpected visit to Kyra Hollis (Katie Jung-Zimmerman) to ask for help with his father Tom Sergeant (Cecil Eastman).

Kyra was employed by Tom, a successful restauranteur, and lived with the family. She and Tom had a six-year affair. When his wife Alice learned of it, Kyra left the job and the family.

Kyra (Katie Jung-Zimmerman) faces her former lover Tom Sergeant (Cecil Eastman) in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of SKYLIGHT.

That was three years ago. Since then, Alice has died of cancer and Tom has withdrawn even further from his son and turned to alcohol. Edward has come to ask Kyra, whom he regarded as a big sister, why she left and to come back.

His visit is followed by that of his father, whose immediate reactions to Kyra’s cold and dingy flat and to  her current employment are expressed in a sharply condescending attitude . She defends her job, teaching underprivileged  children, and, in turn, mocks his privileged lifestyle with which he does nothing for anyone else.

Kyra, who came from a well-to-do family, and Tom, who worked his way up from extreme poverty to wealth and power, definitely are not a match made in heaven. — or anywhere else, for that matter.

She fixes him a spaghetti dinner and, as the evening wears on, they are unable to resist the attraction that kept them together for six years.

That’s all in Act One.

In spite of the characters differences, they are meant to share a definite attraction which becomes obvious by the sudden and fairly explosive physical rapprochement which ends the act..

Tom (Cecil Eastman) and Kyra (Katie Jung-Zimmerman) try to figure out their future in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of SKYLIGHT.

Act Two, when the flush of passion subsides, asks whether or not a pair, so diametrically opposed, can compromise enough for a lasting relationship despite the obvious age difference and equally obvious choice of lifestyles.

Jung-Zimmerman keeps a tight rein on Kyra’s emotions although she is the one who has little difficulty talking about her feelings. She goes about the kitchen easily stirring the sauce and boiling the pasta and defending her food choices against Tom’s sneering comments. Kyra is content to wait and listen and give little away in the conversational skirmishes. It is, however, fairly obvious that she has made her own decisions and will not be easily changed. It is a layered performance and certainly relevant in the age of #MeToo.

Eastman (who bears a striking resemblance to Bill Nighy who played Tom in the 2015 Broadway revival) has full run of the set and makes good use of it, striding from the kitchen to the living area, slashing the air as he defends his patronizingly self-centered behavior, sure that once the bedroom has been conquered, the rest of the living arrangements will be changed to his satisfaction.

Situations, however, have a way of working themselves out.

Kyra (Katie Jung-Zimmerman) and Tom (Cecil Eastman) begin a confrontation in her small apartment in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of SKYLIGHT.

Half of the fun of “Skylight” — if, indeed, it is “fun” to watch the struggles that make up any relationship — is seeing just how these will be resolved — or not.

The puzzler, which is surely not the solution, is the re-entry of Edward bearing gifts (of a sort), Is this closure for Kyra or a new beginning or just the resurgence of an old friendship?

Mr. Hare, it seems, is leaving it up to the audience to decide..

SKYLIGHT plays through Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org

 

 

‘ Civil War’ Hauntingly Relevant

The relevance of revisiting this country’s most deadly inner-struggle in the light of today’s political polarization  became increasingly apparent as The Barn Theatre’s season-opening production, “The Civil War,”  unfolded Tuesday evening on the stage of the Augusta, MI playhouse.

Under the direction of Barn producer Brendan Ragotzy, “The Civil War” is not your ordinary musical.

Soldiers of the North (left from center) and the Confederacy (right from center) pause during The Barn Theatre production of THE CIVIL WAR.

It does have a score, by Frank Wildhorn (‘Jekyll and Hyde,” ”The Scarlet Pimpernel”) with book and lyrics by Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy, but the physical action definitely is kept to a minimum.

The music is a combination of the rhythms of the late 1800s — gospel, country and folk — and some of the “dialogue” comes straight from the icons of the period — Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth — but the strength of its passion comes from the thoughts and feelings of the typical foot soldiers, the women they left behind and the slaves they were fighting over, either to free or to keep in bondage.

Slaves Bessie (Shinnerrie Jackson) and Clayton (Rendell Debose) dream of freedom in The Barn Theatre production of THE CIVIL WAE.

As the story of the horrific confrontations begins and continues to escalate, it is presented primarily as a staged concert, with sharply spare action on a “playing field” as divided as the North and South.

There is minimal dialogue but lots and lots of music and, happily, a goodly number of excellent voices!

The many of the vocal solo strengths belong to the “slaves,” a sextet of individuals who blended beautifully when it was required and delivered impassioned solos, especially Shinnerrie Jackson, Rendell Debose and Ryan Carter Johnson. Michael Fisher was effective as Frederick Douglass.

The Union troops are led by guest artist Robert Newman who sets the scene for the coming conflict in “Brother. My Brother.” The Rebel officer who longs for “Virginia” is Patrick Hunter, with guest artist Fee Waybill as a grizzled Confederate officer attached to “This Old Gray Coat.”

A score of young faces on both sides of the battle lines are especially

Infantry soldiers (from left, Miguel Ragel Wilson, Christian Edwards, Clay Miller and Derek Cuildey) in The Barn Theatre production of THE CIVIL WAR.

effective in underscoring the massive number of casualties (more than 660,000 by the war’s end), the stolid poignancy with which they cloaked their yearnings for home and family and their struggle to accept the inevitable.

Barn favorite Charlie King put his guitar/banjo expertise to good use as a Union soldier whose defiant picking is aimed at keeping flagging spirits as high as possible.

On the home front, the effect of the carnage on those who stood and waited for the outcome and crushing aftermath is in the hands and voices of four women — all designated as Sarah — who stood strong both in victory and crushing defeat.

Most of the characters are identified, even in solos,  only as Slaves or Union or Confederate Soldiers, so it is difficult to give individual credit. Luckily, although some are vocally stronger and more secure, all are equal to their assigned roles and their “sides,” easily identified by blue or gray uniforms.

The playing space is divided into platform levels. One side is hung with Confederate flags and the other, with more familiar Union banners. The center playing area is divided between stars and stripes.

Space is obviously limited and actually not necessary, especially when the two armies march out at the same time, almost touching before turning away. The physical proximity adds another layer to the story.

In the manner of Ken Burns’ PBS epic on this war, the background is frequently filled with photos of Civil War battles and casualties, emphasizing the utter despair of the conflict.

Under the direction of pianist/conductor John Jay Espino, the six member orchestra hits just the right notes to underscore the fluctuating emotions as the war continues.

The end does not come with high kicks and happy bows but “The Civil War” is the perfect theatrical vehicle to remind us of what was and what cannot be again.

“THE CIVIL WAR” plays through Sunday in the playhouse on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit WWW.barntheatreschool.org

 

 

 

 

 

Seuss Tale Wagon Wheel Opener

Wagon Wheel Theatre (aka Center for the Arts) opened its 2018 season Wednesday with two hours of color, spirit and humor delivered in a family-friendly package titled “Seussical” (the musical).

SeussIn case the name is familiar, it certainly should be.

Jojo (Jacob Crater, on bed) is encouraged to “Think!” by the Cat in The Hat (Logan Foster) in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SEUSSICAL. (Photos by Ascott Michaels)

Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) is responsible for creating many of the most memorable characters in children’s literature. About 18 are featured or, at least , mentioned in this theatrical assemblage, with book, music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.

The action (and there is plenty of it!) begins with the appearance of one of the best known of all Seuss creations — The Cat in The Hat (Logan Foster) — who pops up (literally) to make young Jojo (Jacob Crater) aware of all “The Things You Can Think”. The Cat introduces him to the residents of Whoville, led by Mr.Mayor (Michael Pacholski) and Mrs. Mayor (Kira Lace Hawkins), and the inhabitants of the Jungle of Nool.

Included in last are Horton the Elephant (Grayson Samuels), Gertrude McFuzz (Allsun O‘Malley), Maysie La Bird (Juliette Redden), the Sour Kangaroo (De’jah Jervai), the Wickersham Brothers (Nick Case, Ian Laudano and Ahmad Ratliff) and the Bird Girls (Ashlyn Maddox, Jessica Mintr and Laura Plyler).

Horton the Elephant (Grayson Samuels) sits on Maysie La Bird’s egg to keep a promise in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SEUSSICAL.

The Cat, as it turns out, has no qualms about leading Jojo into trouble which lands him (briefly) in the military school of General Genghis Kahn Schmitz (Michael Yocum) who believes it’s war that makes a boy a man!

On his own, Jojo meets another lonely soul, Horton, who cannot say no to a cry for help and winds up holding the tiny town of Whoville on the top or a clover and sitting on Maysie’s egg while she  “takes a short break” to Palm Beach.

The further adventures of Horton, Jojo, Gertrude McFuzz and their friends and adversaries in the jungle are recreated delightfully by the talented WW company. Under the direction of Scott Michaels, who also is responsible for the amazingly non-stop choreography, the story of the steadfast Horton (“an elephant’s faithful 100 percent!”) and Jojo, who discovers the power of “Think,” is the icing on the cake of life lessons , who has a rather applicible to all — except that they are even more enjoyable when sung and danced.

As always. Michaels & Co. (on and off stage) deliver a top quality theatrical product which translates to a highly enjoyable evening (or matinee) for children of all ages.

Scenic designer Mike Higgins (with a look-back at the first “Seussical” design by the late Roy Hine),  creates a world that hovers somewhere between a colorful playground and a Christmas celebration.

Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s wildly inventive costumes (including a bunch of black-lit Hunches)  are, of course, in neon shades that threaten to glow without the assistance of Seif Salotto-Cristobal’s magical lighting design. Especially love the Bird Girls’ hosiery and the lemon yellow coats/dresses for all the Whos!

The primarily up-beat score is in the excellent hands of conductor/keyboardist Thomas N. Sterling and the 10 musicians who make up his always top orchestra.

Horton the Elephant (Grayson Samuels) is captured by hunters and sold to the Circus McGurkus in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SEUSSICal.

Vocally, the WW ‘18 company is up to the high standards which have been established over the decades. Ensemble or solo work, all fit the criteria for singing/dancers (or dancing/singers).

This is standard fare for WW but in this company a number of the performers have yet to enter high school. Check their precision in the dance numbers and read the lyrics on their lips. They don’t miss a beat or a syllable!

The leading role of Jojo is in the capable person of 12-year-old Crater who handles the difficult and extended assignment like an — I was going to say like an adult but  — like a professional. He and Horton bond believably and withstand the machinations of the selfish Mayse and the slyly nasty Cat.

In the Jungle of Nool or Whoville or Solla Sollew or The Universe, Jojo, Horton, the Cat and all their friends are exhilarating examples of what can happen when you “THINK!”

SEUSSICAL  plays through June 9 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St.in Warsaw.. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.

 

 

 

 

 

ECT Comedy Offers Classic Twist

Take a TV star who doesn’t care for Hamlet, add his girlfriend/fiance who thinks Shakespeare is the greatest and mix well with the all-too-lively ghost of the theatrical star known for his portrayal of the Prince of Denmark.

Realtor/mediumFelicia Dantine (Victoria Lauren Gural, center) conducts a seance for (from left: Lillian Troy (Stacey Nickel), Deirdre McDavey (Jac

The result is “I Hate Hamlet,” a comedy with a soulful touch by Paul Rudnick, which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production, directed by Demaree Dufour-Noneman and assisted by Melissa Auvil, has a goodly number of laughs and, in the process, offers a few things for your consideration.

Among these: which is more important, money or  integrity — specifically artistic integrity ? This is the dilemma facing Andrew Rally (Ryan Yeager).

Having come to New York to play the leading role in the annual summer Shakespeare in the Park production, this year of “Hamlet,” the TV actor finds himself definitely having second thoughts, primarily because, as he declares strongly to girlfriend Deirdre McDavey (Jacqueline Kelly-Cogdell), he doesn’t like Shakespeare and, most specifically, he hates Hamlet!

The ghost of John Barrymore (Keith Sarber, right) explains life and the theater to Andrew Rally (Ryan Yeager) in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of I HATE HAMLET.

It doesn’t help that real estate agent Felicia Dantine (Victoria Lauren Gural) has rented him the apartment in which John Barrymore lived which he was playing the role on Broadway.

Enter Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy (Stacey Nickel), who recalls her brief-but-intense affair with Barrymore in that very apartment. When Felicia reveals that she also is a medium, the women decide to have a séance hoping for the spirit of Barrymore to convince Andrew to play the role.

A bell tolls and Barrymore (Keith Sarber) appears  — in costume  — but only to Andrew, and the battle begins.

Stirring the pot is the arrival of Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Andrew Miller), a writer/producer friend of Andrew’s, with an offer he is sure the actor can’t refuse.Will a new TV show and a big paycheck wipe out the actor’s determination to play Hamlet? Or will his old insecurity win out and send him back to TV?It takes about two hours to determine the answer which involves not only some snappy one-liners but also some familiar Shakespearean dialogue.

Theatrical agent Lillian Troy (Stacey Nickel) reconnects with the ghost of John Barrymore (Keith Sarber) to recall shared memories and share a waltz in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of I HATE HAMLET.

Sarber is obviously having a good time recreating one of the best-known (and wildest) of the famous theatrical clan. He and Yeager spar sharply with both dialogue and fencing foils.

Since the setting is present day New York City, the determination of Deirdre to go no further than kissing with her boyfriend seems rather unrealistic, but does underscore his eagerness to learn from Barrymore’s apprenticeship on and off stage.

Yeager makes his reluctance to play Hamlet before a live audience more than understandable. His disgruntled “No sex. And Shakespeare. It’s just like high school” earned a sympathetic laugh.

In one of the quieter and most touching moments, Barrymore convinces Lillian that he also recalls their brief encounter and the duo share memories and a brief waltz.

Ready to play Shakespeare’s Danish Prince, actor Andrew Ralliy (Ryan Yeager, right) refuses a big offer from his friend producer Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Andrew Miller) in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of I HATE HAMLET.

Gural and Miller represent the garish elements of both coasts well enough to prove it’s better in the middle.

Set designer John Shoup’s modern-to-medieval apartment fits both requirements and morphs fairly easily from the former to match Andrew’s increasing attachment to the latter.

(Note: Tiny program print and muted light make program notes difficult to read in  the auditorium. Take one home and enjoy it after the fact.)

I HATE HAMLET plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Oper House, SR 120 in Bristol  For information and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 11 am to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Nerd’ Is Not Your Usual Farce

All you have to do is read the list of characters in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “The Nerd” to realize that this is not your usual farce.

Actually, I’m not at all sure there is such a thing as a “regular” farce because that would, by designation, have to be extremely irregular.

Its difficult to say who is more sur[rised at this dinner party in the South Bend Theatre production of THE NERD. (From left: Shelly Overgaard, Dave Kempher, Brian Nolan, Nicholas Hidde-Halsey, Sarah Myers and Tate Grendt) (Photos by Peter Ringenberg)
Anyway, what is going on in Larry Shue’s utterly ridiculous scenario is, no matter what, good for a large number of laughs which Friday’s opening night audience in the Wilson Auditorium certainly supplied.

Possibly it is just the sight of five adults behaving more than oddly playing a game that might, in a pinch, be suitable for toddlers.

And it is pretty funny.

The tangled plotline circles around architect Willum Cubbert (Dave Kempher) and his two live-in friends. Tansy McGinnis (Shelly Overgaard), is about to leave their happy home in Terre Haute, IN., to take a job as a TV weather girl in Washington, D.C., In love with Willum, she hopes her move will jolt him into action, romantically speaking.

Axel Hammond (Brian Nolan), the third part of their triangle, is a sharp-tongued drama critic and self-described curmudgeon who was briefly engaged to Tansy and now enjoys sitting back and making caustic remarks.

The party doesn’t quite go as planned with an irate Waldgrave (Tate Gerndt, center) expressing his anger in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE NERD,. (From left areShelly Overgaard, Brian Nolan, Gerndt, Dave Kempher, Sarah Myers and Clara Moran Walton)

The trio is expecting Willumn’s client, Warnock Walgrave (Tate Gerndt), his wife Clelia (Sarah Myers) and their young son Thor (Clara Moran Walton), for dinner. Willum is designing a hotel for Warnock (“Call me Ticki”) and the two have different ideas on how it should look.

Into the dinner party comes the unexpected guest, Rick Steadman (Nicholas Hidde-Halsey), a fellow Vietnam veteran of Willum’s who saved the architect’s life. They have never met but Willum feels he owes Rick a great deal .

It’s a feeling that allows Rick to literally take over Willum’s dinner party — and his life, settling in for the long haul as, one by one, the others find his crass behavior more than they can handle.

Willum (Dave Kepher, center) explains to Tansy (Shelly Overgaard) why the dinner is so important as All (Brian Nolan) listens in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE NERD,

No one, however, refuses to play Rick’s wild and messy games (“Shoes and Socks” — use your imagination) and he continues to settle in for a long stay. When Willum has finally had too much, he attempts to oust his nerdy guest with some bizarre games of his own!

The players obviously are having a good time with their off-beat characters, a feeling that transmits itself to the audience. It is to their credit that no one breaks character!

Underneath all the craziness lie a few sobering questions: How far should gratitude go? How far should friendship excuse bad behavior? How long should relationships be ignored?

Not enough to overcome the laughs, but something to think about when the last bit of cottage cheese has flown.

Rick Steadman (Nicholas Hidde-Halsey, center) thinks he has found new best friends, but Tansy (Shelly Overgaard) and Willum (Dave Kempher) don’t agree in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE NERD.

The off-the-wall scenario is played out on an appropriately middle-class set — complete with necessarily sturdy doors (this is a farce, you know) by designer and scenic artist Jeff Barrick. It fills the wide proscenium of the auditorium and provides the actors plenty of room in which to “play.” Most of the time, however, they are grouped around the octagonal coffee table playing the game.

The eclectic furniture around the table for some reason includes one molded-plastic chair into which Tansy climbs with obvious difficulty. Its purpose is revealed when another uses It, but it seems a long way to go for a short laugh.

Sound-wise, the recent work done on the auditorium sound system is worth whatever it cost! The actors are miked and every word comes through as clear as a bell.

Under the direction of Leigh Taylor and assistant director Laura Moran Walton , the action moves crisply and quickly, stopping frequently for laughs!

Even if you find most farces as un-funny as I do, you won’t be able to stop laughing at this Nerd.

“THE NERD” plays Wednesday through Sunday in the Marjorie H. and James M. Wilson Auditorium, 403 N. Main St., South Bend For information and reservations call (574) 234-1112

 

 

 

Murder, Mirth Mixed In Mystery

If you think Sherlock Holmes is nothing to laugh at, take a look at the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production,

 

Dr.Mortimer (Tony Venable (right) tells Sherlock Holmes (Chad Harms, left) and Dr. Watson (Deron Bergstresser) about strange happenings in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of BASKERVILLE.

“Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” which opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House, delivers everything its title implies and something more.

Penned by Ken Ludwig, one of the most prolific playwrights of farce in modern theatrical history, and based on a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, one of the most prolific authors of mysteries of the 19th-20th centuries, and you can check your disbelief at the door en route to discovering who dunnit.

Ludwig has taken Conan Doyle’s most famous characters ·— Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson — and one of his most famous novels (he only wrote four, the rest were short stories) — “The Hound of the Baskerville” — and put (or should I say “twisted”) them together. The result is a fast-paced theatrical entertainment.

Actually, for three of the five-member cast, this ”Baskerville” is not only fast but definitely furious!

The action opens quietly enough with Dr. Watson (Deron Bergstresser), who also serves as narrator, detailing to Holmes (Chad Harms) how he determined the owner of a walking stick left in their flat by using the detective’s method of “observation, forensic science and logical reasoning.”

Dr. Watson (Deron Bergstresser, left) Sherlock Holmes (Chad Harms, center) and Inspector Lestrade (Bonnie MacGowan) are on the trail of a ghostly hound in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of BASKERVILLE. (Photos by Mel Moore)

Listening calmly, Holmes then proceeds to prove his friend incorrect in every detail. Their discussion is interrupted by Dr. Mortimer (Tony Venable) who brings the duo a challenging narrative which combines a bit of Baskerville family history, the death of Sir Hugo Baskerville (Bonnie MacGovern) and the recent (and similar) death of Sir Charles Baskerville ( MacGovern again) which could — or could not — mean the same end for the his son, the current title-holder, Sir Henry Baskerville (right, also MacGovern).

Mortimer is asking for advice as to whether or not to tell Sir Henry as Sir Hugo’s death occurred in the same way (throat ripped out by giant hound) as Sir Charles’.

Holmes agrees to meet Sir Henry who arrives with tales of warning phone call and missing boots, new and old.

Holmes is intrigued. With Watson, of course, he heads for Baskerville Hall where the eerie fun is just beginning and the game is now afoot!

In case this doesn’t make it obvious, the remaining 40 characters are played by the remaining three cast members — Venable, MacGovern and Jenna Ladd — with little regard for character age or gender. Harms and Bergstresser remain firmly Holmes and Watson, with the exception of a disguise or two.

Sherlock Holmes (Chad Harms, second from right) and Dr. Watson (Deron Bergstresser, right0 check with two of Holmes’ street agents (from left Tony Venable and Jenna Ladd) in. the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of BASKERVILLE.

In addition to matching Holmes with the proper explanation of ghostly dog days on the Devonshire moors, the fun in this production is watching the muti-role actors morphing from one character to another and keeping track of just which one they are at which time.

Not only costumes but voices, accents (some of which are a bit difficult to decipher) and even facial hair must be changed to go with the appropriate persona..

Credit for the facility with which these changes are made must go not only to the actors but to the small but indispensible group of dressers who assist in each swift change, some of which take place in the space of only a sentence or two.

Adding to the fun is the presence of on stage “Foley artists” who are responsible for each bell, whistle, wind and howl, in short for every sound required by the script. . For those unfamiliar with the term “Foley,” it is in honor of Jack Foley, the first sound effects artist.

The projections on the back of the bi-level set take the action easily from London’s 221B Baker Street to the echoing chambers of Baskerville Hall to the dark and dangerous moors.

ECT’s go-to director for tongue-in-cheek mysteries, Dave Dufour, teamed here with lighting designer Randy Zonker, who also acted as stage manager and assistant director.

The result is definitely much more than “elementary.”

“BASKERVILLE: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” plays Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in Bristol For information and reservations call 848-4116 weekdays.

 

 

 

 

South Bend Civic Hits The ‘Heights’

I have to begin by saying that this is the kind of review I really don’t like to write.

For two reasons, probably not the ones you think.

Residents of Washington Heights enjoy an evening of dancing in the South Bend Civic Theater production of IN THE HEIGHTS. (Photos by Lauren Mow)

The first is because the subject, South Bend Civic Theatre’s current show, “In The Heights,” which opened Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium, is  its best musical production to date.

The second is because, in spite of performances added to its scheduled run, as of this weekend all are completely sold out. So if you were holding back to see if your friends liked the show, you are too late for that to make any difference.

Difficult to say what makes an amateur production come together as solidly as this.

Obviously the foundation is the script and score. The former is by Quiara Alegria Hudes, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The show earned four Tony Awards in 2008 including Best Musical.

That does not, however, guarantee a successful production.

So begin with a director, Leah Isabel Tirado (who also plays the pivotal role of Abuela Claudia), an associate director Paul Mow and a choreographer, Jon Martinez, all of whom have extensive backgrounds in professional theater, and you have a great structure on which to build.

Its a celebration in Washington Heights in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of IN THE HEIGHTS.

The “building blocks” they selected to inhabit the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights obviously are top quality. There is not a weak or off-putting voice among the principle players. Jorge Rivera-Herrans is Usnavi, bodega owner who dreams of opening a bar in his native Dominican Republic and Rachel Thomas is Vanessa, who hopes to have her own apartment in the West Village but whose alcoholic mother drinks up all she earns in the beauty shop owned by Daniela (Andrea Deleon) who must move her shop due to increased rent.

 

Nina (Mimi Bell) has dropped out of Stanford and come home which upsets her parents Kevin (Jeffrey Villlorio Santos) and Camilla (Shay Northstine) who are determined to pay for her return to school no matter the cost. They disapprove of her romance with Benny (Samuel Jackson) who works for Kevin in his taxi service.

Around this core, all of whom strongly inhabit their roles vocally, physically and dramatically, are other relatives and friends who work and live in the Heights.

Its morning in Washington Heights and residents begin their day in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of IN THE HEIGHTS.

The show spans three days during which major changes occur, not the least of which is a $96,000 lottery ticket won by the neighborhood matriarch Abuela Claudia, impressively played and sung byTirado.

From the beginning of a swelteringly hot July 3 through the final realizations on July 5, this block in the Heights is in perpetual motion, blending hip-hop, salsa, soul and Hispanic rhythms that defy audience members to stay still, with ballads that go straight to the heart.

Whether explosive ensemble numbers like the Act 1 fireworks finale and the neighborhood carnival or the introspective solos and duets, the pacing (along with the excellent voices) keeps everyone in tune with the characters.

Principle or ensemble, the 29 company members mark the highs and lows of life in a Latino community with contagious reality.

Kyle Chamberlin’s set design instantly creates the atmosphere of the block, including a view of the bridge, and Matt Dolphy Clark’s lighting design (with fireworks) enhances the feeling of hot summer, day and night.

Roy Bronkema is music director/pianist and Joshua Goines is orchestra conductor/pianist. With six instrumentalists, they happily bridge the gap of playing on both sides of the “street..

Vocally and instrumentally, this production is enhanced by the theater’s new sound system.

“In The Heights,” which most know was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s one before ”Hamilton,” celebrates the uniqueness of the individual and the solidarity of the community in a life-affirming package applicable to everyone everywhere!

IN THE HEIGHTS plays in the South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Auditorium through March 25. All performances are sold out, To add your name to the extensive waiting list, call (574) 234-1112 weekdays.