Musical Triple-Header For Mom

Sunday being that special day when all good offspring do something nice for mom, I offer three choices of solid family fare, each on stage nightly, plus a couple of matinees. though Sunday.

The price of tickets is wide-spread but even the most expensive falls way below the current prince in a larger market.

Beginning at the top, look at the national tour of “Motown: The Musical,” which says it all in the title. Playing in the marvelous Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, “Motown” begs to be the “true” story of Berry Gordy, founder and ruler of the record label that took its name, in a condensed version, from the nickname — Motor City — of Gordy’s home town.

Who cares if the theatrical version is slanted obviously to making Gordy the “good guy” (it’s based on his autobiography, he wrote the script and is a producer). The important thing is that, in two and a half hours, it brings back an era and a musical genre that molded at least one generation.

I dare you to sit still when The Temptations, the Supremes, the Commodores, the Vandellas, the Four Tops, the Marvellettes, the Contours and the Jackson 5 hit the stage. Ditto for Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. All are incredibly close to the sound of the originals.

Even if you cannot name each of the 59-plus songs, some in part and some complete, recalled in the solid vocals, you won’t be able to sit still — and feel free to sing along!

Most of the 28 cast members play several roles, but Gordy (Chester Gregory), Ross (Allison Semmes), Gaye (Jarran Muse) and Robinson (David Kaverman) never miss a beat or a ceiling-shattering note!

Have to admit my favorite was young Michael Jackson (Raymond Davis Jr./CJ Wright). The boys alternate, so I don’t know which one played the burgeoning superstar the night we went (it should be noted!), but from the talent level of the adult cast, both must be outstanding!

For show times and ticket information call (269) 387-2300 or (800) 228-9858.

To borrow from The Supremes: the next show, like “Motown,” ends on Sunday.

It is “Singin’ in the Rain,” offered at the Lerner Theatre by Premier Arts.

Can’t comment on the show as I haven’t seen this production yet but will say that the film, and just about all the stage productions I have seen (and I can’t count how many) have proven to be extremely entertaining and a great way to spend several hours with a totally family-friendly musical.

The ticket price is right, so it’s not too costly to take a chance. Sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

For show times and reservations, call (574) 293-4469 or visit info@premierarts.org.

The final part of the musical trilogy is the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Big River,” based on Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” with music by the late “King of the Road” Roger Miller.

The “Muddy Water” will be flowing through May 21, with Huck, Jim, the Duke, the King and Tom Sawyer dancing and singing in the SBCT Wilson Auditorium.

Another musical aimed at the enjoyment of the whole family. For additional information, check my review, also on this website!

Season Starts With Music And Dance

In anticipation of the upcoming season — and filling the gap between Halloween and Thanksgiving — Elkhart Civic Theatre presents a holiday classic, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” Friday through Nov. 19 at the Bristol Opera House. The feel-good script is filled with Berlin classics featuring the title tune as well as “Count Your Blessings,” “Sisters,” “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano” and “How Deep Is The Ocean.” It tells the story of two singing sisters, the duo of entertaining ex-soldiers who love them and the G.I.’s former commanding officer who needs all their help to save his New England lodge. Let the theatrical version of the ever-popular 1954 film classic light up your holidays. For show dates and times, call (574) 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org.

'Addams Family' To Visit Kalamazoo

“They’re creepy and they’re kooky,

            Mysterious and spooky,

They’re altogether ooky,

            The Addams Family.


Their house is a museum

            When people come to see-um,

They really are a scre-um

            The Addams Family.

   (neat, sweet, petite)

So get a witch’s shawl on,

            A broomstick you can crawl on

We’re going to make a call on

            The Addams Family!”

The familiar theme for the TV version of Charles Addams’ famous cartoons in The New Yorker magazine is one song you won’t hear in composer Andrew Lippa’s score for the touring production set to play Tuesday and Wednesday evening in Miller Auditorium at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich.

All the Addamses — Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Grandma, Uncle Fester and even Lurch — will be ready to greet visitors at 7:30 pm. Also invited for dinner are Wednesday’s boyfriend Lucas Beinenke and his parents, Mal and Alice.

Word is this will be a ”spooktacular” meal. It seems everyone has something to hide and more than a few skeletons in their closets.

Book for this new Addams Family adventure is by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice who also are responsible for “Jersey Boys.”

Tickets range from $35 to $58. For reservations, call (269) 387-2300 or visit www.millerauditorium.com.


'Hair' Plays Tonight At Miller Auditorium

The Age of Aquarius, it seems, is always with us.

Originally on Broadway in 1968, the James Rado/Gerome Ragni/Galt MacDermott musical appropriately titled “Hair,” returned to the Great White Way in 1977 and 2009, winning numerous awards with each incarnation. The most recent is now on tour, bringing its look at the movement of the ’60s and ’70s that changed America forever to theaters across the country. From its score, many songs have joined the list of hits on the Great American Songbook. Among these “Let The Sun Shine In,” “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine” and the title tune.

Claude and his peace-loving friends will be on stage in (and out) of appropriate hippie attire at 7:30 p.m. today in Miller Auditorium at Western Michigan University. For tickets, call (800) 228-99858 or (269) 387-2300 or visit www.millerauditorium.com.

For those who were “there” — and those who were not— its one way to review past mistakes and keep them from repeating themselves.  

Timeless Tale Gets Musical Makeover

Who has not, at one time or another, felt like an ugly duckling?

These feelings were described two centuries ago by Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen, in his stories or “fantastic tales.” Frequently thought of as fairy tales for children, they actually apply to all ages.

Among the most popular is “The Ugly Duckling.”

About 10 years ago, composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe took Andersen’s fable and set it to music. The result was “Honk!” and, for younger performers, “Honk Jr!” which follows Ugly, the “odd egg out” of his mother Ida’s brood, on a delightful and sometime hazardous journey to find himself and iauroduces many varied characters who help — and sometimes hinder —him along the way.

“Honk Jr!” will be presented by the ECTeam of performers ages 8 to 18 at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Bristol Opera House.

Leading roles will be played by Gavin Rusel as Ugly, Sara Nolan as mom Ida, Joel Lininger as dad Drake and Bethany Wirick as the devious Cat.

Honk Jr. ECTeam of Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INHaving seen the ECTeam’s productions before, I can only urge families to get their tickets NOW! Under the direction of Brock Butler, assisted by Karen Johnston, with Kim Dooley as vocal director and Kristen Riggs, choreographer, I guarantee “Honk Jr!” will be a really fun evening for the whole family.

NOTE: The relatives whom cast members “reckon up by dozens” waste no time in making reservations for the limited run ECTeam productions, so make yours now.

“HONK JR!” will play at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, 120 E. Jackson in Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org at any time!

Young People Shine In Youth-Only Shows

I always love it when I am “pleasantly surprised” (in quotes because I borrowed it from someone else) at the theater.

I love it even more when my expectations are exceeded.

That being true, you can imagine how delighted I was to find that the latest production by the Young Actors Workshop at the Wagon Wheel Theatre both surprised me and way exceeded my expectations which, I admit, were rather high.

It was the annual YAW show, a one-performance-only mid-season event, performed on the existing stage set and chosen for its adaptability to said set. This year directors Andy Robinson and Kira Lace Hawkins (both WW ‘12 company members) chose “Honk!” an absolutely delightful musical setting for the Hans Christian Anderson tale of “The Ugly Duckling.” With the addition of tall weeds and cattails, it worked beautifully with the “senior” setting for “Carousel.”

This was the third YAW production I have seen. The first time I went was in 2010, because Elkhart Civic Theatre had done “Once on This Island” and I had difficulty believing that young performers could handle the mostly-music show.

Which just goes to prove that even I can be wrong.

It was amazing. Even more so was last year’s selection, Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” also mostly-music but ramped up to the enth degree with intertwining melody lines and tongue-twisting lyrics and absolutely no room for error.

After that, I was pretty sure that there was nothing those young people could not do, but then again, casts are different every year and strong performers come and go. And the show is put up in only 10 days, which raises the difficulty factor and makes the finished product even more amazing.

No need to worry. “Honk!” proved to be an absolutely delightful, glitch-less show. The leading players had beautifully strong voices and the ability to make fantasy characters come to life. And the chorus, all playing assorted animals, never missed an entrance or a beat

In addition, for the first time they were accompanied by a live orchestra of equally young musicians!

Honk! Wagon Wheel Youth Theatre Workshop Warsaw INAs well as making for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, the show offered a very heartening look at where performers, players and production staff might be coming from in the future.

Not that Wagon Wheel is the only theater that has a unit which uses young people only. There is one at South Bend Civic and another at Elkhart Civic. Have not seen an SBCT production, but judging from the excerpts presented Saturday evening during the Arts Everywhere Performing Arts Series annual program at Potawtomi Park, those young people also can hold their own. Their upcoming musical is “All Shook Up.”

Have seen several of the ECTeam (Elkhart Civic’s name for its youth theater) productions and I can vouch for their top quality. “Charlotte’s Web” was delightful and “Seussical Jr.” was outstanding! This year, the musical will be “Honk Jr.” and the play, “Ramona Quimby.”

Check the websites of all organizations for show dates, times, tickets, etc., but be aware they usually are presented for one performance or one weekend only.

Premier Arts also has performances by young people, usually the matinees of whatever adult production is on the main stage. I have never seen one (more on that later) so I can’t judge the quality.

Enough to say that whatever involves young people in the performing arts has got to be a plus, with long-lasting effects. You just may be looking at the stars of tomorrow!

Changes

I have always been a big fan of musicals, especially old musicals and the timeless tunes they introduced. It seems appropriate then that my tune for today is “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.” The title applies specifically to MarciaMarciaMarcia.net which is about to undergo some great changes, thanks to my dear friend (and former Elkhartan) the multi-talented John Brian Quinn! He has taken on the task of turning my website from static and one-dimensional to WOW! Beginning now, not only will there be a spot for reviews, but also for just about anything I can think of that deals with the arts AND a place for anyone to shoot me a question — serious or silly — about any and all things theatrical. Can’t guarantee to find all the right answers, but I guarantee to try. So please enjoy the new me! I know I do!

Barn Looks at The Full Monty

In 1997, a British movie about six out of work men in Sheffield, England acquainted Americans with the term, “The Full Monty.” Three years later, it became a Broadway musical, shifted location to Buffalo, N.Y., kept the unemployed steelworkers and retained the premise — job loss can lead men to unusual occupations, if only for one night.

The musical “Full Monty” played 700 performances in New York City and still is extremely popular with regional theaters and community groups which have the manpower — and the electrical power — to pull it off (definitely pun intended).

The Barn Theatre is taking another look at “The Full Monty,” which was a hit for the Augusta, Mich., playhouse in its 2005 season. Two of the ’05 cast members — Eric Parker and Iris Lieberman — are repeating their roles in the show which opened a two-week run Tuesday evening. The “new” cast is up to the challenge, including an apprentice called at the last minute to take over a leading role.

the full monty at the barn theatrePatrick Hunter plays Dave Bukatinsky, an overweight worker and best friend of leading player Jerry Lukowski (Parker), filling in for former company member Eric Petersen who was called to Broadway to take over a role in the hit musical “Shrek.” Despite having only five days notice and being rather too young and not really heavy enough for a character obsessessed with his paunch, Hunter delivers a remarkably solid and believable performance, both dramatically and vocally.

Parker, a longtime Barn favorite, is equally compelling as the angry divorced dad who is desperate for money in order to retain a connection with his young son. Seeing the popularity of the Chippendale show touring Buffalo, Jerry comes up with the idea of disrobing for an audience to make some quick cash.

To organize a group, he enlists other laid off mill workers. First an unwilling Dave and a suicidal Malcolm MacGregor (Aaron Fried), then former supervisor Harold Nichols (Gregg Rehrig), as a dance teacher. Auditions to fill remaining slots are hilarious and result in adding  Noah (Horse) T. Simmons (Stanley White) and Ethan Girard (Alex Kip) whose “qualifications” for the job leave the auditioners speechless.

With Jerry’s young son Nathan (an adorable Jacob Ragotzy) organizing the event and old vaudevillian Jeanette Burmeister (Lieberman) at the piano, the Heavy Metal show lurches to its eventual performance. Along the way, however, Jerry is forced to promise potential ticket buyers “the full monty” (everything off) in order to promote sales.

In addition to the riotous finale “Let It Go,” there are two guaranteed showstopping numbers in “The Full Monty,” Jeanette’s “Showbiz Number” and Horse’s “Big Black Man.” Here they do not disappoint, even though choreography for the latter, as for “Michael Jordan’s Ball” and the finale are rather flat and repetitious.

The women — wives, ex-wives, girlfriends and interested spectators — are handled well by Penelope Alex (in her 100th production at The Barn), Brooke Evans, Jenna Petardi, Estelle Schneider, Katie Mack and Stephanie C. Forshee. The declaration of female equality “It’s A Woman’s World,” definitely strikes home.

The pop/rock score and lyrics by David Yazbek set the up tempo tone from the opening chords and the book by Terrence McNally touches on a multitude of topics including unemployment, parenthood, self-awareness, relationships and friendship.

The set, adapted from the original design, seems unwieldy and unnecessarily noisy his time around, with scene changes less than sharply executed. Possibly the pace will escalate as performances continue, cutting down the opening night three-hour running time.

“The Full Monty” plays through July 12. Shows at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 6 and 9 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday at the theater on M-62 in Augusta, Mich. Tickets are $29. For reservations and information: (269) 731-4121.

Michigan's "Jersey Boy" To Entertain

KALAMAZOO — A Michigan “Jersey Boy” is coming home to his alma mater for one night only. Western Michigan University alum Eric Gutman, most recently on stage in the Broadway, Chicago and national touring companies of the smash hit “Jersey Boys,” will help Miller Auditorium announce its 2009-2010 season with a special free show beginning at 7:30 p.m. Monday. The title is “Oh, What A Night” and Gutman, speaking from his home in Royal Oak, Mich., promises it will be just that. It’s not the first time he has taken part in the season introduction. He was a part of two “Forbidden Broadway” casts that entertained potential audience members.

Eric GutmanA student in the excellent WMU music theater program, Gutman “always knew I wanted to do this,” he said. “My heart was set on it.” After graduation in 1999, he headed for New York city and auditioned for “Forbidden Broadway.” “I got cast and went with it,” he said. For five years he “was happy doing what I was doing.” Among his credits are “Forbidden Hollywood,” “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” However, “When you love something as much as you do and it’s constantly a struggle, the love kind of fades away,” he admitted. “It was hard to see friends of mine who were immensely talented and just couldn’t catch a break.”

He moved to the West Coast but, eventually, found himself back in Michigan with wife Sarah, focusing on something other than an acting career. But when the call came for the Chicago company of “Jersey Boys,” he couldn’t resist. “I called in sick at my job in Detroit and went to the audition,” he said. “I sang one song and they said they had nine roles I could play.” They weren’t kidding. During his time as one of the “Boys,” he was in the ensemble and covered the leading roles of Bob Gaudio, Bob Crewe, Tommy DiVito and Nick Massi as well as several featured roles. Confusing? “Never” Gutman said. “Besides, we had cheat sheets back stage.”

In addition to singing and dancing and learning the “tracks” for each role, he plays a number of instruments including guitar, bass and mandolin. Has he seen the last of Frankie Valli & Co? “I hope not,” he said. ” If they call again, I would love to go.”

Now the parents of baby Riley, the Gutmans live in Royal Oak where he is the owner/operator of Two Kings Tickets, which handles tickets for concerts, sporting events and theaters all over the world. But on Monday, he will be wearing his performing hat for an hour-long show that will include 11 songs and stories about life on the road. Take it from someone whose been there.

NOTE: After a video season announcement and the show, a number of Kalamazoo’s best restaurants will provide a buffet in the upper lobby. Tickets are free but reservations are requested (limit of four) at (800) 228-9858 or (269) 387-2300.

New Harmony 2009 Revisited

Returning to a place where you have had a very good experience is not always the best thing to do. . .except when that place is New Harmony and the experience is the New Harmony Project.

The Project has been held for 23 years in this unbelievably green southwest Indiana location. It’s purpose has always been the same: To help playwrights develop new works that “offer hope and show respect for the positive values of life.” To this end, writers, actors, directors and dramaturgs head for this very southern Indiana town the last two weeks May bringing their creative energy and their talent . I visited the New Harmony Project for the first time last year, because daughter Deirdre Lovejoy was one of the actors. When she was asked to return, there was no doubt I would want to be there as well. Of course, I only went for the final week and all I did was listen, but to a confirmed theater buff, there was no greater place to be. In the first place, New Harmony itself is a popular vacation destination. You won’t find a nightclub or a thrill ride anywhere, but turning back the clock in a town that was founded by the Harmony Society, a religious sect, in 1814. The Harmonists came from Pennsylvania and returned there in 1825 after selling the town to a Scottish social reformer and education pioneer who collected notable thinkers and scientists to the banks of the Wabash River. What you will find is a serene environment where bicycles and golf carts are the primary modes of transportation, where night really falls darkly and you can feel stress easing away. It’s a popular spot for weddings and conferences the year round. It’s the perfect place to concentrate on your objective

Returning to a place where you have had a very good experience is not always the best thing to do. . .except when that place is New Harmony and the experience is the New Harmony Project.

The Project has been held for 23 years in this unbelievably green southwest Indiana location. It’s purpose has always been the same: To help playwrights develop new works that “offer hope and show respect for the positive values of life.” To this end, writers, actors, directors and dramaturgs head for this very southern Indiana town the last two weeks May bringing their creative energy and their talent . I visited the New Harmony Project for the first time last year, because daughter Deirdre Lovejoy was one of the actors. When she was asked to return, there was no doubt I would want to be there as well. Of course, I only went for the final week and all I did was listen, but to a confirmed theater buff, there was no greater place to be. In the first place, New Harmony itself is a popular vacation destination. You won’t find a nightclub or a thrill ride anywhere, but turning back the clock in a town that was founded by the Harmony Society, a religious sect, in 1814. The Harmonists came from Pennsylvania and returned there in 1825 after selling the town to a Scottish social reformer and education pioneer who collected notable thinkers and scientists to the banks of the Wabash River. What you will find is a serene environment where bicycles and golf carts are the primary modes of transportation, where night really falls darkly and you can feel stress easing away. It’s a popular spot for weddings and conferences the year round. It’s the perfect place to concentrate on your objective

With the Project, the objective has been to read, re-read and re-re-read scripts, both for stage and screen, with the aim of polishing them as much as possible within the two week period. This is accomplished by bringing to the table (literally) professional actors, a director and a dramaturg for each script. The selection process begins with a call for new scripts, more than 100 are submitted annually. A 10 page synopsis for each is read by a committee which then narrows the field and requests full scripts. These, usually 20, are read and discussed.new harmony table read

For 2009, four were chosen for “full development” and two others, for one-time reads. I sat in on the former process for two scripts At the tables, all those involved shared ideas, suggestions and comments on the works in progress. Rewrites were done daily, with changes printed off on different color paper so that, in one case, the final script look rather like a rainbow. Words, sentences, paragraphs and even entire scenes were reshaped overnight. Watching this process was indeed humbling and a bit awe-inspiring.. There were morning and afternoon rehearsals for all four, the location of each announced by Project Director Joel Grynheim during the lunch and dinner in the New Harmony Inn dining room. The evenings were open for first reads, parties, writers discussions, and (my favorite) the annual Harmon-anny, during which talents other than writing — mainly musical — were shared. In the middle of the final week, high school students with an interest in drama were invited to spend the day, sit in on rehearsals and participate in discussions. I sat in on a musical theater workshop given by two award-winning musicians, Debra Barsha and Lance Thorne, who wowed the students during their two sessions to such an extent that none of the young people wanted to leave.

 Debra Barsha and Lance Thorne At each, the students were asked to write down their thoughts on whatever they wanted. No surprise, the majority chose feelings, relationships and the future. Taking their papers at random, Barsha and Thorne created songs from each one, some uptempo, some ballads and all utterly amazing. One, which they titled “The ABCs of Love,” was taken a step further and included (with credit to the young “lyricist,” who was present) in the final program, “A Taste of 2009,” presented Saturday evening during a benefit dinner for sponsors, donors and the all-volunteer board members of the New Harmony Project. From the last Thursday night through Saturday, readings of the four full development scripts were open to the public, which also was invited to share opinions. Thanks to the electronic age, one of the selected writers who was unable to attend, was video conferenced via laptop cameras with her director and cast, sharing thoughts and emailing suggested rewrites. The positive energy throughout sent even this on-looker home with the assurance that good theater, positive theater was — and would continue to be — eternally green, rather like New Harmony.