SBCT Shows Upstairs/Downstairs

UPSTAIRS: Music Makes For Smooth Sailing

Sailing onto South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Auditorium stage is a musical drama based on actual events which has been a Christmas tradition for more than a dozen years in the Windy City.

Alma Stossel (Dawn Hagerty, standing) urges her husband Peter (Mafk Torma, center), father-in-law Gustav (Steve Chung, second from right) and son Karl (Blake Allison, seated right) and two of his seamen not to make the dangerous trip to Chicago in wintry weather in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER.

“The Christmas Schooner” is a story of love and devotion set in the late 19th  and early 20th century on the shores of the Great Lakes from Manistee, MI to Chicago. It is centered on schooner Capt. Peter Stossel (Mark Torma), a German immigrant, and his family — wife Alma (Dawn Hagerty), son Karl (played as he ages by Blake and Braden Allison), and father Gustav (Steven Chung), who has trouble letting go of their native language.

Karl  remarks that the newest trees in the pine and spruce forests of the upper peninsula are so close together they may not survive. When Peter receives in a letter from his cousin Martha (Libby Klesmith) who writes that the German immigrant community in Chicago is sorely lacking one thing that signifies Christmas to them —  the tree — it seems to be the answer to the problem. Stack the trees on his schooner, the Molly Doone, and sail them to Chicago.

Capt. Stossel and his men deliver the first ship load of trees to waiting German immigrants in Chicago in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER.

The only impediment seems to be the threat of the fierce seasonal storms which are frequent in the winter. Alma begs her husband to abandon his plan, but Gustav is with him, as are the other seamen of Manistee, and the fir-loaded vessel sets sail. Peter’s only fear is that his cousin may be the only one who wants a tree and his cargo will be good for nothing but a huge bonfire. The enthusiastic crowd cheering for them as they pull into the dock assures the men that this greatly anticipated  “Christmas schooner” will be the first of many.

In spite of Alma’s continuing fear of the winter weather on the lake, the tradition grows and continues until an exceptionally wild storm sinks the Mary Doone and her captain and most of the crew are lost. Nevertheless, the tradition continues and Alma finally realizes the importance of her husband’s vision.

The story of the Christmas schooner is told on a simple set which moves effectively from home to wharf to ship’s deck, thanks to the ingenuity of set designer Jeff Barrack and the use of some highly effective projections.

Alma Stossel (Dawn Hagerty, left center), cousin Martha (Libby Klesmith, right center) and women on both shores keep vigil for the schooner Mary Doone in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER.

The main element in this production, however, is the voices. The book by John Reeger ties the obvious and underlying themes together but it is the score and lyrics by Julie Shannon that deliver the heart of this musical drama.

Fortunately, director Gary Oesch, assistant director Mary Ann Moran and musical director Karen Stonehill, have assembled a group of outstanding voices and instrumentalists. Not only do they deliver the frequently poignant solos and duets but blend smoothly for the choral narratives which are sometimes solemn (“Another Season on The Water”) and sometimes rowdy (“Winterfest Polka”).

Sailors recount their adventure to waiting citizens as the Mary Doone docks in Chicago in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER.

Torma, Hagerty and the always-reliable Chung have the primary solo duties and are a pleasure to listen to,. The same is true of Klesmith who, with Chung and both Allisons, also is required to blend into the chorus. Chung, an SBCT veteran, delivers the most-relaxed performance but there is no doubt that the few-but-mighty sailors are having a great time aboard the Mary Doone. The same goes for the ladies waiting on shore.

In a season mostly filled with the tried-and-true, it is a pleasure to experience something new, especially when that “something new” is well done.

“The Christmas Schooner” is definitely good vessel for the entire family.

“THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER” plays through Dec.23 in the Wilson Auditorim at 403 N. Main Street, Soouth Bend. The run is sold out but contact the box office (574) 234-1112 in case of cancellations.

DOWNSTAIRS: Homefires Are Strictly Dysfunctional

If your idea of “A Nice Family Christmas” is a house full of dysfunctional relatives, all of whom have problems with themselves and each other, then the current South Bend Civic Theatre production, which opened Friday evening in the Warner Studio Theatre, is well-named!

Mom (Susan Griffin) tries desperately to bring her family together for a nice Christmas but all plans go awry in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS.

It is not my idea of fun, but the sold-out audience Saturday evening seemed, for the most part, to find it exactly their cup of Christmas cheer.

The story centers around Mom (Susan Griffin), in whose home the “celebration” takes place. Grandma (Barb Thomas) is already in residence — temporarily or permanently is not decided. On the guest list are sons Carl (Andy Barzelli) and Michael (Curt Goodrich Jr.), daughter Stacy (Brenda Nayeli Gonzalez) and Michael’s wife, Jill (Colleen Dabler), who may or may not show up. Winning the “unwanted guest” award is Uncle Bob (Brad Mazick), brother of Mom’s late husband and a practicing alcoholic.

As Mom tries to keep the festivities on a family-friendly note, it becomes apparent that her efforts are not only futile but only making things worse.

Carl (Andy Barzelli, front) tries to make up with his girlfriend as the whole family listens in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS.

Carl, a journalist about to lose his job, has just lost his long-time girlfriend. He is assigned to write a story about his family Christmas. Certain that brother Michael, a doctor, is the family favorite, Carl longs to work his way up the family food chain.

Michael works hard at keeping his secrets hidden, a task that becomes increasingly difficult when Jill, who is prone to very shrill fits of hysteria, shows up and reveals  that, contrary to family belief, they have been separated for months.

Stacy, who announces she is a lesbian, seems the most level-headed of the group, her only worry is that her partner still has not come out to her parents.

Uncle Bob, the uninvited guest, is by far the most obnoxious. He hangs over Mom and consumes any alcohol available, becoming increasingly loud and unsteadily boorish.

Running neck-in-neck with Bob as the most embarrassingly crude guest is the blowsy family matriarch. Grandma, who manages to interject sex and her participation in many varieties with many partners no matter what the situation being discussed, is more like a porno senior than a proper matron. She gives “advice” loudly and in the most graphically crude terms and delights in demonstrating her up-to-date persona by twerking (if you don’t know what this is, check with Taylor Swift).

Grandma (Barb. Thomas) demonstrates her twerking skill as granddaughter Stacy (Brenda Nayeli Gonzalez) looks away and Uncle Bob (Brad Mazick) cheers her on in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS.

There is no doubt that the entire cast is pulling out all the stops, with good taste definitely not a consideration. This, I have to acknowledge, is a difficult thing to do, especially when family and friends are sitting right under your nose, so congratulations to cast and director Megan Chandler for letting inhibitions fly. I must attribute the emphasis on tastelessness to the author, Phil Olson, and wonder if the comedy would be lessened if the crass element was downplayed.

Of course, by the final blackout everyone has become full of the real Christmas spirit and there is love all around. It’s kinda too little too late.

There is one big bright holiday star in the Warner Studio Theatre, however. It is Jeff Barack’s warm and wonderful set, bright and cheery and full of the season. To make it even cheerier, the program contains a recipe for Jack  (Daniels) Bourbon Balls. Having a few before curtain time might help put you in the mood!

A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS” plays through Dec. 15 in the Barbara K. Warner Studio Theatre, 403 N. Main St. Scheduled performances are sold out but an additional one has been added. For time and reservations, ca;; (574) 234-1112 weekdays.

 

 

Spirit Not Size Key in WW ‘Elf’

‘Tis the season and, in case you don’t know which one that is, take a look on stage at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre where the musical “Elf” made its debut Friday evening.

Buddy the Elf (Stephen Wallem, center) works with fellow elves in Santa’s workshop in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of ELF The Musical.

“Elf,” with book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, is based on the 2003 movie of the same name starring Will Farrell. It came to Broadway for the Christmas seasons in 2010 and 2012 and since then has been touring the country.

The Wagon Wheel production is the first in the Michiana area and, judging by the fact that all nine performances were sold out weeks before opening, obviously was eagerly awaited as the newest addition to the pantheon of Christmas musicals.

The tale of Buddy the Elf, played here with unfaltering good cheer by guest star Stephen Wallem, who discovers at age 30 the reason why he towers over his fellow elves in Santa’s North Pole workshop, delivers the traditional Christmas message of hope and determined good will resulting in the “everybody’s happy” finale.

Buddy the Elf (Stephen Wallem, center) helps the Manager (Michael Pacholski, center) hold tip a snowflake as the Christmas spirit spreads in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of ELF The Musical.

Buddy leaves the North Pole with the blessing of Santa Claus (Gerald Cox) and heads for New York City to reconnect with his human father, “The World’s Greatest Dad,” Walter Hobbes (Ben Prayz) who, unfortunately, is on Santa’s “naughty” list, totally unaware of Buddy’s existence and definitely more of a Grinch than an elf.

Walter heads a children’s book publishing company and has a wife, Emily (Kira Lace Hawkins) and 12-year-old son Michael (Nate Friedberg), who take second place to business. Neither really arebelieves in Santa, making Buddy’s story doubly difficult to accept.

Nevertheless, Emily and Michael take him in and, of course, their faith is eventually restored. Buddy is undaunted and, no surprise, eventually wins everyone over to his belief that “singing loudly is the best way to spread Christmas cheer.” Along the way he falls in love with Jovie (Ellen Jenders), another Christmas skeptic, and gets eventual support from his dad’s office staff especially the Manager (Michael Pacholsko) and secretary Deb (Jennifer Dow).

Disgruntled seasonal Santas express their complaints to Buddy the Elf (Stephen Wallem, center) in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production off ELF The Musical.

Highlights of the production, directed and choreographed by artistic director Scott Michaels, are the ensemble dance numbers, most especially the ice skaters in “A Christmas Song,”  the disgruntled Santas in “Nobody Cares About Santa,”  the company employees in “Just Like Him,” Buddy and the elves in the opening “Christmastown.”and  the ensemble in “Sparkleyjollytwinklejingle,” a wonderful description of the season.

Buddy the Elf (Stephen Wallem, center) finds a new family with his little brother Michael (Nate Friedberg) and Jos new girlfriend Jovie (Ellen Jenders)in the Wagon Wheel Theatre prodictopn of ELF The Musical. (Photos by Scott Michaels)

Wallem does a charmingly believable job of Buddy’s introduction to the “human” world, especially as it applies to family and the Christmas season. His unflaggingly innocent good nature is catching and his childlike exuberance never goes over the top but takes the audience along in the spirit of the holiday.

In the “elf age” category are the many young performers who make up the diminutive workers in Santa’s workshop and are the junior members of the ensemble. Especially noteworthy is Friedberg who handles his solo work like a professional, making his duets with the marvelous Hawkins special moments in the overwhelming merriment.

As always, conductor/keyboardist Thomas N. Sterling and his eight-member orchestra make Sklar’s rather nondescript score very listenable. The set design by Michael Higgins and Jacki Pollnow and accompanying seasonal paraphernalia give the Wagon Wheel a visualization of Christmas.

All of the above was underscored by the enthusiasm of the full-to-capacity audience, made up  in large part by youngsters with accompanying adult friends and relatives. They certainly do believe and the feeling is catching.

NOTE: Some of the youngsters are very young, so be prepared for residual noise and motion as they head to and from the concession stand and other facilities.

After all, ‘tis the season!

“ELF the musical” plays through Dec. 16 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2517 E. Center St., Warsaw, IN. For information, call (574) 267-8041.

Pairs Mix/Match In ‘As You Like It’

There are not many human relationships that stay untouched in William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” which opened a two-weekend run Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Studio Theatre.

In the Forest o Arden, peasants and nobles enjoy a dance in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of AS YOU IKE IT.

The comedy, penned in 1598, is filled with characters and situations not unlike those experienced by couples of all ages, shapes, and genders today. Its arboreal setting, here in the Forest of Arden, allows for placement of the action, which ranges from physical to quietly romantic, in a variety of locations.

Orlando (Dylan Connor) and Charles the Wrestler (Tyler Curtis) engage in a wrestling duel in the South Bend Civic Theatre producing of AS YOU LIKE IT.

The one chosen for this production by director Grace Lazarz, is detailed by set designer Jeff Barrick’s spring-like carpet of stenciled leaves. Changes of place are denoted by changing the several crates which served as rocks, chairs, tables and anything else required, including a wrestling ring.

Touchstonr (Cecil Eastman) and Jaques (
Sarah Miles) have a discussion in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of AS YOU LIKE IT.

As in many of Shakespeare plays, especially the comedies, the relationships are tangled and not easily unwound. There is the heroine, Rosalind (Karen Dickerson), who takes to the forest after being banished by her uncle, Duke Frederick (Marybeth Saunders), who stole his dukedom from her father, his older brother Duke Senior (Bill Swenson), who has fled to the forest.

Tochstone (Cecil Eastman, left) plays his gui tar to accompany Celia (Laura Schmit) in the South Bend Civic Theater production of AS YOU LIKE IT.

Rosalind is accompanied by her cousin Celia, (Laura Schmidt) and both adopt different identities, Celia as Aliena, a poor young lady, and Rosalind as Ganymede, a young gentleman. With them is the court fool, Touchstone (Cecil Eastman), complete with sequined vest and acoustic guitar.

In Duke Senior’s party is Jaques (Sarah Myers), who is trusted with one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, best known as “The Seven Stages of Man.”

Orlando (Dylan Connor) andRosalind (Karen Dickerson) (disguised Ganymede) meet in the foreign the South Bend ivic Theatre pro of AS YOUU LIKE IT. LIKE I,

In the forest, Rosalind (as Ganymede) meets Orlando (Dylan Connor). who has been forced out of his home by his brother Oliver (Joe B. Russo). Orlando, who joins Duke Senior’s company, falls instantly in love with Ganymede.

Around the mis-matched couples are a variety of shepherds (and one scene-stealing sheep) and peasants, all prone to dancing and singing at the twang of Touchstone’s guitar. Indeed, the ensemble communicated enthusiastically with the audience, which responded in kind.

With the exception of the principal players, each actor created two characters, excepting Tyler Curtis who went from wrestler to gentleman with another stop between. The company was a mix of new and familiar faces.

Duke Frederick (Marybeth Sanders) gives instructions fo Rosal,leftind (Karen Dickesalon, right) and Celia (,LaurSchmidt()in the h Bend C ivic Theatheath production AS YOU LIKE IT.

Dickerson and Schmidt deliver honest performances as cousins who fall in love but from different aspects. Each is making her SBCT debut. Their eventual romantic partners, Conner and Russo (as Oliver), also are first-timers on the SBCT stage. They handle their characters well and deliver solid performances.

With his light-hearted songs and strumming, Eastman was an audience favorite throughout and obviously enjoyed his “music master” assignment. Also a favorite was SBCT veteran Bill Svelmoe who grazed from dukedom to pasture with royal ease although not a genuine “Shakespearean sheep.”

The costuming was primarily in basic black, which did little to brighten the proceedings. That was handled early on, however, by some really fast-paced and almost too-close for comfort wrestling by Connor and Curtis. Applause to the fighters and to fight choreographer Brent Wick who made it loo oh-so-real! (Note: No one was hurt in the performance of this scene!)

With the sharp work of the cast (and some judicious adapting with Scott Jackson), director Lazarz kept the running time to about two hours, including intermission. Definitely a feat when dealing with Shakespeare!

“AS YOU LIKE IT” will be presented Wednesday through Sunday in the Barbara K. Warner Studio Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend, For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ECT Laughs At ‘Disaster!’

When a writer/producer creates a musical comedy and titles it “Disaster!” one might assume he was asking for trouble.

In a life-saving tap dance are passengersld by ShirleySelle, center), Ted Schneider (Zach Rivers left) and Levora Verona (Brenna Williams, right) I n the Elkhart Civic TDisaster!”

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production of  “Disaster!.” which opened a three-weekend run Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House, got just what it was asking for and then some!

Assembled by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick in 2012,  ”Disaster!” has a score made up of familiar pop music from the 1970s and a script that touched every major screen disaster film of that era.

That combination, in addition to an exaggerated comedic performance style, makes for about two hours of non-stop fun that requires no serious attention to plot or character but allows the audience to laugh out loud at every outrageous situation.

Marianne Wilson (Mimi Bell, left) helps Lisa (Eddie Bell) get her self-esteem in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Disaster!”

It begins when Tony Del Vecchio (John Shoup), the definitely sleazy owner of a, floating casino, the Barracuda, anchored in the Hudson River, invites reporter Marianne Wilson (Mimi Bell) on board. She accepts, hoping to get a scoop on his nefarious dealings.

What she gets instead is a meeting with Chad Rubik (Preston Reddell), a gone-but-not-forgotten boyfriend now employed on the Barracuda, and a wild variety of passengers and performers, including Professor Ted Scheider (Zach Rivers), a disaster expert who warns dire things for the ship

Others on board with a wide variety of hidden problems are: Sister Mary Downey (Susan South), a guitar-playing nun with a secret passion; Shirley and Maury Summers (Rachel Raska Selle, Clarence Hogan), celebrating his retirement;  Jackie Noelle (Bethany Salvador), ship lounge singer, mother of twins Ben (Eddie Bell) and Lisa (also Eddie Bell!) and hopeful of a proposal from Tony; and Levora Verona (Brenna Williams), an aging disco star with her beloved dog Baby.

The 10-member ensemble portray socialites, employees and stowaways, all increasingly hysterical as disaster follows disaster and rescue seems impossible.

The cast includes some excellent solo voices in addition to blending well as a chorus.

Mimi Bell has a warm and soaring soprano and is very sympathetic as she uncovers her inner self (“I Am Woman”) and in duets with Reddell’s equally impressive baritone.

Sister Mary Downey (Susan South) fights a loosing battle with her gambling addiction in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Disaster!”

South’s conflicted sister, torn between her religious calling and her gambling addiction, is a solid comic turn and one to which the audience reacts at each entrance. Her connection to the slot machine obviously rang a bell! (Pun intended.)

Eddie Bell’s quick change expertise, especially in the segment when he/she holds on to the overturned lifeboat, is a highlight and John Shoup’s oily interpretation of the deceitful casino boss is right out of Damon Runyon.

Shoup designed the set with special rigging by Adam and Michael Greene and Kevin Egelsky. Strobe lighting is used.

Vocal director Liesl Bell also serves as orchestra director and pianist. Completing the excellent orchestra are Miriam Houck and Brenda Summers, keyboards; David Robey, bass guitar, and Mel Moore, percussion.

Director Brock Butler and assistant April Sellers held nothing back as the Barracuda and its company experiences a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, a tidal wave, rats, piranhas and sharks, all to appropriate music of the 70s.

 

Have to admit it’s very difficult not to sing along or, at least, hum a little. Nothing brings back memories — even disastrous one — like melodies!

“DISASTER!” plays Friday through Sunday and Nov. 16-17 at the Bristol Opera House, on SR 120 in Bristol. For performance times and reservations, call 848-4116 from noon to 5 p.m. weekdays.

 

‘Secret Garden’ Blooms In South Bend

“The Secret  Garden”  is the title of the third children’s book by English author Frances  Hodgson Burnett.

Written in 1911, along with the others — “The Little Princess” (1905) and “Little Lord Fauntleroy” (1885) — it has been, the basis for still-popular classic movies. The “Garden” however, is the only one to have made it to the Broadway stage as an award-winning musical.

I must admit before proceeding, that it — with everything by Stephen Sondheim — is one of my very favorite musicals. I am, therefore, extremely wary of any production and looked with a cautious eye (and ear) on the one which opened Friday evening (Oct. 12) in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Auditorium

There was no need to worry.

Director Jewel Abram-Copenhaver, assistant Linda Jung-Zimmerman and music director Roy Bronkema have assembled what sounds like the very best company — vocal-wise — from soloists to ensemble.  This was not an easy task as several of the principals are in high school or younger. Difficult to tell actual ages as all performed with professional ease.

Lucy Simon’s music, coupled with  Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman’s book and lyrics,  is strongly effective and each piece underscores the character who delivers it, adding yet another layer to the emotional scenario. Special applause to the ensemble which frequently serves as narrator and scene-setter and never lets a necessary word disappear. They are background when background is required and deliver solos with clarity and character.

Those unfamiliar with the book would do well to read the director’s  program notes early on. The ensemble, all in white, is the people in Mary Lennox’s past. Stricken by a cholera epidemic in India, each death is signified by a red scarf. Mary (Madison Kopec/Annie Cummings) is the only  survivor. As the action progresses, the “spirits” revisit the past events which have brought them to the present.

Mary is sent to England to her only living relative, Archibald Craven (Michael Ball), a hunchback and an embittered man, whose late wife Lily (Amanda Simon) was the sister of Mary’s mother Rose (Kat Quirk). Also at the Craven estate, Misselthwaite Manor, are the housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Dawn Hagerty), the maid Martha (Lucy Barron), her brother Dickon (Bradon Allison) and the gardener, old Ben Weatherstaff (David Fordyce). As Mary eventually warms to Martha, Dickon and Ben, she becomes fascinated by the stories of a “secret” garden which belonged to Lily, was locked when she died, and the key thrown away.

Following the sound of crying in the night, Mary discovers her cousin Colin (Sean Bell), a spoiled, bad-tempered boy who is convinced he has inherited his father’s condition and is going to die. His uncle, Dr. Neville Craven (Daniel Gray), who also loved Lily, has charge of his restrictive care.

As the power of love exerts itself on the children, the adults and the garden, the score lifts the story line and offers lyrics that are more powerful than spoken dialogue. The “Opening Dream,” which serves as the overture, combining lyrical lines from Lily, Mary, the ensemble and an Indian Fakir (Kiana Blake), establishes past and present characters, locations and basic relationships.

It begins with Ms. Simon’s crystal clear soprano floating over the auditorium from her “ghostly” spot in the balcony, inviting all to “Come to my garden,” She is joined by the recently-orphaned Mary and, finally, by the ensemble as the action moves from India to the desolate Yorkshire moors of England.

The role of Mary is double cast, so it depends on which performance you attend as to whether you will see Kopec or Cummings. Kopec played opening night and, if Cummings is as good, the role is secure in both hands.  Mary’s character is central in “The Secret Garden” and Kopec not only sang with clarity and relaxed assurance, she offered a solid characterization of the young girl who comes out of her shell to reenergize the garden and the humans around it..

Sean Bell’s program bio lists a number of  previous roles in school and with another community group.  This is his first for SBCT and is impressive on all counts, vocally and dramaticaly. The direct opposite of bed-ridden Colin is Dickon, a fey young man who talks to animals and communes with nature. Long-limbed Allison handles seasons and spirits with ease and, wirh sister Martha, provides the bright and positive images that signal the coming of better days.

Mary’s parents, played by Quirk and Chris Hardy, step in and out of the ghostly ensemble to play earlier life scenes that bring the storyline to the present. Both are excellent examples of the high level of singers who make up the ensemble.

The major roles of Archibald and Neville Craven require solid actors and, even more importantly, solid singers. Ball and Gray take their assignments in stride. They have, I admit, my favorite number which comes, oddly enough, not as the finale of an act but several songs from the end of Act One. It allows both brothers to reveal the depth of their love for Lily and admit that young Mary has “Lily’s Eyes.” As sung by Ball and Gray, it is the showstopper of the evening, no matter its placement in the score.

Music director Bronkema, who is in the ensemble, has done an excellent job of making sure the solo voices blend together for the lyrical chorus work. All the “spirits” are in white throughout and properly in the period.

Set designer Jeff Barrack has used the height of the Wilson stage to good advantage, with a set of tall stairs which are frequently moved (by cast members) to designate a variety of locales. The movement is done quietly and is obviously rehearsed so as not to distract from the on-stage action. The only time it does is during Archibald and Lily’s final duet. It also is not clear that the frames at the top of the stairway are for portraits of the ancestors.

The one area where musicals continue to struggle in the Wilson is in the lighting. The soft focus spots on the stage floor don’t help us see the singers faces and seeing is about as important as hearing. The use of an instrumental  track adds the lush sound of a full orchestra to Simon’s score and all — at least all the principals — are miked. The last posed a bit of a problem on opening night as one of the mikes kept popping. Very disconcerting and mood-breaking

One other opening night irritant was the temperature in the auditorium which could only be described as very cold! Along with a majority of the audience, I viewed the entire performance wearing my coat.

The final stumbling block in any production of “The Secret Garden” is the garden itself. It is the focus of Mary and Dickson’s regenerative efforts and, finally, helps Colin back to good health. Having never seen a garden “reveal” that lived up to all the hype, I can only say that the SBCT attempt was definitely different .

I strongly advise you to see for yourself.  Everything that leads up to it makes it worthwhile!

‘THE SECRET GARDEN” plays through Oct. 28 in the Wilson Auditorium, 403 North Main St. South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (54) 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Superstar’ Shines In South Bend

Nearing the close of its 2018 season. South Bend Civic Theatre has produced what is, in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s best show so far — “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Before you shake your  heads in disbelief and claim I have seen one show too many, I will explain.

Mary Magdaline (Zoe Sharrock) pleads with Jesus (Allen Roberts II) to let her take care of him in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.

Having seen “Superstar” — music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by his best-ever collaborator Tim Rice — too many times by too many groups in too many different  “artistic” inspirations, being confronted by Jill Hillman’s caustically cavernous design was, to say the least, creatively chillimg.

This chill did not last long.

It was shattered appropriately by the wails from Kevin (Alex) Peek’s electric guitar which evoked the musical definition of the cry of a soul in torment.

That was a solid precursor to the excellent work done throughout the evening by the five-member band, directed by Kerry Clark, which added just the right amount of support for every change of emotion.

Pontius Pilot (Dean Palmer, right) pleads with Jesus (Allan Roberts II) to listen to him and save himself in. the South Bend Civic Theatre production of JSUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.

It was the best “live” group heard for any  production. And it certainly was not to be outdone, either by the leading players or the more-than-excellent ensemble of singing dancers— or dancing singers. They all were at the very top of their game.

Since this drama has always been more about Judas, the sinning apostle is obviously the first to make his appearance. In the voice of Lincoln Wright, it clearly depicts Judas’ rage at the aim of Jesus’ non-violent structure and his great sorrow as the leader he loves is seemingly loosing his way.  His anger ultimately leads to betrayal and immeasurable guilt.

Of course, you all know this, but here it seems new and deeply horrific.

All of this is beautifully delivered by Wright and equally well-staged by director Mary Hubbard and choreographer Hannah Fischer.

Ms. Fischer has done the seemingly impossible by making the oldest story in the world seem new and different. Her dance ensemble is 11 “regulars” plus a few of the featured players who join the crowd when not otherwise engaged.

Judas (Lincoln Wright, center) pleads with Caiaphas (Kevin Barclay, left) and Annas (Christian Marquez) to take back the 30 pieces of silver given him for betraying Jesus in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.

However she manages it, Fisher has developed a large group of basically non-dancers and turned them into a solid company which not only dances TOGETHER in boldly sweeping patterns but sings while dancing.

Each of the principals can hold his/her own both with the ensemble and alone on stage in a pool of  lighting director Bobby Glassburn’s evocative moments.

As Jesus, Allen Roberts II holds his own at all times and is another of the incredibly talented vocalists who highlight the cast. It falls to Roberts to sing energetically through the first act and, in the second, deliver the show-stopping “Gethsemane,” a wrenching plea to God to get it over with “before I change mind.” He delivers it beautifully.

Portraying his primary adversaries are the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, played by Dean Palmer with growing revulsion at what the malicious priests are forcing him to do; and the Hebrew priests, headed by Caiaphas, (Kevin Barclay)  who delivers evil in a shuddering basso that demands obedience  and refuses to be swayed.

Jesus (Allen Roberts II) is taunted by Kind Herod (NaKyrrah White) in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.

The break-for-laughter is supplied by King Herod (NaKrrah White) who greets Jesus with sarcasm and skippingly invites him to prove himself by walking across his swimming pool,

As one of the few females leading the “Superstar” lineup, Zoe Sharrock delivers a strong Mary Magdalene who stands her grounds against a raging priest and delivers the show’s best known ballad “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” with reluctant sorrow.

The only slight flaw in this mesmerizing production comes at the end when Jesus’ followers take him off the cross and carry him away into the darkness.

It is the end of the play but no one knows it and it needs something to indicate that, rather than just assuming the audience knows it. It’s a small thing but, as evidenced by this excellent production, small things mean a lot,

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR plays through Sept. 23 in the Wilson Auditorium of the South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 North Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservaions,call (54)234-1112 or visit www.sbctorg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Ripcord” Seniors Fight For Bed

Elkhart Civic Theatre opened a production Friday evening that puts a satiric spin on every aging adults private fear — life in an assisted living facility.

Marilyn (Stacey Nichols, standing) attempts to make a friend of Abby (Jenny DeDario), her new roommate in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of RIPCORD.
(Photos by Mel Moore)

It is titled “Ripcord” and is by David Lindsay-Abaire, one of the best-known writers of dark comedies in today’s theater, rather a Neil Simon with a definite touch of Stephen King.

The setting, as noted, is a facility, specifically the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility in suburban New Jersey, which offers everything from assisted living to full medical care or “downstairs” as the residents refer to it.

Life “upstairs” is quite convenient for its inhabitants, something of which like Abby Binder (Jenny DeDario) seem unable or unwilling to appreciate  or are determined to ignore everything, including the rules.. Complaining seems to be a regular part of Abby’s life and the fact that new roommate, Marilyn Dunne (Stacey Nickel). seems absolutely delighted with her shared      surroundings is a renewed source of irritation to her,

Skydiving is one of the activities Marilyn (Stacey Nichols, second from right) ha planned for her and her friend Abby (Jenny DeDario,m second from left) who is less than excited about the “fun” in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of RIPCORD.

Abby wants a private room and takes adventage of the fact that a woman on the first floor has died leaving a vacancy. She uses a variety of ruses to induce Marilyn to take the available room but to no avail. Marilyn is happy where she is and determined to stay there.

Then Abby ups her game.

She invites Marilyn to participate in a “winner takes all” competition (“all” being the bed by the window and Abby’s departure).

The Challenge: Abby must be really frightened while Marilyn must get really  angry. The loser will vacate  the room.

In spite of warnings from Scotty (Cameron Ponce), the medical orderly with whom Abby has formed a friendship, and Marilyn’s daughter Colleen (Stephanie Yoder) and son-in-law Derek (Patrick Farran), Marilyn take  Abby’s challenge.

Scotty (Cameron Ponce, center) a Health worker in the assisted living complex, tries to convince Abby (Jenny DeDario, seated) that Marilyn’s game will be fun in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production ofRIPCORD.

Among others, the ensuing games include a Halloween visit to a “haunted house” complete with an electric chair; an in-house “hanging”; a freefall from a skydivers plane; and filling a Sudoku book with letters.

The success and/or failure of these “games” is solely up to the participants and DeDario and Nickel give it their all. Most seem to appeal to that part of everyone in which we would happily participate if social mores did not forbid.

As the grand “instigators,” DeDario is almost too  together at all times, while Nickel is overly delighted with everything. She completely igores her roommates obvious disliken and continues every little trait which is bound to stretch Abby’s already too stretched nerve to the breaking point. And she does it with definite delight. This in spite of the fact that both seem way too young to already be in assisted living.

Derek (Patrick Farran) tries to convince his mother-in-law Marilyn (Stacey Nickel, left) and his wife Colleen (Stephanie Yoder, right) that Marilyn. will be the winner of the game in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of RIPCORD.

Those who try to cancel the bet — Scotty, Colleen and Derek — find their plea fall on deaf ears, so. . . . if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,

One of the highlights of “Ripcord” is the performance by Ponce, the health aide who spends most of his time keeping Abby in check. That he does so with obvious affection warms the play and makes taking the move to assisted living less than a death-defying dive.

When the smoke clears here, everyone is — just about as unhappy as when they started and Marilyn resorts to another way to achieve harmony.

Aiding along the way to the final solution is Keith Sarber as Lewis a man unwelcome from Abby’s past, plus other “creatures” depending upon the requirements of the current “game.”

Fortunately, they have a solid background for most of their “games” in the set designed by John Shoup. It filled most of the “at home” necessities and allows for the “outside” scenes to be played at a little less than 30,000 feet. The widespread demands of the Lindsay-Abaire script required some “out-of-the-box” solutions which were found by director  Demaree Dufour-Noneman and assistant director Sarah Brubaker, who also designed and operated the lights.

There is much to laugh at in”Ripcord,” but underneath, especially for the senior members of the audience, there is a sobering  message on what comes next when “home” has a different meaning.

‘RIPCORD” plays Friday through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on IN120 in downtown Bristol. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 848-4114  from 1 to 5:30 p.m. weekdaysor visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.com.

‘Disaster’ Sails On Sea Of Laughs

At just before 8 p.m. every night this week (and before 5 p.m on Sunday), The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI braces itself for a big “Disaster!”

Luckily, it gets (at least) one every night!

Marianne (Rachel Mahar] and Tony Delvecchio (Jonnie Carpathios) discover Pirhannas in the ship’s fishtanks inThe Theatre production of DISASTER!

That’s because “Disaster” is the title of the musical which opened Tuesday evening and — for one week only — is steaming determinedly from one oceanic catastrophe to another.

It is a disaster — but I dare you not to laugh!

Assembling for The Barn’s nautical journey (made initially while tied securely to the NYC dock) are as wacky a group of passengers as ever sailed (?) together.

The list includes: Ted Scheider (Hans Friedrichs) is a professor and “disaster expert”; Chad Rubik (Jamey Grisham), a  caterer formerly engaged to Marianne Wilson (Rachel Mahar), a reporter who dumped Chad to pursue her career; Scott (Eric Fredrickson), caterer and friend of Chad; Levora Verona (Abby Brooks), an aging singer hoping for a casino comebackW and her beloved dog; Tony Delvecchio (Jonnie Carpathios), the less-than-honest casino owner; Jackie Noelle (Samantha Rickard), lounge singer hoping for a proposal from Tony and mother of twins Ben and Lisa (Braden Davis), who change with the flip of a braid; Shirley Winters (Penelope Alex), wife and eager cruiser and everyone’s friend with a fatal secret; Maury Winters (Charlie King),  Shirley’s husband; and Sister Mary Downey (Kasady Kwiatkowska), a nun with a strong yen for the one-arm bandits.

Charlie (Eric Friedrickson) talks of an escape route to (from left: Lisa (Braedon Davis), Jackie (Samantha Rickard), Shirley (Penelope Alex) and her husband Maury (Charlie King) in The Barn Theatre production of DISASTER!

Collateral damage is handled by a Wealthy Man and his wife (John Jay Espino and

Andrea Arvanigan); a struggling Chef (Steven Lee Burright); a taxi driver (Brandon  Mancuso), his passenger (Molly Hill) and Jake (Miguel Ragel Wilson), an all-purpose casino man.

Few — and yet most — escape the onslaiught of fatal emergencies which begin with a number of minor earthquakes (“It’s construction on the West Side Highway,” says Tony, his explanation for just about everything that happens).

Eventually these “emergencies” include a volcanic eruption, a really massive quake brought on by the passengers knocking on wood plus the final cashing out of the slot machine; the attack of the ship’s rat population, sharks, pirahanas, fire and, as what’s left of the passengers and crew head for the lifeboats, a major tidal wave., turning the ship upside down (sound familiar?)

Sister Mary Downey (Kasady Kwiatkowska) can’t break her attraction to the slot machine in The Barn Production of DISASTER!

All of this and more occurs to the mostly definite up beat of familiar music from the 1970s, which arrives appropriately at every given moment.

It’s the uncontrollable urge you get to laugh in the face of gruesome events especially when Chad and the Wealthy Husband find themselves on deck alone with a bag full of “disposable” parts and suddenly break into “Three Times A Lady” or when Sister Mary Downy fights the temptation to put a found quarter into the slot machine with “Never Can Say Goodbye” — then it’s just time to let go and laugh out loud as the Barracuda and it’s remaining passengers avoid total immersion with “Daybreak” and “Hooked on a Feling!”

Marianne (Rachel Mahar) tries to help a drowning Chad (Jamey Grisham) in he Barn Theatre production of DISASTERi

Actually the “funniest passenger awards” goes to Alex whose realization of the increasing symptoms of her terminal disease — uncontrolled pelvic thrusts and the desire to say all manner of disgusting things — requires stifling. Lucky she has a scarf!

Soap opera fans will recognize the theme song  which accompanies one passenger’s balancing act. It’s camp run amuck, with Patrick Hunter as the tourist director, and it’s a toss up as to which side of the footlights is having more fun!!

As the set by Samantha Sow, partially recycled from a previous production, begins  to crumble and the shark-infested waters begin to rise, it’s time to say farewell to those still clinging to the Barracuda.

That is if you can stop laughing!

Maury and Shirley (Charlie King and Penelope Alex) are on a long-delayed honeymoone
Barn Theatre production off DISASTER!!

The orchestra, directed by keyboardist Brent J. Decker supports the survival efforts with pieces of music from the ‘70s. There’s hardly ever a full song, but there’s enough of each to jar lots of memories and invoke lots of laughs!

On a personal note: Being from the Garden State, I found the last sentence really less than funny! Check it out for yourself!

“DISASTER” plays through Sunday at the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. for performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121.

 

 

 

WW ‘Encore” Show Shines

There’s an old saying about saving the best for last and Wagon Wheel Theatre proved this when it opened its production of “The Bridges of Madison County” Tuesday evening.

Photographer Robert Kincaid (Taylor Okey) aims his camera at Francesca Johnson. (Kira Lace Hawkins) in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photos by Scott Michaels)

To conclude a season filled with large-scale musicals that brought audiences to their feet, direct/choreographer Scott Michaels chose this “Encore Show,” 2016 Tony Award-winning treasure, a small-scale musical (cast of 11) based on a book called “one of the best-selling books of the 20thcentury.”

If opinions about the slim volume by Robert James Waller are divided, adding music, as always, makes everything better.

Who doesn’t love a tale of love, temptation and ultimate sacrifice, especially when set to a Tony-winning score interpreted with passion and understanding by some of the best vocalists of this or any WW season.

Leading the outstanding company are WW’s own Kira Lace Hawkins as Italian war bride Francesca Johnson, and newcomer Taylor Okey as photographer Robert Kinkaid.

Her teenage dreams of seeing the world resulted in marriage with a soldier, Richard “Bud” Johnson (an excellent Scott Fuss), and a trip to his home in Winterset, Iowa where she settles into life as a farmer’s wife and raises their two children Michael (Ian Laudano) and Carolyn (Leah Greene).

The action swirls around one weekend when Bud, Michael and Carolyn are heading to the national fair in Indianapolis when Carolyn hopes her steer will take the grand prize.

Robert (Taylor Okey) and Francesca (Kira Lace Hawkins) find love during one weekend the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.

Francesca stays home and, soon aftr they leave, meets Kinkaid, on assignment from the National Geographic to photograph the seven covered bridges in Madison County.

He is lost and looking for Roseman Bridge. She offers to take him there. Learning he had visited her hometown of Naples, she invites him in for a glass of tea. They talk easily, finding a natural connection.

One thing leads to another and they eventually find themselves in bed and wondering what it would be like to be together forever.

Their time together is interrupted periodically by neighbor Marge (Jennifer Dow). who is definitely suspicious, and her husband Charlie (M ichael Pacaholski), who is for leaving things alone.

When Bud and the children return, Francesca must make the decision of her life.

The music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown are brought to life by Hawkins and Okey as they slowly but surely find in each other what has been lacking in themselves. Each has a truly amazing voice which moves from introspection to revelation in wonderfully rich and solid melodies. Their tentative initial interaction  and eventual complete surrender to feelings that finally cannot be denied are sensitively portrayed and beautifully sung.

Neighbors Marge (Jennifer Dow) and Charlie (Michael Pacholski) keep an eye on Francesca in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.

Fuss manages to be at least somewhat sympathetic as the husband who really has no idea of his wife’s sacrifice and long-hidden expectations. He interacts recognizably with his teenage siblings who struggle with their own hopes and fears.

Another standout voice is that of Elaine Cotter who plays the roles of Kinkaid’s ex-wife and a singer at the state fair. Actually she sings her characters but they are beautifully portrayed.

Dow’s “nosey neighbor” is more good-hearted than malicious and luckily her husband is a “live and let live” moderator.

Chandler A. Ford makes a brief but memorable appearance as Francesca’s sister Chiara.

Major plusses of this production are Patrick Chan’s sensitive lighting design which allows all things important, large or small, to be in exactly the right amount — and shade — of light, and Michael Higgins’ multi-flex set which is changed quickly, quietly and frequently by members of the ensemble. They also transport set pieces and props up and down the aisles with a really minimal amount of movement.

The eight-member orchestra under conductor/keyboardist Thomas A. Sterling features some fluidly gorgeous work by the strings.

All of these aspects come together under Michaels’ sensitive eye to form a production that would hold its own anywhere.

It is a unique experience in musical theater and should be taken advantage of during its too-brief stay here.

“THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY” plays through Sunday in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw.  For performance times and reservations, call (574)267-8041.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bullseye For Barn Theatre’s ‘Bullets’

The minute you walk into The Barn Theatre — actually, make that the minute you sit down — you know you are in for a really fun evening.

Sitting down allows you the opportunity to fully take in the marvelously kitschy set, designed by Samantha Snow, which forms the backdrop(s) for the show that opened Tuesday evening — “Bullets Over Broadway” (the musical) — under the direction of Hans Friedrichs.

Olive (Melissa Cotto. Hunter) “auditions” for playwright David Shayne (Miguel Ragel Wilson, left) and producer Julian Marx (John Jay Espino) in The Barn Theatre production of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY.

Obviously to be confused with the 1994 movie of the same name (and basically same plot) by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath. In 2014, Allen and director/choreographer Susan Stroman, brought it to Broadway, adding music from the 1920s-‘30s as the fast-paced score (with additional lyrics by Glen Kelly) to fit the fast-paced action.

And, as everyone knows, everything goes better with music!

The basic plot — aspiring playwright cannot find a producer until one comes along with underworld connections and a less-than-talented girlfriend who long to be on Broadway — is easily followed and the only “surprises” are how very many laughs spring up along the way to the big finale.

Set in the memorably Roaring ‘20s, the score features many songs still familiar today (we found ourselves humming along!).

Olive’s (Melissa Cotton Hunter, left) reading obviously doesn’t impress leading lady Helen Sinclair (Penelope Alex, right),  leading man Warner Purcell (Patrick Hunter, seated center) or stage manager Mitch (Clay Miller) in The Barn Theatre production of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY.

The cast, featuring some of the very best of The Barn ’18, just keeps on tickin’ as the bodies begin to fall around them.

It all begins when chorus girl Olive Neal (Melissa Cotton Hunter) demands that her boyfriend,  underworld boss Nick Valenti (a super-slick Charlie King), take her out of the line and put her in a legitimate show.

Her request is a blessing and a curse for playwright David Shane (Miguel Ragel Wilson) who instantly spots her no-talent level. Prodded by his manager Julian Marx (John Jay Espino) and his girlfriend Ellen (Rachel Zack), he accepts the deal.

A major plus, however, is the agreement by his long-time idol Helen Sinclair (Penelope Alex at her diva best) to play the lead. As the cast assembles, especially leading man Warner Purcell (Patrick Hunter), who can’t stay away from the craft (food) table; featured player Eden Brent (Gabi Shook), who is never without her adorable dog Mr. Woofles (Mr. Woobles); and Cheech (Jonnie Carpathios), actually not a cast member but assigned by Nick to “stay close” to Olive, the plot begins to thicken and one of its major turns you will never see coming!

Helen Sinclair (Penelope Alex), theatrical diva, tries to convince playwright David Shayne (Miguel Ragel Wilson) to make some changes in The Barn Theatre production of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY.

A major asset in this production is the sextet of sexy chorus girls who, it seems, never run out of steam! From the opening (which vaguely resembles that of “Guys and Dolls”) to the wild and wooly finale, they dance/change costumes/dance/change costumes/dance/…..well, you get it, playing everything from chorus cuties to flappers to hotel red caps without missing a beat. One of them, Kassady Kwiatkowska, also is choreographer. They are joined frequently by James Grisham, especially funny as the Hot Dog Man, accompanied by a group of motley male wieners!

The principals all are well cast!

Lean-and-lanky Wilson is a mix of Ray Bolger and Jeff Goldblum, with a bit of aw shucks Jimmy Stewart thrown in and an excellent baritone voice. His increasing anxiety as opening night nears and things get really out of hand is perfectly timed.

Alex, a Barn favorite, shifts characters from show to show with each one an individual and completely believable. Her aging diva in search of a way to renew her career is right on without ever veering into caricature.

Cotton Hunter has just what it takes to create a ditzy blonde with attributes in all the right places and her eye on the theatrical prize. Her “audition,” aptly titled “I Want A Hot Dog For My Roll,” leaves no chance of misinterpretation! It is an hilariously solid characterization.

Ditto the theatrical ham created by Patrick Hunter which strikes a chord with everyone unable to pass up a table of free food. The duo’s connection, “Let’s Misbehave,” is a highlight.

Producer Julian Marx (John Jay Espino, right) tries to convince playwright David Shayne (Miguel Ragel Wilson) that their opening night will be a success in The Barn Theatre production of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY.

As Cheech, Carpathios is quickly an audience favorite, not only for the path his character chooses to follow but for his talented tapping. He leads fellow gangsters in the Act One showstopper “T’aint Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do.”

As David’s neglected fiancé, Zack has several solo opportunities and she makes the most of them. Espino chalks up another stressed-out persona and, as always, delivers the best.

The tuxedo-clad orchestra, under the direction of keyboardist Brent J. Decker, sits this one in — on stage — and hits the right notes musically and as an important scenic asset.

If there is one blank in this bullseye production, it is the lighting. Way too often solos are sung partly is not totally in shadow and the overall perception is playing in half-light.

Everything, however, is up full for the out-of-nowhere finale! If you don’t look at the program, you will never see it coming!

“BULLETS OVER BROADWAY” plays through Aug. 28 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or goen line at www.barntheatreschool.org