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Riding the 'Big River' With Huck And Jim PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 08 May 2017 15:49

Among the enduring chronicles of American life are the works of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, and the characters he created, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe adventures of Tom and Huck have come off the written page in several forms since they appeared in the last part of the 19th century. Among the most recent is “Big River,” the 1985 Broadway musical based on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

The South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Big River,” directed by Leigh Taylor, opened Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium.

The multi-Tony Award-winning show blends William Hauptman’s theatrical adaptation of Twain’s book with a just-right score by the late Roger (“King of the Road”) Miller guaranteed to set a large number of toes tapping!

Big Rivef  South Bend (IBN) Civic TheatreThe sprawling libretto follows Huck (Braden Allison) as he escapes from all efforts to teach him to read and write and from his abusively drunken Pap (Cecil Eastman) and finds himself on a raft in the Mississippi River with Jim (Del’Shawn Taylor), a runaway slave heading to freedom in the North.

The duo bonds during their journey (“Muddy Water,” “River in the Rain”) even though Huck still believes helping the runaway is the wrong thing to do, since he is the property of Huck’s guardian Miss Watson (Kat Quirk). It takes a few eye-opening experiences before the boy realizes that they both are human beings (“Worlds Apart”).

Along the way, the raft is commandeered by two con men — the King (David Case) and the Duke (Nick Hidde-Halsey) — making a hasty getaway from an angry mob. They convince Huck of their “royal” ancestry and include him in their schemes (“The Royal Nonesuch”), first chaining Jim on the raft with plans to sell him.

Hearing of a fortune left to a local family’s distant (and unknown) relative, Duke and King set out to claim the inheritance from the grieving clan.

The story twists and turns with enough kinks to please even master plotter Tom Sawyer (Graham Sparks) who kicks up his heels in my favorite musical non sequitur “Hand For The Hog.” By the time the “Sun Goes Down in The South,” the criminals get their comeuppance, the righteous get their rewards and Huck gets the chance at another adventure.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe two and a half-hours plus running time is filled with enough of Miller’s lovely melodies, high-steppin’ bluegrass airs and sharp-tongued country tunes to make the time pass fairly swiftly.

The dialogue, however, especially when laden with on-again, off-again varying southern accents, is frequently difficult to follow. The “royal” comic relief unfortunately relies on the “louder is funnier” school of humor which too often is just louder.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Huck, Allison carries most of the action and, as narrator, all of the storyline. It is a demanding task, especially for a high school freshman, and he acquits himself admirably. (Note to costumes: Spending all that time on a raft and in the woods, he might at least get a little dirt on his white shirt.)

Taylor has a powerful baritone which he uses to full advantage not only in the duets with Allison but also in his solo “Free At Last.”

Lyrics in the novelty numbers (Miller’s forte) are too often muddled, especially in ”Guv’ment,” Pap’s tirade which sadly seems even more relevant today.

As the nearly-swindled heiress Mary Jane Wilkes, Josie Burck joins Huck and Jim in a sensitive rendition of the show’s loveliest ballad, “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go.”

The appropriately-staffed band — violin, guitar, bass, percussion — led by keyboardist/music director Roy Bronkema provides just the right sound for Miller’s country score.

David Cbudzynski’s flexible set allows the focus to move from interiors to exteriors, with emphasis on THE raft.

The absence of the “n” word is obvious only because its inclusion in the book caused such a library brouhaha several years ago. It has been replaced here with other “appropriate” epithets.

“BIG RIVER” plays through May 21 in the theater at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations call (594) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.

Last Updated on Monday, 08 May 2017 16:07
 
Timeless Tale Gets Musical Makeover PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 06 February 2013 21:15

Honk Jr.  ECTeam  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INWho 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!

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 February 2013 21:44
 
Williams Classic On South Bend Stage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 17:22

Even from someone with little or no knowledge of theater, the name of Tennessee Williams will evoke a response.

A Streetcar Named Desire South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe soft-spoken Southerner who, with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, forms the triumvirate of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, created characters that continue to challenge a wide range of actors from amateurs to veterans..

Accepting that challenge with a 70th anniversary production of Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize drama, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” South Bend Civic Theatre opened the second show of its 2017-18 season Friday evening in its mainstage Wilson Theatre.

A Streetcar Named Desire South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreUnder the direction of Aaron Nichols, the 11-member cast was undaunted by the task of recreating several of the American theater’s best known dramatis personae. To those who believe the comedians’ mantra that “tragedy is easy,” just try a touch of Tennessee.

Especially when the many of the characters have become more than closely identified with their creators. This identification is never more closely linked than with “Streetcar’s” male protagonist, Stanley Kowalski, and his originator on stage and screen, Marlon Brando.

The task of not only becoming Stanley but erasing, as much as possible, the image of Brando, is undoubtedly one of the most daunting in theater.

It is one that Scott Jackson takes on with admirable abandon even though his earthy physicality is rather restrained and, considering the humidity of the New Orleans setting, lacking in sweat. His obvious frustration with the unannounced — and seemingly unending — visit from his pretentiously genteel sister-in-law Blanche DuBois (Anastasia Spalding) begins with his realization that the family plantation has been “let go” rather than sold and, finally stretched to the breaking point, culminates in an explosive confrontation as he drunkenly hurls the secrets of Blanche’s past in the face of her ever-weakening grasp on reality.

Spalding’s Blanche struggles with harsh realism of life in the French Quarter and the comforting illusions of her youth. Appalled by her younger sister Stella’s acceptance of the raw facts of her life with a husband Blanche describes as “bestial,” she weaves rose-colored fantasies of what life could be, increasingly haunted by the suicide of her young husband.

Stella (Alexandra Rowell) is caught between the animalistic pull of her husband’s carnality and the emotional lure of her sister’s romantic dreams. Trying desperately to find a common ground, she finally must make a definitive choice. (Note: Not the same in the stage and film versions.) Unfortunately, Rowell spoke so softly on opening night that the majority of her dialogue was unheard.

A Streetcar Named Desire  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Mitch, one of Stanley’s poker-playing buddies, Don Elliott goes from willingly playing gallant knight to Blanche’s lady to cruelly exposing her fantasies in the raw light of a single bulb. Their scenes together are sensitively played and initially end with hope, however ill-fated.

The width of the Wilson stage is well used in Jill Hillman’s multi-level set design, with an iron spiral stairway at the left leading from the ground level Kowalski apartment to that of their friends Eunice (Dawn Marie Hagerty) and Steve (Curt Goodrich) Hubbell and, on the opposite side, the 4 Deuces Bar, complete with instrumental quartet. Most of the action takes place in the two-room apartment center stage which manages to feel cramped in spite of the surrounding space.

The use of music — original combined with popular hit songs of the period — is a plus to this production, with arranger Roy Bronkema as pianist and Jibrail Jones, Luke Vasilarakos and Anival Fausto completing the group. Fausto doubled as a poker player.

The costumes could be a good deal more worn in keeping with the just-above poverty level of the setting.

As in all plays, suspension of disbelief in varying degrees is important.

“A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE” plays through April 9 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 April 2017 18:11
 
A Trip To The Past To Catch A Killer PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 23 April 2017 21:03

Mention the name “Agatha Christie” and what springs to mind are a number of intricately woven alibis surrounding a seemingly unconnected number of suspects all gathered around a hopefully minimal number of bodies — dead, of course.

Go Back For Murder  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe corpse count is low (one) in “Go Back for Murder,” the Christie challenger which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. The question, however, remains the same: who dunnit?

Gathered on stage in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production are the usual suspects but, in this challenge, they are asked to turn back the clock to name the killer. The murder was committed 16 years ago and someone was convicted and subsequently died in prison.

Debating that verdict is Carla LeMarchant Crale (Kinsey Muhlenkamp), daughter of the victim (her philandering artist father Amyas Crale) and the murderer (her long-suffering mother Caroline Crale), who declared her innocence in a letter to her daughter. The maguffin, as Alfred Hitchcock would say, is the striking resemblance Carla bears to Caroline and, of course, as one of the characters remarks, “Nothing is what I seems.”

Go Back For Murder Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INCarla was five years old at the time of the murder and recalls little of the actual crime. Sure the killer was someone else, she asks Justin Fogg (Brett Noneman), son of her mother’s defense attorney, to reassemble all the suspects at the scene of the crime in hopes of finding the real criminal.

Behind her request is the idea (eventually correct) that her fiancé Jeff Rogers (Hayden Ludlow) will leave her if he feels she may have inherited a murderous tendency.

So the “suspects” gather — businessman Phillip Blake (Scott Fowler); his brother chemist Meredith Blake (Chuck Bower); model Elsa Greer/later Lady Elsa Melksham (Rachel McKenzie); governess Miss Williams (Amy Pawlosky), and Carla’s younger half-sister Angela Warren (Bonnie McGowan) .

Each shares his/her recollection of the event, then time turns back to include Amyas (Ludlow) and Caroline (Muhlencamp), and the day of the murder is replayed.

Go Back For Murder Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INAs witb all Agatha Christie works, the plot is tightly interwoven and it frequently is difficult to keep track of just who is who and why they are suspect.

Possibly director Jerry O’Boyle kept this in mind during the practically motionless first act in which the backgrounds and motivations of all concerned are laid out in physically static blocks of daunting dialogue. This is primarily assigned to Muhlencamp who delivers it with dispassionate clarity.

Nobody moves but, as in all Christie plots, it is important to pay close attention.

This especially in order to keep track of what really happened as the protagonists become increasingly active and later conversations are sometimes difficult to understand.

Go Back For Murder Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe set design by John Shoup is deceptively simple, the reason becomes obvious as the conversations with each “suspect” are held in various locations (Act I) and throughout the multi-area country home and garden (Act II). Changes are made quickly and quietly without disturbing the flow of the narrative.

The lighting design by Brian McGowan heightens the melodramatic atmosphere but sometimes could be a bit brighter to allow faces to be more easily seen.

Must note that, as with many other theater groups today, the use of wigs seems to have become a requirement rather than a choice. No problem with that except when, as in the case here, it obscures the face (and, consequently, the voice) of the main protagonist.

Under many of the scenes is a primarily piano score. It ends orchestrally with the theme from “Laura” and is, I assume, a directorial choice. It’s relevance is, however, still a mystery.

GO BACK FOR MURDER plays Friday through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistula St., Bristol. For show times and reservations, call 848-4116 or visit elkhartcivictheatre.org

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 April 2017 18:37
 
Life On The Wild (And Funny) Side PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 27 February 2017 16:24

OK.

So it’s not London (“My Fair Lady”) or Scotland (“Brigadoon”) or Siam (“The King and I”), but the familiar location of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House, proves that you don’t have to leave the good old USofA to have a fun time.

Great American Grailer Park Musical Elkhart (IN) Civic TheatreThe Elkhart Civic Theater production of this look at life in north Florida’s Armadillo Acres Trailer Park is strictly for laughs. The book by Betsy Kelso and the music and lyrics by David Nehls constantly invite the audience to do just that.

And laugh they do.

The same goes for the cast!

As neighbors Betty (Adrienne Nesbitt), a not-so-grieving widow; Pickles (Michelle Miller), an expectant mother; and Lin (Kristen Abbey), waiting hopefully near her hubby who has been on death row for eight years, announce immediately, they are happy sunning themselves on “This Side of the Tracks.”

Great American Trailer Park Musical Elkhart (IN) Civic TheatreAn object of their concern, however, is neighbor Jeannie (Christina Herrick), hoping to celebrate her upcoming anniversary with hubby Norbert (Zach Rivers) by stepping outside her trailer (“One Step Closer”), something that has not happened since her baby was kidnapped decades ago.

His wife’s agoraphobia frustrates Norbert who decides to celebrate on his own at the local strip club, The Litter Box. Unfortunately, he forms an immediate attachment to its new attraction, Pippi (Christa Jones), who — even more unfortunately — also is the newest resident of Armadillo Acres, hiding out from Duke (Mike Honderich), her biker boyfriend (“Road Kill”).

Great American Trailer Park Musical Elkhart (IN) Civic TheatreComplications grow as Jeannie, armed (literally) with water wings, finally ventures outside, Pickles delivers her baby and a storm-induced short circuit sends Lin’s reunion hopes up in smoke.

No surprise, however, that all is well before the final Florida sunset.

The score of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” is not filled with memorable melodies but most are listenable, up-tempo, to the point and delivered with contagious enthusiasm. Especially those from The Girls, who have most of the musical assignments. They blend well in their many trios and, as do all the soloists, have solid voices, making the unfamiliar score very easy listening..

Since characters and plotlines frequently are revealed in lyrics, however, group and solo numbers could benefit from more distinct diction and a little less volume from the excellent small orchestra led by director/keyboardist Liesl Bell.

Great American Trqiler Park Musical Elkhart (IN) Civic TheatreThe setting, designed by Mike Greene, Kevin Egelsky and John Shoup, features at least partial exteriors of three trailers (aka mobile homes), all of which are theatrically accurate. One opens to reveal the interior living room and another, to become The Litter Box stage.

Randy Zonker’s spot-on lighting design segued from sunny and hot to moonlit and steamy to stormy and flashing as required by the action. Have seen many lightening storms on stage at the BOH, but none with the impact of this Florida blast, aided by Gary Cobbum’s sound design.

The costumes, coordinated and created as required by Linda Weisinger, are as trashy as needed by the determindly trashy ladies.

The date is 2003, but dance movements by choreographer Val Ong are mostly reminiscent of the days of disco!

The just-for-fun action is directed by Penny Shoup, assisted by Annette Kaczanowski, and everything invites the audience to party with the residents of Armadillo Acres.

But I didn’t see a pink flamingo anywhere!

NOTE: Some of the language is R-rated but all in the spirit of fun. However, best leave the youngsters home.

“THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL” plays through March 11 in the Bristol Opera House. Shows at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m.

Last Updated on Monday, 27 February 2017 16:43
 
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