'Jersey Boys' Still The Best of Broadway PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 27 March 2012 16:56

I always love it when I go to the theater with really high expectations and 2 ½ hours later find that they have been exceeded.

Last week, this happened. Actually I should say it happened — again.

jersey boys tour miller auditorium kalamazoo michThe mega-hit musical “Jersey Boys” opened Tuesday evening in Miller Auditorium on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo where it will play through April 1.

I say again because Wednesday’s media night performance was the fifth time I have had the pleasure of seeing — and hearing — the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. I have no problem admitting that it is still my very favorite feel-good musical. And that has nothing to do with the fact that I am — and always will be — a very proud Jersey Girl, although I guess that should be Jersey Senior.

Whatever, It makes no difference your age or place of origin, I dare anyone to sit through this production and hear this music and not have to fight the urge to sing along, clap (in rhythm) and even, at the stops-all-out finale, jump up and move with the boys! This is no “jukebox musical” rather a musical biography which follows highs and lows of four kids from Jersey who found their sound and became one of the hottest musical groups of the 60s. And every scene is loaded with their familiar hits.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 August 2012 02:06
ECT's 'Bee' Is Spelled 'Hilarious' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 22 March 2012 19:47

'Tis the season of scholastic spelldowns, so the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” could not be more in keeping with the time.

The six semi-finalists in the eagerly awaited theatrical match are ready for the challenge, but each comes with his/her own set of stumbling blocks and/or offbeat aids, all of which are guaranteed to make this the funniest Bee ever.

In addition to the scripted contestants, four or five older “students” are solicited from each audience and have the opportunity to test their skills. No surprise that none make it to the final two..

Representing Putnam County schools are Chip Tolentino (Douglas J. Lunn, Ph.D.) , who wears his Boy Scout uniform displaying every available badge; Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Maddie Williams), whose pink suit and defiant attitude fit her attraction to a long list of causes; Leaf Coneybear (Brent Graber), a superhero wannabe complete with flowing red cape and football helmet; William Barfee (Brock Butler), angered by the continued mispronunciation of his name (“It’s Bar-FAY’), he keeps everything underfoot; Marcy Park (Ann Stebelton) speaks six languages and seems supremely self-confident; and Olive Ostrovsky (Kristen Riggs), who found a friend in her dictionary and waits for her dad to arrive with the required entrance fee.

putnam county spelling bee elkhat civic theatreIn charge of the Bee are Rona Lisa Perretti (Julia ,Castello), a former Bee champion who enjoys reliving her triumph(she correctly spelled scyzyfus), and Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Tim Yoder), returning as the official “pronouncer,” after a five year absence due to an “unfortunate incident.” As each contestant is eliminated, he/she is met by Mitch Mahoney (Joshua J. Padgett), doing his community service as the official Comfort Counselor, who gives each “loser”a hug and a juice box.

Each contestant reveals something of his/her backstory as the Bee progresses and, as interpreted by the talented ECT cast, each is not only fittingly funny but undeniably touching and especially appropriate now, when school focus is anti- bullying. All are exaggerated for emphasis, but it is impossible not to find a familiar face among the bumbling Bees.

This “Spelling Bee” began as an improvisational play before working its way up to Broadway and two Tony Awards. There is no doubt that requests from spellers for word origin, definition and especially use in a sentence often receive improved answers from the quick-witted Panch.

There is a moment in the spotlight for each character and they make the most of it, with special applause to Butler for inhabiting the show’s best known speller and making it his own,, and to Riggs, for finding just the right blend of comedy and tragedy and delivering it all in a clear, never-miss soprano. Lunn’s hilarious interpretation of “Chip’s Lament” is priceless as are the goody bags he tosses defiantly into the audience and Graber’s Coneybear is a spot on portrait of every youngster used to being less-than-first who is amazed and delighted at just “being.’ Williams’ introduction of her two dads is touching, as is her handling of their very different personas. Stebelton is right on as the officious know-it-all who secretly longs for permission to fail.

As the Bee progresses, everyone will root for their own favorite. The really good thing is that everyone — on and off stage — is a winner!

The Bee is held in the gymnasium of the Putnam County Piranhas, designed by John Shoup and lit by Randy Zonker. Mark Swendsen is music director with Kim Dooley vocal director and Joy Freude ,choreographer.

“THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE” will be presented at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and March 30-31, and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House. For reservations and information, call 848-4116 from 1 to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 March 2012 02:13
Interesting Characters Inhabit 'Chaillot' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 13 February 2012 19:43

South Bend Civic Theatre opened its 2012 Warner Studio Theatre season Friday evening with a production of Jean Giraudoux' "poetic satire" "The Madwoman of Chaillot".

Madwoman of Chaillot  South Bend Civic TheatreWritten in 1943 and first produced in 1949, it tells the story of Countess Aurelia (Connie Chalko) and her group of definitely off-beat friends who band together to keep their Paris suburb of Chaillot from destruction at the hands of powerful capitalists who have smelled oil beneath its streets. Initially, this group of ruthless men stood in for France's Nazi occupiers but now, unfortunately, is easily identified with present day big businessmen and politicians. Obviously haves and have-nots don't change much in any time or place.

In the adaptation by Maurice Valency, it seems frequently as though the inmates are running the asylum, but the old adage about divine care of fools becomes apparent and, in the end, the right/wrong people make the descent to well-deserved oblivion down an eerily endless stairway under the Paris sewers, presumably to wander there forever. "They were wicked," the Countess explains to some who expected the death penalty. "And wickedness evaporates."

While waiting for them to rush to their just deserts, this "Madwoman" delivers some interesting characters, most especially those who are the close friends of the primary Countess. Veteran SBCT actress Mary Ann Moran delivers a delightful turn as Madame Constance whose constant companion is her (dead) dog Dickie. Carolyn Sherman is Madame Gabrielle, an aging virgin with imaginary friends who holds her ears and refuses to listen to anything she finds even remotely concerned with sex. Madame Josephine (Ann Umbaugh) is the brusque, be-turbaned widow of a lawyer and thus the final word on all matters of jurisprudence. Her edicts set the parameters when Aurelia & Co. decide that the capitalists must be tried in order to be punished — legally — for their crimes.

Madwoman of Chaillot South Bend Civic TheatreThe ladies select The Ragpicker (Vincent Bilancio) as a surrogate defendant to stand in for The President (Bob Franklin), The Baron (Dan Driscoll), The Broker (Douglas Streich) and The Prospector (Libby Unruh). One of the most amusing segments of Act 1 is the search for a name for their next non-existent corporation. After the name, "All we need is a property", The President declares. Enter The Prospector who has a definite nose for such things and the scheme is begun.

That justice triumphs is a given and one could only hope it could always be that simple.

According to the program bios, Chalko is making her theatrical debut as the Madwoman, a role played in the film version by Katherine Hepburn and in the Broadway musical (titled "Dear World") by Angela Lansbury. Her height is a definite focus-puller but her crisply delivered performance is a sure sign of other productions to come. Her twittering trio is equally effective and none ever drop character, even when the action (such as there is) moves away.

Bilancio turns in another well-shaped character and his defense is completely logical although morally indefensible. He knows just how to hold the stage and, as with the elderly ladies and their delightfully hilarious tea party, provides a welcome relief in the second act. Here B.J.Simpson as the Sewer Man, a character with much more drive and energy than his first act persona Jardin, the city architect, kicks the Act Two proceedings into high gear.

The first act, which seems much longer than its one hour running time, could be well served with some judicious trimming. The second act picks up the pace but, on opening night, cues were slow and the result was frequently awkward. Some roles are doubled but, even so, the cast of 18 must be the largest ever assembled for a Studio Theatre production. It is under the direction of SBCT executive director Tami Ramaker.

"THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 19. For reservations and information, call 234-1112 or visit 

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 February 2012 16:53
New Twists to Early Hitchock Classic PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 05 March 2012 19:22

Who knew that adding laughs (and subtracting actors) to/from a classic Hitchock movie would be just what was needed to turn the suspense drama into a wildly slapstick comedy?

39 steps  South Bend Civic TheatreObviously playwright Patrick Barlow, who took the master of mystery's 1935 spy thriller "The 39 Steps" (adapted from a 1913 novel by John Buchan), based it on a concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon and came out with Monty Python does Hitchcock.

It couldn't be more bizarre or more fun!!

Under the direction of Richard Baxter, the talented four member cast (plus four essential "stage hands") of the current South Bend Civic Theatre production takes on the film scenario at a gallop. Aaron Nichols is the only actor who plays the same role throughout. As Richard Hannay, a bored Englishman who longs for some adventure in his life, he is the perfect example of "don't ask for what you want, you may get it."

At the theater, he watches the performance of the amazing Mr. Memory and finds himself in the company of Annabella Schmidt (one of the three roles played by Abbey Frick, the only female in the cast), who says she is being followed and winds up in his apartment. Her safety is short-lived, however. She expires with a knife in her back, but not before uttering warnings about the "39 steps."

Hannay becomes the only suspect in her murder and, as the police close in, is forced to run for his life. The flight takes him aboard a speeding train, through the Scottish moors, into a Scottish inn and a castle, through a  political rally and, finally, back to the theater. During much of his journey, he is attached — literally— to Pamela, a young lady who first refuses to believe him but then becomes an ally.

In this frantic chase, dozens of other characters cross Hannay's path. According to notes there are between 96 and 146, depending on the choices of the director and actors. Here, all are played by Matthew Bell and Mark Moriarty, listed as Clown 1 and Clown 2. But these clowns wear no red noses or floppy shoes. Rather in the course of the chase they portray policemen, shady characters, salesmen, German spies, Scottish innkeepers and vaudeville entertainers, to list just a few. And many within seconds of each other. The fact that several of these are women only adds to the hilarity. 

The duo is adept at switching accents and attitudes to fit each of the required personas. Nothing fazes them in defining their individual characters. They slip from surly farmer and frustrated wife to evil German mastermind and slinky spouse with hilarious ease. There are too many variations to keep track of. All are easily distinguished and each change adds to the growing number of well-deserved laughs.

The 39 Steps South Bend Civic TheatreNichols does an excellent job of portraying an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. He has just the right amount of unflappable English poise mixed with a fine-tuned comic turn which allows him to handle the mostly absurd situations (and locations) with an above-it-all attitude which only rarely descends to the human level. Frick's three females are well delineated and supply the femme fatale as well as the innocent heroine.

Director Baxter has opted to incorporate an "On-Stage Crew" of four to serve as scene changers. They handle the involved requirements smartly and undoubtedly will quicken the pace as the production goes on.

"The 39 Steps" claims to be the longest-running play on Broadway and earned six Tony Award nominations, winning for best lighting and best sound design. Even this far from the Great White Way, it is easy to see why.

NOTE: Hitchcock fans may want to keep track of the references to his films both in visuals and musical excerpts throughout the play. We definitely caught five but others found more. It's all part of the mystery.

"THE 39 STEPS" plays through March 18 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium in the theater at 403 N. Main Street in South Bend. For show times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2012 03:02
'blue' Is A Very Pleasant Surprise PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 20:00

If I am not familiar with a play, I usually go into the theater remembering a phrase standard with an old first-nighter friend: “Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

blue  south bend civic theatre  south bend inSometimes we are and sometimes not. With the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of “blue,” a play by Charles Randolph-Wright with music by Nona Hendryx and lyrics by the author and composer, it was definitely the former.

Not that the scenario has not been played out frequently on stage. Dysfunctional families have been a standard with writers from the ancient Greeks to the present day. The first line of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” sets the scene for the tragedy to follow: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

 Not that “blue” is a tragedy. In fact, under the hand of guest director Ron OJ Parson, it contains a fair number of comic figures and situations, with a denoument that, if not completely expected, still supplies a surprising if soap opera-ish twist.

 The setting is Kent, a small community in South Carolina. The characters, each of whom has his/her own set of secrets, are members of the Clark family, plus one initial outsider and one very real musical memory.

 The mother, Peggy (Natalie Davis Mller), is an elegant former model who moves from one project to another while ruling her quiet husband Samuel Jr. (Paul Bertha) and her two sons, Samuel III (Shaylon Wright) and young Reuben (double cast and played easily on opening night by Ian Coates and by Gilbert Michel as the adult Reuben), with an iron hand in her decidedly velvet gloves. The family is wealthy thanks to their ownership of the flourishing (and only) black funeral home in town. It provides the upper middle class lifestyle so important to Peggy. Her pretense of “elegance” is underscored by her Friday night dinners, culinary extravaganzas which she orders, transfers to her own dishes and swears she has cooked them herself.

blue  south bend civic theatre  south bend IN The barb under her mink is mother-in-law Tillie Clark (Diane Gammage), who delights in skewering the matron’s pretentions. Peggy also objects to son Sam’s current significant other, LaTonya Dinkins (Laurisa LeSure), whose dress and manner mark her from the down side of Peggy’s social register. Her antagonism evaporates quickly, however, when she discovers LaTonya is an intense fan of Blue Williams (Ben Little), a singer whose vocals are a constant part of Peggy’s life. LaTonya instantly becomes a project and is welcomed to the family.

 There is no timeline for intermission but between Acts 1 and 2, things have obviously changed and it is at least 10 years later. Sam’s Afro has been cut to an acceptable length and Reuben, who spent his youth practicing the trumpet to please his mother, returns home in blue jeans with dredlocks which he refuses to cut, even when Peggy’s longtime project, her family on the cover of Ebony magazine, is about to be realized.

 The final scenes of the 2 ½ hour show are rife with confrontations, parents to children and siblings to each other, and a confession that explains many things too easily.

 The cast is solid, with a silver-coiffed Gammage the primary scene-stealer, refusing to be intimidated by her controlling daughter-in-law and delivering barbs soto voce with hilarious accuracy. The trim and vocally smooth Little, whose acappella vocals ala Barry White and slow motion movements are consistently right on, is never intrusive but accentuates the underlying emotions that swirl beneath the Carters’ public façade. Bertha creates a quietly strong persona who sees his family’s flaws and deals with them for the good of all. Coates is a delight as the wise-beyond-his-years youngster.

 The set design by Jacee Rohick provides the perfect background for the family, with the stage crew deserving applause for its swift and complete change of the interior during the one brief intermission. The unfortunate acoustics in the mainstage auditorium still prove a stumbling block for the actors. Dalogue is lost to whichever side of the house they turn away from.

 “blue” will be presented through February 5 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium in the theater at 403 N. Main St. Times and tickets prices vary. For information and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit

Last Updated on Friday, 17 February 2012 03:08
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