Music Is The Magic of 'Cinderella' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 12 August 2011 02:35

There is no disputing the ageless charm of a fairy tale. Read it at bedtime or re-discover it in animation or live theater and the fascination is still there,. No matter how many times or in what form the glass slipper fits or the kiss of first love awakens, the tales are multi-generational, appealing to young and old alike

One of the favorites, “Cinderella,” is on stage through Aug. 21 at The Barn Theatre. Even though the message of true love seeing through several layers of grime to the princess beneath is still predominant, this version (there have been many) also focuses on the importance of being one’s own person and standing up for one’s self.

cinderella family  barn theatre  michiganRichard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II first put music to the tale in 1957, with musical theater princess Julie Andrews in the title role fora black & white television production. It was revamped in 1965, also for the small screen, adding color and several more musical numbers as Leslie Ann Warren portrayed the long-suffering title character. The final TV version, in 1997, featured color-blind casting and inserted the Godmother-driven pitch for women’s rights as well as several more gently-used R&H songs.

However “Cinderella” is patched together musically, it never ceases to deliver the popular mantra that right will triumph and love conquers all, especially when the leading players sing well and look good in fancy costumes.

Overcoming my Disney-influenced feeling that Cinderella was a blonde, The Barn production features Annie Wessendarp in a black wig as the put-upon sister who definitely has the last laugh over her haughty Stepmother (Penelope Alex) and her shrieky, whiney, sausage-curled stepsisters misnamed Joy (Miriam Hendel-Moellman) and Grace (Natalie Sparbeck).

Definitely in Cinderella’s “Own Little Corner” is her upbeat fairy Godmother (Amy Harpenau) who dismisses Cindy’s misgivings as “Fol-De-Rol,” pointing out that , with the right attitude, nothing is “Impossible.” She transforms available animals and objects into the traditional coach-and-four with a wave of her wand — and she does it all while singing and whooshing around the stage on roller skates!

Of course it is the persistence of Prince Christopher (Jamey Grisham) and his search for the lady with the foot that fits the glass slipper left on the palace steps that finally puts Cinderella in her rightful place. Along the way, he is pushed towards marriage by his mother, Queen Constantina (Emily May Smith) and his father, King Maximillian (Roy Brown) (who happen to be really married) and by the royal steward, Lionel (Hans Friedrichs), who makes the most of his many laugh lines.

Audience members of all ages were delighted by the appearance of Cinderella’s animal helpers: four mice, a rabbit and a cat, who offered advice from the windows and the back of the couch.

The required settings are numerous and changes were handled by cast members, some more successfully than others. Early costuming for the ensemble as villagers was appropriately mis-matched and bright. When they became ball guests, however, it seemed to become “pick-a-period.” Dresses were floor length or short, full and flowing or narrow and clinging, with little thought to carrying through one time period. The costumer could have taken a cue from the young audience members who opted to attend the production in Cinderella gowns, many of whom met their favorite characters post-show for autographs.

Music director John Jay Espino and his band of four did well by the Rodgers score, both up-tempos and ballads, and many left the theater humming one of the lovely tunes.

“CINDERELLA” plays through Aug.21 in the theater on M-62 between Galesburg and Augusta, Mich. For information and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily or visit 

Last Updated on Friday, 12 August 2011 02:45
WW "Tenor" Is Fast-Paced Frantic Farce PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 07 August 2011 00:28

Playwright Ken Ludwig is in the business of making people laugh. One example of how he frequently succeeds in a big way is “Lend Me A Tenor” which opened Wednesday evening at the Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Farce is the name of this particular comedic game and it is served up with style by the eight-member cast under the guidance of guest director Mickey Fisher. To say that it is fast-paced would be like calling the Empire State a tall building. It starts with a bang and accelerates for its two-hour running time. Actually, I’m not sure the actors could have survived a longer performance.

lend me a tenor  wagon wheel theatre  warsawAnyone who has seen a farce knows that a number of very sturdy doors through which characters sneak stealthily or slam frantically (with increasing emphasis on the latter) are necessary. The amazing set, designed for the first WW “Tenor by the late Roy Hine, is a great example of how doors can become see-through and still be solid.

Set in Cleveland in 1934, the basic premise hinges on the appearance by famed tenor Tito Merelli (David Schlumpf), aka Il Stupendo, at the opening gala of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. Anxiously awaiting Tito’s arrival are Saunders (Ben Maters), company manager who fears impending disaster, and his assistant Max (Stephen Anthony), an aspiring tenor in love with Saunders’ daughter Maggie (Alex Finke), a big Morelli fan. Also waiting are Julia (Sophie Grimm), chairman of the Opera Guild; Diana (Jennifer Dow), a soprano with an eye on advancing her career; and a Bellhop (Nick Laughlin), a tenor fan in more ways than one. Accompanying Il Stupendo is his very jealous and very volatile wife, Maria (Lauren Roesner).

Mix this group of assorted individuals with a double dose of sleeping pills and a plan to cover the star’s “death” which includes a substitute tenor in the title role of the scheduled opera, “Othello," and results in two Othellos frantically confronting — and attempting to avoid — several amorous women, and you have the ingredients for increasingly hilarious situations.

If timing is everything, the WW cast of “Lend Me A Tenor” has it all. Frantic entrances and exits, slamming doors and mistaken identities all are part and parcel of a farce, with success measured on how well these requirements are realized.

Schlumpf and Anthony carry the major burden here and, as they have all season, deliver their characters with style, flourish and believability. The scene in which the star gives vocal tips to the fledgling tenor is not only hilarious but beautifully sung. Schlumpf deserves extra applause for maintaining his “deadly calm” in the face of extremely vigorous efforts to “revive” him, while Anthony morphs beautifully from mild-mannered flunky to self-confident master of his fate.

All of the ladies do their own individual scenery-chewing. Finke deals well as the calmest of the quartet, hilariously discarding inhibitions for the ringing of bells. Grimm delivers a wicked caricature of every society-matron-as-overage-groupie. Dow slinks sensuously in and out of costumes on her own path to the Met. Roesner is a formidably possessive wife but would be even better if the Italian decibel level was a bit lower.

Maters offers an explosively slow burn and demonstrates the wildly swinging focus of a man whose eye is on the prize, even when that prize keeps shifting. Laughlin’s Bellboy is in fine voice in a role that has a different key than in earlier productions.

Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s costumes are, as usual, period perfect, and the matching costumes for “Othello” are works of art. Director Fisher has set the pace for this farce and his talented cast never lets it fall.

“LEND ME A TENOR” continues through Aug. 13 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618.

Last Updated on Sunday, 07 August 2011 00:44
Barn 'Streetcar' Right On Track PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 28 July 2011 20:15

I have a dear friend whose favorite line — when going to see a show which might or might not provide a good theatrical evening — was “Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

This, I am hesitant to say, was my state of mind as the curtain went up on The Barn Theatre production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Three hours later, however, I unconditionally joined the rest of the opening night audience in offering the fine cast a standing ovation, something that does not come easily for me. This is not traditional summer theater fare, but it is a classic play solidly done and deserves to be seen.

streetcar named desire  the barn theatreDon’t let the three hour running time (including intermissions) deter you from seeing this sharply directed, sensitively performed and very involving production. It is Williams, a playwright known for his extended prose, and, written in 1947, it comes from the era of three-act plays. Here, however, even if you are a great fan of the 1951 Marlon Brando/Vivian Leigh multi-Oscar winning film or have seen the play itself more than once and know exactly how the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama plays out, this production will keep you awake and involved.

First I must credit guest director Dee Dee Sandt, herself a former Barnie, whose sure hand guided the fine cast through the frequently turgid waters of Williams’ prose. The pace never lessens and the familiar characters never become stereotypes (kudos to Eric Parker for making Stanley Kowalski’s “Stellllllaaaah” definitely his own creation) or caricatures. Rather they take on individual personas.

Cast in the pivotal, multi-layered role of Blanche duBois, who arrives in New Orleans’ French Quarter via the title’s streetcar, is longtime Barn leading lady Penelope Alex, known primarily for her comic timing in the frequent farces which are audience favorites at the Augusta, Mich., theater. Her portrayal of the fading southern belle, a former English teacher walking a fine line between fact and fantasy, is sensitively and sympathetically drawn. Revelation of her past results in rejection by her flawed beau and a brutal attack by her brother-in-law which, when all else has failed, makes Blanche’s final harrowing escape into the world of illusion wrenching but necessary for survival.

Parker’s Stanley is arrogant, egocentric and extremely possessive of things he perceives as his own — his house, his liquor, his wife — and he instantly sees Blanche as a threat and an intruder in his domain. His harsh treatment, which culminates in rape, finally removes her from his world.

blanche  streetcar  barn theatreStella, Blanche’s “baby sister” and Stanley’s wife, is beautifully underplayed by Meg Schneider. Caught between two dysfunctional factions, she struggles to do the right thing but, inevitably, must believe the lie in order to retain her sanity

Mitch is one of Stanley’s bowling, beer drinking, poker playing buddies. In the talented hands of Roy Brown, he is more of a gentleman than the others and Blanche’s insistence on courteous behaviour intrigues him. With the discovery of her deception, hurt becomes anger but, even so, rage is tinged with sorrowful regret.

The Kowalski’s upstairs neighbors are played by Melissa Cotton and Hans Friedrichs. They mirror the younger couple’s passionate, combative relationship, making the distance between the French Quarter and the social structure of Blanche’s memory an even wider abyss. . (Note: The film version, made under Hays office restrictions, sends Stella upstairs with her baby at the finale vowing never to go back and eliminates mention of the homosexuality of Blanche’s young husband, whose suicide haunts her more and more frequently.)

The set works well but the lighting design allows for too much light in scenes that are meant to be dark and makes the harsh effect of removing Blanche’s Japanese lantern almost negligible.

The many emotions that surge visibly and invisibly throughout “Streetcar” make it a drama that still speaks to audiences almost 65 years after its creation. The Barn Theatre production is one example of why it continues to survive.

“A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE” plays through Aug. 7 in the theater on M-62 between Galesburg and Augusta, Mich. For reservations and performance times, call (269) 731-4121 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 July 2011 21:10
ECT "Joseph" Better Than Ever PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 01 August 2011 19:58

There’s a cliché, old but undeniably true, about big oaks growing from little acorns. That definitely applies to the colorful, fast-paced musical — actually an opera — which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. It grew from a 15-minute pop cantata in 1968, to a full-fledged Broadway production in 1982.

Elkhart Civic Theatre has produced “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor” twice before, in 1986 and 2002, and the current incarnation is as good if not, in some areas, better than its predecessors.

joseph elkhart civic theatre musicalI have to assume that audiences in this viewing area are familiar with the story of Joseph and his brothers from the Book of Genesis. I therefore will say only that the scenes of Joseph’s sale into slavery, his attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife and subsequent imprisonment, his meteoric rise to become “Pharaoh’s number two” and his eventual reinstatment as favorite son and, brother are imaginatively reinvented by director John Shoup and choreographers Eleni Owens and Jackie (Miss Indiana 2011) Jerlecki.

Certainly the wonderfully vivid costumes designed by Jennifer Medich with Amanda Schmeltz add an eye-popping layer to the frequently drab desert costuming. This is especially true of those assigned to the Narrator (Amanda Rose) and the wives of Joseph’s brothers which rival costumes out of a Technicolor movie as, of course, does Joseph’s final “amazing colored coat.”

Rose, whose primary duty is to supply the narrative as the biblical story skips from Israel to Egypt, with a stop in Caanan, handles the extended vocals with clarity. Interestingly enough, when composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice wrote the piece, commissioned by Colby Court School in London, the Narrator was a man. Somewhere en route to the Great White Way, the gender was switched, possibly an attempt to somewhat balance the initial men/women ratio. Whatever the reason, Ms. Rose makes a case for a female in the role.

Joseph here is played by Case Nofziger, a tall, appropriately clean cut young man with a fine baritone voice. Displaying father Jacob’s gift of a colored coat, Joseph makes it easy to see why his shabbier brothers gloweringly share the deadly sin of jealousy. On the path from favorite son to prisoner to famine fighter and her, he delivers his several solos well .

In the role of the sleep-deprived Pharaoh, Brock Butler creates the requisite Elvis-as-Egyptian-ruler with show-stopping energy. Hips swinging appropriately, he demonstrates why everyone falls down before Rameses.

The 11 brothers do a solid job with solos and the big chorus numbers. They are aided sharply by the ladies of the ensemble and, frequently, by the Teen Chorus and Children’s Choir, members of which are a welcome addition to the production, singing and dancing and not just sitting and singing on the sidelines as in many productions where they are included in the cast to draw parents, siblings, relatives and friends into the audience. These youngsters know the songs and the dances and are as much a part of “Joseph” as the big brothers.

The Lloyd Webber score, which includes a variety of musical styles — country western, disco, rock ‘n roll, reggae, apache, ballad — is interpreted solidly by the five piece orchestra which, as the music never stops, could be said to be the hardest working component of this musical.

AND, as a bonus, the show runs about an hour and a half, including intermission, allowing plenty of time to greet the cast in the lobby and enjoy the ice cream, cake and punch being served after each performance to kick off Elkhart Civic Theatre’s season-long celebration of 50 years in the Bristol Opera House.

“JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on S.R. 120 in Bristol. For information and reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 August 2011 18:27
South Bend Offers Another "Hairspray" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 25 July 2011 18:33

This is turning out to be the summer of “Hairspray” and, given the continuing popularity of the theatrical version of John Waters’ 1988 film, it undoubtedly will also be the fall, winter and spring.

hairspray  south bend civic theatreThere are several reasons for this attraction: the music by Marc Shaiman, with lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, is both energizing and listenable; Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan created a book in which several serious issues are wrapped in the palatable cover of humor; and the characters are larger than life, several of them literally, but realistic enough to find their marks.

All these are present in the South Bend Civic Theatre production currently on stage in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorum. The only thing lacking is a really sharp production.

The cast, directed by Sara Bartlett, works hard but once again looses the battle with the defects of the auditorium. Sound, no matter how many baffles are placed in the vast dome, is iffy and any chance of understanding dialogue or lyrics vanishes when the actor turns away.

“Hairspray” is set in the ‘60s and much is made of the difference between the teenage “ins” and “outs,” part of which depends on the size of the beehive hairdos. Unfortunately, there are a lot a “bumps” but not one real beehive to be seen.

Kacie Colleen Mercer is young Tracy Turnblad, whose only desire is to dance on the Corny Collins (Jared Wagner) TV show, an “American Bandstand” knock-off . Its producer, Velma Von Tussle (Meribeth Saunders), a former Miss Baltimore Crabs, is intent on retaining show segregation and making sure her daughter Amber (Taylor Calderone) is center stage and winner of the upcoming Miss Teenage Hairspray contest.

hairspray duo  south bend civic theatreStanding behind Tracy are her parents, Wilbur (Jim Jones) and Edna (Jon Beck), who also support her desire to promote the show’s integration because “Integration is the New Frontier”, and her best friend (and fellow “out”) Penny Pingleton (the consistantly funny Madeline Eastman). Along the way, Tracy meets Linc Larkin (Dominic Go), Amber’s boyfriend and an aspiring singer/songwriter in search of a recording contract, and finds new friends in Seaweed J. Stubbs (Brandon Harper), and his mother, Motormouth Maybelle (Sheila LeSure), who join Tracy in her attempt at integratioln.

The featured performers all deliver solid vocals with LeSure outstanding in declaring “I Know Where I’ve Been” as well as the mocking “Big, Blonde, Beautiful.” Mercer’s opening “Good Morning Baltimore” is set as her wakeup solo. t finds her in a Hannibal Lector-style standup bed with the cover obviously held in place by a member of the stage crew.

When not in use, platforms at each side of the stage are shielded by sliding flats painted to resemble Baltimore streets. Audience members seated on either the right or left side of the auditorium, however, have clear views of crew members changing platform furniture and set dressings on opposite sides, drawing focus from the action front stage. The same is true of set pieces not on stage but clearly visible in the wings.

It is little things that do make a difference.

It’s no secret that Edna is always played by a large man. Beck does a creditable job but Johnson plays hubby Wilbur in twitchy, gawking vaudeville comic style which gets a lot of laughs but precludes any tenderness from their duet “You’re Timeless to Me.”

“HAIRSPRAY” plays through Aug. 7 in the theater at 403 N. Main Street. Show times and ticket prices vary. For information and reservations call (574) 234-1112 or go online at

Last Updated on Monday, 25 July 2011 19:12
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