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WW 'Normal' Powerfully Honest Production PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 31 August 2017 13:49

Say the words “musical theater” and “mental illness” and what you have would never be mistaken as the combination for a theatrical production.

next to normal  Wagon Wheel Theatre  WRSAW INUnless it would be, as the current Wagon Wheel Theatre production of “next to normal” proves over and over and over again, an incredibly powerful and honest look at a problem facing millions today.

The first look finds Diana Goodman (Kira Lace Hawkins), her husband Dan (David Schlmpf), and their daughter Natalie, (Laura Plyler) getting ready for “Just Another Day.” He is getting dressed, Natalie is getting ready for school and Diana is making sandwiches for their lunch and talking to their son, Gabe (Keaton Eckhoff)..

Normal, right? Until you see the bread is spread out on the kitchen floor and no one sees or hears Gabe except Diana.

A look beneath the surface shows that family especially and friends are affected by Diana’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder and this Pulitzer Prize/Tony Award-winning musical drama by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) pulls no punches.

next to normal Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INA visit to her physician, Dr. Madden (Riley McFarland), results in an “adjustment” to Diana’s multi-multi-multi pill regimen and, eventually, referral to a psychiatrist, Dr. Fine (also McFarland), and a different treatment method (no pills).

A near-fatal incident leads finally to a recommendation for ECT — electric shock therapy. Diana refuses until Dan, worn down after dealing for 16 years with her increasing depression and hallucinations, convinces her that this is their last chance.

At school practicing for her piano recital, Natalie meets Henry (Mike Cefalo), a fellow student who is attracted to her (“Perfect for You”). Considering her home life, she is more than reluctant to begin any relationship. She pushes him away and, determined to have her own life, begins experimenting with her mother’s pills.

The reality of this libretto is chilling but demands close attention. What makes it very listenable is that practically everything is sung.

Which leads to the major plus here i— the absolutely outstanding cast and orchestra. They work tandem to allow every word to sink in and this is no easy task. Having seen this show twice in New York City, I can state with certainty that this sextet of talented singer/actors holds its own against any in the Big Apple or on tour.

At the center of Diana’s world is the always amazing Kira Lace Hawkins who continues to completely inhabit each and every character she portrays and tops the layered individuals with a voice that is rich and broad and sure and a joy to listen to.

Her incredibly wrenching internal journey is shared in varying degrees by Schlumpf and Plyler, whose strong and soaring voices make the depth of their shifting emotions painfully apparent— anger, resentment, grief, fear, frustration, sorrow and, above all, love are components in their kaleidoscopic interactions.

Stirring the pot from somewhere “beyond,” Eckhoff offers a charismatic call to a world without pain where serenity is the key. He urges his mother to join him.nest to normal  Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw IN

As Natalie’s lifeline, Cefalo is a typical teen, determined to help but not quite sure just how to go about it.

Representing the medical community, McFarland delivers two sides of treatment — pharmaceutical and psychiatric — with precision (his litany of drugs is

frighteningly hilarious) and appropriately concerned detachment.

The award-winning score is safe and a thing of beauty in the voices of director Scott Michaels’ hand-picked cast. In solos or ensemble pieces, they combine excellent vocal work and touchingly real characterizations.

The same is true of the outstanding instrumentalists in conductor Thomas N. Sterling’s orchestra.

In Michael Higgins’ set design, the angular metal steps, platforms and catwalks that connect the many areas in the two-story set sometimes pose a bit of a sight problem but certainly represent well the twists and turns in the minds of all.

This show is not the average man’s definition of a musical but it is one that doubtless will reach a place in everyone’s mind and heart. And it is one that, especially in this day and age, should be seen.

Like Diana, most would agree that maybe being next to normal is not so bad after all.

NEXT TO NORMAL plays through Sunday in the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2517 E. Center St., Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.

Last Updated on Thursday, 31 August 2017 14:18
 
Tuskegee Airmen Face Frustrating Battles PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 13 August 2017 20:39

An important part of United States history, frequently neglected in recounting “the big picture,” is the part played by the Tuskegee Airmen in the ultimately successful conclusion of World War II.

A small segment of this part is the subject of “Black Eagles,” a play by Leslie Lee directed by Deb Swerman, which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Barbara K. Warner Studio Theatre.

Black Eagles  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreUsing the flashback format as the framework for the story (based on fact) of dedicated airmen who studied and trained at Alabama’s Tuskegee University Air Field, the action begins in Washington, D.C. at a 1989 reunion of pilots from the 99th Fighter Squadron.

After a little backslapping and a few ”can you top this” reminiscences by older veterans Clark (Rev. Terrell A/ Jackson), Nolan (Charles Payne) and Leon (David Smith), it shifts to 1944 Italy where their counterparts, the same-but-young — and understandably frustrated — pilots are stationed and chomping at the bit to see some real killing action.

Their assignments as pursuit pilots, escorting white bomber crews to their targets with orders to stay with them no matter what, leave the young airmen ready to undertake any challenge in order to see a bit of actual action.

Exacerbating this is the fact that the Army Air Corps, as indeed all the military forces, was segregated. What was true at home was true in the service and, in spite of several declarations made by the pilots, nothing would change in their immediate future.

As they wait for news of their next assignment, the six pilots — Clarke (SSG. SSteven Wilbur), Roscoe (Ben Little), Nolan (Eric Ways), Buddy (Anderson Chimutu), Leon (Kenneth Taylor) and Othel (DeLorean Gammage) — share hopes, dreams and realities. Since this is a diverse group, the friction level also rises, even about such obviously unrealistic topics as which one is Lena Horne’s boyfriend.

Black Eagles  South Bend (IN) Civic TheaatreWhen the opportunity to become fighter pilots and each gets a “kill,” their enthusiasm is understandable. The brief look at the relationship between Buddy and Pia (Mahaffa Tompson), an Italian girl, seems extraneous.

The script does not offer many looks at why each man became a pilot or where he hopes to go when the war is over or what his family is like. What little backstory there is is supplied by the actors themselves, some SBCT veterans and some newcomers.

All acquit themselves well with special applause to Little who not only plays Roscoe but Julius, the pilot’s ventriloquism dummy and the focus of much of the play’s humor.

The awkward atmosphere that arises when two white pilots, Dave (Cam Matteson) and Roy (Miller), drop in to meet the men they have heard so much about, eventually vanishes incrementally with each gulp as they share a bottle of cognac.

It is a difficult scene to make real, especially in the close quarters of the black box theater, and it is to the credit of the company that it feels very natural.

The entrance of General Lucas (Curt Goodrich) with a paper listing the rules of segregation definitely is a major disruption. In spite of his command, the black pilots refuse to sign. The white pilots silently slip away.

Black Eagles  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreNothing had changed and would not begin to for several years until President Truman signed an executive order aimed at ending military segregation.

But, as the Tuskegee airmen must have known, that was only the beginning. It may have become better in the military but the struggle for equality was barely begun in 1944 and continues today.

The necessity of learning and relearning this lesson is underscored by the trials of these Black Eagles.

BLACK EAGLES plays through Aug. 20 in the studio theater at 215W. Madison St. , South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 August 2017 21:00
 
Sondheim + WW = Musical Theatre Magic PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 11 August 2017 16:25

Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theater has led the pack this summer with a lineup of widely varied productions, all beautifully done.

Now, in the final show of the scheduled season, it seems it has saved the best for last.

Into the Woods  WagonWheel Theatre Warsaw INIt is no secret that my very favorite musical theater composer is Stephen Sondheim. I would, in fact, go miles to see/hear anything with which he is connected..

I have a Top Five list of favorites, at the very top of which (or, at least , in the number two spot) is ‘Into The Woods,” Sondheim’s version of fractured fairy tales, a collaboration with playwright James Lapine.

Not only is it a brilliant blending of familiar childhood favorites, but it is filled with a wildly weird assortment of characters, melodies that will not leave your head and a solid list of words — or phrases — to live by.

It also echoes everyone’s hope of getting through life’s darkest woods to find a happily ever after.

Being so committed to this piece, I approach every production with hope and fear. Hope that it will at least come close to my expectations and fear that it will not.

Into the Woods  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INThe minute we walked into the Wagon Wheel Theatre Wednesday evening, I knew the next few hours would exceed my highest expectations.

And I was right!!

Even before the music begins (and director Thomas N. Sterling and his always-excellent orchestra more than do justice to the intricate score), even before that, there is the jaw-dropping set by Ray Zupp (“Young Frankenstein,” “The Addams Family”) that leaves you standing in the lobby, staring over the seats and anxious to get a closer look.

I would say you have to see it to believe it, but…well, you really do! And that’s just the beginning!

The orchestra goes into the pit, announcements are made and the lights finally fade, to rise again on the woods and the inhabitants of its outlying areas:

Jack (Blake Bojewski), his Mother (Kathy Haskins) and Milky White (Grace Robinson), his cow;

Little Red Riding Hood (Allsun O’Malley) and her Granny (Jennifer Dow);

Into thr Eoofd  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INCinderella (Sarah Ariel Brown), her stepmother (Leanne Antonio), her stepsisters Lucinda (Dow) and Florinda (Bailee Enderbrock), her father (Mike Yocum) and her Prince (Ben Ahlers);

the Baker (Riley McFarland) and his wife (Kelly Britt);

Rapunzel (Kira Ziringer) and her Prince (Michael Bradley);

plus assorted others — the Witch (Kira Lace Hawkins), the Big Bad Wolf (Ahlers), the Narrator/Mysterious Man (Brett Frazier) and the Steward (Michael Pacholski).

And no one who goes into the woods, comes out of the woods unchanged (or alive).

Put them all together and they make a formidable vocal ensemble, and ensemble work a la Sondheim is nothing if not formidable. Not only do they make it sound easy but, in spite of overlapping melodic lines and lyrics, quite easily understood.

Each of the major players has his/her share of solos and each delivers beautifully! Kira Lace Hawkins (who I now believe can do anything!) is completely unfazed by her opening speed-singing rap, her poignant duet with Ziringer and, of course, her show-stopping “The Last midnight.” And she definitely knows how to make an exit!!!

Britt is a pleasure to listen to in solo or duet and creates a no-nonsense wife who seeks motherhood but, yearning for a bit of romance, finds more than she bargained for.

O’Malley is a delightful Red Riding Hood, skipping into and around danger with naïve abandon., never mind that the Big Bad Wolf is on her trail. As the seductive Wolf, Ahlers sheds his fur to become Cinderella’s Prince and, with Bradley, shares my favorite double duet, “Agony,” which hilariously nails the shifting fancies of princes.

Into the Woods  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INBojewski and McFarland have wonderfully rich and strong baritone voices that audibly mark their changes from awkward young men to adult males, determined to come out of the woods on the right paths. It is easy to empathize with their journeys.

Frazier carries the strong narrative and shifts personas slickly to add to the overall mystery and Kathy Hawkins proves that, in or out of the woods, mothers are the same.

Must give applause to Robison. Never seen out of costume, and without singing a note, she gives a great deal of character and personality to long-suffering Milky White.

As always, Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s costumes are the icing on this cake, especially in facilitating the Witch’s transformation. Crowning Hollenbeck’s costumes are Dow’s varied (and secure) wigs, which here help the Witch regain youth and beauty.

“Into The Woods” is directed and choreographed (and the last includes a lot more than dancing here) by WW artistic director Scott Michaels, who continues to set the standards so high they would stop a lesser artist. Michaels just sails right over them!

Behind him — or beside him — are lighting designer Patrick Chan, who seems able to create fantasy with the flick of a switch,; sound designer Chris Pollnow, who supplies the balance between singers and instrumentalists; technical director Jacki Anderson, who makes sure all circuits are clear; production manager Mike Higgins and production stage manager Nick Voight, who is in charge when the lights go up.

Along with their respective crews, they create magic every two weeks of the summer in Warsaw.

Do not miss this one!!

INTO THE WOODS plays through Aug. 19 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 August 2017 16:44
 
Newsboya Fight The System In 'Newsies' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 10 August 2017 16:00

There’s not a princess in sight as “Newsies” bursts on to the stage of The Barn Theatre where the Disney musical opened Tuesday evening.

Disneyh's Newsies GThe Barn Theatre Augusta MIInstead the maximum energy is supplied by a bunch of feisty ragamuffins, all ready to sell the day’s copy of the New York World. Lest the audience expect pastels (from Disney), everything is in varying shades if brown, black and grey.

Lining up to buy their daily allotment (for resale to the public), the newsboys are led by Jack Kelly (Jonnie Carpathios), who shares his dreams of going to “Sante Fe” with his crippled best friend and fellow newsboy Crutchie (Justin M. Roth).

The story of their fight for fair treatment — and money — is based on an actual 1899 newsboys strike in New York City — plus a little romance thrown in because, after all, it is a Disney show, complete with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Feldstein.

Disney's Newsies The Barn Theatre Augusta MI“Newsies” seems to be the musical of choice this summer, even though it is based on a 1992 film that became a Broadway musical in 2012 and there is, of necessity, very little color in set and costumes.

Except, of course, for the scenes in a vaudeville theatre where headliner Medda Larkin (Samantha Rickard) is a friend for whom Jack paints backdrops.

The jet propulsion in this Disney’s “Newsies” is supplied by the ensemble of urchins who leap, stamp, holler and, at one point, tap like mad, at the drop of a tear sheet (“Carrying the Banner”).

With choreography by James Gresham, who is also a newsboy, the crowd of energetic urchins tears up the boards at the drop of a penny and was received with sustained cheers throughout the 2 ½ hour performance.

Disneh's Newsies The Barn Theatre Augusta MIJack’s love interest is supplied by Katherine Plumber (Kasady Kwiatkowska), an aspiring lady journalist who has her own agenda.

His right hand newsboy is Davey (Nick Barakos) who, with his younger brother Les (Brandon Davis/Henry Dunn — it doesn’t say which one is playing which performance), doesn’t fit the orphan code of the newsboys — they have both parents.

When World owner Joseph Pulitzer (Richard Marlatt), (yes, the Pulitzer Prize Pulitzer!), decides to raise the newsboys cost from 50 to 60 cents per 100 in order to increase circulation (“The Bottom Line”), Jack instigates a strike (“Seize the Day”).

Strikebreakers and police break up the rally and the end finds Crutchie in The Refuge, a juvenile detention center run by the evil Warden Snyder (Charlie King).

Will Jack rescue his friend, defeat the capitalist and win the girl?

If you can’t answer that, you don’t know Disney.

With an unflagging energy that seems never to lessen, Carpathios is indeed the focal point of “Newsies”, but the actual highlights are the equally unflagging newsboys.

On and off the stage and every available table and chair, up and down auditorium aisles and the on-stage stairways of scenic designer Samantha Snow, they accomplished every move with observable glee.

Vocally, their blend was solid and frequently moving.

Among the principals, with the exception of Roth, all seemed inclined to push, frequently resulting in rather unpleasantly harsh tones. This may resolve itself as performances go on and the balance between singers and instrumentalists evens out.

There is no doubt that everyone was doing his/her duty in “Newsies,” even director Hans Friedrichs was called into action. Of course making sure he never relinquished command, he is playwright Fierstein’s deus ex machina — the man on the white horse who saves the day — President Teddy Roosevelt.

Diisney’s “NEWSIES” plays through Aug. 20 in the theater on M96 in Augusta, MI. for performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 August 2017 16:24
 
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