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










Brothers Struggle In Pulitzer Drama

South Bnd Civic Theatre opened its production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Topdog/Underdog” Friday evening in the Warner Studio Theatre.

The two-character drama, directed by Laurisa LeSure, allows Paul Bertha and Benni Little, both SBCT veterans, the opportunity to explore the full range of human emotions, most especially as they are revealed in an intimate family situation.

It is the story of brothers Lincoln (Bertha) and Booth (Little), named by their father as a joke which inevitably turns sour.

Lincoln is the oldest, therefore the “topdog” of the duo, with “underdog” Booth struggling to take over his name-only position.

The two are living together in Booth’s cold-water flat (bathroom down the hall) after Lincoln’s wife, Cookie, kicked him out. Wearing a stove pipe hat, long coat, fake beard and white face makeup, Lincoln’s job is sitting in a booth in a nearby arcade as the target for would-be assassins.

He is the wage earner of the two, with Booth hoping to persuade his brother to return to his former – and more lucrative — street job of “throwing the cards” in Three-card Monte. The restless Booth spends his time practicing the art of the fast-talking deal, determined to be better than his brother who refuses to return to the game which resulted in the death of a friend.

As Booth waits for his on-again/off-again girlfriend Grace to arrive, Lincoln returns with the news that he has been fired, replaced by a wax dummy.

Facing a bleak future, the brothers think back on younger days, which each remembers differently.

Both attempt to determine why their parents left, each at a different time and each leaving a son with $500 — Booth’s from his mother (which he still has wrapped in the stocking in which she gave it to him) and Lincoln’s from his father (which he has already spent).

Both agree they are fine as long as they have each other. “It’s you and me taking on the world,” Booth declares.

Togetherness is short-lived, however. Booth’s shocking revelations plus Lincoln’s final Three-card Monte victory and his laughter at Booth’s attempt to beat him lead to the inevitable tragic conclusion.

The emotions are always close to the surface and  instantly changeable. If love and hate are two sides of the same coin, these brothers have them to spare.

Little’s Booth is a firecracker, ready to explode at the slightest provocation. Moving between admiration for his older brother’s ability to “throw the cards” and his frustration at Lincoln’s refusal to include him in a return to the street con, he boasts of his success with women, his success as a shoplifter and his assurance that he can beat his brother at his own game.

As Lincoln, Bertha attempts to keep the peace in what remains of the fractured family, repeating the advice of his departing parent never to get married. He is, at first glance, the most solid brother, an impression that gradually disappears as his “normal” façade begins to crumble.

As Booth, Little is volatile and impulsive. He spins tales of a life in which his girlfriend is about to move in, requiring Lincoln to move out, and he is Three Card (a name he chooses for himself), the ace cardshark.

From the beginning, there is little doubt as to the ending but watching Bertha and Little gradually arrive at the point of no return makes for a sadly fascinating look at lives in which no one wins.

The set, designed by Jeff Barrick and Cliff Shoults, features two pieces of patched and shabby furniture, a number of empty bottles and several stacks of cardboard boxes labeled simply “Stuff.”

Played in the appropriate confines of the SBCT “black box” theater, LeSure’s direction underscores the few moments of humor, but all in all there is no “topdog” in this harsh look at life just off the streets..

“TOPDOG/UNDERDOG” plays through Aug. 19 in the Warner Studio Theatre at 403 North Main Street, South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.













‘Freaky Friday’ Switch Musical Magic

For every teenager who has rebelled against parental authority and every parent who has been frustrated by that rebellion, the Wagon Wheel Theatre has something for you.


It is titled, appropriately, “Freaky Friday” and it comes from that wellspring of parent/child communication, The Disney Company.

Ellie (Laura Plyler, left) and her mom Katherine (Kira Lace Hskins) fight for the magic hourglass in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of FREAKY FRIDAY. (Photos by Scott Michaels)

Based on a 1972 book by Mary Rodgers and two subsequent films (1976 and 2003), it tells of the rocky relationship of a teenage girl and her mother.

Its keywords definitely are not “patient” and “understanding.”

The subject gains new life in this regional premiere, directed and choreographed by WW  Artistic Director Scott Michaels.

There is no doubt that its obviously popular premise — connection with a magical hour glass switches mom and daughter into each other’s bodies — struck a chord, especially with the females in the opening night audience.

Katherine/Ellie (Kira Lace Hawkins, center) is obviously bored by her meeting with school officials (from left, Michael Yocum, Michael Pacholski) while Ellie/Katherine tries to explain the situation in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of FREAKY FRIDAY.

Understanding doesn’t come easily, but in the hands of Kira Lace Hawkins as Katherine Blake (om) and Laura Plyler as daughter Ellie, watching this talented duo gradually shift from extreme opposites to (at least) tolerant women is not only a pleasure but a real lesson in

character creation — or re-creation!

Happily both have strong, warm voices allowing them to be heard in the frequent ensemble numbers and to break out with several touching solos — “Parents Lie,” Katherine/”No More Fear,” Ellie — and with emotion-packed duets.

Secrets come out in “Busted,” when Ellie finds mom’s cigarette stash and mom finds Ellie’s tattoo — on her hip!

The real fun is seeing Plyler go from mother-hating teen to mother-loving daughter and Hawkins, from strict dictator mother to sympathetic mom.

Elle/Katherine(Kira Lace Hawkins) tries to tall Fletcher (Nate Friedenberg) the truth about parents in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of FREAKY FRIDAY.

Caught totally unawares in the crossfire are Nate Friedberg as son/brother Fletcher, who communicates his feelings via hand puppets until “Drivin’ With My Mom” gets to be too much; Mike (Grayson Samuels), Katherine’s good-natured fiancé who accepts Ellie’s ill-concealed hostility as best he can; Torrey (Juliette Redden), Katherine’s harried assistant who deals as well as possible with her suddenly erratic boss; and Adam (Ian Laudano), the object of Ellie’s affections, who bonds with Fletcher in a shared love for “Women and Sandwiches.”

Action circles around the timing of the annual high school scavenger hunt and the wedding rehearsal dinner, both of which fall on the same evening. Each is important, the hunt to Ellie and the dinner to Katherine, who demands her daughter attend.

After the switch, the altered personalities must decide which is more important, and to whom, meanwhile searching for a replacement for the broken hourglass and their only chance of returning to “normal.”.

Will they find it in time? Will the switch have made better people of them both?

Well, it’s Disney. What do you think?

Ellie/Kathrine (Laura Plyler) helps Adam (Ian LLaudano) in biology class in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of FREAKY FRIDAY.

The process is lightened considerably by the sharply performed dances, with each member of the singing/dancing ensemble returning to high school days with ease and enviable agility.

Stephen B. Hollenbeck’s costumes accent the period but, even though Mike is a low-salary technical teacher, he deserves a better-fitting suit.

As always, the eight-piece orchestra under the direction of keyboardist Thomas N. Stirling does an excellent job of providing the instrumental accompaniment.

The set designed by Michael Higgins provides swift if rumbley transition from a variety of  locations.

“Freaky Friday” may not provide the answers to all inter-familial problems, but it offers the opportunity to view them with loving humor.

“FREAKY FRIDAY” plays through Aug. 18 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street, Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.













Disney’s ‘Beauty’ Still Magical Tale

Add the Disney magic to the “tale as old as time” and what do you get?

A full house for the opening night of The Barn Theatre’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast.”

Belle (Andrea Arvanigian) and her dad Maurice (Charlie King) sing of their devotion to each other in The Barn Theatre production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

It seems that no matter how many times this “tale” is told, the effect on children of all ages is the same: When Belle says “I love you” to the Beast, hearts melt audibly —at least they did Tuesday night.

Much of the reaction is due to the efforts of the talented Barn Theatre cast. For this production, all the stops were pulled out, sometimes literally.

The main — make that mane — man was returning Barn veteran Jamey Grisham, usually seen in lighter outfits as the resident choreographer. His performance was the surprise of the evening, managing to give the cursed prince more than just a shattering roar. His frustration as the time limit (marked by falling rose petals) on the enchantment ran out was palpable as was his increasing affection for Belle, which underscored his return to humanity.

As Belle, the object of his leonine affections, Andrea Arvanigian is calmly courageous in the face of roaring hostility and, at home, stands her ground as the “odd girl” in town and the focus of the marital machinations of the ultra-arrogant Gaston (Albert Nelthropp), town strongman and egotist extrordinaire. Her strong soprano is well-displayed in her solos “Home” and “A Change in Me.”

The Beast (Jamey Grisham), in love with Belle, fears she will not love him in The Barn Theatre production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Gaston, always a crowd favorite villain, swaggers beautifully and accepts the town’s applause in the rousing “Gaston,” which covers all his manly skills including decorating (with antlers) and features the ensemble in a well-executed routine involving beer mugs.

Leading his entourage are Lefou (Ryan Carter Johnson),  a toadying syncophant who lives to receive Gaston’s hard knocks, and Three Silly Girls (Anissa Grieco, Rachel Mahar and Gabi Shook) who refuse to let Gaston’s engagement deter them.

Belle’s home safety net is her slighty wacky but very loving father Maurice (Charlie King), a practicing inventor. His imprisonment by the Beast brings Belle to the castle.

As always, the inhabitants of the castle — who also share the Prince’s’ curse — are the enchanted objects, staff members who are slowly turning into the “things” that most closely resemble their duties in life.

Gaston (Albert Nelthropp, right ) and Lefou (Ryan Carter Robinson) hatch a plan to win Belle in The Barn Theatre production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

It doesn’t take much for Lumiere (Hans Friedrichs),  maitre‘d/candelabra; Cogsworth (John Jay Espino),  butler/grandfather clock; Babette (Samantha Rickard), parlor maid/feather duster; Madame de la Grande Bouche (Elyssa Blonder), ladies maid/wardrobe; Mrs. Potts (Penelope Alex), housekeeper/teapot; and Chip (Aiden  Wall), her son/tea cup, to earn cheers just for being there — which also means cheers for costume designers Goulet Bartholomew and Lauren Alexandra.

The actors, however, strike all the right notes in creating humorously believable objects. Along with the imaginatively garbed ensemble members who become kitchen and dining room utensils, they solidly deliver the first act “show stopper” “Be Our Guest,” with special applause to Ian Lah who gives new meaning to the term “throw rug,”

On the dark side, Patrick Hunter is gleefully evil as Monsieur D’Arque, proprietor of the local asylum, the  “Maison des Lunes.”

Gaston (Albert Nelthropp, center) is surrounded by villagers singing his praises in The Barn Theatre production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Under the direction of Brendan Ragotzy, the familiar story moves along well. The scenic design, by Steven Lee Burright and Samantha Snow, features revolving stairs, an obvious necessity which, nonetheless, by the second act becomes rather annoying as do the movable flats. The last would no be so annoying if the “movers” who shift them rapidly from side to side to denote passage of time were not clearly visible.

The six piece orchestra under the direction of conductor/keyboardist Brent J. Decker, does well with Alan Menken’s score and, for the most part, is fairly well balanced with the singers. Some of this, however, is due to the sound balances which no doubt will improve as performances continue.

This is very obviously a family-oriented production, with many of the younger “Belles” attending in their own ball gowns.

This “tale as old as time,” it seems, encompasses all generations.

Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST plays through Aug. 17 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (2269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatreschool.org




Farce Earns Non-Stop Laughter

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

The origin of this much-quoted statement may be in question but the truth of it definitely is not.

Francis (Logan Foster, center) tries to put the pieces together for listeners (from left:IanLaudano, Laura Pller, Leanne Antonio, Michael Pacholski. Michael Yocum, Grayson Samuels, Juliette Redden) I  the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS. (Photos by Scott Michaels)

Proof (if any is needed) is exploding on the arena stage of Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre where several centuries of comedy are displayed in the current production of “One Man, Two Guvnors.”

The style, as explained by directors Andy Robinson and Ben Dicke, is commedia dell’arte, a theatrical form which stretches back to Italy in the 16thcentury and definitely is more slapstick than sophisticated.

In fact, if pratfalls and pies-in-the-face are not your thing —and they certainly are not mine —   you still should give the WW production a look.

The effect of shared laughter — and this production generates an incredible amount of this — does wonders to brighten the evening (or afternoon).

Under the inventive Robinson/Dicke aegis, the 11-member cast (plus two highly entertaining ensemble dancers) begins at a trot, soon heads into a canter and winds up at a steady gallop.

Gareth (Noah Ruebeck) attempts to revive Alfie (Chase Heinemann) as Francis (Logan Foster) worries that someone may come along in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS.

If the equestrienne similes don’t seem to fit, they are all I could think of to describe the accelerating madness that expands so rapidly there is no time to catch your breath.

The “plot” (and after this I will stop trying to unroll the action) swirls around Francis Henshall (Logan Foster), a young man in search of a job (he is an unemployed skittle player — look it up, I did) who suddenly finds himself doubly employeask) a gangster-type, while Boss No.2 is Stanley Stubbers (Grayson Samuels), a self-important upper class jerk.

For whatever reason, Francis finds it necessary to keep his two bosses unaware of each other, a difficult assignment as Roscoe is really Rachel Crabbe, masquerading as her dead twin brother for reasons which eventually unfold (sort of).  She is in love with Stanley who, unfortunately, is the one who killed Roscoe for reasons whichalso  eventually unfold (also sort of).

Alfie (IChase Heinemann) attempts to open a bottle of wine in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS.

Meanwhile, Roscoe is engaged to Pauline Clench (Laura Plyler), at the insistence of her father Charlie “The Duck” Clench (Michael Yocum). She, however, is in love with Alan Dangle (Ian Laudino), an out-of-work amateur actor who employs theatrical declamatory statements whenever possible.

Those are the basics which, of course, become increasingly entangled as Francis struggles to maintain two bosses (separately) and control his constant craving for food and for Charlie’s bookkeeper, Dolly (Leanne Antonio).

That everything turns out well by the final blackout goes without saying and, if you really can’t decipher exactly why or how, don’t worry.

Getting there is all the fun.

Francis is, of course, the  primary character and Foster delivers each action/reaction with perfect timing, especially when holding convoluted conversations with himself! He shifts gears swiftly, depending upon which “guvnor” is in charge at the moment, and somehow manages to keep his balance, for most of the time, at  least.

Timing, most especially in farce, is just about everything and, when a company of players has this difficult art down to a T, it is a pleasure to watch.

Rachel Crabbe (Juliette Redden) proves to her boyfriend fStanley Stubbers (Grayson Samuels) that she is not her late twin brother in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS

Everyone here lives up to the break-neck pace designed by the directors but special mention must be made of Chase Heinemann. He is Alfie, an octogenarian waiter with a balance problem. In a role that requires no talking, he has mastered the art of the geriatric shuffle and inevitable pratfall in a way that makes the audience wince but (hopefully) leaves him unbruised and has everyone with him every step (or fall) of the way.

There is no mistaking the location — “various locales around Brighton, England” —thanks to scenic designer Jacki Andersen’s giant Union Jack painted over the entire stage.

The era — 1963 — is mentioned frequently in the dialogue but, in case there is any doubt, the “ensemble” —  Cameron Sirian and Ashlyn Maddox — filled each scene change with dance moves definitely of the ‘60s.

Note of caution to those with seats near the stage: Just be prepared — and keep on laughing!@

“ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS” plays through Aug. 5 in the theater on 25 17 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.



Barn Farce Puts Focus On Sex

The Barn Theatre opened “Run For Your Wife,” the 15thof British playwright Ray Cooney’s 24 farces, Tuesday evening.

The near-capacity audience never stopped laughing.

John Smith (Jonnie Carpathios) tries to talk his way out of a tricky situation but wife Mary (Melissa Cotton Hunter) isn’t convinced in The Barn Theatre production of RUN FOR YOUR WIFE.

Under the direction of Hans Friedrichs, the seven-member cast (plus one on/off mini-role) works incredibly hard, both to keep the increasingly iangled mess of a plot straight and to remember who they are, where and when.

Not an easy assignment, especially when the intrigue reaches peak level.

I say this because, as an observer, I found myself wondering just what was happening and to whom as the increasingly frantic protagonists scurried, scampered and sometimes slid across the floor in order to keep the truth from coming out.

But when it finally does (sort of) who can remember what it was anyway?

Let me first say that in lieu of The Barn’s former farceurs excellent, the 2018 cast does a solid job. There is no need for extreme characterization in any Cooney farce. Rather the emphasis is on double entendre and flat-out sex jokes, all of which the opening night audience seem to grasp and completely enjoy.

John Smith (Jonnie Carpathios) talks to Detective Sergeant Porterhouse (John Jay Espino) while John’s other wife Barbara (Samantha Rickard) listens in The Barn Theatre production of RUN FOR YOUR WIFE.

The tale of London cab driver John Smith (Jonnie Carpathios) who juggles a very tight schedule in order to facilitate his two wives: Mary Smith (Melissa Cotton Hunter) in Wimbledon and Barbara Smith (Samantha Rickard) in Streatham, both of whom seem quite contented, as long as he  is on time, to live in ignorance. (Note: It never says how long it take to get from one address to the other but obviously not too long.)

Stanley Gardner (Patrick Hunter, right) tries to help his friend John Smith (Jonnie Carpathios) out of his growing deception in The Barn Theatre production of RUN FOR YOUR WIFE.

When a mugging incident sends John to the hospital and throws his matrimonial timetable off the track, his perfect situation becomes a perfect nightmare!

Each of the wives feels worried enough to call the  police. Enter Detective Sergeant Thoroughton (Justin Mathews) from Streatham and Detective Sergeant Porterhouse (John Jay Espino) from Wimbledon, who eventually do more than compare notes.

In the “absolutely no help at all” department is John’s BFF Stanley Garden (Patrick Hunter), a large (and largely out of work) blundering buddy who describes himself as “one of the government’s vital statistics” and only succeeds in making the situations worse every time he opens his mouth.

The same goes for a new neighbor now living above Barbara’s apartment. Bobby Franklin (Steven Lee Burright) is a middle-aged gentlemen with a penchant for painting and decorating whose encounter with a can of red paint creates a minor disaster.

Since this is a Cooney farce, it goes without saying that eventually many wind up in their underwear, without, of course, any good reason.

Actually, “good reason” is not a description for any Cooney farce.. The protagonists build lie upon lie and deception upon deception in an effort to disguise the initial wrong-doing, in this case, of course, bigamy.

The major plus for this production, in addition to the colorfully quirky two-in-one set design by Samantha Snow, is the fast-paced action — physical and verbal — and the well-timed reactions to all things misinterpreted by the “unbreakable” cast.

Stories become more and more tangled as (from left) Detective Sergeant Thoroughton (Justin Mathews)), Stanley Gardner (Patrick Hunter), John Smith (Jonnie Carpathios) and Mary
Smith (Melissa Cotton Hunter) try to unravel the deception in The Barn Theatre production of RUN FOR YOUR WIFE.

Reacting — and holding that reaction — while the audience is delivering extended laughter is definitely one of the most challenging efforts in any farce. Especially in one by Cooney where all the innuendo is based on allusions to sex, of one kind or another.

Staying in absurd character and holding the proper reaction is one of the major demands of any farce.

The Barn cast handles it exactly.

In this day and age, a Cooney farce must be considered the relic of an older time. Something that is very funny in its own time period, but rather jarringly out of time today.

“RUN FOR YOUR WIFE” plays through July 29 in the playhouse on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.






Sexes Battle In SBCT Musical

South Bend Civic Theatre opened the second musical of its 2018 season, “My Fair Lady,” Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium.

Ladies and gentlemen gather for the Ascot opening day races in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of MY FAIR LADY (Photos by Elizabeth Loring SBCT_

The now-classic musical, with music by Frederick Loewe and book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, has its roots, literally, in antiquity, based on the Greek myth of the anti-female sculptor Pygmalion who falls in love with his own creation, the statue of a woman he names Galatea.

The plot came to Lerner and Loewe via George Bernard Shaw, whose 1913 play “Pygmalion” led to several films, specifically a 1938 British movie that, almost verbatim, provides the lyrics and dialogue for the 1956 Broadway production and the 1964 film.

In the more than 60 years since that first NYC production, “My Fair Lady”  has played around the world and returned to Broadway four times, including the present.

Professor Henry Higgins (Ted Manier) and Eliza Doolittle (Natalie MacRae-Waggoner) prepare to attend the Embassy Ball in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of MY FAIR LADY.

In addition to the award-winning score, the primary attraction of any production lies in the relationship between the main characters: Professor Henry Higgins and cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle. There must be a connection, at first adversarial then changing as their interaction changes, or the three-hour (including intermission) is nothing more than a long exchange of dialogue.

Happily, the SBCT production, under the direction of David Case, has two performers who fit their characters snugly, making their verbal fireworks a pleasure.

As Henry Higgins, Ted Manier is the perfect picture of an upper-class gentleman of the Edwardian era, well-educated and self-absorbed, focusing on his own area of expertise which happens to be phonetics. He has little regard for the feelings of anyone else until he finally realizes that his own can be affected by another. Those used to hearing a talk/sung delivery of Higgins’ many declarative numbers will be pleasantly surprised that each indeed has a melody!

Friends celebrate the upcoming marriage of Alfred P. Doolittle in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of MY FAIR LADY.

The dreadful speech of Eliza Doolittle is what interests him at first. In the hands of Natalie MacRae-Waggoner, she emerges as a woman “to be reckoned with”. Her Higgins-induced metamorphoses is gradual and believable and a pleasure to watch and hear. Her clear, warm soprano is at home from wistful ballad (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly<”) to triumphant declaration (“Without You”).

The comedic melodies are the assignment of Eliza’s dustman father, Alfred P. Doolittle, played here by Roy Bronkema, with some high-stepping assistance from pub mates Harry (Steve Chung) and Jamie (John Van Paris) and their fellow celebrants at the local tavern.

Justin Green’s solid baritone delivers one of the show’s best known ballads, “On The Street Where You Live,” and succeeds in making Freddy Eynsford-Hill a sympathetic character not just a love-struck dolt.

In the no-small-roles department, SBCT veteran Mary Ann Moran deftly defines the sympathetic society matron who puts up with her son, Henry Higgins, and Dawn Hagerty portrays Mrs. Pearce, his equally long-suffering and equally kindly housekeeper.

Eliza Doolittle (Natalie MacRae-Waggoner) is surprised to meet her dad Alfred P. Doolittle (Roy Bronkema) on his way to his wedding in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of MY FAIR LADY.

Denise Kuehner directs the orchestra, which is off stage. It does well but is not helped by the sound system which tends to be rather tinny,

Set designer Jeff Barack has created an awesome Covent Garden colonnade which completely covers the back of the stage. It is instantly imposing but, of necessity, remains there throughout as do the tavern entrance at stage right and the door to Higgins’ home, stage left. Interiors are suggested with tables, chairs, etc. and one set piece which rolls on and off frequently.

One of the most famous scenes in this musical is the Ascot race, for which original costumer Cecil Beaton designed elegant gowns and hats, all different and all in black and white. Every production attempts to recreate this. It is a difficult assignment and one which, more often than not, falls short.

That is understandable but not the complete lack of period in the rest of the costuming, especially in the Embassy Ball in which the gowns seem rather to be ladies’ choice.

MY FAIR LADY plays through July 29 in the Warner Auditorium. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.

ECT Tells Lovely Musical Tale

Long ago and far away — which is another way to begin a fairy tale — there was a young girl named Belle who, to save her father, ventured into the woods and into the life of an enchanted Beast.

Her story, which began centuries ago in a classic French fairy tale, has survived time and translation into one of the most popular theatrical musicals of all time.

Belle (Sarah Holaway, right center) faces The Beast (Nicholas Hidde-Halsey, on chair) as the rest of his enchanted household looks on. From left are Cogsworth (Kevin Smith), Mrs. Potts (Amber Pauls), Babette (Rachael Hall) and Lumiere (Cameron Ponce) in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. (Photo by David Dufour)

Elkhart Civic Theatre’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast” opened a too-short (one weekend) run Friday evening in the Goshen College Umble Center.

Under the direction of ECT’s multi-talented artistic/technical director John Shoup, the change of venue from ECT’s home at the Bristol Opera House added size to this production both in cast and scenic requirements.

The result is, actually, more than expected.

The cast of more than 50 is headed by Sarah Holaway as the spunky village girl who is determined to live life her own way, and Nicholas Hidde-Halsey as the tragic Beast who eventually changes her mind.

Maurice (Stephen M. Salisbury) is attacked by wolves in the woods in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. (Photos by Mel Moore)

Holaway creates a totally delightful Belle, with a clear and warm soprano that makes her solos especially lovely. Her interactions with her slightly eccentric father Maurice (Stephen M. Salisbury) , her egocentric suitor Gaston (Christian Elias) and the roaring Beast all go to form a female well ahead of her time.

Hidde-Halsey wears his beast-face well, going from really bad-tempered animal to shyly  sympathetic gentleman without losing his head. He performs the transition vocally and there is no doubt of his reformation.

Around them swirl a bevy of fantastic characters — some enchanted and some almost too human. In the former category are Cameron Ponce as Lumiere, a maître ‘d/candelabra  losing his light; Kevin Smith as Cogsworth, a head butler/grandfather clock afraid of running down; Rachel Hall as Babette, a French maid/feather duster upset at her increasing feathers; and Amber Pauls as Mrs. Potts, housekeeper/teapot concerned with everyone’s happiness especially her young son Chip (Lincoln Bontrager) who has become a part of her tea cart.

The Beast (Nicholas Hidde-Halsey) is angry when Belle (Sarah Holaway) refuses to dine with him in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

On the other side, Elias is a Gaston you recognize immediately, even when he announces “I use antlers in all of my decorating!” His bragging description of “Me,” is an audience favorite.  At his side (or on the floor) is Zach Rivers,  his faithful sidekick (literally) LeFou who racks up more pratfalls in the name of “friendship” than one of the stooges.  Both delight in planning evil, as evidenced by their plot with asylum head man Monsieur D’Arque (a menacing Scott Fowler).

Lumiere (Cameron Ponce, center) andMfrs. Potts (Amber Pauls) attempt to teach The Beast (Nicholas Hidde-Halsey) manners in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,

All of the “baddies” obviously have a great time as would-be spoilers of the eventual happy ending.

The score by Alan Mencken, book by Linda Wolverton and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice all are given their proper due by principals, instrumentalists and chorus alike.

Fans of the movie (animated or real-life) may be a bit apprehensive when it’s time for the big blockbuster “Be Our Guest.”

No worries!

Shoup, orchestra director Brian Mast and choreographers Jackiejo Brewers and Matthew Manley have seen to that, with, of course, sharp and enthusiastic participation from the entire ensemble, musicians and unseen (but oh-so-necessary) production people.

I dare you not to cheer!

The not-so-hidden message here, as in all Disney stories, is the struggle to be yourself no matter what and to stand up for whom you love and what you believe.

Who said this was only a fairy tale?

“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” plays 7:30 tonight and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Goshen College Umble Center. For tickets, visitwwww.w.elhartcivicthegor the Umble Center box office.





WW ‘All Shook Up’ Season’s Best

Question: Mix William Shakespeare, The Bard of Avon,  and Elvis Presley The King of Rockn Roll,  and what do you get?

The correct answer is: The 2005 juke box musical “All Shook Up.”

My answer is: The best production (so far) of the Wagon Wheel Theatre’s 2018 summer season.

Chad (Logan Foster) rides into town and Natalie (Cassidy Hamilton is instantly in love in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of ALL SHOOK UP, (Photos by Scott Michaels)

“All Shook Up” opened Wednesday evening at the Warsaw theater-in-the-round and, from the opening notes of  “Jailhouse Rock,” set toes tapping and spread smiles throughout the enthusiastic audience.

It’s almost impossible to sit still when the talented cast dives into the familiar melodies around which (as in any good juke box musical) book writer Joe Dipietro has woven the story of a leather-jacketed “Roustabout” on a motorcycle who stops in a small mid-western town for repairs and ends up “repairing” the hearts and minds of the sadly repressed citizenry.

“All Shook Up” benefits greatly from the always-amazing choreography, with most every number an explosion of color and wild-but-sharply-executed ensemble dances — which is a trademark of director/choreographer Scott Michaels.

In the talented 2018 company, singers and dancers who earn well-deserved applause (and more than a few cheers) are not only the principal players but also those who make up the ensemble.

The plotline (“inspired by” Shakespeare’s comedic “12thNight”) circles around eight love-struck (“One Night With You”) individuals, all of whom are determined to be with their totally wrong romantic choices. How the songs of the late great Elvis help them all — sometimes at length, sometimes instantly, but always eventually — is what makes “All Shook Up”  two and a half hours (including intermission and announcements) of  solid fun — even if you were never a fan of The King.

In this production, every note is the right one!

Mayor Matilda Hyde (Jennifer Dow) leads her crusade for clean living in. the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of ALL SHOOK UP.

Logan Foster is spot-on as Chad, the leather-jacketed, guitar-playing cyclist who jolts the residents (“Heartbreak Hotel”) out of their respective depressions and urges them (“C’Mon Everybody”) to “Follow That Dream.” His portrayal solidly recalls the hip-swiveling idol with the marshmallow voice without being an over-exaggerated imitation.

The object of his affection (“One Night With You”  — the song each would-be lover sings at first sight of his/her wrong romantic choice ) is Miss Sandra (Juliette Redden ), who owns the local museum  and immediately rejects his advances.

She is instantly smitten with Ed (mechanic Natalie Haller in a greased-up disguise). Natalie  (Cassidy Hamilton) has fallen for Chad and doesn’t realize that her good friend Dennis (Nick Case in a scene stealing performance!) has a crush on her.

Meanwhile, back at Sylvia’s Honky Tonk, Natalie’s widowed dad Jim (Michael Yocum) also falls instantly for Miss Sandra, not seeing that Sylvia (De’Jah Jervai) wants to be more than just his friend.

Residents cut loose in the wake of Chad’s arrival in town in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of ALL SHOOK UP.

Then there are Sylvia’s daughter Loraine (Leanne Antonio) who has connected with Dean Hyde (Ian Laudano), son of Mayor Matilda Hyde (Jennifer Dow giving new meaning to controlling frump),  who is followed silently by soap box-carrying Sheriff Earl (Andy Robinson), a man of few-or-no words until —— but no more spoilers.

Watching the mis-matched couples become matched is fun in itself, but hearing them re-attach to the wonderfully familiar music of Elvis is the banana on this peanut butter sandwich.

There is not a less-than-excellent voice among the principals and watching/hearing the ensemble will take your breath away even as you wonder where they get theirs.

The pacing is solid, with never a moment dragging and, of course, the impressive 10-piece orchestra, under the direction of conductor/keyboardist Thomas N. Sterling, is an integral part of the smooth production.

The visual impact of this “All Shook Up” is exacerbated by the colorful splashes of the memory-enhancing. costumes by Stephen N. Hollenbeck and the scenic design by David Lepor. It is definitely elaborate for Wagon Wheel, but certainly sets the many locations in town and, for act two, in an abandoned fair grounds.

All have the proper atmosphere, all are beautifully lit by  lighting designer Anthony Forchelli.

So, in the words of both “All Shook Up” poets:Put on your “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Let Yourself Go” because “It’s Now or Never” and you don’t want to wind up being “fortune’s fool!”

“ALL SHOOK UP” plays through Jujy 21 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre at 2517 E. Center St., in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www..wagonwheelcenter.org