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

 

Bonnie, Clyde Unlikely Heroes

Everybody loves a hero but frequently that designation  is given to those who least deserve it.

Bonnie Parker (Melissa Cotton Hynter) and Clyde Barrow (Jonnie Carpathios) make a getaway in The Barn Theatre production of BONNIE AND CLYDE.

Such is the case with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, two Texans who captured the country’s imagination during the “Public Enemy Era” — 1931-35 — for their string of robberies and murders.

Their lives were fictionalized in the now-classic 1967 movie and, more recently, in the 2011 musical, both named for the leading characters.

The theatrical version, “Bonnie & Clyde,” opened Tuesday evening in The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI., under the direction of Brendan Ragotzy. It’s two-week run will be about half the length of its tenure on Broadway.

From the reaction of the opening night audience, however, “Bonnie & Clyde” is much more popular with audiences out of NYC.

By all indications, it should be at least a popular vehicle if not a medium blockbuster.  Music is by Frank Wildhorn whose credits include “Jekyll & Hyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War.” His melodic score is the best thing about this ode to gangsters.

Bonnie (Melissa Cotton Hunter) anad Clyde (Jonnie Carpathios) share hopes and dreams in The Barn Theatre production of BONNIE AND CLYDE.

The Barn cast, headed by Melissa Cotton Hunter as Bonnie  and Jonnie Carpathiosas as Clyde with Derek Gulley as his brother, BuckBonnie, Clyde, and Samantha Rickard as Buck’s wife, Blanche, is vocally strong.

Each has a solo spot in which to define his/her character and each makes the most of it. Bonnie and Clyde even have pre-teen personas, sung by Molly Hill and Braedon Davis, respectively. Early on these two establish the driving motives for their adult characters: she wants to be in the movies and he is determined to prove that he can do anything with a gun.

Sadly, neither gets to fulfill these childhood dreams.

Amid the come-and-go of scenic designer Samantha Snow’s busily moving “walls,” appropriately resembling the clapboard which was a primary building material during the Great Depression, the boundaries of their lives is mixed with several moveable prison “cells.” These encircled the lives of those who struggled to eke out a living when there was barely a living to be had.

Buck Barrow (Derek Gulley) and is wife Blanche (Samantha Rickard) are unsure about the direction of their lives in The Barn Theatre production of BONNIE AND CLYDE

There is no doubt that the lives of Bonnie and Clyde (she got first billing because “nothing rhymes with Clyde”) have all the ingredients for a fascinating story,

The problem here is not with Wildhorn’s score, although it contains nothing like the showstoppers in ”J&H” (“This Is the Moment”) or “Pimpernel” (“Into the Fire”), but with the choppy book by Ivan Menchelle which jumps from place to place and time to time making it difficult to form any kind of timeline or connection with the characters.

Carpathios swaggers in the best Jimmy Cagney “Public Enemy”-style and Ms. Hunter as the would-be “writer-singer-actress” is most appropriately needy. Their coupling is instant, as is their realization that this relationship can only come to a tragic end (“Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad”).

According to this scenario, both have close ties to their mothers, while Blanche Barrow is the only one who advocated turning themselves in (“You’re Goin’ Back to Jail”), especially Buck. He is torn between his brother and his wife and, like all the characters here, makes the wrong choice.

Preacher (Patrick Hunter) leads his congregation in a rousing gospel hymn in The Barn Theatre production of BONNIE AND CLYDE.

One of the best voices in the show belongs to Miguel Ragel Wilson as Texas Deputy Ted Hinton, who loves Bonnie and advises her against the jailbird Clyde. A tall baritone who, height-wise, would be at home on the basketball court, he drew extended and well-deserved applause for “You Can Do Better Than Him.”

There is little chorus work in  “Bonnie and Clyde,” with most coming from the church/gospel scenes with Preacher (Patrick Hunter) leading the ensemble in “God’s Arms Are Always Open.”

For those who know nothing about the story of Bonnie and Clyde, the opening may be a bit bewildering, but, as they say, what goes around comes around and

it certainly does for Bonnie and  Clyde.

BONNIE AND CLYDE plays through July 15 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call ((269) 731-4121.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘My Fair Lady’ Still Perfect Musical

It has been called “The Perfect Musical.”

Judging from the reactions of the near-capacity crowd during its Wednesday night opening at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre, that description is definitely accurate.

Eliza (Allsun O’Malley) dreams of a cozy room in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of MY FAIR LADY. (Photos by Scott Michaels)

In case there is any doubt, that “perfect musical” is “My Fair Lady,” a work with roots in ancient Greece through the 20thcentury when productions of George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” were successful on the stage and the screen.

Add the music of Frederick Loewe and the lyrics and book (with only a few changes from Shaw) of Alan Jay Lerner and you have the multi-Tony Award winning 1956 musical that is currently having its fourth revival on Broadway.

Difficult to determine just what makes a show — straight or musical — seem fresh and, even more important, relevant after 60+ years. Whatever that intangible something is, the story of the flower seller and the professor has got it — in spades! Especially when it has a production that overcomes the three-hour running time (including intermission), which is pretty standard for all MFL productions.

Henry Higgins (Ben Dicke) shares grim views of her life with Eliza Doolittle (Allsun O’Malley) I the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of MY FAIR LADY.

Under the direction of Wagon Wheel alumnus Tony Humrichouser, this “Fair Lady” does just that.

Having seen “MFL” more times than I can count, from original Broadway (yes, I am that old) to high schools and community theaters to Equity and non-Equity tours, I approach any production with, I am afraid, a rather jaundiced eye (i.e. It takes a lot to keep me interested).

No danger here!

Although my first thought, from the onrush of brass in the overture, was that there might be trouble ahead, it only took a few measures for the 10-piece orchestra under the direction of guest conductor Andrew Callahan to set the tempos right.

It quickly began to be “Lovely!”

The vocal center of the show is Eliza Doolittle, the cockney flower seller whose dream of going up in the world is exacerbated by phonetics expert Henry Higgins’ declaration that he could “make a duchess out of this draggle-tail guttersnipe,” primarily by changing the way she speaks.

Eliza (Allsun O’Malley, left) celebrates her phonetic success with Henry Higgins (Ben Dicke, left center) and Col. Pickering (Andy Robinson) in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of MY FAIR LADY.

In the person of petite Allsun O’Malley, Eliza emerges as a feisty, independent, strong-minded and, under the dirt and rags, a very attractive young woman. he has a fluid soprano voice that easily meets the demands of Eliza’s changing life — from wistful hopes to frustrated anger to possible reality to emerging-but-assured independence.  O’Malley handles all with enviable ease and obvious emotional intelligence.

As Higgins,  the unwitting catalyst to her eventual emancipation, Ben Dicke moved arrogantly from indifference to interest to confidence to defiance to near-capitulation in the battle of the sexes. This while crisply spitting out the lyrics of the best “songs” ever written for non-singers, all of which obviously struck responsive chords with the enthusiastic audience.

In Eliza’s father, cockney dustman Alfred P. Doolittle, Grayson Samuels adds another to his 2018 list of memorable characters. Struggling to retain his status in the lower class, he eventually succumbs, however unwillingly, to being raised to middle class respectability via a bequest from an American millionaire. His rousing numbers with his cockney chums are highlights choreographed, as are all the dances, by guest artist Joe Nicastro.

Alfred P. Doolittle (Grayson Samuels) kicks up his heels on the way to the church in the Wagon heel Theatre production of MY FAIR LADY.

Another WW alum, Andy Robinson, is Colonel Pickering, a linguist who strikes up an instant friendship with Higgins and offers to pay expenses for his experiment with Eliza. His Col. Pickering is a Col. Blimp with a heart of gold,

In the “no small parts” category are Jennifer K Shepherd as Higgins’ socially prominent mother, Nick Case as lovesick Freddy Eynsford-Hill and De’jah Jrvai as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper. Case delivers a solid rendition of one of the show’s best-known ballads, “On the Street Where You Live.”

The work of costume designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck plays an integral part in this production, with focus especially on the famed black-and-white palette of the “Ascot Gavotte” scene, featuring outrageously top heavy chapeaux balanced beautifully by the ladies of the ensemble. Mrs. Higgins hat, for example, sports waving rushes that might have grown up around Lake Michigan.

As always, there is attention to detail in costumes and props, If I may nit-pick, I would say that Pickering needs a top hat and cape (or coat) for the opening scene which is outside on a rainy evening.

And for fans of the 1964 film (and most  revivals) know that the act one finale, which was the elaborate Embassy Ball, has been cut from most productions not only for cost but also for time.

I have to say, you will never miss it!

MY FAIR LADY plays through July 7 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw.  For performance times and reservations, call (574)  267-8041.

 

 

‘My Fair Lady’

‘Hairspray’ Beat Is Unstoppable

“You Can’t Stop The Beat”!

This pulse-pounding song ends The Barn Theatre production of “Hairspray” which opened Tuesday evening in the Augusta, MI playhouse.

Tracy Turnblad (Rachel Grindle) realizes her dream to dance on TV in The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

Like many other numbers in the Tony Award-winning score, it is definitely one that remains in your mind long after the curtain closes on the saga of Tracy Turnblad, her (almost) sky-high “do”and her winning impact on the young people of the city of Baltimore.

The roots of this “Hairspray” go back three decades to 1988 and the original black-and-white film by director John  Waters. It came to Broadway in 2002 with book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and ScottWittman and earned eight Tony Awards, including best musical. It ran for six years before launching national and international tours and became one of the most popular choices of professional and amateur theaters in the world.

TV host Corny Collins (Jonnie Carpathios) shares the mike with Tracy Turnblad (Rachel Grindle) as Amber Von Tussle (Rachel Mahar, left) looks on in The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

The bottom line is that a good production of “Hairspray” means a really good time, no matter how often you have seen it, and The Barn production is most definitely a good one.

The main character is Tracy Turnblad, a slightly overweight teen with an unsinkably positive outlook and a beehive hairdo (remember those?). As played by Rachel Grindle, she has an absolutely infectious personality and a voice that, when necessary, can raise the roof. The last is shared by several of the principal players, most notably Shinnerrie Jackson as record shop owner Motormouth Maybelle and Kasady Kwiatkowska as Tracy’s  BFF Penny Pingleton. In addition to giving a scene-stealing comedic performance, Kwiatkoska also choreographed the many high-energy dance routines.

The surprise of this production, however, comes in the person of the actor who plays Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s equally overweight mom. In a wig and overly-sufficient padding, Robert Newman (yes, THAT Robert  Newman) obviously is having a great time in plus-size drag, complete with pumps and purse and appropriate avoirdupois! His second act duet “You’re  Timeless To Me,” with Charlie King as hubby Wilbur, is a real show-stopper.

Motormojth Maybelle (Shinnerrie. Jackson) delivers a message of hope to teens in her record shop in The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

Ditto Jackson’s incredibly relevant “I Know Where I’ve Been,” a tribute to self-awareness and self-confidence that has the power to bring the audience to its feet.

Just for fun, however, it’s difficult to beat Penelope Alex as Tracy’s TV nemesis, Velma Von Tussle, deliver the  self-congratulatory tale of her rise to fame as “Miss Baltimore Crabs” or the enthusiasm of Jonnie Carpathios as Corny Collins, host of the TV teen dance show (based on a real 1960s Baltimore show) or the sinuous moves of Maybelle’s son,  Seaweed J. Stubbs (Este’Fan Kizer), who would be at home on the basketball court.

Tracy’s determination to desegregate the Corny Collins Show, which currently features Negro Day dancing once a month, lands her in jail where she and Link Larkin (Ian Lah) discover their love.

His determination to win a recording contract, however, derails their relationship but only until the really rousing finale.

Okay. You know it has to come but it still gets cheers when the final can of hairspray opens!

Under the direction of Hans Friedrichs, this “Hairspray” is the perfect way to spend two hours!

Velma Von Tussle (Penelope Alex) describes her win as Miss Baltimore Crabs to Fender. (Derek Gully) in. The Barn Theatre production of HAIRSPRAY.

The era-appropriate costumes of designer Taylor Burke made me glad that crinolines are no longer the undergarment of choice, The bright colors, especially on the sequined Dynamite Trio, the dancing teens  and everyone in the finale, were  in keeping with the positive message of the show.

Samantha Snow’s flexible scenic design features triangular pillars that rotate to fit the location, plus one moving platform for the Turnblad home.

The energy of the entire cast plus the toe-tapping score and the much-needed (especially today) reminder of the necessity for social change make “Hairspray” even more relevant.

The one jarring note (literally) is the way-too-loud band under the direction of Matt Shabala. The decibel level of the drums and the keyboard frequently eliminated the vocals and often made all lyrics unintelligible. It is a matter of balance which hopefully can be remedied,

HAIRSPRAY plays through July 1 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatreschool.or

 

Disco Beat Turns Back The Clock

In 1997, Paramount Pictures released a musical — or a movie with music — that changed the life of its star and left a vivid image in the memories of the disco generation.

Tony Manerp (Trevor McChristian) and Stephanie Mangano (Alana Pollard) strut their stuff in the disco dance contest in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. (Photos by Scott Michaels)_

The movie was “Saturday Night Fever,” the star was John Travolta and the image was Travolta in a white suit striking a defiant dance pose.

The success of the film made its follow up by a live theatrical version almost a certainty and it didn’t take long before “Saturday Night Fever: The Musical” hit the stages of the world.

That was two decades ago (in London), followed in 2000 by a Broadway production and national and international tours that continue today.. The latest incarnation opened Wednesday evening at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw.

For SNF fans, it’s all there — the pounding disco beat and haunting themes of the Bee Gees cinematic score (along with a number of songs written by several other composers just for the stage); the insistent beat of the disco dances; the whirling of the requisite mirror ball and the sadly unfocused lives of the young people, specifically in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

Tony Manero (Trevor McChristian) and his “crew” rage against their “Dog-Eat-Dog” life the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

At the center is Tony Manero’s drive to get out and find a better life across the bridge in Manhattan. In a dead end job, he finds expression, and some relie in dancing weekends at the 2001 Odyssey discoteque and, yes, that white suit dances again, here on the person of Trevor McChristian as Tony.

Along with the rest of the principals — Alana Pollard as Stephanie Mangano, Tony’s dance contest partner; Laura Plyler as Annette, his former partner who loves him; Ashlyn Maddox as Pauline, his sister; Cameron Sirian as Bobby, his friend and Pauline’s lover;

The local disco is filled with whirling dancers in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

Michael Pacholski as Monty, Odyssey DJ; De’jah Jervai as Candy, disco singer, and the rest of Tony’s “gang,” Joe (Logan Foster), Gus ( Nick Case) and Double J (Ian Laudano) — they supply the powerful voices that provide words for the familiar songs and, for many in the enthusiastic audience, the energetic dance moves of that psychedelic decade.

It is definitely turn back the clock time!

One of the highlights of any “SNF” has got to be the now-classic melodies of the Bee Gees. Even those who are not familiar with the film or musical know “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “More Than A Woman” or “Jive Talkin’” among others. All are given full vocal, dance and instrumental treatment.

They are not the Brothers Gibb but the 11 musicians,  under the direction of guest conductor/keyboardist Andrew Callahan, give solid definition to the entire score. There is no mistaking that disco beat!

The costumes by Stephen R. Hollenbeck are as reminiscent of the smoke-filled ‘70s as the music, with plenty of shine and vivid colors forming a solid backdrop for that eventual white suit.

Tony Manero (Trevor McChristian, in white) leads the dancers in the last dance of the evening in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

Michael Higgins’ spare but inclusive set design allows the urban locations to flow easily from bridge to disco,

and there is a generous center area allowing plenty of room for the talented dance ensemble to kick up its heels (literally) in the pulse-pounding dances choreographed by director Scott Michaels.

As in many Wagon Wheel shows, the dances are the very high points of this production with the ballads beautifully sung but, of necessity, slowing the action. SNF is set to a ‘70ys beat which is just right for the hip-swinging stride of the Strut.

Betcha can’t leave the theater without it!

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER plays through June 23 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheelcenter.org

 

‘Noises Off’ Theatrical Mayhem

The Barn Theatre opened its production of “Noises Off” Tuesday even and, sad to say, it will be played for one week only.

Sad because, in spite of my real aversion to the usually senseless machinations of farce — and “Noises Off” has more than its fair share — there is something about this super-tangled tale of a less-than-A-list theatrical company that put it at the top of my “see-it-whenever-you-ca“ list!

Actors Jonnie Czarpathios a d Melissa Cotton Hunter play actors Garry Lejeune and Brooke Ashton in The Barn Theatre production of NOISES OFF.

If The Barn production is a little rough in spots, the escalating laughter covers almost everything.

AND the fact that the brave band of nine performers (plus, of course, production people) assembled this production in a week is astounding if not mind-boggling.

As required in all farces, there is a goodly number of frequently-slammed doors (and a bay window). Added obstacle here is that the doors are divided, upstairs and downstairs, with two flights of stairs, either being the access to the upper level.

Not only must the players remember which doors to enter/exit but the number of times most have to run up and down is enough to qualify them for any steeplechase.

The action centers around the bumblingly inept professional touring company of a sex farce titled “Nothing On.” It is midnight before opening and the director Lloyd Dallas (guest star Robert Newman) is having little or no success in holding his cast together.

Penelope Alex as Dotty Otley playing Mrs. Clackett joins the free-for-all in The Barn Theatre production of NOISES OFF.

Leading lady (and primary investor) is Dotty Oatley (Barn veteran Penelope Alex), playing Mrs. Clackett, housekeeper for Phillip and Flavia Brent  (played by Patrick Hunter and Andrea Arvanigian as Frederick Fellowes and Belinda Blair playing the Brents), a couple currently hiding out from the tax authorities.

Into their supposedly vacant house come rental agent Roger Trampleman (played by Jonnie Carpathios as Garry Lejune) and his girlfriend Vicki (Melissa Cotton Hunter as Brooke Adams) hoping to have a little alone time . They are followed closely by the Brents making an undercover visit. The final player is a rather ancient (and alcoholic) burglar (Seledon  Mowbray as played by John Jay Espino).

Standing by are Poppy Norton-Taylor, assistant stage manager and understudy for all female parts (Samantha Rickard) and stage manager Tim Allgood (Christian Edwards),  whose assignments include fixing the set, understudying all the male roles and running errands for the director.

”Noises Off” written by British playwright Michael Frayn, is in three acts which, decades ago, was the norm. Here, however, it is necessary as acts one — the final rehearsal — and three — the final performance in the tour — are from the audience view and act two is backstage at a matinee performance about one month in the tour.

Robert Newman as directorLloyd Dallas sends stage manager Tim Allgood (Christian Edwards) on an errand in The Barn Theatre production of NOISES OFF

And that is all I have to say  — plot and character-wise — but must add that certain props are integral to the comedy, especially plates of sardines that appear and disappear with regularity, as do Brooke’s contact lenses (and her clothes).

Alex’s Clackett moves through the increasing pandemonium, sardines in hand (or not), like a battleship in a storm and the Hunters both earn special applause, she for playing almost the entire show in very scanty (but more than a bikini) underwear and he, for literally jumping up the many stairs with his trousers around his ankles!

As the entanglements increase, upstairs and down, inside and out, the action — and the dialogue — become faster and sharper and it is to the credit of the company, and director Brendan Ragotzy, that the pace hardly ever wavers.

Emotions run high backstage as (from left) Brooke and Frederick (Melissa Cotton Hunter and Patrick Hunter) try to fend off Garry (Jonnie Carpathios) in the The Barn Theatre production of NOISES OFF.

The two-story, reversible set designed by John Dobson comes out in tact, withstanding more punishment than required of most. It is because of this turn-around requirement that many smaller theaters are unable to produce this show.

Possibly “Noises Off” is special to this reviewer as, having been backstage for many many productions, I can say it is, of course, greatly over-exaggerated for the sake of humor — or is it?

NOISES OFF plays through Sunday in the playhouse on  M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (26u)731-4121 or visit www.barntheatreschool.org

 

‘Skylight’ Shines on Relationship

“Skylight” by British playwright David Hare, is proof that everything old is. . .well, you know.

As presented by South Bend Civic Theatre, “Skylight” opened Friday evening in the Barbara K. Warner Studio Theatre and offered the audience a good play with solid performances and a lot to think about.

Kyra (KatieJung-Zimmerman) offers a cup of tea to Edward Sergeant (Sion Shipley) in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of SKYLIGHT.

The setting is a small coldwater flat in East London circa 1995. In Cliff Shoults’ monochromatic set design, all the appliances actually work including the stove, sink and refrigerator! Quite unusual, especially in a studio production, but definitely effective and a test to the actress who must cook dinner and boil water for tea all according to the timing in the script. Even the kettle whistles on cue or, at least, it did opening night!

In the cast of three, under the direction of Mark Abram-Copenhaver, are Sion Shepley as Edward Sergeant who begins the action with a brief but unexpected visit to Kyra Hollis (Katie Jung-Zimmerman) to ask for help with his father Tom Sergeant (Cecil Eastman).

Kyra was employed by Tom, a successful restauranteur, and lived with the family. She and Tom had a six-year affair. When his wife Alice learned of it, Kyra left the job and the family.

Kyra (Katie Jung-Zimmerman) faces her former lover Tom Sergeant (Cecil Eastman) in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of SKYLIGHT.

That was three years ago. Since then, Alice has died of cancer and Tom has withdrawn even further from his son and turned to alcohol. Edward has come to ask Kyra, whom he regarded as a big sister, why she left and to come back.

His visit is followed by that of his father, whose immediate reactions to Kyra’s cold and dingy flat and to  her current employment are expressed in a sharply condescending attitude . She defends her job, teaching underprivileged  children, and, in turn, mocks his privileged lifestyle with which he does nothing for anyone else.

Kyra, who came from a well-to-do family, and Tom, who worked his way up from extreme poverty to wealth and power, definitely are not a match made in heaven. — or anywhere else, for that matter.

She fixes him a spaghetti dinner and, as the evening wears on, they are unable to resist the attraction that kept them together for six years.

That’s all in Act One.

In spite of the characters differences, they are meant to share a definite attraction which becomes obvious by the sudden and fairly explosive physical rapprochement which ends the act..

Tom (Cecil Eastman) and Kyra (Katie Jung-Zimmerman) try to figure out their future in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of SKYLIGHT.

Act Two, when the flush of passion subsides, asks whether or not a pair, so diametrically opposed, can compromise enough for a lasting relationship despite the obvious age difference and equally obvious choice of lifestyles.

Jung-Zimmerman keeps a tight rein on Kyra’s emotions although she is the one who has little difficulty talking about her feelings. She goes about the kitchen easily stirring the sauce and boiling the pasta and defending her food choices against Tom’s sneering comments. Kyra is content to wait and listen and give little away in the conversational skirmishes. It is, however, fairly obvious that she has made her own decisions and will not be easily changed. It is a layered performance and certainly relevant in the age of #MeToo.

Eastman (who bears a striking resemblance to Bill Nighy who played Tom in the 2015 Broadway revival) has full run of the set and makes good use of it, striding from the kitchen to the living area, slashing the air as he defends his patronizingly self-centered behavior, sure that once the bedroom has been conquered, the rest of the living arrangements will be changed to his satisfaction.

Situations, however, have a way of working themselves out.

Kyra (Katie Jung-Zimmerman) and Tom (Cecil Eastman) begin a confrontation in her small apartment in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of SKYLIGHT.

Half of the fun of “Skylight” — if, indeed, it is “fun” to watch the struggles that make up any relationship — is seeing just how these will be resolved — or not.

The puzzler, which is surely not the solution, is the re-entry of Edward bearing gifts (of a sort), Is this closure for Kyra or a new beginning or just the resurgence of an old friendship?

Mr. Hare, it seems, is leaving it up to the audience to decide..

SKYLIGHT plays through Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org

 

 

‘ Civil War’ Hauntingly Relevant

The relevance of revisiting this country’s most deadly inner-struggle in the light of today’s political polarization  became increasingly apparent as The Barn Theatre’s season-opening production, “The Civil War,”  unfolded Tuesday evening on the stage of the Augusta, MI playhouse.

Under the direction of Barn producer Brendan Ragotzy, “The Civil War” is not your ordinary musical.

Soldiers of the North (left from center) and the Confederacy (right from center) pause during The Barn Theatre production of THE CIVIL WAR.

It does have a score, by Frank Wildhorn (‘Jekyll and Hyde,” ”The Scarlet Pimpernel”) with book and lyrics by Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy, but the physical action definitely is kept to a minimum.

The music is a combination of the rhythms of the late 1800s — gospel, country and folk — and some of the “dialogue” comes straight from the icons of the period — Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth — but the strength of its passion comes from the thoughts and feelings of the typical foot soldiers, the women they left behind and the slaves they were fighting over, either to free or to keep in bondage.

Slaves Bessie (Shinnerrie Jackson) and Clayton (Rendell Debose) dream of freedom in The Barn Theatre production of THE CIVIL WAE.

As the story of the horrific confrontations begins and continues to escalate, it is presented primarily as a staged concert, with sharply spare action on a “playing field” as divided as the North and South.

There is minimal dialogue but lots and lots of music and, happily, a goodly number of excellent voices!

The many of the vocal solo strengths belong to the “slaves,” a sextet of individuals who blended beautifully when it was required and delivered impassioned solos, especially Shinnerrie Jackson, Rendell Debose and Ryan Carter Johnson. Michael Fisher was effective as Frederick Douglass.

The Union troops are led by guest artist Robert Newman who sets the scene for the coming conflict in “Brother. My Brother.” The Rebel officer who longs for “Virginia” is Patrick Hunter, with guest artist Fee Waybill as a grizzled Confederate officer attached to “This Old Gray Coat.”

A score of young faces on both sides of the battle lines are especially

Infantry soldiers (from left, Miguel Ragel Wilson, Christian Edwards, Clay Miller and Derek Cuildey) in The Barn Theatre production of THE CIVIL WAR.

effective in underscoring the massive number of casualties (more than 660,000 by the war’s end), the stolid poignancy with which they cloaked their yearnings for home and family and their struggle to accept the inevitable.

Barn favorite Charlie King put his guitar/banjo expertise to good use as a Union soldier whose defiant picking is aimed at keeping flagging spirits as high as possible.

On the home front, the effect of the carnage on those who stood and waited for the outcome and crushing aftermath is in the hands and voices of four women — all designated as Sarah — who stood strong both in victory and crushing defeat.

Most of the characters are identified, even in solos,  only as Slaves or Union or Confederate Soldiers, so it is difficult to give individual credit. Luckily, although some are vocally stronger and more secure, all are equal to their assigned roles and their “sides,” easily identified by blue or gray uniforms.

The playing space is divided into platform levels. One side is hung with Confederate flags and the other, with more familiar Union banners. The center playing area is divided between stars and stripes.

Space is obviously limited and actually not necessary, especially when the two armies march out at the same time, almost touching before turning away. The physical proximity adds another layer to the story.

In the manner of Ken Burns’ PBS epic on this war, the background is frequently filled with photos of Civil War battles and casualties, emphasizing the utter despair of the conflict.

Under the direction of pianist/conductor John Jay Espino, the six member orchestra hits just the right notes to underscore the fluctuating emotions as the war continues.

The end does not come with high kicks and happy bows but “The Civil War” is the perfect theatrical vehicle to remind us of what was and what cannot be again.

“THE CIVIL WAR” plays through Sunday in the playhouse on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit WWW.barntheatreschool.org