Music Of Queen Rocks At The Barn

In this age of frequent revivals, the term “juke box musical” has become too familiar.

It describes an “original” show whose “score” is cobbled together with existing songs and a “plot” that serves only to provide them with a flimsy framework.

That said, these musicals have large followings among those who find them a melodic passport to their younger days.

Among the most specific of these is “We Will Rock You,” a kind of “1984” meets “Heartbreak Hotel.” With music and lyrics by Queen and a story and script by Ben Elton, it opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI.

I say “specific” because, unlike “Motown “ or “Rock of Ages” which feature music by diverse composers, the music here is attributed solely to the 1970- 80s rock band — and the plot to a variety of sci-fi and fantasy films.

We Will Rock You The Barn Theatre Augusta, MIIf none of these genres strikes your fancy, the way to enjoy “We Will Rock You”(and take it from a limited-Queen fan, you CAN enjoy it) is just to sit back and let the music (what else?) rock you!

The enthusiastic Barn company obviously enjoys its assignment, with primary kudos going to the most wildly wacky characters — Brit (Chase Gray) and Oz (Dani Apple), the two chief Bohemians (underground rockers waiting for the Dreamer), and the Killer Queen (Penelope Alex), ruler of iPlanet and its controlling Globalsoft Corp., and her chief henchman Khashoggi (Eric Parker).

Conformity is the law of the day with musical instruments forbidden and rock music, unknown.

Two rebellious teens— Galileo (Quinn Moran) and Scaramouche (Samantha Rickarad) — break out of the robotic Gaga Kids pack. They eventually join with the Bohemians and their chief, Buddy (a very solid Hans Friedrichs), who guards the relic Vie-day-O (aka Video) which he believes holds the key to returning rock.

We  Will Rock You The Barn Theatre Augusta MIAll Bohemians take their names from those on the tattered posters in their hideout, the Hard Rock Café. Brit is short for Britany Spears, Oz for Ozzie Osborne and on and on and on….

Once the Bohemians shake their brain freeze and find their way to “the place of the living rock,” guitar riffs win the day, Khashoggi sinks into the wherever, dark glasses glowing green, the Queen is vanquished and rock rules!

Along the way, thanks to solid vocals and instrumentals, even those not familiar with lesser-known Queen works will enjoy the kitschy goings-on.

Easily recognizable are “Killer Queen,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (I was surprised by that one, too), “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Lest we forget — one major hit that was not in the “score” gets an all-inclusive production after the curtain call: What else? “ Bohemian Rhapsody!”

The stage set is minimal, a couple of platforms, lighting towers, a giant projection screen and proscenium ladders; costuming (for Bohemians) is raggy and (for Gaga Kids), uniform (literally). The most stand-out ensemble is the one worn off and on by the Killer Queen, turned on or off!

Directed by Brendan Ragotzy, with musical direction by Matt Shabala, the 2 ½ hour tribute to Queen can be enjoyed by anyone, even with no teen-age connection whatsoever to the British group.

Interesting to know that, although the show played for 10 years in its initial theater in London and has toured the world several times, it never made it to Broadway.

So in case it never does, this is your chance to go back (or ahead) to revisit the fantasy world of Queen!

It will rock you!

WE WILL ROCK YOU” plays through July 23 in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.

Dickens' Whodunnit Lets Audience Help

Solving “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is the primary objective of the multiple Tony Award-winning musical which opened Wednesday evening in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Based on an unfinished novel by the Victorian era’s best known and most prolific writer, Charles Dickens, it offers audiences the opportunity to participate in the final outcome of the mystery: Is Edwin Drood dead or is he not? Is it a murder or is it not? And if it is, who is the murderer?

Under the aegis of guest director Tony Humrichouser, the arena stage is the Music Hall Royale, complete with gaslit playing areas and a willing company of talented performers who venture into the audience before the show begins to recreate the comraderie of a 19th century playhouse, complete with instructions on how to react whenever the title is pronounced.

The biggest “gimmick” of this mystery is its dangling denoument.

Dickens, who died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 58, left no instructions as to which of his colorful characters would be named the killer so, about halfway through the second act, The Chairman (Mike Yocum) stops the action and asks the audience to vote for its preferred villain.

As you might suspect, this can be different with each performance and puts the pressure on the primary characters as to what is to follow when he or she is named, specifically performing an individual ”Murderer’s Confession.”

Not that being named by the crowd means any special perks, but each of the characters obviously has a great deal of fun recruiting his/her fans.

The character of The Chairman is not strictly Dickens but was created by author/composer/lyricist Rupert Holmes as a player and narrator of the frequently convoluted plotline. He also introduces each of the actors to the audience by their real/professional names as well as the names of their characters. It is a daunting assignment which Yocum carries off with appropriate panache.

The Myster of Edwin Drood Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INFirst up is John Jasper (Riley McFarland), the local choirmaster and Edwin’s uncle who also lusts after Miss Rosa Bud (Kelly Britt), his music pupil and Edwin’s fiancé. There is no doubt that Jasper is a most wonderfully hissable villain (McFarland obviously loves it and I kept waiting for the twirling mustache). His problem is described hilariously in his solo “A Man Could Go Quite Mad.”.

Edwin, as was the custom in that era, is played by a “Lead Boy,” always a female, here in the person of the very excellent Elaine Cotter. Britt, as the much sought-after Rosa Bud, is beautifully fluttery and delivers a soaring soprano (“Moonfall”). She is the obvious heroine while Princess Puffer (Leanne Antonio) represents the dark side (“The Wages of Sin”) as mistress of the local opium den. Like the others, she is not quite what she seems.

The Mystery of  Edwin Drood  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INFilling the suspect list are The Rev. Crisparkle (Andy Robinson), his frustrated assistant Bazzard (Evan Kinnane), the Landless twins Helena (Sarah Ariel Brown) and Neville (Britton Hollingsworth) recently immigrated from “Ceylon,” Durdles the gravedigger (Michael Bradley) and his son Durdles the Second (Blake R. Bojewski).

All have secrets and motives (some stronger than others) for doing the dirty deed but which one is the real killer? It totally depends on what the audience wants, which is half the fun of “Edwin Drood.”

The other half is watching the company unravel the serpentine thread of Dickens-via-Holmes. It is no easy task which may be one of the reasons this show is only infrequently produced.

They meet the challenge well, although frequently understanding the lyrics is a problem

In addition to the period set by designer David Lepor, the richly colorful costumes by Stephen R. Hollenbeck and the corkscrew curls of the wigs by Jennifer Dow — all of which are major assets in visually turning back the clock — the award-winning score is solidly interpreted by guest musical conductor Alyssa Kay Thompson and her nine-member orchestra.

On opening night a misfire from the fog machine enveloped the entire stage in a too-realistic London brown-out during which Princess Puffer continued her solo — completely fogged in (or out) — without missing a beat.

The dark side of “Edwin Drood” was, however, quite literally too dark. The atmospheric lighting design, aimed at recreating London’s murky nighttime, unfortunately left soloists faceless. Undoubtedly, more light has been shed on that problem.

“THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD” plays through July 8 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheelcenter.org

Music Of Buddy Holly Fills The Barn

Charles Hardin Holley of Lubbock, Texas, dropped the last “e” and became everybody’s “Buddy” during his too-brief life in the emerging world of rock ‘n roll.

His story, as told in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” opened Tuesday evening on the stage of The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI. It was the first of what has now become a familiar theatrical genre known as the “jukebox musical.”

If some of the characters may be composites and the chronology sometimes a bit difficult to follow, there is nothing lacking in the music which, on Tuesday, was obviously more than familiar to the enthusiastic audience.

The show is directed by rock ‘n roll aficionado Brendan Ragotzy

The title role is played by guest artist Andy Christopher who, coincidentally, was working as an EMT in Lubbock, Texas when he auditioned for the part. That was 2010 and he has been Buddy Holly ever since.

Tall and lanky with dark curly hair and the requisite horn-rimmed glasses (needed or not), Christopher obviously is comfortable with his theatrical persona, a character into which he definitely warmed up as the action progressed.

It is to his credit that he avoided any semblance of caricature, a trap into which some of his fellow “rockers” unfortunately stumbled.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story  The Barn Theatre  Augusta. MIThe focus here, as it should be, is on Holly. His focus, after opening for Elvis Presley three times, shifted from gospel and country to rock. Determined to do “My music, my way,” he moved from Nashville to a producer in Clovis, N.M. and, seemingly without missing a beat, turned out “That’ll Be The Day.”

The rest, as they say too often, is history.

This show, written by Alan James, of necessity gives short shrift to all the details in Holly’s life, concentrating instead on the music and the one love of his life, Maria Elena Santiago (a very compassionate Andrea Arvanigian), whom he met and married in less than a day.

Even though everyone on stage and off obviously knows the tragic ending to the story, the only sense of foreboding is felt by his wife who reportedly dreams about a ball of fire in the sky.

That ball became a reality in February 1959, just two years after Holly’s break into rock ‘n roll stardom, when a private plane crashed killing the pilot, Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. Here the mention of it is bookended by “Rave On!” “Johnny B. Goode” and “Oh Boy,” which allow no time for tears. (all I could think of was Don McLean and “American Pie”)

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIObviously the most important ingredients in any jukebox musical are the singers and THE BAND. Here the four piece band, under the direction of Barn music director Matt Shabala , fits the bill without dropping a note (although at times it as so loud they could have dropped several and I couldn’t have told the difference.).

Christopher provides his own guitar riffs and also sings well and offers several rock steps without breaking a leg!

A vocal standout is Emily Agy as “Marlena,” a mix of the many singer/mc’s at the Apollo Theatre. She rocks the hall with “Shout!” proving that tall talent can live in short bodies.

The joke about Buddy’s meal-obsessed mom wears thin after a while and other relationships — Buddy’s early manager Norman Petty and wife Vi (Eric Parker and Penelioe Alex) and Lubbock dj Hipsockets Duncan (Hans Friedrichs) — come and go fairly quickly, but the music goes on and on and on and, after all, that’s what the people came to hear/see.

Scenic designer Samantha Snow deserves applause for the music-themed set with features sound booths stage left and right and a revolving sheet music panel which allows quick changes of locale (except for the crew member pulling the rope to make it change0.

The downside to this production is the in-and-out sound which is blasting during musical numbers and, at too many times, disappears during dialogue, leaving us to ponder what is being said.

Never mind.

Buddy Holly is center stage surrounded by the Crickets (Quinn Moran and Alex Crossland) and friends and Clear Lake is eclipsed by a wonderful wave of music.

BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY plays through July 9 in The Barn Theatre on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121.

Everybody Gets Footloose At Wagon Wheel

The dancing feet of the talented 2017 Wagon Wheel Theatre company are again in the spotlight in its current production of “Footloose,” which opened Wednesday evening in the Warsaw theater center.

The driving rhythms of the title tune open and close the high-energy musical, based on the 1984 film which brought everyone more than six degrees closer to star Kevin Bacon.

From first to last, the mix of pop and country styles offers something for everyone, underscoring the tale of rebellious youth and allowing all the happy endings expected for most musicals. If there are few surprises, the fun really is in getting there.

The score by Tom Snow and lyricist Dean Pitchford (plus a number of others) includes a number of tunes that became chart-topping hits, especially the title song by Pitchford and Kenny Loggins.

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INFamiliar or not, there is no way to sit still — or keep your toes from tapping — as the eventually-rebellious teens of Bomont, Utah persuade their elders that singing and dancing do not equate with sinful.

Leading the charge is the traditional “outsider,” Ren McCormack (Matthew Copley). Recently relocated with his mother Ethel (Jennifer Dow) from a major city to the small town home of her brother, where dancing is against the law, he finds it difficult to stay within that law

Ren becomes friends with Willard Hewitt (Blake Bowejski) who reveals the origin of the no-dancing law.

Of course, Ren is immediately attracted to Ariel Moore (McKenzie Kurtz), daughter of the minister, Shaw Moore (Brett Frazier), who proposed the law after the death of his son. His bitter grief has resulted in shutting out his wife, Vi (Kira Lace Hawkins), and his daughter. She rebels via a relationship with the town bad boy Chuck Cranston (Britton Hollingsworth) and hurls her frustrations to the winds under a nearby railroad trestle.

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INLed by Ren, the town’s teens gradually gather the courage to face their parents — and the town council — to demand a prom.

No surprise. Eventually, everybody winds up dancing!

Getting there in the WW production is more than a lot of fun. Solid voices and incredibly flexible bodies throw themselves energetically into director/choreographer Scott Michaels’ dances, leaving the opening night audience literally cheering their efforts.

The plotline is painfully obvious but, in “Footloose,” it really doesn’t matter. The good people (Vi Moore, Ethcl McCormack) are very good and even better when they decide to stand up for their children. One of the loveliest moments in the show dials down the decibel level considerably and allows Hawkins, Dow and Kurtz to reflect on the difficulties of “Learning To Be Silent.”

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INAs Ren, Copley never seems to run out of steam, forging ahead to win not only the girl but her stony father and, with him, the entire town. Frazier delivers a deeply wounded parent who has shut down completely and, finally, struggles to listen (“Heaven Help Me.’”) Hawkins adds warmth as the wife and mother torn between husband and daughter.

As Willard, Bowejski’s aw shucks persona offers his friend some homespun advice in “Mama Says” and slowly and hilariously comes out of his shell.

Rusty (Leanne Antonio) has her eye on Willard and, with her girls (Bailee Enderbrock, Sarah Ariel Brown and Kurtz), leads the show-stopping “Let’s Hear It For the Boys.”

The WW orchestra is a six piece band here, delivering excellent support under the direction of guest conductor/keyboardist Alyssa Kay Thompson.

Mike Higgins’ ingeniously rustic set design translates rapidly from church to home to soda shop and more. Applause (silent) to cast and crew members who deliver the non-stop, quiet and difficult scene changes in the dark. It’s all part of the WW professionalism.

Stephen Hollenbeck’s costume designs are appropriately country, with plenty of required wiggle-room!”

“FOOTLOOSE” plays through June 24 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre in the WW Center for the Arts, 2517 E. Center St in Warsaw. For performance dates and times call (574) 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheelcentef.org.

Dark Disney Opens The Barn Season

When the name of Walt Disney is a part of a musical production’s title, one can understandably assume that this will be a family affair, audience-wise.

That assumption would be questionable when referring to the Disney musical which opened the 71st season of summer stock at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI Tuesday evening.

It is “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” based on the 1831 novel by French author Victor Hugo and the 1996 film from American animator Walt Disney.

There have been literally countless films, silent and otherwise, plus TV and radio productions and theatrical creations of the story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and his love for Emeralda, the gypsy dancing girl.

Being in the public domain, the Hugo novel has been twisted and turned without having to stick strictly to its cast and plot. The same is true of the musical, with music by Disney regular Alan Mencken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Peter Farnell.

Hunchback of Notre Dame The Barn Theatre Augusta MIDo not look here for the young lovers to go off together into the Parisian sunset or the much-maligned bell ringer to find a happy melody.

This “Hunchback” is the consistently darkest of any Disney-named production. All Disney films have at least one deadly dark moment: The wicked queen in “Snow White,” the death of Bambi’s mother, the cruel stepmother in “Cinderella” and a multitude of villains in “Pinocchio,” to name just a few.

Most villains, however, receive their just rewards while the downtrodden hero/heroine rides off with his/her companion of choice.

Do not look for that to happen here. Just note that there is no joy in Mudville for this much-told tale which is unfortunate as, given every aspect of the production, it is one of the best complete packages on The Barn stage in several seasons.

A very solid cast is headed by one of the company’s favorite recurring guest star, Robert Newman, in the definitely dark role of Dom Claude Frollo, a churchman who cannot resist the charms of Esmeralda (Samantha Rickard) and literally abandons everything sacred in his attempt to possess her, including framing her for a criminal offense.

Esmeralda’s kind gestures have earned her the silent love of Quasimodo (Jonnie Carpathios) and the not-so-silent cavalier affection of Captain Phoebus de Martin (Jamey Grisham), an officer in the cathedral guard.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame The Barn Theatre August MIAdd to this Frollo’s declared hatred for the gypsies, led by Clopin Trouillefou (Eric Parker). He swears to eliminate them all after the Feast of Fools, the one day they are allowed in the city. (That did kind of sound familiar.)

Adding to the downward path is Frollo’s care for Quasimodo who, in this scenario, is his unwanted nephew. Checking back it became apparent that these characters are mixed and matched and dispatched or not depending upon which scenario you read or see or hear.

Never mind. Enough to say that any humor from the Disney film has been eliminated. The Three Stooges-like gargoyles are now as somber as the saints’ statues, all of which talk with Quasimodo.

The score is sung-through, with only a few dialogue segments, allowing all the principals to display excellent voices. Newman especially is a happy surprise. He has a majority of heavy solo assignments and delivers them with just the right touch of tortured soul-searching to almost make his character sympathetic — almost!

The trio of unhappy lovers also do justice to Menken’s music but at least one up-beat tune would have been appreciated.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIParker, the gargoyles, statues and people of Paris are not only characters but deliver the narrative, sometimes in solo and sometimes in ensemble form. For the most part, with the exception of the jumbled finale when I could not figure out what was going on, the story line is clear if not completely familiar

Director Hans Friedrichs does a fine job of steering the many characters through a frequently tortuous plotline.

Conductor Matt Shabala leads an orchestra that is positive and supportive. Scenic designer Samantha Snow delivers a sturdy set that meets major location and physical requirements.

The major plus here is this: If you want to see “Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame” this may be your only opportunity. Just know it is well-done without a traditional happy ending.

”DISNEY’S HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME” plays through June 25 in the theater on M-96 in Augusta, MI For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.

'Outside Mullingar' A Winner For SBCT

Every time we sit down in a theater we hope for the best and expect … well, possibly something a little less.

Rarely do we get the best of everything.

Such a rarity is live and on the stage of South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Studio Theatre where its production of “Outside Mullingar” opened to a full house Friday evening.

The multi-layered romantic comedy by John Patrick Shanley, author of award-winners “Doubt: A Parable” and “Moonstruck,” is set in the midlands of northern Ireland on adjoining farms just outside the nearest town, Mullingar. The lives of the farm residents, the number of which is dwindling rapidly, are the focus of Shanley’s touching scenario.

The action (which is primarily emotional rather than physical) begins with the Muldoons — Aoife (Mary Ann Moran) and daughter Rosemary (Dana Vagg-Batusic) — and the Reillys — Tony (Gary Oesch) and son Anthony (Ted Maniefr) — coming to the Reilly home from the funeral of Aoife’s husband.

The two seniors discuss the shortened amount of earthly time left to each and the future of their respective farms, specifically as it affects a possible relationship between their children. Rosemary has been in love with Tony since the age of 6. He is not one to let his feelings be known.

Outside Mullinger  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreTony’s decision to sell to an American nephew, surprises Aoife, hurts and angers Anthony, especially on hearing his father’s reason, and brings Rosemary to a fierce defense because, as she declares, he (Anthony) is “a bit of a lump” and “won’t push back for himself.”

To sell or not to sell hinges on a small strip of land which holds the right of way to the Reilly farm. At a time when Tony needed money, he sold it to Chris Muldoon. Now, it seems, the Muldoons are not agreeable to selling it back , a deal-breaker for the nephew.

Some years later, problems of the land and the feelings of the two remaining farm owners struggle to resolve themselves. Their final confrontation provides exactly the right answer.

In the hands of a lesser cast and crew, “Outside Mullingar” might be just another Irish fantasy. Not so here.

Director Kevin Dreyer has gathered a cast from the SBCT veteran A-list, each of whom is in exactly the right role. There is not one false note in any characterization. This extends to all the Irish accents.

Outside Mullingar  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreUnder Dreyer’s sure hand, each develops a solidly real personality, in spite of their secrets which often seem more fantasy than reality.

And their relationships could not be more empathetic.

Even when disagreements are decades long and appear to be far from resolution, the underlying friendships are never lost. Actions and reactions eventually mesh and what seemed absurd becomes the link that puts it all together.

The humor is low key but unmistakable, especially when discussions turn to death and dying, with the seniors particularly stating their opinions in a less-than-portentous manner.

“You’ll be dead within a year,” Tony tells Aoife. “Me? I’ll be dead within two months.”

Anthony and Rosemary share their individual bouts with depression, thoughts of suicide and struggles to stop smoking as well as ideas on the layers of the universe and dealings with the outside world.

“People don’t appeal to me that much,” he admits. “That’s normal,” she agrees. “Who likes people? Nobody.”

Is there any doubt that these two will, sooner rather than later, find each other?

The surrounding darkness of the Warner black box theater provides the perfect backing for set designer David Chudzynski’s earthy, bare bones set pieces which move the action easily from farm to field to farm.

“OUTSIDE MULLINGAR” will be played Wednesday through Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For show times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org. Additional performances already have been added.

High-Stepping 'Newsies" WW Season Opener

Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre literally burst into its 63rd summer season Wednesday evening with a super-charged production of Disney’s “Newsies.”

In addition to being the WW opener, it is the regional premier of this award-winning musical.

Based on an 1899 New York City newsboys strike, the cast of necessity is filled to capacity with talented, energetic, high-stepping (and kicking and leaping and flipping) young dancers — plus quite a few still in middle school and one scene-stealer age 9.

In spite of a Tony Award-winning score by Disney favorite Alan Menken and Jack Feldman and a score of powerfully-voiced principals led by Britton Hollingsworth and Elaine Cotter, it is the continuously amazing choreography that is the real star of this production.

“Newsies” is directed and choreographed by WW artistic director/choreographer Scott Michaels, who continues to incite the question “How does he do that?”

Not only “he,” of course, but the gifted young company (and crew) assembled annually which, in spite of changes and season requirements, is always the very best.

“Newsies” is probably one of the most demanding Disney shows, dance-wise. The young “salesmen” (who include several “saleswomen”) never stop.

Newsies  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INIt is the tale of orphan Jack Kelly (Hollingsworth), leader of the group of youngsters who sell the New York World, and the protest he instigated when World publisher Joseph Pulitzer (a wonderful curmudgeonly Mike Yocum) raises the price to his street salesmen from 50 cents to 60 cents per hundred.

Kelly, a young artist with dreams of going to “Santa Fe,” and Crutchie (Blake Bojewski), who looks on his crippled leg as a way to sell more papers, are best friends, both determined to stay out of The Refuge detention center.

They are joined by Davey (Evan Kinnane) and his young brother Les (Oliver Pettit) who are not orphaned nor homeless but have become newsies since a work accident found their father jobless.

Newsies  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INChampioning their cause is Katherine Plumber (Cotter), a struggling female reporter on the New York Sun, who brings their story to her front page. A romance begins between Jack and Katherine but, as in all musicals, the course of young love never runs smoothly.

Before the newsies find a larger-than–life champion (Chris Mahan) for their cause and Jack realizes that New York has more to offer than Santa Fe, a whole lot of singing and dancing takes place on set designer Mike Higgins sturdy urban skeleton.

The production is, as always, solidly supported by conductor/keyboardist Thomas M. Stirling and his nine outstanding instrumentalists.

Newsies  Wagon Wheeel Theatre  Warsaw INThe costume scheme here is primarily drab (street urchins tend to favor brown and gray and industry leaders, black) but designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck gets his glitz on with the girls backing vaudeville singer Medda Larkin (Leanne Antonio) and the less-somber outfits for Katherine.

In addition, all must be super danceable and able to withstand the stress and strain put on them by the athletic requirements of Michaels’ non-stop choreography.

“Newsies,” based on the 1992 Disney musical movie, ran for two years on Broadway. Doubtless it will pop up on stages all over the country after this but the choreography, which will vary from production to production, will never be better — or more joyfully presented — than that which is center stage at the Wagon Wheel Theatre.

“DISNEY’S NEWSIES” will be presented through June 10 at the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2517 E. Centre St., Warsaw, IN. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheelcenter.org

'Moon Over Buffalo' Shines Laugh Light

Two of the funniest theatrical giant egos ever face off — and on — in Ken Ludwig’s “Moon Over Buffalo,” which opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production advances swiftly under the direction of Demaree Dufour-Noneman and assistant director Mike Nichols without missing a step (or a door slam) or dropping a laugh-line!

This is a farce with a capital F!

No surprise as Ludwig plays (the current total is18 plus three musicals) are frequently on the schedules of American and international theaters, amateur to professional and everything in between .

Let me preface this by saying that farce is my very least, favorite style of comedy. There are only a few exceptions and, excluding “Noises Off,” all are the work of Ken Ludwig. Even these teeter on the humor fence if not presented by a talented cast working at top speed on a definitely sturdy set.

No worries here. Settle back and enjoy this evening (two hours including intermission) of frequently non-stop laughter.

Those familiar with Ludwig’s works will easily spot a similarity in plotlines and character types: A frequently warring older couple; young lovers separated (temporarily) by differing goals; possible replacement suitors for each age group, and an outside observer commenting acidly on the situations.

Moon  Over Buffalo Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INPut them all together and, with slight changes in locale and lifestyles, they could be in any Ludwig comedy. Happily, in this incarnation all are in 1953 Buffalo, N.Y. where actors George and Charlotte Hay (Timothy and Stephanie Yoder) and their touring company are currently in repertory playing “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Private Lives.”

Charlotte dreams of being a movie star while George is happy on stage. Nevertheless he is excited when a phone call from director Frank Capra re-ignites hopes of them starring in his latest film, “The Twilight of the Scarlet Pimpernel,” whose original leading man has left via a broken leg.

Charlotte, who has just learned of George’s affair with now-pregnant company member Eileen (Stephanie Isley), is ready to depart with their lawyer Richard Maynard (Keith Sarber), who has loved her for years. She refuses to believe the Capra story and exits, leaving a despondent George to dive into the nearest bottle.

When Charlotte discovers the truth, it is up to her and daughter Rosalind (Amberly Nichols); Rosalind’s current fiancé TV weatherman Howard (Brent Graber), and her former fiancé, stage manager Paul (Brock Butler), to find the missing leading man before Capra arrives for the matinee. The search is not simplified by Charlotte’s very deaf mother, Ethel (Stacey Nickel), company wardrobe lady and definitely not a fan of George’s.

Moon Over Buffalo  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INOnce the elusively intoxicated actor is found, the question of which show is to be done opens another mixed theatrical bag.

To say that breakneck speed is required of this comedy is putting it mildly. Not only must the cast members establish mostly outrageous characters but maintain them and deliver dialogue audibly while heading up and/or down stairs and in/or out of doors. There are numerous doors, all of which are opened and slammed shut on cue, mostly in mid-flight. All are evidence of the solid building by the set construction crew.

Then there is the comedic nightmare of timing. i.e. getting the set up line out and waiting until the laughter peaks before delivering the punch line. It’s an art and one which is, for the most part, handled tightly throughout. Difficult to judge until an audience is present but sharply done, even on opening night.

All are well-cast but special applause must go to Tim Yoder who is hilariously drunk and increasingly funny throughout the second act without losing a line or an expression. Also to Graber, who gives new definition to “nerd” and manages to raise the laugh quotient considerably right up to the unbelievable-but-hilarious final “blow.”

Cannot think of a better way to shake off the increasing blues of the day than by taking a good look at this “Moon Over Buffalo.”

‘MOON OVER BUFFALO’ plays Friday through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in Bristol. For show times and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 or visit elkhartcivictheatre.org

 

 

Musical Triple-Header For Mom

Sunday being that special day when all good offspring do something nice for mom, I offer three choices of solid family fare, each on stage nightly, plus a couple of matinees. though Sunday.

The price of tickets is wide-spread but even the most expensive falls way below the current prince in a larger market.

Beginning at the top, look at the national tour of “Motown: The Musical,” which says it all in the title. Playing in the marvelous Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, “Motown” begs to be the “true” story of Berry Gordy, founder and ruler of the record label that took its name, in a condensed version, from the nickname — Motor City — of Gordy’s home town.

Who cares if the theatrical version is slanted obviously to making Gordy the “good guy” (it’s based on his autobiography, he wrote the script and is a producer). The important thing is that, in two and a half hours, it brings back an era and a musical genre that molded at least one generation.

I dare you to sit still when The Temptations, the Supremes, the Commodores, the Vandellas, the Four Tops, the Marvellettes, the Contours and the Jackson 5 hit the stage. Ditto for Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. All are incredibly close to the sound of the originals.

Even if you cannot name each of the 59-plus songs, some in part and some complete, recalled in the solid vocals, you won’t be able to sit still — and feel free to sing along!

Most of the 28 cast members play several roles, but Gordy (Chester Gregory), Ross (Allison Semmes), Gaye (Jarran Muse) and Robinson (David Kaverman) never miss a beat or a ceiling-shattering note!

Have to admit my favorite was young Michael Jackson (Raymond Davis Jr./CJ Wright). The boys alternate, so I don’t know which one played the burgeoning superstar the night we went (it should be noted!), but from the talent level of the adult cast, both must be outstanding!

For show times and ticket information call (269) 387-2300 or (800) 228-9858.

To borrow from The Supremes: the next show, like “Motown,” ends on Sunday.

It is “Singin’ in the Rain,” offered at the Lerner Theatre by Premier Arts.

Can’t comment on the show as I haven’t seen this production yet but will say that the film, and just about all the stage productions I have seen (and I can’t count how many) have proven to be extremely entertaining and a great way to spend several hours with a totally family-friendly musical.

The ticket price is right, so it’s not too costly to take a chance. Sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

For show times and reservations, call (574) 293-4469 or visit info@premierarts.org.

The final part of the musical trilogy is the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Big River,” based on Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” with music by the late “King of the Road” Roger Miller.

The “Muddy Water” will be flowing through May 21, with Huck, Jim, the Duke, the King and Tom Sawyer dancing and singing in the SBCT Wilson Auditorium.

Another musical aimed at the enjoyment of the whole family. For additional information, check my review, also on this website!

Riding the 'Big River' With Huck And Jim

Among the enduring chronicles of American life are the works of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, and the characters he created, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

The adventures of Tom and Huck have come off the written page in several forms since they appeared in the last part of the 19th century. Among the most recent is “Big River,” the 1985 Broadway musical based on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

The South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Big River,” directed by Leigh Taylor, opened Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium.

The multi-Tony Award-winning show blends William Hauptman’s theatrical adaptation of Twain’s book with a just-right score by the late Roger (“King of the Road”) Miller guaranteed to set a large number of toes tapping!

Big Rivef  South Bend (IBN) Civic TheatreThe sprawling libretto follows Huck (Braden Allison) as he escapes from all efforts to teach him to read and write and from his abusively drunken Pap (Cecil Eastman) and finds himself on a raft in the Mississippi River with Jim (Del’Shawn Taylor), a runaway slave heading to freedom in the North.

The duo bonds during their journey (“Muddy Water,” “River in the Rain”) even though Huck still believes helping the runaway is the wrong thing to do, since he is the property of Huck’s guardian Miss Watson (Kat Quirk). It takes a few eye-opening experiences before the boy realizes that they both are human beings (“Worlds Apart”).

Along the way, the raft is commandeered by two con men — the King (David Case) and the Duke (Nick Hidde-Halsey) — making a hasty getaway from an angry mob. They convince Huck of their “royal” ancestry and include him in their schemes (“The Royal Nonesuch”), first chaining Jim on the raft with plans to sell him.

Hearing of a fortune left to a local family’s distant (and unknown) relative, Duke and King set out to claim the inheritance from the grieving clan.

The story twists and turns with enough kinks to please even master plotter Tom Sawyer (Graham Sparks) who kicks up his heels in my favorite musical non sequitur “Hand For The Hog.” By the time the “Sun Goes Down in The South,” the criminals get their comeuppance, the righteous get their rewards and Huck gets the chance at another adventure.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe two and a half-hours plus running time is filled with enough of Miller’s lovely melodies, high-steppin’ bluegrass airs and sharp-tongued country tunes to make the time pass fairly swiftly.

The dialogue, however, especially when laden with on-again, off-again varying southern accents, is frequently difficult to follow. The “royal” comic relief unfortunately relies on the “louder is funnier” school of humor which too often is just louder.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Huck, Allison carries most of the action and, as narrator, all of the storyline. It is a demanding task, especially for a high school freshman, and he acquits himself admirably. (Note to costumes: Spending all that time on a raft and in the woods, he might at least get a little dirt on his white shirt.)

Taylor has a powerful baritone which he uses to full advantage not only in the duets with Allison but also in his solo “Free At Last.”

Lyrics in the novelty numbers (Miller’s forte) are too often muddled, especially in ”Guv’ment,” Pap’s tirade which sadly seems even more relevant today.

As the nearly-swindled heiress Mary Jane Wilkes, Josie Burck joins Huck and Jim in a sensitive rendition of the show’s loveliest ballad, “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go.”

The appropriately-staffed band — violin, guitar, bass, percussion — led by keyboardist/music director Roy Bronkema provides just the right sound for Miller’s country score.

David Cbudzynski’s flexible set allows the focus to move from interiors to exteriors, with emphasis on THE raft.

The absence of the “n” word is obvious only because its inclusion in the book caused such a library brouhaha several years ago. It has been replaced here with other “appropriate” epithets.

“BIG RIVER” plays through May 21 in the theater at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations call (594) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.