The Who on First/Second/Third with "Tommy"

In 1969, Peter Townshend of the British band The Who wrote a rock opera which was recorded by his group in a double album. It was titled “Tommy.” Six years later, British director Ken Russell took the album to a new format — the movies — rearranged the songs — and the plot — and released it as “The Who’s Tommy.” It took 18 years for that film to become a theatrical production. Re-written again, this time by Townshend and director Des McAnuff, it also shuffled songs and plot and hit Broadway in 1993, eventually earning a total of five Tony Awards and cementing a place for “The Who’s Tommy” in the annals of musical history.

Tommy at the Barn Theatre in Augusta, MIIt is this version that opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich. It may not be strictly an opera, although there is very little dialogue, but it does keep the audience on its toes, if only trying to figure out just exactly what it is trying to say — or sing. Is it an allegory and, if so, does that designation hold true from prologue to finale, or is it just the story of a young boy, struck deaf, dumb and blind by witnessing a murder (and by his parents’ insistence that he didn’t hear or see it and cannot say anything about it) and how he eventually broke out of his catatonic shell, rose to become leader of a cult and finally decided that simple home and family were all he wanted. You really can go a little nuts trying to make “Tommy” fit into any mold. As presented by the talented company at The Barn, it is best just to sit back and recognize much of the score that included several Top 10 singles in the ’70s, especially “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me, Feel Me” and “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” and applaud the excellent vocal talents that recreate the complex characters. From Barn veterans Penelope Alex and Eric Parker as Tommy’s greatly flawed parents, to apprentices Aaron Velthouse as his sadistic Cousin Kevin and guest artist Brooke Evans as the frightening Gypsy (“Acid Queen”), the cast of 30+ gives it their all.  Special applause to Eric Morris as the “Narrator/Tommy” who begins as a figure in the all-important mirror and rides a pinball machine to celebrity status before finally finding freedom. It is a demanding role and Morris delivers a strong performance although sometimes pushing so hard vocally that it becomes harsh and difficult to understand (a requisite when the lyrics tell the story).

Tommy at the Barn Theatre in Augusta, MIMorris is preceded in Tommy’s white suit by two boys, young Jacob Ragotzy and younger Reece Chapman, as Tommy at ages 10 and 4, respectively.  Both do remarkably well, especially Ragotzy, who is abused and literally thrown around by his pedophile Uncle Ernie (Gregg Rehreg) and Cousin Kevin as he struggles to survive puberty, escape his catatonic state and achieve pinball wizardry. The excellent seven piece orchestra, under the direction of John Jay Espino, was a very happy surprise. The rock score was handled with a minimum of blatant blare. Instead, it offered soloists and ensemble the proper support and interpreted the strictly instrumental passages intelligently. The only problem was with the microphones worn by every principal player which tended to muddy their voices in lower ranges. It is a problem that should be under control after one or two more performances. Although I’m still trying to figure out the underlying allegorical meaning of  “The Who’s Tommy,” I’ve decided it’s best just to sit back and listen at face value.

NOTE: There is a very large, very loud explosion in Act II which is not announced prior to the show.  Be prepared.

“The Who’s Tommy” plays  through Aug. 9 with shows at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 6 and 9 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday in the theater on M-96. Tickets are $29, For reservations call (269) 731-4121 daily or visit www.barntheatre.com.

Dated Allen farce not so funny

In 1966, Broadway welcomed “Don’t Drink the Water” a new play by comedian Woody Allen which ran for more than 500 performances and, by all reports, was a popular hit. It later became a film starring Jackie Gleason and was rewritten by Allen in 1994 as a TV movie. The title obviously is the admonition given tourists traveling to foreign countries. After seeing the production which opened this week at The Barn Theatre,  I had to wonder what all the fuss was about. True, comic tastes have changed significantly in the past several decades and not all for the better. But the plot is predictable and definitely dated and the characters, at least as performed here, are so stereotypically one dimensional as to make one wonder if they turned sideways would they disappear.

Don't Drink the Water - Barn TheatreFarce, as anyone who knows me will attest, is my least favorite form of theater. Done well, however, it can be enjoyable.  Possibly I have been spoiled by the past farces on The Barn stage which clipped along so briskly that no one had time to think about the thinness of the plot. The primary key to farce, good or bad (and there are some good ones) is timing. . .timing . . . timing!   Without this, there really is no point in raising the curtain as what follows for the next two hours (which seemed at least twice that long) is deadly dull and without any semblance of requisite light touches.  Here, the thought seems to be that louder is funnier. Wrong!  Especially when there also is the problem of picking up cues. Well-timed pauses and glances can underscore a comic moment . When these are too long and the normal dialogue limps along in spastic spurts, it can (and does) become deadly. Set in an American Embassy in a European country during the cold war, the Russians again are the bad guys, the American tourists (Lisa Ann Morabito, Steven Lee Burright, Olivia Ercolano) seeking refuge are (of course) from Newark, N.J., and are bumbling, obnoxious or dazed, and the embassy is in the charge of a total dolt (Kevin White as the absent ambassador’s looser son). Things go from bad to worse when irate citizens surround the embassy, keeping the tourists prisoners for many weeks. As escape plans involving a Sultan and his wives are made, a revolt seems imminent. Of course, everything is resolved by the final curtain but, by that time, we just wanted it to end. High spots were the performances of Morabito and John Dreher, who was just right as Father Drobney, a priest  who dabbles in magic tricks. Unfortunately,  they weren’t enough.

“Don’t Drink the Water” plays at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 6 and 9 p.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sunday in the theater on M-62 between Augusta and Galesburg, Mich. Tickets are $29. For reservations; (269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatre.co

Brigadoon Comes Alive at Wagon Wheel

The highland mists of Scotland hover over the Wagon Wheel Theatre’s arena stage and what emerges is a lyrical fantasy which proves why some musicals never die. “Brigadoon,” the first collaboration by composer Frederick Loewe and playwright/lyricist Alan J. Lerner, is more than 60 years old and one of the most successful and long-lasting of their cooperative works which include “Gigi,” “Camelot” and “My Fair Lady.” As interpreted by director Tony Humrichouser, choreographer Scott Michaels and the immensely talented WW cast, it shows no signs of age. Indeed, it is happily rejuvenated and offers a marvelous reminder that song and dance, plus proper amounts of comedy, romance and drama, are the ingredients for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theater.

Brigadoon at Wagon Wheel Theatre, Warsaw, IndianaHere, a liberal amount of suspension of disbelief is required as the town of Brigadoon emerges from the mist to the astonished eyes of two New York travelers, and forms the background for an emerging love story that will, by the final blackout, transcend time. Along the way, the audience is treated to some of Lerner and Loewe’s loveliest melodies, happily in the care of outstanding leads, a well-blended chorus and a 10-piece orchestra. From the  mist-filled opening which finds Tommy Albright (John Rapson) and Jeff Douglas (Brandon Springman) lost in the Scottish hills, to the equally mist-filled finale, this “Brigadoon” offers one musical delight after another, most especially because no matter what the tempo, the enjoyment is in the singing. This cast delivers one enjoyment after another. The town, as Tommy and Jeff eventually discover, is the object of a “miracle,” which brings it back to life in the highlands only once every century. To its inhabitants, each awakening is just another day. The only catch: No one from Brigadoon can ever leave or it will disappear forever but — a stranger can stay if he truly loves someone there. OK. So it’s a bit predictable but that never detracts from hearing the amazing Jennie Sophia, as Fiona MacLaren, sing. From “Waiting for My Dearie” to “The Heather on the Hill” to “Almost Like Being in Love” to “From This Day On,” most of which are duets with Rapson’s mellow baritone. Their “Brigadoon”  ballads are lyrical treats. The same is true of the lovely Ashley Travis as the bride-to-be bonnie Jean MacLaren,  a singing/dancing/acting triple threat, and her Brigadoonian fiance  Andrew Laudel as Charlie Dalrymple. His yearning “Come to Me, Bend to Me” is a highlight as are all their dance duets.

Springman is the cynical voice of the outside world and the comic foil for Meg Brockie (Erica Wilpon), a young lady who finds it difficult to wait for “The Love of My Life” and demonstrates her philosophy very energetically. David Glenwright as the Jean’s rejected suitor Harry Beaton offers a fleet-footed sword dance while the Yocum brothers, Mike and Tim, portray patriarchs of the clans MacLaren and Beaton, respectively. Andrew Dixon is articulate and believable as Mr. Lundie, the schoolmaster who shares the secret of the miracle. All accents are acceptable and, for the most part, sustained throughout. Once again the lovely, layered and right-in-period costumes designed and built by Stephen R. Hollenbeck are the beautifully crafted and colorful accents for this lovely fantasy, The only flaw on Wednesday’s opening night was an unfortunate imbalance in sound between orchestra and dialogue, which undoubtedly has been corrected.

“Brigadoon” will be presented through July 25 in the theater at 2519 E. Center Street, Warsaw. For reservations and information, call 267-8041 or (866) 824-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com

Barn Looks at The Full Monty

In 1997, a British movie about six out of work men in Sheffield, England acquainted Americans with the term, “The Full Monty.” Three years later, it became a Broadway musical, shifted location to Buffalo, N.Y., kept the unemployed steelworkers and retained the premise — job loss can lead men to unusual occupations, if only for one night.

The musical “Full Monty” played 700 performances in New York City and still is extremely popular with regional theaters and community groups which have the manpower — and the electrical power — to pull it off (definitely pun intended).

The Barn Theatre is taking another look at “The Full Monty,” which was a hit for the Augusta, Mich., playhouse in its 2005 season. Two of the ’05 cast members — Eric Parker and Iris Lieberman — are repeating their roles in the show which opened a two-week run Tuesday evening. The “new” cast is up to the challenge, including an apprentice called at the last minute to take over a leading role.

the full monty at the barn theatrePatrick Hunter plays Dave Bukatinsky, an overweight worker and best friend of leading player Jerry Lukowski (Parker), filling in for former company member Eric Petersen who was called to Broadway to take over a role in the hit musical “Shrek.” Despite having only five days notice and being rather too young and not really heavy enough for a character obsessessed with his paunch, Hunter delivers a remarkably solid and believable performance, both dramatically and vocally.

Parker, a longtime Barn favorite, is equally compelling as the angry divorced dad who is desperate for money in order to retain a connection with his young son. Seeing the popularity of the Chippendale show touring Buffalo, Jerry comes up with the idea of disrobing for an audience to make some quick cash.

To organize a group, he enlists other laid off mill workers. First an unwilling Dave and a suicidal Malcolm MacGregor (Aaron Fried), then former supervisor Harold Nichols (Gregg Rehrig), as a dance teacher. Auditions to fill remaining slots are hilarious and result in adding  Noah (Horse) T. Simmons (Stanley White) and Ethan Girard (Alex Kip) whose “qualifications” for the job leave the auditioners speechless.

With Jerry’s young son Nathan (an adorable Jacob Ragotzy) organizing the event and old vaudevillian Jeanette Burmeister (Lieberman) at the piano, the Heavy Metal show lurches to its eventual performance. Along the way, however, Jerry is forced to promise potential ticket buyers “the full monty” (everything off) in order to promote sales.

In addition to the riotous finale “Let It Go,” there are two guaranteed showstopping numbers in “The Full Monty,” Jeanette’s “Showbiz Number” and Horse’s “Big Black Man.” Here they do not disappoint, even though choreography for the latter, as for “Michael Jordan’s Ball” and the finale are rather flat and repetitious.

The women — wives, ex-wives, girlfriends and interested spectators — are handled well by Penelope Alex (in her 100th production at The Barn), Brooke Evans, Jenna Petardi, Estelle Schneider, Katie Mack and Stephanie C. Forshee. The declaration of female equality “It’s A Woman’s World,” definitely strikes home.

The pop/rock score and lyrics by David Yazbek set the up tempo tone from the opening chords and the book by Terrence McNally touches on a multitude of topics including unemployment, parenthood, self-awareness, relationships and friendship.

The set, adapted from the original design, seems unwieldy and unnecessarily noisy his time around, with scene changes less than sharply executed. Possibly the pace will escalate as performances continue, cutting down the opening night three-hour running time.

“The Full Monty” plays through July 12. Shows at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 6 and 9 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday at the theater on M-62 in Augusta, Mich. Tickets are $29. For reservations and information: (269) 731-4121.

Here's The High School Musical That Started It All

WARSAW – On Jan. 20, 2006, the Walt Disney organization via the Disney Channel premiered an original movie musical about high school students titled (with obviously minimal creativity) “High School Musical.” I saw it that night. Wednesday evening, I saw it again. This time it was the live theatrical version on stage at theWagon Wheel Theatre. With luck, I shall avoid it for at least another four years. Not that the WW version was not up to that company’s usual standard of excellence. Far from it. I would say the cast which is, with few exceptions, certainly above high school age, did a remarkable job of recreating the teenage characters. Their voices are solid, their dancing is sharp and unflagging and their ability to deliver the frequently awkward dialogue with absolute conviction is to be applauded.  I have no problem with the WW company (although on opening night the technical aspect was unusually iffy).

My problem is with the material, a problem obviously not shared by the very large number of pre-teens, teens, parents and grandparents who cheered the handsome basketball jock and his unlikely love, the newly-transferred math and science geek, yet also had rousing final applause for the drama-crazed siblings whose devious plots were foiled at the 11th hour by jocks and geeks working together. The storyline (and I use that word loosely) is reportedly based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” although the closest connection here to that immortal tragedy seems to be in the title of the East High School musical for which jock Troy Bolton (Jake Thomas Klinkhammer) and geek Gabriella Montez (Mary Joe Duggan) eventually audition —”Juliet and Romeo.” Actually, ‘HSM” (everybody knows its name) is more akin to another nickname — “Grease Lite.” And therein lies its saving grace. Unlike the incredibly popular 1972 Broadway musical (which played for eight years before heading out to countless tours, regional and school productions and eventual Broadway revivals), “HSM” is squeeky clean, dialogue and message-wise. Gabriella and Troy have only to follow the “Start of Something New” to realize “Then There Was You and Me” and conclude “We’re All In This Together” and true (or, at least, high school) love conquers all, with everyone still upright.  The message of “Grease” is diametrically opposed (drink, smoke, have sex, blow off studies and join a gang), leaving the best thing about that earlier show its score.

Unfortunately, the score of “HSM” (which credits 11 different composers) is pretty much forgettable,  even though sung and played very well throughout. This show deserves all its applause because of the excellent cast. Klinkhammer is Efron-with-muscles. Duggan is sweet and sassy without being soppy.  Rachel MacIsaacs’ Sharpay andDavid Glenwright’s brother Ryan are deliciously devious and dance up a storm. Adrianna Parson as math club prez Taylor is perfectly mis-matched with Troy’s second-in-command Zachary McConnell as Chad and Brandon Springman is hilarious as Zeke, a sharp shooter with a hidden talent. Must admit, the”Auditions” number is one I could see again. It looked so familiar! “Senior”roles go to Andy Robinson as Coach Bolton and Jennifer Shepherd as drama teacher Ms. Darbus, whose primary assignment is to keep the sports vs. arts friction going. When you go — and if you have a youngster or are out of the loop because you’ve never seen it, you will go — pay special attention to the young ensemble members who are members of the WW Stars of  Tomorrow ensemble. They really are in high school.

Director/choreographer Scott Michael keeps every ball in the air from minute one (with unavoidable slow-downs for those pesky ballads), and the fast-paced dances will leave you gasping for breath. As noted, Thomas N. Stirling’s  six member orchestra is excellent and Stephen Hollenbeck costumes the Wildcat rooters in appropriately brilliant hues. “High School Musical” plays through July 11 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St., Warsaw. Performances at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. For information and reservations, call 267-8041,

Barn offers another Joseph in Michigan

AUGUSTA, Mich. — This must be the season for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Having renewed acquaintance with the early Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical pastiche last week at a different theater, it was interesting to view another production, this time at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., which chose a more traditional interpretation. The now-obligatory children’s choir (there was none in the original or early productions) is first on, following the Narrator (played and sung the first week by Brooke Evans and next week by Lisa Marie Morabito). They listen attentively to the Prologue, then take their places at each side of the raised frame in which some of the story is played out.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Barn Theatre, Augusta, MIIn addition to the all-important Narrator and the 16 young choristers, the cast includes Joseph (properly ingenuous Kevin White), dad Jacob (heavily bearded Gregg Rehrig), light-in-the-sandals Potiphar (Steven Lee Burright), his licentious spouse (leggy Katrina Chizek),  Pharoah (Eric Petersen in a “final Vegas concert” tight white jumpsuit complete with studded wide belt, cape, high collar, wig and shades),  also the royal Butler and Baker , 13 assorted wives, guards and “hairy Ishmaelites” and, last but certainly never least, Joseph’s 11 less-than-supportive brothers. They are, of course, the villains of the story, assignments which they filled with glee, especially when selling their naive brother into slavery.  But even in Egypt, Joseph overcame his handicaps, even when languishing in jail.  As the lyrics say, “We read the book and you come out on top.” There is no doubt that energetic is the key word to this production. Directed by Eric Parker with choreography by Kevin Field, the only moments in which it slowed to a fast walk were Joseph’s jailhouse lament, “Close Every Door,” the Narrator’s “Pharoah’s Story” and the final  “Any Dream Will Do” which actually isn’t final as the frantic “Magamix” follows.  “Joseph” is a mini-opera, basically about 70 minute in length, with as much schtick as possible inserted wherever it might fit to lengthen the show.  At The Barn, this is partially accomplished by Petersen’s descent into the audience to share the secrets of the Pharoah’s hip action with a couple of chosen members. Luckily, he hit upon two good sports.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Barn Theatre, Augusta, MIThere is a lot of gold in Egypt here, especially in the  glittering costumes by Michael Wilson Morgan, and there are numerous sight gags — seven years of plenty as giant boxes of corn flakes — but the primary plus of this “Joseph” is the voices.    Evans could raise the roof with no effort and her excellent diction is an asset when she must sing the story. White is a most appealing Joseph and the solo brothers — Eric Morris, Patrick Hunter and Alex Kip — handle their assignments solidly. And they all also dance. . .and dance . . .and dance, with a little hand jive thrown in frequently for good measure. The finales of both acts are almost an assault on the senses, with everyone in the choir  and cast on stage and no one standing still and the orchestra going for a mega-decible level. “Go, Go, Go Joseph” lacked only a disco ball for a complete return to the ’60s. It was solidly psychedelic and the enthusiastic audience loved every minute.

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” plays through June 28. Shows at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 6 and 9 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $29. For reservations and information, call (269) 731-4121 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily or visit www.barntheatre.com.

Rodgers Musical is Director's Final Bow

NAPPANEE — It’s been a long time since we headed for Nappanee and a production at the Amish Acres Round Barn Theatre. The reason for this is well-known to those who know me but not appropriate to go into here. Enough to say that, to paraphrase an old and dear friend: We certainly were pleasantly surprised. The production, which runs through July 12 in tandem with the perennial Round Barn offering of “Plain & Fancy,” is Mary Rodgers’ delightful musical take on a familiar fairy tale. “Once Upon A Mattress” uses the story of “The Princess and The Pea” as a base, but here the characters are more wacky than classic.

Once Upon A Mattress - Amish AcresUnder the direction of the talented Jeremy Littlejohn, the show that made a star of Carol Burnett almost 50 years ago, is still as charming and funny as it was then. Not an easy task.  Any vehicle built around a particular personality (think “Funny Girl”) faces the job of finding an acceptable substitute.

Littlejohn cast company member Jackie Wolter as Princess Winifred the Woebegone, a role as daunting as the lady’s would-be suitor Prince Dauntless the Drab (a rubber-legged Ryan Hazelback).  Wolter is rather too attractive to be “woebegone,” but delivers all the expected comic turns — and delivers them with a powerful belt voice. She is definitely not “Shy.” The supporting players do very well with their off-kilter assignments. Crystal Day VanArtsdalen an abrasively funny  Queen Aggravain, a character who more than lives up to her name. With self-pitying dialogue that is almost non-stop and a Machiavellian mindset, she serves up some hilarious moments scheming to discredit yet another possible daughter-in-law. Scott Emerick delivers his “dialogue” without words as King Septimus the Silent, but there is never any doubt about his meaning. Karen Courliss and Jim DeSelm are the requisite young lovers Lady Larken and Sir Harry and both look good and sing easily and well. Daniel Switzer is lyrically articulate as the Minstrel who serves as the narrator of the piece. He sets up the storyline and, with the Jester (a Harlequin-garbed Wesley Atkinson), obviously enjoys two of the show’s comedy numbers. Don Hart is the badly-wigged Wizard, who longingly recalls his days as a vaudeville magician. The remaining five members in the cast of 14 , do double and sometimes triple duty as required by few doing the jobs many, a primary drawback in Round Barn productions. Here, however, Littlejohn has managed to direct the action so that the stage seems almost full when the entire company is on. It doesn’t hurt that all have very strong voices and more than do justice to Mary Rodgers (daughter of Richard and mother of Adam Guettel) music. A major improvement is the replacement of the woefully inadequate “orchestras” of past seasons with recorded tracks. Works well here. Wonder about Gilbert & Sullivan. The minimal (several moveable pillars and some medieval pennants) set with appropriate set pieces works adequately and Littlejohn also is responsible for choreography and lighting design. There’s nothing like having a triple threat which is why it’s the Round Barn’s loss that it will no longer have Littlejohn’s multi-talents. The economy was given as the reason for “down-sizing” this singer/actor/director but there is no doubt that he went out on a high note, theatrically, one which the Nappanee theater will be hard pressed to hit again. (Note: Before heading out for undoubtedly greener theatrical pastures, Jeremy will be on stage in Memorial High School July 31-Aug. 1 in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Footloose.”)

For “Mattress” information and reservations, call 773-3722.

Wagon Wheel Puts New Life in Old Joseph

WARSAW — The best thing about “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is that every production can be different. In the case of the one that opened Wednesday at the Wagon Wheel Theater to a highly enthusiastic audience of 700+, it can be hilariously and wonderfully unique.  The little (15 minutes) pop opera that could has had a long life — and expansion — since its inception in 1968. With several Broadway productions to its credit plus an incredibly popular national tour starring Donny Osmond, it is one show that will never go out of style.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Wagon Wheel Playhouse, Warsaw INBut if you think you’ve seen (or heard) it one time too many, the WW production will make you think again. With an energetic cast that includes  2009 company members as well as a dozen talented pre-teens, this “Joseph” never stops. The trick here is to see if you can spot how many of the marvelously campy inserts director/choreographer Scott Michaels has incorporated into the familiar tale. I’m certainly not going to list them all. That would spoil the fun.  Enough to say that, from the opening sequence when The Narrator (Erica Wilpon) guides her group of students through a natural history museum, the fun begins (think Indiana Jones). . . and it never stops.  There are quick-take salutes to Bollywood, to a popular dance show, to a famous WWII statue, to a modern dance style, to . . . but you should discover the rest yourself.  It goes without saying that the usual WW excellence shines throughout. The orchestra, under the direction of  Thomas N. Sterling, provides outstanding support for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s non-stop music (virtually all of Tim Rice’s “dialogue” is sung). The production values — set, lights and sound —are spot on, with  a special standing ovation for Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s dazzling costumes. Not only did he design them, he and his crew of two built (made) them all, a daunting assignment carried out with maximum effect and with incredible attention to detail.  As usual, Michaels’ choreography is outstanding, making the small arena stage seem to expand to at least twice its size, with this year’s crop of singer/dancers more than up to the demands of his inventions and Webber’s music.  Wilpon, who carries a majority of the vocals, delivers with a strong belt voice that is best in the mid-to-upper range. As Joseph, Brandon Springman is naive and handsome, as required, and has a solid mellow baritone. John Rapson’s Pharoah is properly Elvisian, complete with required lyrical mumbles. Enough cannot be said for Joseph’s 11 brothers and dad who frequently doff their desert robes to portray other characters. and are equally solid in Israel or Egypt. Ditto the four young ladies who sing and dance as wives, camels (read the shirts!), Pharoah fans and more. Special nod to Rachel MacIsaac as the ardent Mrs. Potiphar. The youngsters who form the tour group each take part in one of the scenes and, again, check their shirts. Before the show, members of the WW Youth Theatre program take the stage to offer a preview of the next production, “High School Musical.” If the rest of the season lives up to its opening production, Wagon Wheel is in for a wonderful summer!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through June 20. Tickets are $30 for adults; $16 for students age 13 through college and $12 for age 12 and younger. Call (866) 823-2618 or (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com.

New Laughs from Old Comedians

SOUTH BEND — In the heydays of vaudeville and burlesque, comedy teams were featured on the bills of most every theater in the country.  Most of the duos were men and, according to available information, most of them got along off stage as well as on. There were exceptions, however. One such team forms the basis for Neil Simon’s ninth comedy, “The Sunshine Boys,” which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Auditorium.

The Sunshine Boys at Sough Bend Civic Theatre“The Sunshine Boys” opened on Broadway in 1972, the year in which it is set. It starred Sam Levene and Jack Albertson. The 1975 film had Walter Mathau and George Burns. The 1997 revival starred TV’s “Odd Couple,”  Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. Possibly the most star-studded production was done for TV in 1997. The cast was headed by Woody Allen and Peter Falk  with  Michael McKean, Liev Schreiber, Edie Falco, Sarah Jessica Parker and Whoopi Goldberg. Willie Clark (Jim Coppens) and Al Lewis (Gary Oesch) were partners for 43 years as the Sunshine Boys.  During those years their relationship changed and, in fact, they never spoke during their last year on stage. They have not seen each other in more than a decade. Willie lives alone in an apartment in New York and Al, with his daughter in New Jersey. Willie’s nephew, Ben Silverman (Scot Shepley), visits every Wednesday.  He works for CBS which is planning a special on the history of comedy. It is Ben’s assignment to convince his uncle to reunite with his former partner for their best-known sketch “The Doctor Is In.” It’s a thankless task. Al has said yes. Willie definitely says no. As Ben brings the belligerent duo closer to a shaky agreement, old resentments and hostilities surface, all with hilarious results.  Arranging the furniture for rehearsal comes down to a matter of inches and line delivery is the cause for a fight. Willie says “Enter.” Al says the line is “Come in.”  Willie says Al spits his “t”s. Each has to be right. And so it goes. The journey to the ironic solution gives the audience a look at what was funny back then, much of which in the hands of Coppens and Oesch, is equally funny today. “Words with ‘k’ are funny,” Willie says to Ben, illustrating with “Chicken, pickle, cookie are funny; Cleveland and Maryland are not.” He’s right. Rehearsing their sketch at the TV studio, the obligatory well-endowed nurse (Megan Michele) and the patient (Joshua Andrew Dickson) are obliging straight men but even there the cantankerous Willie causes an uproar. He winds up at home with a cranky nurse (Kathleen Canavan-Martin) who is definitely not obliging. In vaudeville, as in modern day comedy, timing is everything.  Coppens and Oesch have it down to a science. Coppens especially delivers the painful loneliness of a proud man, determined not to go gently.  His surly exterior covers resentment at having to rely on others and at being in a world where there is no longer too much at which to laugh. Oesch does well as the straight man who has secrets of his own and Shepley is appropriately frustrated, angry and sympathetic. The set, designed by director Vincent Bilancio and David Chudzynski, is appropriately run down and carries bittersweet mementoes of past engagements.

“The Sunshine Boys” plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call 234-1112 from noon to 6  p.m. weekdays.

Hats! Salutes the 50+Ladies

BRISTOL — It’s all about being 50 and believing that the best is yet to come. This is the primary message of “Hats!” the musical that opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. The seven women in the Elkhart Civic Theatre cast use talent and determination to get that point across. “50 is the youth of old age,” says one and it’s obvious that feeling/looking good and being older and wiser are the positives attached to entering the fifth decade whose key words are “Fun” and “Friendship.” The very thin storyline that joins the basic monologues together is tied to a 50th birthday party for Mary Anne (Julie Herrli Castello) who dreads turning the “big 5-0” and counts down her remaining “one hour and 12 minutes” at 49 with mounting dread.

Red Hats at Elkhart Civic TheatreEnter members of the Red Hat Society to shatter the image of 50 as old age by sharing their stories and songs, each leading to the final premise that putting on a Red Hat is the key to a new lease on life. No surprise. It takes only an hour and a half (plus intermission) for Mary Anne to abandon her fears and throw her Red Hat in their ring.   If it seems that this particular show would appeal only to females of a certain age (and beyond), that is not entirely true, although it will mean more to Red Hatters than to “outside” observers. Still, the score, which is a conglomeration of tunes by some well-known women including Pam Tillis, Melissa Manchester, Gretchen Cryer, Carol Hall and Kathie Lee Gifford, is character and theme appropriate and holds some lovely ballads as well as catchy up-tempo tunes. Vocally, the septet members do much better individually than as an ensemble. Delivering the songs which go with their character monologues are DeAnna L. (Williams) Carl as Duchess, Jenny DeDario as Princess, Diane Hollis as Contessa, Paula Rast Nichols as Lady, Joan Troyer as Baroness and  Pam Weinland as Dame. Castello offers her own solos and spends much of her time chatting with Rudy Red Hat (a puppet voiced by Hollis) whose observations connect the dots — or should I say hats. Each shares the ways in which approaching middle age seemed frightening and the ways in which they conquered their fears. Nichols and DeDario are particularly affecting in delivering quietly powerful ballads with Hollis and Troyer shaking and kicking geriatric fears away via salsa and country tempos, respectively.  In bright red feathers, Carl belts the blues and Weinland strikes a familiar chord  describing her empty nest.  Not surprisingly, “Hats!”  contains an abundance of  age-directed phrases: “Age is a state of mind  and if you don’t mind, no one will”; “Truth is growing up about getting old”; “Age doesn’t matter unless you’re a cheese” but as baby boomers head to social security,there is no denying that these deserve to be said . . . and heard. The pastel-dominated set, designed by John Jay Shoup and painted by Jeffrey Barrick,  fits each segment perfectly and the three piece “orchestra,” led by keyboardist Miriam Houck with drummer Mel Moore and bass guitarist Ann Noble, is just right. The sometimes dazzling and always appropriate costumes were designed by Dawn Blessing.

Perhaps fittingly, “Hats!” is directed by Michael Cripe.  It continues at the Opera House Friday through Sunday and June 19-20. See ECT link here for times and ticket information.