Theatre
Rocky Tech Mars SB 'Christmas Story' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 07 December 2017 17:35

In 1983, a little movie based on semi-fictional incidents in books by Hoosier author Jean Shepherd was released.

A Christmas Story  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreTitled “A Christmas Story,” it came into the film world without too much notice and remained that way until 1997 when the Turner Broadcasting System opted to fill Christmas Eve/Day with marathon reruns on its TV channels.

The resurrection — and increased popularity — of this family-based film has not only continued to this day but has expanded to include theatrical versions — with and without music.

The non–musical version opened a four-weekend run Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Auditorium.

A Christmas Story South Bend (IN) Civc TheatreThe production, directed by Bill Heimann and featuring a bravura performance by Art Kopec and a gaggle of kids, is unfortunately less than smooth, especially in the technical department.

Turning a film (or book) that segues from reality to fantasy as the older son dreams of himself as the hero in a variety of situations, always accompanied by his longed-for Christmas present — “a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model with a compass in the stock and ‘this thing which tells time’ (a sundial)” — is no easy task.

Ralphie (Jack Elliott) is nothing if not creative in the pursuit of his dream gift. He is, however, thwarted at every turn and haunted by the universal warning “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Kopec is Ralph or Ralphie as an adult. He has the Herculean task of narrating the entire tale. After a shaky start with a bombastically shotgun delivery, he settles in and down to a persona that never seems out of place no matter the hectic proceedings. He is a solid presence that weaves each incident, real or imagined, together with the warmth of a memory softened with the passage of time.

Ralphie’s dad, The Old Man (Don Elliott), remains way over the top, so that when his “Major Award” arrives his exuberance is only slightly above his daily decibel level. In contrast, his Mother (Alexandria Cooper) is so low key as to be mostly a whisper. Their on-again/off-again battle with the leg lamp is a humorous twist.

A Christmas Story  South Bend (IN ) Civic TheatreThe schoolmates of Ralphie and his younger brother Randy (John Potts) are almost consistently too soft and too fast vocally, always a problem for young actors, which could be at least partially remedied by having them face a bit to the audience and slow down.

Brayden Goddard and Zac Richardson as Ralphie’s best friends Flick and Schwartz, respectively, are happily audible as is Blake Allison as the school bully Scut Farkas who gets his well-deserved comeuppance when Ralphie finally snaps.

The set, which centers around the Parker home, extends to both side of the large (and I have to say cumbersome) stage, allowing Ralphie’s fantasies to be played in front of the house. The works well until the school classroom appears, with a large desk for the teacher, Miss Shields (Shelly Overgaard). Bringing the desk on and off, which happens at least twice, should stop the show, but not for the usual show-stopping reasons. It is so loud everything else is drowned out, including Kopec‘s continuing dialogue.

There goes whatever mood has been achieved.

Cannot believe this only happened at the performance we attended which begs the question, why did the director do nothing to silence the thundering desk? As with the too-abrupt starts and stops of the intermittent music, these are fixable problems that should not have seen opening night.

It is never entertaining to see hard-working actors undermined by sloppy technical work.

“A CHRISTMAS STORY” plays through Dec. 23 in the SBCT Wilson Auditorium, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For information and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.

 

 
Christmas Classic Set To Music PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 05 December 2017 03:16

Like many other now-classic Christmas stories, “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical” came to the theatrical stage following a film.

Miracle on 34th St. the muysical Wagon Wheell Theatre  Waesaw  INThe Meredith Willson (that’s right, “The Music Man” Meredith Willson) holiday musical, which opened a three weekend run in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre Friday evening, began back in 1947 as a very popular “straight” family movie from 20th Century Fox which went for the Christmas gold again with a repeat in 1994.

In between movies were a 1973 made-for-TV version and Willson’s 1963 musical, initially titled “Here’s Love.”

All of which goes to prove you change the format and the title but you can’t keep a good Christmas story down.

First, let’s agree that lightening doesn’t often strike twice and this “Miracle” is a far cry from River City. What it is is a familiar and traditionally heart-warming story about the real meaning of Christmas, which ups the sentimental quotient considerably via pleasant but not memorable melodies.

As always Wagon Wheel director Scott Michaels has assembled a solid cast led by Robert Joseph Miller as Kris Kringle (Yes, Virginia, that beard is real!); Cordelia Grandon as Susan Walker, the pre-teen who doesn’t believe in Santa; Jennifer Dow as her mother, Doris, a divorcee with a lot of bitter memories and a lack of belief in anything she can’t see, taste or touch; and Nathan Robert Pecchia as Fred Gaily, a warm-hearted lawyer who comes to Susan’s aid and Santa’s defense. His warm baritone is a plus throughout. Dow and Pecchia have the task of making their unlikely relationship seem likely, in spite of a script that doesn’t help.

In addition to Santa, audience favorites are Chuckie Benson as Marvin Shellhammer, a toadying Macy’s employee, and Mike Yocum as his equally bombastic boss R.H. Macy. Together they put the “far out” in farce, with Benson doing double time in the prat fall department.

Miracle on 34th St. Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INThe rather uneven scenario jumps from up-tempo ensemble numbers (“Big Ca-Lown Balloons.” “Plastic Alligators,” “Here’s Love,” “That Man Over There Is Santa Claus” and “My State, My Kansas”) to introspective solo ballads (“You Don’t Know,” “Doris’ Look” and “Love Come Take Me Away), the last being the most fish-out-of-water finale of any musical in recent memory, in spite of being well delivered. I kept waiting for more balloons!

Grandon handles well the role of pragmatic young girl who finds belief in her heart and helps Kris recharge his own.

Miller does a fine job of balancing Santa’s interaction with unbelieving adults and definitely believing children, especially in “Bugles,” sung with Parker Ralstin, an adorable scene stealer as Hendrika, a little Dutch girl who can’t speak English. His introduction to Susan of the (“Imagi-Nation”) speaks to all ages as he encourages her to “Expect Things to Happen.”

It’s a plus that he really looks like Santa!

The “Miracle” ensemble is made up of equal parts adults and children, some very young. Check them out. Each one knows exactly what to do and when to do it and delivers all with enthusiastic fervor and an enviable focus!

NOTE: For those who have no idea what Macy’s and Gimbel’s were, try Google.

“MIRACLE ON 34th STREET: A Musical” plays Friday through Sunday and Dec. 15-17 in the theatre at 251 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.

 
Music Adds To Tale Of Holiday Wish PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 22 November 2017 01:13

Ho! Ho! Ho!

There’s a new (?) entry in the “if it’s Christmas it must be …” category of plays, movies and TV shows that resurface annually between Turkey Day and Holly Time..

A Christmas Story the musical Elkhart Civic Theatare Bristol INJoining Dickens’ ghostly “Christmas Carol” and the is-he-or-isn’t-he Santa search in “Miracle on 34th Street” — plus the many lesser incarnations featuring elves, reindeer and talking toys — is one that enters the musical theatre genre by way of the printed word and the silver screen.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical,” opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House and offered area audiences an excellent way to begin the 2017 holiday season.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre cast is a blend of adults and young people delivering the wry humor of author Jean Shepherd (a Hoosier himself) in a well-wrapped package definitely meant to be opened before the Big Day.

Those who, like myself, have at least one TV tuned in 24/7 for the annual Christmas Eve/Day marathon of the 1966 movie might think “Oh well, I’ve seen it before” and, faced with a full holiday season, be inclined to cross the musical off the Xmas to-do list.

A Christmas SAtory the musical Elkhart Civic Theatre Bistol INStop before you make that mark and take it from me — there’s nothing like a live performance to make even the most familiar seem new again.

The opening night audience held a majority of flower-laden friends and relatives. Familial connections aside, it is a completely enjoyable two hours (including intermission) from the overture to the full-cast finale.

There is always at least apprehension when the major character — as well as the many of the ensemble singers and dancers — is primarily pre-teen.

No worries here.

The center of the action is Eddie Bell as the ever-hopeful Ralphie Parker. He takes center stage with the aplomb of a seasoned performer, sings well and with authority, handling Ralphie’s moves from wimp in real life to heroic fantasy, always plotting to achieve his Christmas goal — “A Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and sundial in the stock.” Bell may not have Peter Billingsley’s big blue eyes but he has a large share of theatrical charisma and the audience is with him every step of the way.

A Christmas Story the musical Elkhart Civic Theatre Brisstol INThe same is true for his Hoosier family. Younger brother Randy (Liam Riggs), Mother (Kristen Kinder) and The Old Man (Brock Butler) all earn high marks for their recreation of the familiar characters, with Kinder especially touching as the mom who keeps balance in the family. Her solos hit home with every mom in the crowd.

Butler, as the hard-working, short-tempered dad whose realizes a dream with his “major award,” does double duty here as hard-working director of the production.

Ralphie’s friends Flick (Cameron Lancaster), recipient of the dreaded “triple dog dare,” and Schwartz (Landon Dean), the object of Ralphie’s self-saving accusation, are at home in their roles as are the “bad guys,” Joshua Hatfield as the universal bully Scut Farkus and Skye Steury as his willing toady Grover Dill.

Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields (Bethany Wirick) steps out of the classroom to demonstrate another side to the constant warning “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”

The hard-working ensemble is called on to adopt many personas of all ages: Christmas shoppers, students, Santa’s elves and participants in Ralphie’s fantasies. They do it all with ease and enthusiasm, singing and dancing, including tap, no matter what their characters or situations.

A Christmas Story the musical  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INLeading the way is a Narrator (Cecil Eastman), a senior version of the young protagonist. He is on hand throughout, describing each scene and frequently offering comments on the various incidents, people and relationships that make up this story..

The Parkers’ house, which definitely carries a Hoosier feel, was designed by ECT artistic/technical director John Shoup who also designed and created the many backdrops.

The 1940s aura is continued nostalgically in the fantasy movie posters by scenic artist Jeffrey Barrick.costuming and the costuming by Linda Weisinger and Dawn Blessing. (I could swear I saw one of my coats from a long ago winter in New Jersey!)

Butler’s co-director, whose dog jumps in for the neighboring “Bumpus hounds,” is April Sellers. Jacob DeLong is choreographer, with tap steps by Kellie MacGowan.

The music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul underscore the time and feeling of the work and are just what the book by Joseph Robinette requires.

Vocal direction is by Heidi Ferris who also plays keyboard for music director/drummer Mark Swensden as does Miriam Houck and guitarist Tyler Crisp.

All hit the bullseye wthout shooting your eye out!!

“A CHRISTMAS STORY: The Musical” is taking the Thanksgiving weekend off but will be home again Dec. 1-3 and 8-10. For information and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 or visit elkhartcivictheatre.org.

 
Lewis' Comedy Precedes Stand-Up PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 15 November 2017 18:31

It’s not often that the author of a play generates as much or more interest than the play itself, but when that author is best known as a standup comic, and the play is his solo effort, I guess it is natural.

It also might have some bearing on the sell-out crowds attending the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “One Slight Hitch.”

One Skught Hitch  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe playwright is Lewis Black, the perennially panicked perpetrator of rants against the disintegration of the world with emphasis on the U.S. government.

If the hope that one of these is incorporated in the plot of “One Slight Hitch,” first know that it was written several decades ago (before solo comedy won out) and could have been one of the deciding factors in Black’s turning to outrage.

It is a two-act comedy/farce complete with many slamming doors and characters in underwear.

First about the doors.

On e Slighy Hitch  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe show is in the Barbara K. Warner Studio Theatre which means that all four sides of the playing area are/can be open. The set in any farce worth its hysteria must contain at least three or four solidly-built, frequently-slammable doors. Not easy to design or build with little to hold on to.

Fortunately, SBCT has a talented artist as set designer/builder/painter for this production. Jeff Barrick’s multiple doors, while rather bland in hue, are solid enough to withstand numerous vigorous slams without even a slight tremor and obviously are a salute to theatrical engineering.

Set in a family home in a suburb of Cincinnati, the décor also bears out one character’s comment that “Ohio is the valium of the Midwest.”

The family in question is made up of a dad, “Doc” Coleman (Brad Mazick), and mom, Delia (Marybeth Saunders), and daughters PB (Karla Levy), a teenager most frequently connected to her Walkman; Melanie (Christine Schrader), a nurse and alcoholic-in –training; and Courtney (Kimberlee Giles), a successful writer and the bride-to-be.

On e Slight Hitch  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs the action begins Doc and Delia are counting down her “to-do” list for Courtney’s wedding to wealthy psychology student Harper (Tyler Miller), a list which is driving Delia to distraction as the nuptials are to be held at home in a matter of hours.

Into the increasing maelstrom of pre-wedding activities comes Ryan (Bill Svelmoe), a recovering hippie and would-be writer as well as Courtney’s former boyfriend of 2 ½ years from NYC.

Ryan knows nothing about the wedding. He is hitchhiking across the country and just stopped in to say hello. His reaction to the news that Delia, who left him only a few months ago after making it clear that she never wanted to marry, is about to tie the knot adds to the total confusion. Especially since his primary post-shower costume is a bath towel.

Everyone has his/her opinion on just which man should be the bridegroom and there is a final curtain (or blackout) wedding, but getting there takes much too long.

Possibly this is because the characters are solidly one-dimensional and the script cannot decide whether it wants to be a full-out farce or a comedic message play (see Delia’s Act 2 shift from screamer to caring mother).

Audience seniors will enjoy the familiar ‘80s music shared by good natured PB whose “bottom of the family totem pole” status is obvious even before Delia issues the first of an unending list of her pre-wedding chores .

By the time Courtney makes up her mind, it’s difficult to really care.

The pace is set by director Richard Baxter with costumes by Tania Balve. Tried to remember if they were “period perfect” for the ‘80s but only wound up wondering why Courtney wore the wedding gown.

You might figure it out for yourself if there are any tickets left. The show reportedly is a sellout.

“ONE SLIGHT HITCH” plays through Sunday in the South Bend Civic Warner Studio Theatre. For information and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.

 
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