Theatre
'Hair' At The Barn For Musical Love-In PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 08 August 2014 16:07

In 1967, a show was born in Joe Papp’s Public Theatre — the first non-Shakespeare production in that space — that was destined to change the face of musical theater.

It moved to Broadway in 1968, settled in for a four-year run and has never stopped filling the stages of theaters, professional and non, around the world.

Hair  The Barn Theatre  Augusta  MIThe Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., opened its fifth production of that show Tuesday evening. In case you can’t “name that show,” it was/is “Hair,” aka “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical.”

“Hair’ was/is unique. Called the “first concept musical,” it had little or no plot but musically addressed numerous problems facing America including racism, drugs, sexual repression, free love. environmental destruction, poverty, corruption in government, violence at home and, certainly not least, the Vietnam War and its conscripted army.

The almost non-stop score came to define the term “rock musical” and, through the years, has ebbed and flowed almost as much as the political and social climate of the United States.

In its infancy, it undoubtedly was a forceful shocker. The famous nude scene (all of about 20 seconds) and language (songs include “Hashish,” “Sodomy” and “Colored Spade”) met with active protest against touring productions. South Bend’s Morris Civic refused to book the show and angry religious groups picketed and/or boycotted its appearance..

Hair  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MILooking back (after all it has been 47 years!), it is not so much a protest of current ills as a memory play with intermittent jabs of reality. Book and lyrics are by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who frequently took the roles leading of Berger and Claude, respectively, and who claimed those characters were modeled on themselves.

Whatever one remembers from the original script, it is the music that has remained rather unforgettable. Many of the songs — “Aquarius,” “Let The Sunshine,” “Good Morning, Starshine,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Frank Mills” and, of course, the title song — may not be at the forefront of your memory but once The Barn cast starts singing, they are front and center.

There are several main roles at the core of The Tribe (which utilizes the entire apprentice company plus). Choreographer Jamey Grisham is Claude, the newest Tribe member whose only wish is to be “invisible.” Kevin Robert White, who also serves as bar show accompanist, is Berger, Tribe leader and protest instigator. Both have, along with the rest of the group, extremely long and shaggy wigs and a lot of music to sing.

Hair  The Barn Theatre  Augusta   MIOther soloists are Melissa Cotton as Sheila, Eric Tsuchiyama as Woof, Khnemi Menu-Ra as Hud, Dallyn Brunck as Jennie, Donica Lynn as Dionne, Anna Segatti as Crissy, Nicholas Fuqua as Walter, Dwayne Everett Johnson as Ronny and Patrick Hunter as a tourist (in drag!). Senior members portray parents (Eric Parker and Penelope Alex), policemen (Bruce Hammond and a beard-less Charlie King) and a tourist (Hans Friedrichs).

Most are on stage most of the time, which adds up to a large number to put on the not-over-large stage. Luckily they have to lie or sit down (primarily on each other) for a good portion of that time. The costuming is almost too similar and too clean to be actual period, but it serves the purpose.

The just-off-stage band, which precedes the opening with an ear-shattering rendition of the national anthem a la Jimi Hendricks, plays almost constantly. Until the opening night sound levels are adjusted and balanced, they just drown out the ensemble and the soloists.

When lyrics provide 99 per cent of what storyline or character background there is, the inability to hear them really leaves the audience wondering what’s going on. And hand mikes definitely do not help! Spoken dialogue is little better as projection seems not a priority. Only Parker, Alex and Hunter are able to reach the back of the house.

Many in the opening night audience were a) fans of the show or b) fondly reminiscent of the ‘60s, and many obviously enjoyed the chance to be a part of the “all-dance” “Be-in” after the somber finale. A goodly number of “tie dye” shirts, flowers and headbands were evident but there were no elephant bell jeans in the lot.

HAIR” continues through Aug. 17 at The Barn Theatre on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269)  73`-4121 or visit www.barntheatre.com.

 
Island Weekend Turns Deadly PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 01 August 2014 18:37

There’s no doubt about it. Everybody loves a good mystery.

There also is no doubt that nobody wrote a good mystery better than Agatha Christie.

And Then There Were None Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAmong her prolific output, which included 66 mystery novels and 153 short stories, are novels that became plays which have track records as enviable as her written words.

One of the most popular, “And Then There Were None,” opened Wednesday evening at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw to a large and enthusiastic audience.

And Then There Were None Elkhart Civic Theatre Warsaw INIt began as a novel in 1939 (without the assistance of Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple or any of Christie’s other super sleuths) and underwent several title changes in the name of political correctness. Finally settling on the one approved by Christie, it came to Broadway in 1944 and has been the basis for four feature films over a period of almost 50 years.

Whatever the name, the suspense never changes.

In his pre-show remarks, WW artistic director Scott Michaels requested that the last five minutes of the action not be revealed to “outsiders” (i.e. those who hadn’t seen the show). A reasonable request considering what transpires in that time but, as we learned, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you know “who dunnit” (we already did), the tautly wrapped action pulls you in and keeps you as the deadly plot unfolds.

This is due to the excellent cast, the sharp direction by Andy Robinson and Ben Dicke, both WW veteran actors and directors, and the desire to see how murderous actions play out “live!”

And Then There Were None Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INThe premise is perfect. Ten strangers are gathered by invitation to a house on Soldier Island off the coast of Devon, England. It is not yet “a dark and stormy night,” but it certainly is getting there. The hosts, however, are not and won’t be coming until the next day.

Waiting to greet the guests are the caretakers Mr. and Mrs. Rogers (Jennifer Dow and Kyle Timson). First to arrive are Vera Claythorne (Kira Lace Hawkins), Philip Lombard (Matthew Janisse) and Anthony Marston (Jeremy Seiner),  followed by William Blore (Javier Ferreira), General MacKenzie (Dan Smith), Emily Brent (Kristin Ysenchak), Sir Lawrence Wargrave (Mike Yocum) and Dr. Armstrong (Scott Fuss).

After delivering the guests, Fred Narracort (Lucas Thomas) sails back to the mainland, leaving them to question the reasons for their invitations since there seem to be no mutual connections.

The reasons become chillingly clear as Rogers, on instructions from the missing host, plays a recording which accuses them all — individually — of murders.

As polite conversations turn pointedly personal, each declares him/herself innocent of the charges. Tempers begin to fray — and flare — rapidly. Soon the deadly intent of the gathering — to kill each guest one by one according to methods outlined in a child’s nursery rhyme — becomes chillingly obvious.

But they are the only ones there, with no way off or on the island. So. . .who is the killer and will he/she be discovered before all life is gone?

Guess you’ll just have to find out for yourselves and, in the process, really enjoy some fine character work by WW company members. All are exactly right for the secretive personas they portray. There are few extraneous histrionics, no melodramatic mustache twirls or gnashing of teeth and, for the most part, accents remain in place as part of solid characters.

In short, the ensemble is the thing in this drama and that applies not only to those on stage but to the production staff as well. With a suggestively excellent circular set design by Michael Higgins, some frequently frightening lighting designed by Patrick Chan and Michaels, mood-sustaining music by sound designer Chris Pollnow and, of course, the proper period costumes by Stephen R. Hollenbeck, the entire event is a real tribute to its famous author — and guarantees a very suspenseful evening, even if you do know who did it.

Just don’t tell!

“AGATHA CHRISTIE’S AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” plays through Aug. 9 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2515 E. Center St., Warsaw, IN.  For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org.

 
Playing Who's Who in Barn's 'Mrs. Markham' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 25 July 2014 19:33

“farce (fars) n. Fr 1(an) exaggerated comedy based on broadly humorous situations 2 an absurd or ridiculous action, pretense, etc.”

These, according to Webster’s, are definitions for the goings-on going on at The Barn Theatre where “Move Over. Mrs. Markham” opened Tuesday evening.

Move Over, Mrs. Markham The Barn Theatre Augusta MIWhat it doesn’t say is that the broader and more absurd the situations, the more difficult it is to create and enact them properly. In other words, playing farce is not as easy as it has to seem to the audience.

Farces by British playwright Ray Cooney were frequent additions to The Barn seasons in a good many of its 68 seasons. In recent years, his spot has been taken by playwright Ken Ludwig, whose locations were more Americanized (and required no accents, just distinct enunciation).

For “Mrs. Markham,”by Cooney and John Chapman, the accents are back, some with more successful than others. The plot (?), however, remains as frustratingly stupid as ever. Must confess that my aversion to farce is because one honest statement early on could avoid the increasingly involved situations; but then, it wouldn’t be farce, so here goes!

This production is more than fortunate to have veteran comedic actress Penelope Alex in the title role. Her timing is impeccable and the more frantic the situations, the more she pulls incredible explanations out of — thin air! Her ability to remember the many fictitious names — and connections — she has given each character is enviable. Her delivery — audibly and physically — is equally “spot on,” as they say, with facial reactions responsible for more than half of the increasing hilarity.

Move Over, Mrs. Markham The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe same can be said of Kevin Robert White in the role of Alistair Spenlow, Mrs. Markham’s decorator. Although there is a bit too much of the “poof” in his early scenes (is he really anxious to get sexy maid Sylvie (Bethany Edlund) alone?), it proves there is nothing “really” about any of this. His reactions hit home with the opening night audience. Watching his exits, each one with a different take on the on-stage shenanigans, drew more and more extended (and well-deserved) laughter. And his gymnastic turns give new meaning to bedroom acrobatics.

Mr. Philip Markham is played with pompous naivete by another Barn veteran Eric Parker, who blunders blindly through the obvious until he receives a sharp-but-totally-misinterpreted “wakeup call” that rouses his inner Jeeves.

With the exception of the Markhams, every character has his/her own agenda, all focused on the use of that couple’s flat which each of the pairs supposes to be empty — and available — for the evening.

In and out in various stages of undress are Melissa Cotton as Linda Lodge, wife of Philip’s partner Henry, who has an assignation arranged with stuffy Walter Pangbourne (Patrick Hunter), who never goes anywhere without his bowler and his brolly.

Move Over, Mrs. Markham The Barn Theatre Augusta MIHenry Lodge is played by Bruce Hammond with the unflappably dashing demeanor associated with philandering Englishmen whose “stiff upper lip” never quivers.  His target for the evening is Miss Wilkinson (Lindsay Maron), a telephone operator he has heard but never seen, an omission that adds greatly to the eventual mass confusion. Both she and Sylvie are costumed primarily in their underwear, a requisite for attractive girls in a Cooney farce.

The only fully-clothed female is Jillian Weimer as Miss Smythe, prudish author of a series of children’s books in search of a new (and sex-less) publisher. Consider that her main characters are dogs and the double entendre rises to a new level.

The split set (side by side rooms) by Kerith Parashak works well and the one necessity in any farce — ultra sturdy doors — do not fail the actors who slam in and out with increasing speed and intensity.

Sex (implied, never demonstrated), mistaken identity and the double entendre are the building blocks of farce. What holds them together is timing. There is no way to teach good comic timing. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not….but there is enough in this “Move Over, Mrs. Markham” to make it a fun evening.

MOVE OVER, MRS. MARKHAM’ plays at The Barn Theatre on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI through Aug. 3. For performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily or visit www.barntheatre.cob

 
'Fiddler On The Roof' In A Circle Of Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 20 July 2014 16:56

It seems like only a short time ago that  I was writing about a production of “Fiddler On The Roof.”

Oh, wait. I was.

fiddler on the Roof Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INWell, currently there is another Tevye pulling his dairy cart onto the stage of another area summer theater, this time at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw.

Which proves you can never get too much of a good show, especially when differences — one is on a proscenium stage and the other, in the round — allow for creative challenges.

Directed and staged at WW by artistic director/choreographer Scott Michaels, the story of the Jewish dairyman, his wife and five daughters and their neighbors in the Russian village of Anatevka moves along at a steadily up-tempo pace. The aim, no doubt, is to reduce “Fiddler’s” almost inevitable running time of three hours (including intermission). With the elimination of one song, some dialogue and advancing the exodus, Michaels & Co. succeed by about 15 minutes.

Must concede that the difficulty level of putting Anatevka and its population into what is essentially a circle (side areas are elevated for interior scenes) is at least an 11 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. There also is no doubt that Michaels, as always, rises to the challenge. He also is responsible for successfully recreating the dances based on the original choreography by Jerome Robbins — who had a huge proscenium space in which to work.

From the introductory kaleidoscope that is “Tradition,” to the rousing celebration of “To Life,” to the gasp-inducing fantasy of “The Dream,” to the mesmerizing slow motion of the Bottle Dancers, the number of ensemble dancers proves no problem, and the duo, trio and solo numbers are equally at home.

Fiddler on the Roof Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INHeading the large cast is Robert Joseph Miller as Tevye. His portrayal of the bushy-bearded patriarch is well-layered, a gruff exterior hiding a caring interior and struggling always to determine the right thing to do for his family and his village. He bends whenever possible but refuses to break. His interpretation of Tevye’s famous “If I Were A Rich Man” (and its accompanying “shimmy”) received well-deserved cheers. The intimacy of his frequent conversations with God, however, is somewhat  lessened by focusing them partially on the Fiddler who appears, unnecessarily, whenever Tevye looks heavenward.

Tevye’s long-suffering wife Golde is played by Kristen Yasenchak, whose vitriolic delivery softens only infrequently. Katie Finan does double duty as Yente the Matchmaker, who proposes a match for Tzeitel, and Fruma-Sarah, the deceased wife of the intended groom. Her vocal appearance in Tevye’s “nightmare” underscores one of the show’s most impressive scenes.

Fiddler on the Roof  Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAs Tevye’s oldest daughters, Tzeitel (Rachel Eskenazi-Gold), Hodel (Monica Brown) and Chava (Alison Schiller) express their feeling humorously in “Matchmaker,” and Brown’s “Far From the Home I Love” poignantly echoes the parting of all parents and children, no matter the distance. Their (eventually approved) fiances Motel (Dan Smith) and Perchik (Matthew Janisse) deliver their solos (“Miracle of Miracles,” “Now I Have Everything” respectively) in strong, clear baritones. The Russian fiancé, Fyedka (Jeremy Seiner), stands out in “To Life” but never wins Tevye’s approval.

Fiddler on the Roof Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INMusical director Thomas N. Stirling’s lush arrangements for the nine-piece orchestra do justice to Jerry Bock’s emotional score. Familiar choral highlights — “Sabbath Prayer” and “Sunrise, Sunset” — do not disappoint and the bittersweet “Anatevka” provides the perfect description of the pain of leaving home and hearth for an uncertain future.

Special praise to the designer for “The Dream,” which is not credited in the program but is a definite show-stopper! Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s costumes are necessarily drab (they all are peasants and soldiers, after all) with enough touches of color to brighten the special occasions.

If the set and the design hold to shades of brown and gray, the dances and vocals supply enough brilliance to lighten this familiar tale of undying faith and hope.

“FIDDLER ON THE ROOF” plays through Saturday in the theater at 2517 E. Center St., Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org.

 
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