Looking Back At Our Beginnings PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 20 April 2016 17:21

1776  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThere could not be a more appropriate time for a theater company to produce the 1969 Tony Award-winning Best Musical “!776.”

Whether by design or happy coincidence, this is the time South Bend Civic Theatre has chosen to present the Sherman Edwards/Peter Stone depiction of the struggles of the Second Continental Congress as members debated the question of liberty.

Comparison with today’s contentious congress shows we have made less than acceptable progress.

Under the direction of Chuck Gessert, “1776” is the perfect vehicle to inspire at least a minimal inspection of how we got to where we are today — and why we are increasingly unable to solve our problems like “gentlemen.”

“1776”opened Friday evening in the Wilson Theatre where an impressive accumulation of veteran and novice talent portrayed at least a portion of the historically memorable delegates.

1776  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe characters are important figures in the history of the United States and, although their relationships many not be exactly as portrayed in Stone’s award-winning script (dramatic license, you know), the result of their interactions — arguments, agreements and compromises — is exactly as it should be.

According to Edwards: “These men were the cream of their colonies. ... They disagreed and fought with each other. But they understood commitment, and though they fought, they fought affirmatively."[

Key words being “commitment” and “affirmatively.”

Led by an excellent Ted Manier as Congressional “gadfly” ,John Adams of Massachusetts, the seemingly disparate group “Piddle, Twiddle” and avoids making a decision on the question of “independency” as the fly-filled summer drags on in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Standing with Adams are wiley Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania (Frank Quirk), inventor and statesman with an eye for the ladies; Roger Sherman of Connecticut (Michael Ball) and Robert Livingston of New York (Zach Gassman). All decline the invitation to write a declaration (“But, Mr. Adams”) while focusing on Thomas Jefferson of Virginia (Tucker Curtis), who eventually puts down his violin and puts quill pen to paper..

1776  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreIn the “loyal opposition” are equally strong delegates. Leading the group of “Cool, Cool Considerate Men” are John Dickenson of Pennsylvania (Steve Chung) and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Mark Toma), both determined to stay loyal to the crown.

As the debates co tinue, it is clear that those for the proposition will have to clear a number of hurdles, not the least is that a unanimous vote will be needed for it to pass.

From the first sight of Adams pacing in frustration outside the chamber (“Sit Down, John”) to the final compromise that would shape history, “1776” offers a dramatic — and humorous — insight into the deals that made this country.

The participants in the South Bend production deliver their historical characters with enthusiasm and, possibly, with some insight into the real individuals.

Viewing the strengths and weaknesses of all, makes for a theatrical history lesson that is enjoyable at best. Richard Henry Lee (Art Kopec) is hilarious-lee challenged lyrical-Lee while Franklin never misses the opportunity to drop another Almanac-worthy saying.

Chung is most impressive as the unswerving Dickinson and leads his constituents in a well-executed gavotte. Torma pulls out all the vocal stops sardonically challenging Adams with the show-stopping “Molasses to Rum.”

1776  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe very painful realities of the conflict are obvious in the frequent messages from General Washington, delivered by a Courier (Kevin Boucher) who describes the close-to-home war in “Mama Look Sharp.”

“1776” obviously is by, for and about the male delegates but, as everyone knows, behind each is a formidable female. Only two are included in this telling, Abigail Adams (Heidi Ferris) and Martha Jefferson (Elizabeth Buckman). Ferris delivers a sturdy and sensible pre-Revolution wife, supporting her husband with good advice and much needed supplies. (When not on stage, Ferris heads for the balcony and discharges her offstage duties as music director.)

The lighter side is depicted by Manier, Quirk and Curtis as they debate the choice of an avian symbol for the new country in “The Egg.”

Assembling a cast of 26 (24 men) is a daunting task for any theater, let alone one that requires a number of them just to enter, sit on stage and exit on cue. The entire ensemble deserves applause!

Special notice to Craig McNab as terminally ill Caesar Rodney, Rob Newland as feisty Scot Col. Thomas McKean, Daniel Grey as congressional secretary Charles Thompson whose primary task is reading The General’s dispatches, and Gary Oesch as Stephen Hopkins who tempers politics with rum.

For the most part, the vocals are excellent, ensemble and individual, and I wished Edwards had included more of them in Stone’s libretto which definitely is dialogue-heavy.

The scenic design by Ann Davis works well and the costumes and lighting maintain the mood. The wigs, however, are rather mix-n-match and a number are less than attractive.

The fact that everyone knows where this portion of the story ends does nothing to detract from the chills that accompany the eventual signing as the liberty bell rings out.

Politicians today could stand to review this episode in our history and remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

‘1776” plays through May 1 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with intermission). For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112.

No Turning Away From 'StopKiss' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 29 March 2016 18:26

Some new plays take a while to get here from major cities, “here” being a viable production in middle America.

Such plays are the aim of South Bend Civic Theatre’s Firehouse Series (named for its venue) which may suffer from lack of production facilities (long scene changes, sound problems) but most always are well-acted and, judging from the small-but-enthusiastic audience’ reception, are welcome.

StopKiss South Bend (JN) Civic TheatreSuch a production is “StopKiss,” the current offering on the Firehouse “stage.” A work by American playwright Diana Son, it was premiered in New York’s Public Theatre in 1998 where the initial run was extended three times.

It is not necessarily an easy play to watch but, thanks to the honesty of the performers, it is not something from which you can turn away. And, considering the times in which we live, it is most certainly — and unhappily — current.

Callie (Sara Bomgaars) is an 11-year resident of New York’s Greenwich Village. As a traffic reporter for a local radio station, her main claim to fame is that she does her job from a helicopter. She lives, on-again, off-again, with George (Geoff Trowbridge), a bartender who obviously regards her small apartment as his home-away-from home.

StopKiss  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreInto her life comes Sara (Angie Berkshire), a recent resident of the big city who has come from St. Louis on a teaching fellowship at an elementary school in the Bronx. They meet when Callie agrees to take care of Sara’s cat while she goes out of town.

The women have an instant connection which, as Callie helps Sara fit in to the city lifestyle, becomes something more than just friendship, even though it is never named.

Coming home early one morning, the two stop in a park and impulsively share their first kiss, a moment interrupted by an attack (never seen) which puts Sara into a coma and signals the arrival of Peter (David Weist), her ex boyfriend, who is determined to take her back to St. Louis and oversee her recovery.

The time-line of StopKiss moves between the past — Callie and Sara’s meeting and the evolution of their relationship — and the present, which includes Callie’s harsh interrogation by a police Detective Cole (Michael Clarkson), whose sympathies seem onStopKiss  South Bend (IN) Civic Theatre the side of the attacker; the report by Mrs. Winsley (Darlene Hampton), a witness who saw the attack but never acted, and Callie’s determination to prove herself able to care for her still-recovering friend.

The time shifts are well-delineated and there is no problem determining just when events are taking place. The multi-locations are sparsely defined and, hopefully, will be reached more quickly and quietly as the run continues.

The emotional connections between Bomgaars and Berkshire are honest and believable, especially in creating their journey towards the difficult but eventually unavoidable acknowledgement of their feelings.

Trowbridge is the kind of friend you don’t need, while Hampton avoids caricature as the nosy do-gooder who evades involvement but relishes all the details.

Clarkson delivers a sadly realistic portrait of a detective who would rather be persecuting the victim. Weist is stuffily righteous as the beau Sara left behind.

Under the direction of Lucinda Moriarity, assisted by Mark Moriarity, the 90-minute, no-intermission drama challenges us to look at the way we perceive people — individually and collectively — and decide what really is important.

STOPKISS” plays through Saturday in the Firehouse Theatre, 701 Portage Ave. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit Seating is limited.

Bad Jokes, Good Friends For 'Guys On Ice' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 08 March 2016 21:37

On a cold winter’s day in Sturgeon Bay, WI, what are two buddies to do but pack up the Leinenkugel, grab their poles and head out on the frozen lake to wait for local TV personality Cubby Cavernon to pay them visit.

How they pass the time waiting for Cubby is shared in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Guys on Ice; The Ice-Fishing Musical” which opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House.

Guys on Ice  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INWith music by James Kaplan and book and lyrics by Fred Alley, it premiered in 1998 in Wisconsin where it has since been presented annually. In contrast to more recent bigger-and-bigger musical productions, this is a small show which foregoes flying nannies and magical genies for a comfortable look at two men who are unavoidably familiar.

Marvin (Tony Venable) and Lloyd (Rick Nymeyer) are longtime friends who share a love of fishing, drinking beer, telling tall tales and commiserating about the fortunes of their Green Bay Packers.

Waiting in their ice fishing shack for “The Guy From TV” to come bringing 15 minutes of fame, they discuss many of their favorite things — the varying sizes of “The One That Got Away,” the value of “The Wishing Hole,” the fact that ‘Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be,” the importance of “The Beer in The Bucket” and, most hilariously, the flexibility of their cold-weather gear.

Guys on Ice  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INThe last is delivered in an “Ode to A Snowmobile Suit,” and comes complete with a chorus accompanied by rhythmic zippers. ripping Velcro fasteners and as much fancy footwork as good-ol-boys can muster.

Venable and Nymeyer establish a very comfortable rapport which plays easily and well throughout the hour and 45 minute (including intermission) performance.

They also take obvious delight in telling some of the worst/best shaggy dog jokes which, on opening night, earned loud groans and applause from the audience.

In addition to waiting for Cubby, the guys are trying to avoid their “friend” Ernie, aka The Moocher (Mike Nichols). As the afternoon progresses, it is obvious how Ernie earned his name. Once he is “in,” anything liquid and/or edible goes out. In addition, he travels with his ukulele, strumming and singing at the drop of a earflap. Nothing discourages Ernie, who always gets what he wants, even if he doesn’t know at first what’s available.

Nichols energetic performance made him an audience favorite, undoubtedly because everyone has an Ernie in his/her life. He also leads a game show for the audience at the top of act two, complete with appropriate prizes.

Directed by John Shoup, assisted by Kelly Rider, the shack opens easily in front of the forest silhouette. The lively score is in the hands (literally) of keyboardist Miriam Houck, with Nichols on 12-string guitar. Vocal director Michelle Miller has a cameo as a local anchorwoman.

In spite of (or maybe because of) the purposely bad jokes, “Guys on Ice” definitely has an appeal for all ages, especially anyone who can bait a hook.

GUYS ON ICE: The Ice-Fishing Musical” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and March 18-19 and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on SR120. For reservations, call 848-4116 from 1 to 5:30 pm weekdays or visit

'The Music Man' Not As Easy As It Seems PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 04 February 2016 17:31

On Dec. 19,1957, Prof. Harold Hill stepped off the train in River City, Iowa, onto the stage of Broadway’s Majestic Theater and into musical theater history.

The Music Man South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreIn the nearly six decades since then, Meredith Willson’s homespun salute to middle America and the importance of a band has become, along with the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Top Five, one of the most-produced musicals in the history of the genre.

The latest locally is on stage in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Auditorium through Feb. 21.

The Music Man South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreWith a cast of 34 under the direction of David Case, it delivered all the familiar melodies but, unfortunately, fell into the trap of seeming easier to produce that it actually is.

Having seen the original Broadway production with THE music man Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, (yes, I am THAT old!) I have long ceased to expect a reproduction to deliver anything close to the originals. Individual interpretations frequently work (saw a Harold Hill whose forte was tapping turn “Marian The Librarian” into an extended tap routine and it was excellent), but most amateurs go for the obvious. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The South Bend offering is a bit more of the latter.

The Music Man South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe “doesn’t” begins with the first blatting notes of the “band,” set in an immovable gazebo upstage right. Under the direction of Conner Stigner, the small ensemble (not listed in the program) plowed through the familiar score, frequently without regard for consistentcy in tempo or key, often making it difficult to see how vocalists and dancers could keep together.

The justly famous opening, “Rock Island Line,” is an exercise in a capella rhythms designed to deliver necessary background information on Hill and his “line,” which worked fairly well.

The Music Man Suth Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe task of creating HH is assigned to Sean Leyes, a SBCT veteran with a variety of roles to his credit. With a smile always in place, he plunged through Hill’s tongue-twisting mostly-spoken solos successfully but the con man’s self-effacingly magnetic charm was lacking.

As the River City librarian who keeps Hill at a good distance for the first act, at least, Libby Klesmith is a matronly Marion, rather out of place opposite Leyes’ youthful salesman.

The Music Man South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe town matrons, led by the mayor’s wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Marty Smith), are at their best when they “Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little.” Unfortunately the comic dialogue in the song was drowned by a combination of blaring band and uncooperative sound system, obscuring all their reasons for disliking Marian.

The highlight of any “Music Man” has to be the feuding school board members, drawn together instantly by a note from Hill’s pitch pipe into an ever-singing barbershop quartet. Wayne Keppler, Ken Saur, Carey Treesh and Jacob Burbrink may not deliver the tightest harmonies, but they are close enough to make “Lida Rose,” “Goodnight Ladies” and “It’s You” remain my favorites.

Note to comedic second bananas: Louder definitely is not funnier.

Jennifer Paul’s choreography is well-executed, even when battling the band and Jim Geisel’s costumes are mostly colorful.

As always, Jacee Rohick’s set design is a pleasure to look at and easily delineates the various settings, from front porch to holiday fairground to school gymnasium.

Opening weekend found audience members program-less and advised to check the SBCT website, a situation we understand has been rectified for the rest of the run.

It is hard to tell the players without a program!

“THE MUSIC MAN” runs through Feb. 21 with shows at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call 234-1112 noon to 6 p.m. weekdays.

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