Theatre
Sondheim Classic Looks At Marriage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 11 March 2014 03:34

In the world of musical theater, composer Stephen Sondheim is generally acknowledged as its greatest living exponent.  His works are not easy to produce, yet seem to bring out the very best in the singer/actors who sign on to give life to his many multi-layered characters.

Company  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol IN Opera HouseThe latest local theater group to take up the challenge of Sondheim is Elkhart Civic Theatre which opened its production of “Company” Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.

Company  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INProduced first in 1970, with award-winning “updated” revivals in 1995 and 2006, “Company” was the first of Sondheim’s musicals (seven of them Tony Award-winners) to hit the Broadway stage. In keeping with the composer/lyricist’s penchant for off-beat plots and story lines, it is best described as a “concept musical.” Don’t expect a beginning/middle/end to this tale of bachelor Bobby, 35, and the five couples (and several single girlfriends) who can’t resist the urge to propel him towards matrimony.

Based on 11 one-act plays by George Furth, who wrote the book for “Company,” it goes inside the relationships of Bobby’s “married friends,” while he plays interested observer. Each pair has problems of its own. Each manages to deal with them in its own way, all the while encouraging Bobby to take a leap of faith and find out what he’s missing.

Some of Sondheim’s loveliest melodies heighten the score of “Company,” as well as some of his sharpest lyrics. If I had any complaint about Friday’s performance it is that the excellent soloists who were razor-sharp on those lyrics, frequently were obscured by the rather harsh piano.

Company  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INThe “through line” in ”Company” is Bobby, who interacts with — and eventually reacts to — his friends. He has three of the show’s biggest and most demanding solos, the best known of which is “Being Alive.” It is a difficult role, dramatically and vocally, and the ECT production is more than fortunate to have it safely in the hands and voice of Jacob Medich. He walks the fine line between observer and participant with charm and his rich baritone is unfailingly up to the lyrical task.

Probably the most familiar solo in “Company” is “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a brilliant chastisement of women possibly more appropriate to those in the show’s original 1970’s time frame than to those of today. It is delivered with power and acid accuracy by Susan South as the jaded Joanne, who also gleefully shatters marital myths with “The Little Things You Do Together.”

Each of the couples has its own method of dealing with the intricacies of married life including, in one case, divorce. Portraying the diverse duos are Stephanie Yoder and Patrick Farren as addictive combatants Sarah and Harry; Stephanie Honderich and Sean Leyes as experimental tokers Jenny and David; Natalie MacRae and Brock Butler as happily uncoupled Susan and Peter; Kristen Riggs and Joe Beauregard as maybe-married Amy and Paul; and John Shoup as Larry, Joanne’s tolerant spouse.

The three young ladies with excellent voices and seemingly endless patience are Bobby’s girlfriends — Sarah Rogers as Marta, Mandie Mickelson as Kathy and Rachel Raska as April. Each provides her own insight into the frustrating search for a willing bachelor.

Sondheim’s score features marvelously intricate ensemble numbers, difficult to sing and, in lesser productions, frequently even more difficult to hear. From the opening title song to the extended “Side by Side by Side” which begins the second act, these voices fuse well and the overall blend is just right.

Company  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INAs always, much of the pleasure of Sondheim lies in the lyrics. Listen carefully to “Sorry-Grateful,” “You Could Drive A Person Crazy,” “Poor Baby” and “Getting Married Today” and find the truth behind the beautifully-crafted words. The last, especially as done by Riggs, is frantically, hilariously poignant and relates to many altar-bound singles..

“Company” is directed sharply by Stephanie J. Salisbury, assisted by Stephen M. Salisbury, a couple who obviously has found the secret to working together successfully. Heidi Ferris handled the formidable task of vocal and music directing with well-crafted choreography and movement created by Jerry O’Boyle.

Scenic artist Jeffrey Barrick recreated the large abstract painting of New York City, a location which plays an important part in the action, with Shoup serving as scenic designer.  The few off notes were in the costuming (Bobby’s diamond-design sweater), the unfortunately intrusive changing of set pieces, and the jarring Miley Cyrus “wrecking ball” reference which was not even close Sondheim.

“Company” is classic Sondheim and the ECT production provides the opportunity to enjoy one of the gems of the modern American musical theater.

“COMPANY” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and March 21, 22 and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistla St. in Bristol.  For reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org.

 
'Leading Ladies' A Comedic Gender-Bender PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 22 January 2014 20:14

If there’s nothing like a good laugh to get rid of the post-holiday blues, a look at the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Leading Ladies” is just what the doctor ordered.

Leading Ladies South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreFrom the prolific pen of American farce-master Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me A Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” et al), the tale of two down-and-out English Shakespearean actors who find their latest get-rich-quick scheme has little to do with the Bard of Avon, begins with a few snickers and ends with literally non-stop guffaws.

Yep. Guffaws. It’s that type of comedy.

No sly satirical quips here. Instead, broad obvious puns, a good deal of slapstick and a dive into the basic laugh-getter of all farces: Guys in drag and gals who can’t  recognize 5 o’clock shadow when they’re staring it in the face — lierally!

Leading Ladies  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreBill Svelmoe and Zach Gassman play Leo Clark and Jack Gable (get it??), two actors reduced to performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit in Pennsylvania.  On the train in search of their next gig, they read an article detailing an elderly widow’s dying search for two long-lost relatives, Steve and Max, who she hasn’t seen since infancy.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention and impersonating the now-adult relatives seems an easy answer. Only one catch: nephews Steve and Max are nieces Stephanie and Maxine. With the aid of theatrical garb, the guys become girls and the con is on.

Anyone who thinks there will be smooth sailing from wig on to wig off obviously has never seen a farce —especially a Ludwig farce! Offering stumbling blocks are Florence (Martha Branson-Banks), the ailing senior who gets a new lease on life; another niece Meg (Christy Burgess), a major fan of the Bard; her too-stuffy-to-be-good fiancé Rev. Duncan (Matt Deitchley); Doc (Casey St. Aubin), who can’t wait to sign the death certificate; his son Butch (Jared Windhauser); and Audrey (Nora Ryan Taylor), a friend of Meg’s serving as Florence’s part-time aide.

Leading Ladies  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreBefore the curtain falls on the proper (?) pairings, everything that can go wrong definitely does and watching the “girls” scramble to maintain their false identities while securing romantic attachments as themselves is familiar farce fodder and certainly one the audience enjoys.

This production moves along snappily under the direction of Leigh Taylor. She has assembled a very solid cast lead by the Ace of Farce, Svelmoe, who should be at the top of every director’s list for casting in this wacky genre. His final "on-again,off-again" is worth the price of admission. Gassman works hard — and successfully — to form the necessary doubles team and the sight of this tall gentleman in a mile-high wig and red patent stilettoes is hilarious, even without dialogue.

The on-again, off-again guys have two very sharp ladies with which to share the stage. Burgess and Taylor hold their own in every situation, with special applause for the latter who does it all — on roller skates.

Deitchley’s Snively Whiplash-like characterization seems a bit much at first but explodes perfectly as the denoument approaches. Branson-Banks is the perfect grandma-who-won’t-die. St. Aubin may be the last physician who makes house calls but really too young for the role. Windhauser lives up to his character’s name.

Set designer David Chudzynski’s scenic triptych (RR car right, two-story home center, Moose Lodge left) works well as the action shifts easily from one locale to another. The furnishings, however, are spare and rather worn for a wealthy home. On opening night, the area rug slipped its tape, a possible problem solved at least temporarily by a quick thinking actor. Any minor glitches were forgotten in Ludwig’s signature Mega-Mix, when the cast, no doubt already winded from its fast-paced 2 ½ hour romp, revisited the entire scenario — in case anyone had forgotten!

NOTE: Remember that ALL shows on the SBCT 2014 season begin at 7:30 pm. with matinees at 2 p.m. One half hour earlier than in previous years. Don’t get caught with your stub down!!

LEADING LADIES plays at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. through Feb. 2 in the Wilson Mainstage Theatre at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org

 
Love Found And Lost In 'Almost, Maine' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 14 January 2014 02:59

Don’t bother looking.

Almost, Maine  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INYou won’t find Almost, ME in Rand McNally or on Google Maps, but it’s definitely there — almost in the U.S., almost in Canada and unfortunately uncharted due to its residents’  lack of organization.

The stories of 18 inhabitants are told (and lovingly intertwined) in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of John Coriani’s romantic comedy which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.

Almost, Maine  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  IN“Almost, Maine” is not what you’d call a knee-slapper. Instead, it’s humor strolls up and gently takes a seat on the bench that is a favorite of  several Almost couples. As the northern lights (courtesy of assistant director Ricky Fields) play across the wintry sky, each seeks, finds or loses love in ways that offer connecting cords to each onlooker.

The frequently whimsical comedy offers aspects of relationships in a series of eight numericaly-named vignettes, punctuated by a Prologue, Interlude and Epilogue. The last three feature Fields as Pete, Stephanie Musser as Ginette and a long-lasting (and nameless) snowball.

Almost, Maine  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INNumber One offers Glory (Shirley Robey) a widowed hiker in a search for closure and the northern lights. Knocking at the door of  East (Patrick Farran) she finds more than she was looking for and discovers that she is right where she needs to be.

A misspelled tattoo is the key in Number Two, when Jimmy (Craig Kilgore) runs into former girlfriend Sandrine (Julie Musser) during her bachelorette party in the local bar. The energetic waitress (April Sellers)  brings beer and a possible solution.

An audience favorite was Number Three which finds Steve (Bob Franklin) and Marvalyn (Karen Johnston) in the laundry room of their apartment building. There is a definite message in Steve’s frequent encounters with the ironing board and, in spite of this, the two part as friends.

The 11-year partners in Number Four, Lendall (Keith Sarber) and Gayle (Valerie Ong) engage in an hilarious game of romantic one-upmanship in which the tables are turned with a vengeance.

Randy (Kilgore) and Chad (Keith Sarber) in Number Five are two good-old-boys who discover their usual Friday night routine knocks them flat.

Number Six finds Phil (Zach Rivers) and Marci (Angie Berkshire) finishing an evening of ice skating and recriminations which no amount of wishing on the stars can salvage.

Hope (Amy Pawlosky) has come a very long way to answer a question in Number Seven, but is the Man (Farran) who answers the bell the one who asked?

Number Eight is the most physical of the stories and finds Dave (Mike Honderich) and Rhonda (Carly Dunn) literally dropping everything to determine the subject of a painting.

Director Kevin Egelsky has used a light touch on “Almost, Maine,” which has been described as “a midwinter night’s dream,” and the cast, made up of some theater veterans and several newcomers, delivers. The simple setting provides the right background for all the brief-but-telling tales.

“ALMOST, MAINE” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, S.R. 120 in Bristol. For reservations call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

 
Holidays Bring Familiar Musicals To Stage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 10 December 2013 16:24

There are two reasons for this first-ever double-decker review.

First: Both shows are, if not totally sold out, at least close to it and therefore won’t be upset that neither gets a five star rating. Actually, that really shouldn’t matter.

Second: Both are familiar (maybe too much so) holiday standards and you could probably sing the scores in your sleep (or at least hum a few bars). And both count on the quotient of young performers to raise the adorable factor by many levels.

To eliminate the suspense, the musicals in question are “The Sound of Music,” which opened Friday evening at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre and “Annie,” which has been running since Nov. 29 in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Auditorium. Both will close on Dec. 22.

Both received Tony Awards as best musicals when they opened on Broadway, “Sound of Music” in 1959 and “Annie” in 1977. Both have been revived on the Great White Way at least once since then and have been recreated on stages around the world for more times than we care to count.

It seems, therefore, that everyone over the age of 5 must have had the opportunity to check out the dauntless nun or the optimistic orphan at lease once. It also seems that the holidays always have been/are/will be the perfect time to bring them out again. Obviously the jingle here is not from sleigh bells but the box office.

Family Harmony Counts in “The Sound of Music’”

This season, SOM became the only musical to play “LIVE” (on TV) to more than 18 million viewers. But we won’t discuss that production! The one at Wagon Wheel also was “LIVE” and received (as usual) a standing ovation from the enthusiastic audience of 500+, something the TV version could not duplicate.

Sound of Music Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INVocally, the cast was close to the summer companies, several members having been on the arena stage in the past. As in the original score, the trios for Max (Kenneth D’Elia), Elsa (Erin Vangemert) and Capt. Von Trapp (Ryan Wagner) survived and added a welcome bit of sardonic humor in the determinedly cheerful sea of upbeat melodies.

As Maria, Lauren Roesner carried much of the vocal demands in her strong soprano but would have been better served with an attractive wig or hairstyle. She interacted well with the children but on opening night both she and the Mother Abbess (Sarah Jackson) were battling an uneven balance between vocals and the excellent WW orchestra, a situation that undoubtedly has been resolved.

The seven von Trapp children sang well and looked familial. Kathleen Frazzetta was a charming Liesl and Derek Grose as her would-be sweetheart Rolf delivered the universal swagger of a teenage boy. As Gretl, the youngest sibling, Isabelle Awald twirled amazingly in “So Long, Farewell,” offering a glimpse of dances yet to come.

The recycled set, designed by the late Roy Hine, was, as always, flexible and believable as convent, ballroom, mountain, etc. happily subscribing to the often-ignored theory that less is more. Excepting the nuns; habits, the costumes were disappointing with the outfit Maria described as “not even wanted by the poor” about the most attractive one she wore.

Little Girls Steal The Show in SBCT “Annie”

As a community theater production, “Annie” fared less well. Director Mary Hubbard chose to double cast both Annie and the nine orphans so I can only judge by the ”Empire Cast” of youngsters who played Saturday night.

Annie South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe definite scene stealer was red-haired Emma Kopec as Molly, the “littlest orphan,” who showed comic timing and delivery way above her years and made an instant connection with the audience. In the title role, Erin Joines left no doubt as to her ability to belt “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” and their frequent reprises.

As always, the rambunctious charges of Miss Hannigan (Melissa Prestine) were justifiable audience favorites with “Hard Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” show-stoppers. Ditto for “Easy Street,” the grifters’ anthem delivered by Prestine, Kearn Hinchman as Hannigan’s brother Rooster and Jillian Tully as his blowsy girlfriend.

As Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks, Sean Hayes is several decades too young for the role but has a solid baritone and bit the bullet by shaving his head rather than opting for a wrinkley bald pate.

The ensemble works well as residents of Hooverville, members of Warbuck’s staff and residents of “NYC.” The fact that Annie’s faithful dog Sandy was black was not as upsetting as the long and very visible rope which attached him to a “homeless” person sitting stage right.

Even more upsetting was the fact that Annie, a carrot-top since her birth in the funny papers, never had a touch of red hair, even in the short and curly wig she usually-but-didn’t here don for the happy finale.

I was disappointed to find scenic designer Jaycee Rohlck’s set had the same loudly rumbling inserts shoved on and off while overhead for some reason, laundry was hung out to dry from overture to finale.

It seems that SBCT has elected to use recorded music mixed by a sound designer/operator. If this continues, I would hope they select another blend of instruments. This one sounds mostly like a calliope.

“ANNIE” plays through Dec. 22 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

“THE SOUND OF MUSIC” plays through Dec. 22 in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre, 217 E. Center Street. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com
 
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