Theatre
Musical Triple-Header For Mom PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 12 May 2017 19:36

Sunday being that special day when all good offspring do something nice for mom, I offer three choices of solid family fare, each on stage nightly, plus a couple of matinees. though Sunday.

The price of tickets is wide-spread but even the most expensive falls way below the current prince in a larger market.

Beginning at the top, look at the national tour of “Motown: The Musical,” which says it all in the title. Playing in the marvelous Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, “Motown” begs to be the “true” story of Berry Gordy, founder and ruler of the record label that took its name, in a condensed version, from the nickname — Motor City — of Gordy’s home town.

Who cares if the theatrical version is slanted obviously to making Gordy the “good guy” (it’s based on his autobiography, he wrote the script and is a producer). The important thing is that, in two and a half hours, it brings back an era and a musical genre that molded at least one generation.

I dare you to sit still when The Temptations, the Supremes, the Commodores, the Vandellas, the Four Tops, the Marvellettes, the Contours and the Jackson 5 hit the stage. Ditto for Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. All are incredibly close to the sound of the originals.

Even if you cannot name each of the 59-plus songs, some in part and some complete, recalled in the solid vocals, you won’t be able to sit still — and feel free to sing along!

Most of the 28 cast members play several roles, but Gordy (Chester Gregory), Ross (Allison Semmes), Gaye (Jarran Muse) and Robinson (David Kaverman) never miss a beat or a ceiling-shattering note!

Have to admit my favorite was young Michael Jackson (Raymond Davis Jr./CJ Wright). The boys alternate, so I don’t know which one played the burgeoning superstar the night we went (it should be noted!), but from the talent level of the adult cast, both must be outstanding!

For show times and ticket information call (269) 387-2300 or (800) 228-9858.

To borrow from The Supremes: the next show, like “Motown,” ends on Sunday.

It is “Singin’ in the Rain,” offered at the Lerner Theatre by Premier Arts.

Can’t comment on the show as I haven’t seen this production yet but will say that the film, and just about all the stage productions I have seen (and I can’t count how many) have proven to be extremely entertaining and a great way to spend several hours with a totally family-friendly musical.

The ticket price is right, so it’s not too costly to take a chance. Sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

For show times and reservations, call (574) 293-4469 or visit This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The final part of the musical trilogy is the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Big River,” based on Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” with music by the late “King of the Road” Roger Miller.

The “Muddy Water” will be flowing through May 21, with Huck, Jim, the Duke, the King and Tom Sawyer dancing and singing in the SBCT Wilson Auditorium.

Another musical aimed at the enjoyment of the whole family. For additional information, check my review, also on this website!

 
Riding the 'Big River' With Huck And Jim PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 08 May 2017 15:49

Among the enduring chronicles of American life are the works of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, and the characters he created, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe adventures of Tom and Huck have come off the written page in several forms since they appeared in the last part of the 19th century. Among the most recent is “Big River,” the 1985 Broadway musical based on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

The South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Big River,” directed by Leigh Taylor, opened Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium.

The multi-Tony Award-winning show blends William Hauptman’s theatrical adaptation of Twain’s book with a just-right score by the late Roger (“King of the Road”) Miller guaranteed to set a large number of toes tapping!

Big Rivef  South Bend (IBN) Civic TheatreThe sprawling libretto follows Huck (Braden Allison) as he escapes from all efforts to teach him to read and write and from his abusively drunken Pap (Cecil Eastman) and finds himself on a raft in the Mississippi River with Jim (Del’Shawn Taylor), a runaway slave heading to freedom in the North.

The duo bonds during their journey (“Muddy Water,” “River in the Rain”) even though Huck still believes helping the runaway is the wrong thing to do, since he is the property of Huck’s guardian Miss Watson (Kat Quirk). It takes a few eye-opening experiences before the boy realizes that they both are human beings (“Worlds Apart”).

Along the way, the raft is commandeered by two con men — the King (David Case) and the Duke (Nick Hidde-Halsey) — making a hasty getaway from an angry mob. They convince Huck of their “royal” ancestry and include him in their schemes (“The Royal Nonesuch”), first chaining Jim on the raft with plans to sell him.

Hearing of a fortune left to a local family’s distant (and unknown) relative, Duke and King set out to claim the inheritance from the grieving clan.

The story twists and turns with enough kinks to please even master plotter Tom Sawyer (Graham Sparks) who kicks up his heels in my favorite musical non sequitur “Hand For The Hog.” By the time the “Sun Goes Down in The South,” the criminals get their comeuppance, the righteous get their rewards and Huck gets the chance at another adventure.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe two and a half-hours plus running time is filled with enough of Miller’s lovely melodies, high-steppin’ bluegrass airs and sharp-tongued country tunes to make the time pass fairly swiftly.

The dialogue, however, especially when laden with on-again, off-again varying southern accents, is frequently difficult to follow. The “royal” comic relief unfortunately relies on the “louder is funnier” school of humor which too often is just louder.

Big River  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Huck, Allison carries most of the action and, as narrator, all of the storyline. It is a demanding task, especially for a high school freshman, and he acquits himself admirably. (Note to costumes: Spending all that time on a raft and in the woods, he might at least get a little dirt on his white shirt.)

Taylor has a powerful baritone which he uses to full advantage not only in the duets with Allison but also in his solo “Free At Last.”

Lyrics in the novelty numbers (Miller’s forte) are too often muddled, especially in ”Guv’ment,” Pap’s tirade which sadly seems even more relevant today.

As the nearly-swindled heiress Mary Jane Wilkes, Josie Burck joins Huck and Jim in a sensitive rendition of the show’s loveliest ballad, “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go.”

The appropriately-staffed band — violin, guitar, bass, percussion — led by keyboardist/music director Roy Bronkema provides just the right sound for Miller’s country score.

David Cbudzynski’s flexible set allows the focus to move from interiors to exteriors, with emphasis on THE raft.

The absence of the “n” word is obvious only because its inclusion in the book caused such a library brouhaha several years ago. It has been replaced here with other “appropriate” epithets.

“BIG RIVER” plays through May 21 in the theater at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations call (594) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.

 
A Trip To The Past To Catch A Killer PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 23 April 2017 21:03

Mention the name “Agatha Christie” and what springs to mind are a number of intricately woven alibis surrounding a seemingly unconnected number of suspects all gathered around a hopefully minimal number of bodies — dead, of course.

Go Back For Murder  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe corpse count is low (one) in “Go Back for Murder,” the Christie challenger which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. The question, however, remains the same: who dunnit?

Gathered on stage in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production are the usual suspects but, in this challenge, they are asked to turn back the clock to name the killer. The murder was committed 16 years ago and someone was convicted and subsequently died in prison.

Debating that verdict is Carla LeMarchant Crale (Kinsey Muhlenkamp), daughter of the victim (her philandering artist father Amyas Crale) and the murderer (her long-suffering mother Caroline Crale), who declared her innocence in a letter to her daughter. The maguffin, as Alfred Hitchcock would say, is the striking resemblance Carla bears to Caroline and, of course, as one of the characters remarks, “Nothing is what I seems.”

Go Back For Murder Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INCarla was five years old at the time of the murder and recalls little of the actual crime. Sure the killer was someone else, she asks Justin Fogg (Brett Noneman), son of her mother’s defense attorney, to reassemble all the suspects at the scene of the crime in hopes of finding the real criminal.

Behind her request is the idea (eventually correct) that her fiancé Jeff Rogers (Hayden Ludlow) will leave her if he feels she may have inherited a murderous tendency.

So the “suspects” gather — businessman Phillip Blake (Scott Fowler); his brother chemist Meredith Blake (Chuck Bower); model Elsa Greer/later Lady Elsa Melksham (Rachel McKenzie); governess Miss Williams (Amy Pawlosky), and Carla’s younger half-sister Angela Warren (Bonnie McGowan) .

Each shares his/her recollection of the event, then time turns back to include Amyas (Ludlow) and Caroline (Muhlencamp), and the day of the murder is replayed.

Go Back For Murder Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INAs witb all Agatha Christie works, the plot is tightly interwoven and it frequently is difficult to keep track of just who is who and why they are suspect.

Possibly director Jerry O’Boyle kept this in mind during the practically motionless first act in which the backgrounds and motivations of all concerned are laid out in physically static blocks of daunting dialogue. This is primarily assigned to Muhlencamp who delivers it with dispassionate clarity.

Nobody moves but, as in all Christie plots, it is important to pay close attention.

This especially in order to keep track of what really happened as the protagonists become increasingly active and later conversations are sometimes difficult to understand.

Go Back For Murder Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe set design by John Shoup is deceptively simple, the reason becomes obvious as the conversations with each “suspect” are held in various locations (Act I) and throughout the multi-area country home and garden (Act II). Changes are made quickly and quietly without disturbing the flow of the narrative.

The lighting design by Brian McGowan heightens the melodramatic atmosphere but sometimes could be a bit brighter to allow faces to be more easily seen.

Must note that, as with many other theater groups today, the use of wigs seems to have become a requirement rather than a choice. No problem with that except when, as in the case here, it obscures the face (and, consequently, the voice) of the main protagonist.

Under many of the scenes is a primarily piano score. It ends orchestrally with the theme from “Laura” and is, I assume, a directorial choice. It’s relevance is, however, still a mystery.

GO BACK FOR MURDER plays Friday through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistula St., Bristol. For show times and reservations, call 848-4116 or visit elkhartcivictheatre.org

 
Williams Classic On South Bend Stage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 17:22

Even from someone with little or no knowledge of theater, the name of Tennessee Williams will evoke a response.

A Streetcar Named Desire South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe soft-spoken Southerner who, with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, forms the triumvirate of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, created characters that continue to challenge a wide range of actors from amateurs to veterans..

Accepting that challenge with a 70th anniversary production of Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize drama, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” South Bend Civic Theatre opened the second show of its 2017-18 season Friday evening in its mainstage Wilson Theatre.

A Streetcar Named Desire South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreUnder the direction of Aaron Nichols, the 11-member cast was undaunted by the task of recreating several of the American theater’s best known dramatis personae. To those who believe the comedians’ mantra that “tragedy is easy,” just try a touch of Tennessee.

Especially when the many of the characters have become more than closely identified with their creators. This identification is never more closely linked than with “Streetcar’s” male protagonist, Stanley Kowalski, and his originator on stage and screen, Marlon Brando.

The task of not only becoming Stanley but erasing, as much as possible, the image of Brando, is undoubtedly one of the most daunting in theater.

It is one that Scott Jackson takes on with admirable abandon even though his earthy physicality is rather restrained and, considering the humidity of the New Orleans setting, lacking in sweat. His obvious frustration with the unannounced — and seemingly unending — visit from his pretentiously genteel sister-in-law Blanche DuBois (Anastasia Spalding) begins with his realization that the family plantation has been “let go” rather than sold and, finally stretched to the breaking point, culminates in an explosive confrontation as he drunkenly hurls the secrets of Blanche’s past in the face of her ever-weakening grasp on reality.

Spalding’s Blanche struggles with harsh realism of life in the French Quarter and the comforting illusions of her youth. Appalled by her younger sister Stella’s acceptance of the raw facts of her life with a husband Blanche describes as “bestial,” she weaves rose-colored fantasies of what life could be, increasingly haunted by the suicide of her young husband.

Stella (Alexandra Rowell) is caught between the animalistic pull of her husband’s carnality and the emotional lure of her sister’s romantic dreams. Trying desperately to find a common ground, she finally must make a definitive choice. (Note: Not the same in the stage and film versions.) Unfortunately, Rowell spoke so softly on opening night that the majority of her dialogue was unheard.

A Streetcar Named Desire  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Mitch, one of Stanley’s poker-playing buddies, Don Elliott goes from willingly playing gallant knight to Blanche’s lady to cruelly exposing her fantasies in the raw light of a single bulb. Their scenes together are sensitively played and initially end with hope, however ill-fated.

The width of the Wilson stage is well used in Jill Hillman’s multi-level set design, with an iron spiral stairway at the left leading from the ground level Kowalski apartment to that of their friends Eunice (Dawn Marie Hagerty) and Steve (Curt Goodrich) Hubbell and, on the opposite side, the 4 Deuces Bar, complete with instrumental quartet. Most of the action takes place in the two-room apartment center stage which manages to feel cramped in spite of the surrounding space.

The use of music — original combined with popular hit songs of the period — is a plus to this production, with arranger Roy Bronkema as pianist and Jibrail Jones, Luke Vasilarakos and Anival Fausto completing the group. Fausto doubled as a poker player.

The costumes could be a good deal more worn in keeping with the just-above poverty level of the setting.

As in all plays, suspension of disbelief in varying degrees is important.

“A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE” plays through April 9 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.

 

 
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