Theatre
New Rhythm for Familiar Tune PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 11 November 2008 12:38

The story of the Little Mermaid is among the most popular of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales. It also ranks high with Disney which has turned the story into an animated feature film and a Broadway musical.   Unlike the original, both Disney versions have a happy ending for the mermaid and her prince. Still another telling of the story began off Broadway in 1990 and, although it basically follows the same narrative with different characters, "Once on This Island" is based on "My Love, My Love," a book by Rosa Guy and is set on a Caribbean island.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production of "Once on This Island," the show's regional premiere, opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. It is more of an operetta than a standard musical. There is very little spoken dialogue. The show is the creation of composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, the duo responsible for "Ragtime," "Seussical" and "Lucky Stiff," three very different shows which  serve to underscore their obvious versatility. The ECT cast if 16 (including director/choreographer Tom Myers) is "on" almost constantly, portraying gods, peasants, aristocrats, island animals and even the elements as required. When the chorus sings, the results are definitely outstanding. The story centers around Ti Moune (played as a child by Jacqueline Kelley-Cogdell and as a young girl by Alex Pote), found in a tree after a violent storm by two old peasants (Eula Milon and John Jay Shoup) who save her, adopt her and, eventually, let her go to follow her heart. Of course, that leads her to Daniel (Justin Williams), a young man from the other (aka wealthy) side of the island. Her love, no surprise, is stronger than his, and class trumps romance resulting in the bittersweet denoument. Along the way, Ti Moune is aided (and sometimes deterred) by the island gods — Asaka, the earth mother (Stephanie Yoder); Agwe, god of water (William Diggins); Ezulie, goddess of love (Wanzetta Arnett); and Papa Ge, sly demon of death (Steve Salisbury) — always to irresistible rhythms and hauntingly lovely melodies. Pote does a beautiful job as the young dreamer who follows her heart through wind, rain and prejudice, eventually defying death to save her love. She has a clear, true  voice and meets the heavy vocal demands of the role with easy grace. It is about worth the price of admission to hear — and see —Salisbury and Diggins, both big men with big voices who are at ease on stage and obviously relish their roles. Their fellow "gods" work hard with solos that sometimes are out of their vocal range and sometimes hidden by the orchestra. Which is a concern in this production.  The seven-member instrumental ensemble plays very well.  The problem, as in any theater that has no orchestra pit, is that of balance. Soloists are too often overpowered, definitely detrimental when the Storytellers are speaking the narrative that moves the plotline. I have no solution to this, but it is a problem that plagues all community theaters as well as some with much more experience. Myers' choreography is engaging and dares you to sit still and Shoup's silhouetted set pieces, which move on and off as the mood requires, are just right for this fanciful tale.

"Once on This Island" plays Friday through Sunday. Check the web/p>

 
Struthers takes comedy seriously PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 31 October 2008 13:13

Calling from a bus headed for ... whatever is the next tour stop ... actress Sally Struthers sounds incredibly bouncy and up beat. Not an easy task when the "Nunsense 25th Anniversary Tour," in which she plays the Mother Superior Mary Regina, began with rehearsals in August, will be on the road until the end of January and lists more than 40 stops in 19 states, most of them one nighters. But the demands of a rigorous schedule definitely don't faze the actress who has made her mark in all areas of the entertainment business and calls work "My favorite thing." If touring vaudeville-style seems a change of pace for someone who has received two Emmy Awards, it's nothing new and it's definitely not easy. Sometimes "You are so tired you wake up in the morning and don't know where you are," she admitted. And, with no understudies, good health is important. 'You keep your fingers crossed to stay healthy," she said, only half joking.

Salley Struthers in NunsenseHer journey began in 1968 when Struthers left her home in Portland, Ore., and headed for Los Angeles and the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theater.  Before her first year was out, she was getting professional jobs on shows including "The Tim Conway Comedy Hour and "The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour"  and soon was working so steadily she dropped out of school. (Note: The school closed soon after and, although the Pasadena Playhouse remains, the school is no more.) Then fate, in the form of writer/producer Norman Lear, stepped in and changed her life forever. Even 30 years later, the petite blonde is best known as Gloria Stivic, wife of Michael and daughter of Edith and Archie Bunker, the terrific quartet that was "All in the Family." Lear's ground-breaking comedy aired from 1970 to '78 and endowed Struthers with a persona she carries to this day. It does not, however, weigh her down. "I am so grateful for that show," she declared. "It was an opening door. It gave me a name and face people in American knew. And it was a wonderful show to work on. We couldn't believe we got paid to laugh all day long." Although the spinoff series "Gloria" lasted only one season, it joined the actress with her TV person in a partnership that continues, no matter what role she is playing or in what medium. Her characters are many. On the stage, she has  become Truvy in "Steel Magnolias," Golde in "Fiddler on the Roof," one half of "The Female Odd Couple,"Miss Hannigan in "Annie" and Miss Lynch in "Grease." She played the last three on Broadway and, as Miss Lynch, was on stage in South Bend's Morris PAC several years ago during the show's national tour. Her films include "Five Easy Pieces" and "The Getaway" and her TV roles, "Gilmore Girls" and "Still Standing."

Any medium, it seems, is a good fit for the versatile Struthers. "The best part is not getting bored," she said, although she would prefer work closer to her home in L.A. and her daughter, Samantha Struthers Rader, who, mom said proudly, "Is one semester away from getting her PhD in clincial psychology." Currently, Struthers is leader of the surviving Little Sisters of Hoboken, who gather to present a benefit variety show to pay for the interment of their fellow nuns, victims of a poisonous vichysoise created by the convent cook Sister Julia Child of God. "Nunsense" is the first — and the best — of the many "Nunsenses" created by Dan Goggins. It has become a regular in the lineup of community groups around the country. In the hands of a first rate cast, it certainly bears seeing again. With theater offers waiting when this "Nunsense" tour ends, Struthers continues to follow an axiom from her friend actress Brenda Vaccaro, "You gotta keep moving; it creates a breeze."

"Nunsense 25th Anniversary Tour" Starring Sally Struthers 3 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 2) Miller Auditorium Western Michigan University Call (269) 387-2300 or (800) 228-9858 or visit millerauditorium.com.

 
Dracula Can Be Deadly PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 25 October 2008 13:18

With Halloween right around the corner, it's no surprise that vampires are making their annual appearance. Especially THE vampire, the infamous Count Dracula. Steven Deitz' theatrical version of Bram Stoker's classic novel opened Friday evening in a production by South Bend Civic Theater in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium. Written in 1996, it is more akin to Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film than to the 1931 classic that gave Bela Lugosi his cinematic  signature role. The Dietz play is reportedly more like the novel.  Having never read it, I cannot attest to this.       Enough to say that it definitely is a challenge to present and one on which the SBCT cast and crew obviously expended a great deal of time and energy. Unfortunately, the results are disappointing. The initial impact of the towering set — it stretches way above and beyond the usual restrictions of the proscenium — is encouraging. Designed by director Rick W. Ellis and technical director David Chudzynski (who also plays vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing), it contains at least six curtained openings which move the action from one location to another without having to actually change the set. Two major projection areas on the right and left walls are used to depict visually the second act journey from London to Transylvania. Their size blurs the scenes, however, and the accompanying voice-overs are equally indistinguishable. After the prologue by Renfield (Steve Gergacz), whose "entree" is a large "rat," the opening scene between Lucy Westenra  (Sarah Obren) and her close friend Mina Murray (Kim Iwaszewski)  was, from our location right center, entirely unintelligible. Not a good thing when it sets up much of relationships as well as much of what is to come. Excepting Chudzynski, Nathanial Smith as Jonathan Harker, Gergacz and Anthony Panzica (the youthful Dracula, pictured) the majority of the dialogue was delivered in the same way. When I can't hear and, in several scenes, can't see what is going on, it tends to make me lose interest long before the 2 1/2 hour vampire hunt draws to its familiar conclusion. Eventually, everything takes on a comic aspect.When Van Helsing proclaims "There is no joy" and the first thing that pops into my mind is "in Mudville," it's obvious my focus shifted from blood-sucking, insect-eating, baby-crunching horror.Rumbling set pieces — an understandable necessity but, in scene changes, one which can be masked with music — and a seeming uncertainty as to whether to play the often unwieldy dialogue straight or kamp resulted in an unsettling  mixture and made me really miss Bela Lugosi. I wish a better reaction from local theater-goers whose demand for tickets has increased the scheduled eight show run to 10, with a midnight show Oct. 31 and an additional matinee Nov. 1.

 
Accent on Youth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 05 October 2008 10:16
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