Theatre
Theatrical insanity rules in "The Nerd" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 03 August 2013 16:04

There are some shows that should say “Leave rational thinking at the door.”

This would be great advice for those attending the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of “The Nerd,” which opened Wednesday evening in the Warsaw theater. Little if any rational thinking is required for the total enjoyment of this fairly insane farce.

The Nerd Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  IN“The Nerd” is one of two comedies by the late Larry Shue, an actor/playwright who died in a plane crash at age 39. After seeing “The Nerd,” one wonders what theatrical insanity he might have created had he lived to a ripe old age.

Never mind. “The Nerd” and his second frantic farce, “The Foreigner,” provide enough laughs to last for decades.

The seven character comedy begins quietly enough with only hints of the full-out riots that are to follow. The setting — which is odd enough — is Terre Haute. The characters’ names also are somewhat deliberately off kilter — Willum, Tansy, Axel, Clelia, Thor and Warnock. The only character with a fairly reasonable designation is Rick Steadman (aka The Nerd).

Nevermind. That is the least of the nonsensical goings-on.

Willum Cubbert (Matthew Janisse) is an architect dealing with the impending departure of his girlfriend Tansy McGinnis (Jennifer Dow) for a Weather Girl job in Washington, D.C., and with the arrival-for-dinner of his newest client Warnock (“Call Me Ticki”) Waldgrave (Kyle Timson) with his wife Clelia (Kira Lace Hawkins) and son Thor (Parker Irwin). Commenting caustically on both the departure and arrivals is Willum’s best friend, theater critic Alex Hammond (Rob Montgomery).

Willum, according to Tansy, could use “a little gumption,” a thought that becomes apparent as the evening goes on. She also, incidentally, challenges Alex to do someone “an anonymous favor,” before she leaves town.

The Nerd  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INThe dinner guests are a collective nightmare. Thor, described by Alex as “the poster child for planned parenthood,” is a screaming nightmare (and Irwin delivers some piercing chillers) while Clelia is obviously a nervous wreck (check her crockery-destroying outlet) and Ticki, a dominating blowhard.

Tension mounts but it peaks when Steadman (Matt Hill) arrives. He saved Willum’s life in Vietnam and, it turns out, is on hand because of Willum’s promise to do anything and everything he could for him in the future. The two have not ever come face to face.

Steadman soon proves to be the visitor from Hell and wastes no time in taking over Willum’s party, his apartment and, it seems, his life. Getting rid of Steadman becomes the top priority of Willum, Tansy and Alex. There is no need to try and describe their plots, enough to say that they are increasingly wild and unbelievable — to anyone but Rici.

Under the direction of Tony Humrichhouser, who returns to the Wheel every summer to demonstrate his increasing directorial skills, the cast literally goes crazy with their characters and the galloping plotline. Somewhere in the first act my sides began to ache from laughing and “The Nerd” offered no opportunity to stop.

Everyone obviously is having a great time with his/her respective characters. Montgomery has, some would say, “all the good lines.” Each is a zinger and the actor deposits them accurately and with well-deserved authority. Janisse emerges slowly from his self-effacing cocoon and his point-of-no-return explosion is well-deserved. Dow is properly supportive as the sanest of the bunch and Hawkins turns in another solid characterization as the cowering spouse. Timson’s Ticki is right on as the boss you love to hate. As the adenoidal Steadman, Hill is the personification of his title role, giving new meaning to “Nerd.” He is every host’s worse nightmare and definitely will make you think twice before making a sweeping gesture of “thanks,” no matter how life-saving the incident.

“THE NERD” plays through Aug. 10 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For show times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com

 

 
Tarzan Sings, Swings At The Barn PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 26 July 2013 20:43

A century ago, English novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs created a character who wore very few clothes and spoke even fewer words. “Tarzan of The Apes” swung into print in 1912, has appeared in every entertainment format since then and shows no signs of coming out of the jungle any time soon.

Tarzan The Stage Musical  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIOne of his most recent incarnations was on Broadway where “Tarzan, The Stage Musical” opened in 2006. Based on the 1999 Disney movie, the tale of the orphaned English lord raised by “giant apes” began a two-week run Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich.

Since 1912, here have been many, many, many variations on the Tarzan story, this one was set to music by Phil Collins and, for the most part, reportedly follows Burroughs’ original plotline. Possibly the reason it is not billed as “Disney’s Tarzan, The Stage Musical” is that it falls into Disney’s “Aida” and “The Little Mermaid” category, i.e. not very theatrically successful.

The Barn production does not attempt to salvage the extremely familiar material with a lot of pyrotechnics or aerial gymnastics. It just delivers it as it is and, for the most part, that works as well as anything.

Tarzan The Stage Musical  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIDirector Eric Parker gets his actors on, lets them do their thing, and gets them off, resulting in a two-hour (including intermission) production that is more entertaining because it is not dragged out.

The unit set serves as the jungle, with side camps for the ill-fated Greystokes and the more fortunate Porters. Knotted ropes at each side of the proscenium are ready for energetic swinging, and a multi-level green “mountain” is the central location around and up-and-down which Tarzan and his fellow apes fight and play.

Barn choreographer Jamey Grisham sheds his dancing shoes — in fact any shoes and most of his clothing — to play the title character. Barn veteran Penelope Alex turns in another very sympathetic portrayal as Kala, Tarzan’s adopted apemom. Patrick Hunter is Kerchak, leader of the apes who is definitely against keeping the “evil” baby; Hannah Eakin is Jane Porter, British horticulturist who loses her heart (and her clothes) to the jungle; and Josh Meredith is Terk, Tarzan’s best buddy and the designated comedian of the piece.

Grisham’s Tarzan mixes muscles with dreds and a disarming grin to present a nature boy who maintains his sense of humor throughout. It is a charming characterization although his “yell” needs some work. His “discovery” of Jane is definitely “scratch and sniff” but in a gently humorous way. Eakin has a warm soprano which, even so, can’t do much to save Collins’ tepid ballads.

Tarzan The Stage Musical  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIHunter is properly intimidating as the ferocious leader whose roar hides a rather soft heart. Alex echoes every mother who chooses her child over the strictures of her tribe and makes the gorilla universally maternal. Meredith’s Terk (and that rhymes with …) is indeed the class clown whose bravado hides a quaking backbone. He makes the most of his brash exterior and his asides (“Lose the yell, kid”) are welcome.

Ricky Phillips is Clayton, part of the Porter safari and the resident bad guy, a role he dispatches with hand-wringing glee. Also evil is the murderous, red-eyed leopard (Jordan Moody, who never gets upright) who is a key killer in the plot. High on his dinner menu is Tarzan, who chased him off as a child. As Young Tarzan, Floridian Donny Graves jumps, swings and flips with the enthusiasm of an athletic pre-teen and never looses his cool.

The remaining ensemble members are gorillas, huffing and grunting in knuckle-dragging representations of great apes. Costume designer Michael Wilson Morgan has opted to ignore hairy outfits and go instead with black tops and legging covered with what appear to be dozens and dozens of string mops (minus the handles) dyed black, red and blue (except for Kerchak who is black and white). The mops bobble and flow in a perpetual salute to Tarzan and The Great Apes.

“TARZAN The Stage Musical” plays through Aug. 4 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit www.barnthatre.com.

 
WW Magic Big Plus For 'Wedding Singer' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 20 July 2013 20:18

In recent years, the trend on Broadway has been to abandon originality for reworking existing stories, most often those of hit movies, especially hit movies to which a musical score can be added.

The Wedding Singer Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INThere have been many of these, popularly referred to as “Jukebox Musicals.” They vary in theatrical strength, most often relying on LOUD as their key ingredient. They also vary in longevity, depending on their level of production.

Director/choreographer Scott Michaels has worked his magic on the current Wagon Wheel Theatre production of the Broadway version of the 1998 Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore comedy “The Wedding Singer.”

The core of this transformation relies on several ingredients: A talented cast, thoroughly engaging leads, amazing choreography and killer vocals which leave your eardrums (almost) in tact. Well, it is set in the ‘80s which I recall was a very loud decade.

The score, well-played as always by conductor/keyboardist Thomas N. Stirling and the eight talented musicians who make up his “pit band” (literally), is definitely not memorable. But, as they say, sometimes the strength is in the doing and Wagon Wheel does it right.

“The Wedding Singer” is the 400th production of Warsaw’s theater-in-the-round which began as a gravel-floored tent and is now one of the most highly respected summer theaters in the country.

On opening night Wednesday, about 900 “guests” came to the wedding and, obviously friends of the bride AND groom, stayed through the quite ridiculous finale, loving every minute of it.

Matt Hill is Robbie Hart, guitarist and lead singer of the band Simply Wed. He is in love with love and with fiancé Linda (Alexandra Howley) who, unfortunately turns out to fit the very unflattering description delivered by his feisty grandmother Rosie (Jennifer Dow at her geriatric best!).

The Wedding Singer Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INHe is rescued from the dumpster of depression by Julia Sullivan (Stephanie Cowan), a waitress at the wedding facility where his band plays. Together, Hill and Cowan make a really adorable and completely sympathetic couple. She has a naturally warm and clear soprano which makes her solos thoroughly enjoyable. His baritone fits beautifully in their several duets and, like Cowan, he can belt or sustain a solo note without rupturing your eardums. His comic timing is excellent and he never overdoes.

As the duo’s definitely-not-the-right-mate-material, Rob Montgomery and Howley are the fiancés you love to hate. He is Glen Guglia, a Wall Street sleaze whose priorities are “All About the Green.” She dumps Robbie when he fails to become a rock star. Both meet their musical just rewards and if Linda’s “Let Me Come Home” sounds like a ballad title, you couldn’t be more wrong!

Robbie’s band mates are his best friend Sammy (Matthew Janisse), who is holding on to the single life in spite of an increasing reconnection to Julia’s best friend Holly (Leigh Ellen Jones), and George (Dereck Seay), a soulful portable keyboard player whose resemblance — vocal and coiffure-wise — to Boy George is unmistakable. His rap with Rosie is a highlight of the second act and, even though fairly unintelligible, is a well-deserved show-stopper.

It’s the ‘80s, so of course the girls are on the hunt for a man to “Pop” (the question), while the boys’ interest is in having their cake and —well, you know. It’s the age-old battle of the sexes and there’s no mistaking the results.

The multi-level set designed by Michael Higgins and Terry Julien and lit above and below by Patrick Chan, allows the action to move to many locations (and gives the WW stage crew a real workout!). Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s return-to-the-‘80s costumes are spot-on and whether at a wedding or a disco, add much to the ambiance of the wild-and-wooly decade.

If the final confrontations are most recognizable to TV fans of that period, they certainly are good for leaving the whole audience laughing. And retrospectively, wasn’t that what it was all about?

”THE WEDDING SINGER” plays through July 27 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or (800) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com

 
Shaking Up Elvis And The Bard of Avon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 18 July 2013 21:37

Take a rollicking farce that is more than 500 years old and inject it with a large amount of music from the late 20th century and what do you have?

All Shook Up  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INIn the case of the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “All Shook Up,” the answer is a highly entertaining evening of familiar melodies and a plot that becomes so hilariously twisted it takes about 2 ½ hours (including intermission) to get everyone straightened out and properly paired up.

What makes this seemingly unlikely combination of Elvis Presley’s best-known songs and the reimagining by playwright Joe DiPietro of one of Shakespeare’s most-produced farces so totally enjoyable is the unbridled enthusiasm of the cast, most of whom are still in their ‘teens.

The opening line of “Twelfth Night” (the work by The Bard of Avon on which the circuitous plot is based) is “If music be the food of love, play on.” In the rousing ECT production it plays on…and on…and on.

If some of the individual voices are a bit less than solo quality, each one makes up for being “pitchy” with frequently endearing energy and enthusiasm. The sharp staging by John J. Shoup, assisted by Leann Reas-Sullan, underscores every comic incidence and makes the most of all the fast-paced happenings.

All Shook Up Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThere is no way to unravel the plot. It is no easier set in “A small you-never-heard-of-it-town somewhere in the Midwest” during the summer of 1955 than it was, set in Illyria on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea in about 1601.

Against Jeffrey Barrack’s stylized drops, the story of “Roustabout” Chad (Tell Williams IV), who literally roars into town on his motorcycle and more than disrupts the status quo, is nothing but fun from beginning to end. As each principle player “falls in love(?)” “One Night With You” is the romantic anthem of choice.

The town is under the thumb of Mayor Matilda (Joy Freude), who has enacted “The Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act” which prohibits “loud music, public necking and tight pants.” In no time, Chad is rousing the residents to rebellion.

In the tradition of true farce, everyone is falling in love but no one is falling for the right person. Among the mis-matched inhabitants are Sylvia, owner of the local café (Wanzetta Arnett); her daughter Lorraine (Dayna Arnette); Jim, a widower and owner/operator of the local garage (Rick All Shook Up  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INNymeyer); his daughter Natalie, who also serves as chief mechanic (Carly Swendsen); Dennis, town nerd and bad boy wannabee (Matthew Manley); Dean, the mayor’s son avoiding a return to the Stonewall Jackson Military Academy (Andy Braden); Miss Sandra, the town’s new librarian (Ashlea Romano); and Sheriff Earl, silent head of law enforcement (Tony Venable).

These, plus two trios (Brittny Goon, Kristen Abbey and Julie Kavalenko and Jared Yoder, Jacob DeLong and Joshua Garcia) who supply some excellent backup work, do well presenting numbers from The King’s repertoire. An ensemble of 13 and Kids’ Chorus of four deliver a really solid sound thanks to vocal director Sandy Hill.

Suspension of disbelief allows cute and perky Carly to pass as sidekick Ed, even without a dirty face. Watching the repressed inhabitants throw off the inhibiting yoke of Mayor Matilda and learn to “Follow That Dream” results in one laugh after another.

I also guarantee that, whether or not you were ever an Elvis fan, watching the ‘50s-style choreography by Dawn Manger (with John Shoup) set to the excellent eight-piece orchestra directed by percussionist Mark Swendsen will get your toes tapping. It’s definitely unavoidable considering the extensive range of the 24-song score.

It’s a look back and way, way back to a time when “A Little Less Conversation” resulted in steady fires of “Burning Love.”

“ALL SHOOK UP” plays at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in downtown Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org.

 
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