'Lady Day' Recalls Her Life In Music PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 14 November 2015 21:17

In the world of jazz, the name — and voice — of Billie Holiday holds a very special place.

The events — and music — of her brief and primarily tragic life are captured in a solo show, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” which opened Nov. 6 in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Theatre.

Lady Day  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe 2014 Broadway production was categorized by the Tony Award committee as a “play with music” rather than a musical, although many would call the latter a closer fit.

The action, of which there is little, is set in the titular location, a rundown bar in south Philadelphia in March 1959. The cast is small: Holiday (Dorea Britton) , her piano player Jimmy Powers (Roy Bronkema), the owner/bartender Emerson (Daniel J. Slattery), Holiday’s dog Pepi (Rabbit) and an uncredited drummer, and the full weight of the production falls on Britton, dramatically and vocally.

Directed by Mary Hubbard with Bronkema as music director, the atmosphere is set very properly by scenic designer Phil Patnaude. Entering the black box space, the smoky, dimly lit atmosphere immediately evokes that of a jazz club of the period. Most of the designated playing area is filled with cabaret tables at which “patrons” are seated, are served beverages and, as the 90-minute, no intermission play progresses, become a peripheral part of the action.

Such as it is, that action consists of Holiday wandering among the listeners, sharing bits and pieces of her life-to-date, not in chronological order, and returning to the microphone, with increasing unsteadiness, to sing.

Lady Day  South Bend  (IN) Civic TheatreThe “score” consists of the songs of her life, some of which are little known (“Gimme A Pig Foot and a Bottle of Beer”) and some of which have become classics (“God Bless the Child,” which she wrote with Arthur Herzog jr., and“ Strange Fruit”)

Details surround the vocals. Her childhood was horrific and her only joy came with her music and even that was tainted by racial prejudice and segregation. Three husbands used and abused her, increasing her dependence on alcohol and hard drug.

Born Eleanora Fagan, she took her professional name from silent screen star Billie Dove and the man reported to be her father, Clarence Holiday. Her earliest musical influences were Bessie Smith, “for the sound”, and Louis Armstrong, “for the heart.” Her closest friend, sax man Lester Young, gave her the nickname Lady Day.

Britton, studying music performance at IUSB, works hard in an exceedingly demanding role. However, her youth is not an asset here and the slightly nasal vocal quality and unique phrasing that were Holiday’s trademark are missing.

Sitting in deliberate shadow, Bronkema provides excellent instrumental support. Holiday’s trademark gardenias make a late appearance as does the well-behaved-but-way-too-large dog.

The March 1959 performance was like a farewell appearance. Four months later, Billie Holiday died. She was 44 years old.

“LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR AND GRILL” plays through Nov. 22 in the Warner Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit


ECT 'Addams' Is Finger-Snappin' Good PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 11 November 2015 18:45

Elkhart Civic Theatre opened its production of “The Addams Family” musical Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House and, to paraphrase a popular slogan, it is “finger-snappin’ good”!

The Addams Family  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe weirdly lovable characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams in 1938 for the New Yorker magazine have more than withstood the test of time.

In addition to the cartoons, the Family has tickled the macabre funnybones of generations in films and on TV. The theatrical version by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman, with music by Andrew Lippa, is the only “live on stage” production. Premiering on Broadway in 2010, national and international tours quickly followed.

Action begins — where else? — in the Addams’ graveyard where the Ancestors (“living, dead and undecided”) are called up for the annual celebration (“When You’re An Addams”).

The Addams Family Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe familiar Family members — Gomez (John Shoup). Morticia (Annette Kaczanowski), Wednesday (Christa Norwood), Pugsley (Ethen Nichols), Uncle Fester (Jaymes Hidde-Halsey),

Grandma (Geneele Crump) and Lurch (Michah Bryan) — all are instantly recognizable. OK, Shoup is a tad too tall for the horizontally-challenged cartoon Gomez, but he captures the heart and external quirks of the devoted husband and father.

His loyalties are divided, however, when Wednesday confides that she is in love and asks her father to keep the information from her mother, a promise Gomez eventually makes but has difficulty keeping (“Two Things”).

The Addams Family  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INAs the object of his constant affections, Kaczanowski creates a lovingly controlled wife and mother. She glides serenely through their somewhat skewed daily life, decapitating flowers and taking everything in stride until Wednesday invites her “normal” boyfriend Lucas Beineke (Matthew Manley) and his parents Mel (Zach Rivers) and Alice (Chrissy Herrick) to dinner.

Morticia agrees to the dinner but only if they play The Game, “Full Disclosure,” afterwards.

The evening is complicated by Pugsley’s fear of losing his sister (and torturer) to Lucas. His actions result in an explosive confession from Alice (“Waiting”), who talks in greeting-card rhymes, which breaks up the party as well as all surrounding relationships.

Everything is, of course, resolved by the final blackout and getting there could not be more fun.

The Addams Family Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe entire ECT cast, crew and seven piece orchestra directed by Mark Swendsen are at the top of their respective forms. Special kudos to the 10 Ancestors. Garbed in ghostly grey/white they sing, dance, move set pieces and generally are an asset to the entire production. Each is costumed by Linda Weisinger and her crew in a different historical period, depending, of course, on when they died.

Shoup swashbuckles Gomez-style (fencing with Thing) and vocally sounds better than ever. His shock at seeing Wednesday in a yellow dress (“You look like a crime scene!”) echoes dismay at the realization that “Wednesday’s Growing Up.” Kazanowski, who also as assistant to director Penny Meyers, is the perfect foil, praising Wednesday for shooting dinner “at the petting zoo,” dreaming of a trip to the sewers of Paris and cheered by the thought that “Death Is Just Around The Corner.”

The reconciled duo’s “Tango De Amor” is a guaranteed showstopper.

As the girl trying to bridge the gap between her family and the “normal” neighbors, Norwood consistently hits the bullseye (with her ever-present crossbow) and never drops character, vocally or dramatically.

The Addams Famioy  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INManley is just right as the “normal” boyfriend/fiancé who goes to great lengths to prove to Wednesday he is “Crazier Than You.”

As Uncle Fester, Hidde-Halsey puts the focus on love, enlisting the aid of the Ancestors to give everyone a happy ending, finding his own in a celestial rendezvous.

In addition to the obvious humor, there are a number of situations to which parents and children can relate. It’s the generation gap in mourning, and the absurdity makes it even more obvious.

The set, designed by Shoup and painted by scenic artist Jeffery Barrick, is a real tribute to “less is more” with every location easily recognized by a few quick changes and the addition/removal of set pieces, happily facilitating the flow of the action.

Four choreographers are credited with the dances and whoever did which number, all were executed sharply and with proper emotion (or lack thereof). The same is true of the musical numbers, with credit to vocal director Kim Dooley.Finally, the Addamses are determined to “Move Toward the Darkness,” and this journey takes the entire audience into the light of laughter.

“THE ADDAMS FAMILY” plays Friday through Sunday and Nov. 20-2 I in the Bristol Opera House in downtown Bristol. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 or visit

Musical Tale Of Tragic War-Time Romance PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 06 October 2015 16:39

Composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist Alain Boublil are best known to American audiences as the creators of two blockbuster musicals — “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon.”

Miss Saigon South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe former is based on a massive, multi-part novel of the same name by French author Victor Hugo and the latter, on the opera “Madame Butterfly” by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. It, in turn, is based on a one-act play based on a short story and a French novel, all going to show that nothing is completely original.

Miss Saigon  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreFor “Miss Saigon,” the sung-through (little or no spoken dialogue) musical which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Theatre, the setting was changed from early 20th century Japan to Saigon in the final days of the Vietnam War (1975) and the United States (1978).

The basic elements of plot remain the same. Intentionally or unintentionally, the subplot in which thousands of natives scramble to escape the advance of an oppressive regime is very uneasily familiar today.

“Miss Saigon” is the third big musical of the SBCT 2015 season and the second in the high-domed Wilson Theatre. The mid-summer offering, “Fiddler on The Roof,” fared better al fresco in St. Patrick’s County Park. For a number of reasons, “Miss Saigon” goes the way of its indoor predecessors,.

There are several plusses in this production under the direction of Jewel Abram-Copenhaver.

Miss Saigon  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreFirst is the versatile set by scenic designer Jaycee Rohick, who has become one of SBCT’s major assets. It transfers quickly and, for the most part, quietly, from the Saigon bar-and-brothel owned by The Engineer (Mike Barnette) to the tiny room in which Kim (Shana

Dagny) and Chris (Lincoln Wright) find love, to the gates of the American Embassy as well as various locations in Saigon, Bangkok and Atlanta, Ga.

The fall of Saigon and its famed helicopter rescue is effective due to a generous use of stage fog and the sound of whirling propellers while the skeleton of a copter “lands” above the right balcony.

The use of projections of Saigon, its places and people, is helpful, if blurry, in echoing the frantic rush to escape the city before the arrival of the Viet Cong.

Miss Saigon South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe orchestral track is a semi-plus in that it provides full instrumentation of the lush Schonberg score while most frequently overplaying the singers, both soloists and ensemble, and obscuring the all-important lyrics.

The major performance plus here is Dagny, a professional actress/singer from Chicago, who has played the role before and not only sings with emotion and warmth but conveys the changes in Kim as she goes from a timid innocent to a strong woman and a mother who literally gives everything for the sake of her child. Her characterization is moving and very believable.

Daniel Grey as Thuy, Kim’s Vietnamese fiancé turned officer in the North Vietnamese Army, and Ryan Clubine as John, the marine who buys Kim’s first night for his buddy Chris, deliver the best and strongest male voices and characterizations.

Anne Bomgaars is Ellen, Chris’ American wife. She also is vocally strong but, like the rest of the company females, suffers from very unfortunate costume choices. The men are safe in military uniforms although not sure they are circa 1975.

Like “Les Miz,” “Miss Saigon” is a big show and, to produce effectively, requires a big cast. Unfortunately this was not available here and the minimal result does little to enhance “The American Dream.”

“MISS SAIGON” plays through Oct. 25 in the Wilson Theatre in South Bend Civic Theatre, 215 W. Madison. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit

Comedy From Russia With Lots Of Laughs PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 17 September 2015 18:40

If you think the title “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is a bit odd, wait ‘til you see the Christopher Durang play on stage in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Theatre.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe name of the 2013 Tony Award-winning Best Play is taken from characters in plays by Russian playwright Anton Chekov, as is the setting, even though 9 or 10 trees don’t make an orchard. You don’t, however, need a degree — or even an interest — in Russian theater to start laughing.

After the first few uncomfortably familiar exchanges by Vanya (Bill Svelmoe) and (adopted) sister Sonia (Melissa Manier) as they share (?) morning coffee on the porch of the family home in Bucks County, PA. where nit picking and self-pity have become a way of life, you realize its really OK to laugh, and laugh a lot.

As the duo prepares to spend another day of nothing happening, the forecast gets a jolt from the mostly-manic, part-time cleaning lady Cassandra (Marybeth Saunders), who not only predicts the weather but sees storm clouds in the future and warns them to beware of “pootie pie,” an omen that means nothing to either of them. Cassandra is extremely physical and also wields a mean hatpin.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreSonia and Vanya continue to bemoan lost chances. Both in their fifties, they have spent their lives in the family home caring for their now-deceased parents. Neither has a job and are completely dependent on their sister Masha (Lucinda Gary Moriarty), who left home to follow her dream and became a movie star, albeit in slasher films not classics, and who, not incidentally, owns their home.

The morning ritual is interrupted by the appearance of Masha and her boy toy Spike (Brian Wells), who has a problem keeping his clothes on. His flimsy claim to fame is almost being cast in Entourage 2.

Masha’s visit has two purposes: she plans to attend a big costume party given by well-connected neighbors and expects her siblings to accompany her to complete her costume and, oh yes, she plans to sell the house.

Masha’s insecurity takes a hit with the appearance of Nina (Sam Blevins), the neighbor’s niece, who is an aspiring actor and a contemporary of Spike’s.

Things come to a head the morning after the party when Vanya assembles them all to hear a reading of his play, set after the destruction of earth with Nina as a molecule. Declaring he can “multi-task,” Spike texts during the reading and Vanya literally explodes, delivering a rant that covers everything from technology to global warming to Senor Wences and mourns the loss of culture and shared memories and the disconnection of lives. “I miss the past,” he says. “And I worry about the future.”

There is no sound of falling trees to mark the end of this play, only the quiet re-connection of the disparate family, still hoping for better days ahead.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreDirector Jim Geisel has some of South Bend Civic’s veteran best in his cast and they work well together although some tend to go way over the top and arrive at caricature rather than character.

The scenic design by Jacee Rohick provides a well-detailed setting rather more like Florida than Pennsylvania, and there is no mistaking the Disney influence on the party costumes.

“VANYA AND SONIA AND SASHA AND SPIKE” plays through Sept. 27 in the Warner Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 215 W. Madison Ave. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit

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