'Birdie' Puts A Happy Face On Everyone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 05 July 2015 16:34

Back in the late 1950s, those old enough to remember will agree that one of the major happenings was the induction into the U.S. Army of Pvt. Elvis Presley.

Bye Bye Birdie Wagon Wheel Center Warsaw INNot only did that upset millions of American teenagers, it soon spawned something even more rare: An original Broadway show.

“Bye Bye Birdie” first entered the world of musical comedy in 1960 and it hasn’t stopped yet. For those who, since that time, have seen too many productions to be up for one more, now is definitely the time to take another look.

The “Birdie” that opened Wednesday evening at the Wagon Wheel Center For the Arts in Warsaw is definitely the one at which to look.

Bye Bye Birdie  Wagon Wheel Center Warsaw INUnder the crisp direction of WW veteran Tony Humrichouser, with Lesa Denklau’s see-it-to-believe-it choreography, it is bright, fast, colorful and sharply done and offers the perfect family-that-stays-together show for the season.

Parents will find more than a grain of truth in the plight of Harry and Doris MacAfee (Andy Robinson and Kira Lace Hawkins) of Sweet Apple, Ohio, who find their lives literally turned upside down with the announcement that rock star Conrad Birdie (Jordan Andre) has selected their daughter Kim (Audrey Kennedy) to receive “One Last Kiss” from him before he leaves for basic training.

Bye Bye Birdie Wagon Wheel Center Warsaw INTheir opposition melts when they learn the kiss will be delivered during “The Ed Sullivan Show,” with all the family on TV for the event.

Actually, the kiss is a publicity stunt engineered by Conrad’s manager Albert Peterson (Scott Fuss) and Albert’s secretary/girlfriend Rose Alvarez (Ellen Jenders) in one last push to save the AlMaeLou recording company and, Rose hopes, to get Albert away from his incredibly clinging, hilariously martyred mother Mae (Kristen Yasenchak), who gives new meaning to the poor me syndrome.

En route to the inevitable happy ending (this was a ‘60s musical, remember) the WW stage is filled with wonderfully upbeat songs and dances, solo and ensemble, guaranteed to bring smiles throughout the two-hour (plus intermission AND announcements!) production.

Bye Bye Birdie Wagon Wheel Center Warsaw INHighlights — and there are almost too many to count — begin with “The Telephone Hour,” which finds all the Sweet Apple teens tying up the phone lines in the excitement of Kim’s pinning by boyfriend Hugo Peabody (Tom Sweeney), and “Honestly Sincere,” in which a gold-clad Conrad meets his swooning (remember that?) fans.

The MacAfees’ plight is hilariously depicted in “Kids,” and there is no doubt the second act showstopper is delivered by Jenders who declares her independence in “Spanish Rose,” a solo dance well worth the price of admission.

The talented cast delivers yet another solid production which is happily played on Michael Higgins colorfully layered set, wrapped in Stephen H. Hollenbeck’s always right-on costumes (love Harry MacAfee’s pjs!) and supported from first note to final chord by music director Thomas N. Stirling’s excellent orchestra. (Note: Don’t look for a title tune. That was written strictly for the 1963 film.) It is a pleasure to listen to a small orchestra make every “Overture” the best way to start the show.

When “Bye Bye Birdie” first opened on Broadway, it received a Tony Award as Best Musical. The Wagon Wheel production makes the reasons for this easy to understand

“BYE BYE BIRDIE” plays through Saturday in the Center at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

The Medium Gets The Message in 'Ghost' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 03 July 2015 19:16

In 1987, Patrick Swayze dirty-danced his way into cinema stardom. Never one to repeat himself, he followed this in 1990 with a definitely different role in another blockbuster film “Ghost.”

Two decades later, theatrical producers jumped aboard the “Let’s turn a movie into a stage musical” bandwagon and “Ghost the musical” hit the boards in London and Broadway, never, unfortunately, recreating its cinematic success.

Ghoat the musical The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe stage production, however, makes for an entertaining evening as evidenced by the latest effort at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI where “Ghost the musical” opened Tuesday evening.

Fans who became enchanted with a ghostly Swayze’s frantic attempts to warn his lady love of impending danger from his killer, will find the same frustrating storyline at The Barn, enacted by Jamey Grisham as the dead-but-not-departed Sam, Brooke Evans as his greatly-grieving girlfriend Molly, Michael Tuck as their not-to-be-trusted buddy Carl and last, but certainly not least, Shinnerie Jackson as Oda Mae Brown, a pseudo-psychic who conjures up a lot more than she bargained for.

Ghost The Musical The Barn Theatre Augusta MIWatching Ms. Jackson in action is a major reason for watching this production. In the role that earned Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar, she takes a back seat to nobody. Safely ensconced in her Harlem habitat, she delivers messages that fit whatever profiles she can glean from her not-so-subtle questions to believing clients.

When she erupts with “Are You a Believer?” the energy level erupts along with her. She has excellent comic timing and her reactions to, and conversations with, the unseen Sam pick up the pace and give a much-needed boost to the frequently funereal (no pun intended) tempo of the piece. Her struggle with a forced donation is a gem as is her realization that she finally has made an actual contact with the spirit world.

Grisham, who also serves as choreographer assisted by Julie Grisham, mainly stands in a blue (ghostly) light and observes. His attempts to reconnect with the “real” world are well done and well-timed with the requisite sound effects. His other-worldly interaction with the Subway Ghost (Laron Hudson), who delivers his “Focus” rap with spectral fisticuffs, is painfully effective.

Ghost The Musical The Barn Theatre Augusta, MIAs Molly, the talented Evans has little to do but cry about her lost love in a limited wardrobe meant to underscore the fact that artists live in blue jeans and tank tops. She assigned several of the show’s easily forgettable ballads which even extensive straight line belting cannot save. And there is little connection between her and Grisham.

Outside of Jackson, the best voice in the show belongs to Tuck, who creates a former friend slipping faster and faster into desperate enmity. His “hellish” end was not nearly “hellish” enough.

Under the direction of Hans Friedrichs, the hard-working ensemble morphs from ghosts to office workers to medical personnel to subway riders and much more without missing a costume change or a beat in the frequently robotic choreography.

The set, designed by Shy Iverson, works well given the many locations required although on opening night several props and set pieces had to be added/removed after action had begun. Lighting and sound are well synchronized and also play an important part in setting whatever atmosphere is necessary.

Under the direction of Matt Shabala, the orchestra is supportive and handles the score well, given the only song that emerges in memory is one from the film: “Unchained Melody.” The rest of the music is easily forgotten.

GHOST The Musical” plays through July 12 in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121

WW Gives New Life To Classic Musical PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 20 June 2015 15:20

Sometimes putting a classic musical on a season can be an invitation to disaster, especially if, because of the physical demands of its book, score and choreography, that musical is almost, in at least one of these areas, a sure bet to fail — or at least to stumble badly.

Don’t tell that to director/choreographer Scott Michaels and the cast of the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts production of “West Side Story,” which opened Wednesday night in the Warsaw arena theater.

West Side Story Wagon Wheel Center Warsaw INI really don’t have to say more than get your tickets while there are still some available. You’ll have to wait a very long time to see as thrilling a production of this modern day “Romeo and Juliet” which, sadly, is as relevant today at it was almost 60 years ago.

Based on a concept by Jerome Robbins, a multi-award-winning director/choreographer in both musical theater and ballet, “West Side Story” offers a score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents., all award winners in their own genres.

But having a theatrical pedigree doesn’t mean a company can just “mail it in.” In fact, the bar is set even higher and the demands are constant.

It took 10 years for Robbins to bring “WSS” to the stage and 10 years for him to assemble what turned out to be the perfect team.

In Warsaw, director Michaels already has the best choreographer in the Midwest and, in Thomas N. Stirling, a musical director who leads his 13-piece orchestra surely through the emotional nuances of Bernstein’s score.

The rest of the WW production team delivers its usual excellence in Stephen B. Hollenbeck’s character detailing (and very danceable) costumes, Sara Gosses’ mood enhancing lighting and Michael Higgins’ spare but exact set design. Sound man Chris Pollnow keeps the right balance between singer/actors and instrumentalists and production stage manage Caitlin Denney Turner and her crew make the many scene changes swiftly and silently.

All provide the perfect setting for the incredibly talented WW cast. For the original Broadway production, Robbins requested — and got — eight weeks for dance rehearsals rather than the usual four. Michaels & Co. did it in two and very obviously without missing a beat!

West Side Stopry Waon Wheel Center Warsaw INFrom the minute the Jets, led by Sean Watkinson as Riff, and the Sharks, led by Danny Burgos as Bernardo, hit the stage, the air crackles with barely contained hostility. They dance their emotions — and then they sing and dance again, holding nothing back.

Into this maelstrom, articulated by the breathtaking “Dance at the Gym,” come Tony (Jordan Andre), former leader of the Jets, and Maria (Allsun O’Malley), sister of Bernardo. It is love at first sight and their instant connection is delivered lyrically by two of the finest voices at WW this season. They more than do justice to the familiar solos and duets., especially the “Balcony Scene” (“Tonight”) and “One Hand, One Heart.”

On the fiery side is Anita (Monica Brown), Bernardo’s girl, who makes no secret of her feelings, leading the Shark girls in the wonderfully biting “America.” (NOTE: Former Wagon Wheeler Karen Olivo won a Tony Award for her Anita in the 2009 revival.)

The Jets hit the nail on the head with their view of police in “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

The powerful “Tonight” quintet, the angry “Rumble,” the haunting “Somewhere” ballet and the tragically spare finale (oh come on, you must know how this ends!!) are only a few of the familiar highlights which can be a joy to see and hear — or not.

In this production, there is no need to worry. ”Somewhere,” Robbins & Co. are smiling!

“WEST SIDE STORY” plays through June 27 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

Barn Musical Works Hard For Little PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 18:08

One day in 1934, an east wind stirred by the pen of P.L. Travers blew a magical nanny to London’s 17 Cherry Tree Lane.

That nanny was Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins  Th Barn Theatre Augusta MIOver the next 54 years, seven more books recounting her adventures were published, establishing the no-nonsense lady firmly in the childhood (and adult) libraries of millions of readers world-wide.

In addition, she served as the central character for a 1964 Walt Disney film and a theatrical musical which played in London’s West End for three years before crossing the pond to begin a seven year run on Broadway.

Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” opened Tuesday night at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI. Unfortunately it takes a lot more than “A Spoonful of Sugar” to make this production go — anywhere.

In the leading role, a red-coated Hannah Eakin works valiantly to project Mary’s “spit-spot” persona. Her “magic” is limited due to the physical restrictions of the stage, but she does create a warm character. Musically she has no problem with Mary’s vocal assignments and is heard well in spite of the orchestra.

Mary Poppins  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe seven-piece ensemble led by pianist Matt Shabala stumbled loudly through the Sherman brothers’ tuneful score, frequently laying out as if to locate their places in the music. During the big ensemble numbers, the dancers earned props just to stay with the choreography, getting little or no support from the orchestra. It also did a great job of playing OVER dialogue.

Barn choreographer Jamey Grisham plays Bert, Mary’s longtime friend and companion on her “outings.” His sidewalk artist/chimney sweep was not strong but managed to keep smiling, even upside down in the “Pippin-esque” gymnastics-in-the-air for “Step In Time.”

The ensemble interpretation of “Supercalifragilistic...etc” was certainly enthusiastic but most resembled an homage to the Village People.

As Mr. Banks, Richard Marlatt turned the family patriarch into a nasty, pompous and very unlikable man, with no time for his children and no thought for his wife.

As Mrs. Banks, Barn veteran Brooke Evans did her best as a rather too pliant woman who, given Mr. Banks’ tendency to blame her loudly for everything, would have been justified in crowning him with his favorite vase.

The Banks’ children are in almost every scene. As Jane and Michael, Riley Em VanDerVelde and Daniel Sturdy, respectively, were present and knew their lines and blocking but frequently were too rushed or too soft to be understood.

Mary Poppins  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIVeteran performers Penelope Alex and Kevin Robert White were notable for turning very small roles (no small actors!) into definite characters as the Banks’s disgruntled kitchen help.

Ditto one of the show’s villains, Miss Andrews, Mr. Banks’ “Holy Terror” of a nanny, supposedly the reason for his unfeeling adulthood. The energy went up 100 percent when Jackie Gubow hurled herself into “Brimstone and Treacle,” her remedy for everything.

The set design by Shy Iverson was based stylistically on Mary Shepard’s original illustrations for Travers’ books. The painted hanging panels were artistically correct but required much pushing and pulling to get them on and off as did the angled beams for the nursery and the many other set pieces.

The costumes were an eclectic mix. Mrs. Banks was consigned to plain blouse and brown skirts while the children were more unkempt than any well-bred young Brit of the period. Mary’s white “Jolly Holiday” dress sported a large hole in skirt and most of the hems were, at best, uneven while the Bird Woman’s costume evoked the Wicked Witch of the West.

Special effects played a very large part in the show’s professional success. Here, they are limited to a coat tree which Mary pulls from her red carpet bag and a couple of across-stage “flights.”

The production is under the direction of Dee Sandt and, to be fair, the opening night audience enjoyed it.

“MARY POPPINS” plays through June 28 in the theatre on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit

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