'Mary Poppins' A Wagon Wheel Theatre Delight PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 06 June 2014 17:28

In 1934, Australian author P.L. Travers wrote the first of eight books about “Mary Poppins,” a magical nanny whose adventures have been translated through the years into many languages and presented in several theatrical forms.

The latest of these — a musical comedy based on the books and the 1964 Walt Disney film — is receiving its regional premiere at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Mary Poppins  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INIt opened Wednesday evening to an SRO audience of  — excuse the phrase — children of all ages. (Must say early on that those wishing to attend this rapidly selling-out production, should make their reservations very quickly. You will not be disappointed!)

The award-winning music and lyrics by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, with theatrical additions by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, plus the book by Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” fame, combine with director Scott Michaels’ always inventive and incredibly amazing choreography and a wonderfully talented cast, for a season—opener that will be difficult to top.

From the moment Bert (the engaging Justin Schuman) emerges from one of the many chimney tops on Cherry Tree Lane to the joyous kite-flying finale 2 ½ hours later, there is one show-stopping moment after another.

Mary Poppins (a “spit-spot” Kira Lace Hawkins) does fly (within the vertical limitations of the arena stage) but the delight in this production is not in special effects but in the energy and talent of the enthusiastic company.

When the “Practically Perfect” nanny unpacks her magic bag to the wonderment of the Banks children Michael (Parker Irwin) and Jane (Brielle Fehlmann), the relief of their parents George (a properly starchy Scott Fuss) and Winifred (an understandably frustrated Jennifer Dow) and the amazement of the Banks’ staff, a bustling housekeeper/cook (Katie Finan) and an accident-prone butler (Javier Ferriera), it is obvious that, eventually, all will be as it should be, even for the statues in the park.

Mary Poppins  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INThis in spite of the arrival of Mr. Banks’ former nanny, Miss Andrews (one of the diverse characters created by Kristen Yasenchak who also is the Bird Woman), who turns out to be a very unwelcome surprise.

Mary Poppins  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INThe adult company is, as always, an A-list group, with special applause to the inexhaustible dancers who play a multitude of roles from townspeople to toys to chimney sweeps — and all without missing a “Step In Time.” NOTE: Watch for Isabelle Awald, already a WW veteran at age 9, who dances an adorable Penguin in “Jolly Holiday” and a “swinging” doll in “Playing the Game.”

And I confess that, throughout the evening, I was most amazed by Fehlmann and Irwin, also pre-teen WW veterans. They have the assurance of much older performers, never drop character, sing well and are always clearly understood. The children play much larger roles in the theatrical version and these two could take it right to Broadway or, at least, on the road.

Praising David Lepor’s flexible, multi-level set, Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s brilliant, period-perfect costume design, Chris Pollnow’s well-balanced sound, Patrick Chan’s mood-inducing

lighting and Thomas N. Sterling’s highly-listenable 10-piece orchestra seems like carrying coals to Newcastle.

The WW production team is first class. No matter how many endless hours it takes, they always arrive at a product that cannot be topped by any theater in the drivable area. AND the many extensive set changes are done swiftly and silently. They are, after all, a part of the show.

The result, to quote Mary Poppins, is “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius!”

“MARY POPPINS” plays through June 14 at the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2517 E. Center St., Warsaw IN.  For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit

'Mockingbird' Still Delivers A Strong Truth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 02:48

Since its publication in 1960, Harper Lee’s only novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill A Mockingbird,” has never been out of print.

To Kill A Mockingbird South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe 1962 film version earned Gregory Peck the only acting Oscar of his career and the American Film Institute named his character, Atticus Finch, the greatest movie hero.

That’s a lot to live up to.

 Since the theatrical version appeared in 1990, however, a good many companies have been giving it a try. South Bend Civic Theatre’s production opened Friday evening in its Wilson Mainstage Theatre for a run that already has added two performances.

To Kill A Mockingbird  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThere is no denying that the characters created by Lee (based on family and friends, especially her father) are recognizable to audiences everywhere, even without Southern connections.

It is easy to observe the actions of Lee’s characters (dramatized by playwright Christopher Sergel) from the safety of an auditorium seat. Less easy when remembering  these people were not so far from “the norm” less than 50 years ago.

As seen through the eyes of three children — Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Therese Klingele), her older brother Jeremy “Jem” (Soren Campbell) and a visiting friend Charles Baker “Dill” Harris (Preston Bolser) —  the ugly events in their small hometown are swiftly recognized as good and bad or, in this case, black and white.

The trial of Tom Robinson (Justin Williams), a black man accused of beating and raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell (Natalie MacRae), can have only one outcome in spite of his obvious innocence, irrefutably presented by his white defense attorney Atticus Finch (Greg Melton).

Atticus is definitely the “good guy” in this cautionary tale, written with such simple humanity that he seems genuinely honest and caring and never too good to be true. Following in Peck’s large footprints is a challenge to the most accomplished actor. Melton gives it a good try.

To Kill A Mockingbird South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreInitially, interaction between himself and the children is stilted and rather awkward, but their dialogue gradually warms and a familial empathy eventually underscores these relationships. In the courtroom, his summation is delivered with just enough intensity to make us believe his client might have a chance, and foregoes overdone theatricality in lieu of deeply-felt sincerity.

Klingele, playing Scout for the second time, has a good grasp of the character but is rather too tall to be physically convincing as a pre-teen. Campbell delivers a sturdy older brother'Mockingbird' Still and, as the visiting cousin, Bolser’s rapid-fire delivery offers a sharp contrast to his country siblings. It could, however, be slowed for complete comprehension.

Shepley and MacRae as the vengeful Ewells definitely fit the description of “ignorant rednecks.” Foul-mouthed, filthy and obviously fearful of the truth, both do fine jobs of creating characters way out of their comfort zones. Williams’ Tom is the target of their deliberate deception. With stoic acceptance, he rebuts their lies with his truth, obviously knowing, in that atmosphere, that it will do no good.

to Kill A Mockingbird  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreMelissa Manier as Maudie Atkinson serves as narrator for the piece, guiding onlookers through the multi-layers of society in 1935 Maycomb, Ala. She neither judges nor comments but offers one calm voice in the racially-fractured community. Steve Chung’s Sheriff Heck Tate is another voice of reason and Chung turns in his usual solid characterization.

Director Gary Oesch, a former SBCT Atticus Finch, leads the large cast through the tangled web of wrong as right and right as futile. He applaudably has left the offensive “n-word” in as written. The almost casual way in which the townspeople use “nigger” is like a dash of cold water in the face, most especially when it comes from a young boy (Sion Shepley) taunting Jem. It is not an easy thing to hear and instigates some serious soul searching.

Jacee Rohlck’s Southern set design covers the entire stage and transfers from residential area to courtroom cleverly but with much too much banging and clumping as in-coming jurors and onlookers attempt to set it up in the dark. All the while Manier is delivering lengthy transitional dialogue. She had my sympathy.

Another mood-destroying “little thing” was the screen door on the Finch porch which actors just let bang shut.  An easy thing to fix but, when ignored, increasingly annoying.

”TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” plays through June 8 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium, 403 N. Main Street, South Bend. For reservations and performance times call 234-1112 or visit

Catching A Fine, Funny Kettle of Fish PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 04:46

If you think a red herring is some kind of a colorful fish, think again. As played out by the cast of South Bend Civic Theatre’s “Red Herring,” under the direction of Craig McNab, it is about two hours worth of solid laughs.

Red Herring  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreActually, a “red herring” — dramatically speaking — is a plot turn or character designed specifically to lead an audience towards a false conclusion. In this “Red Herring,” there are too many to be counted.

Just focus on following Boston Detective Maggie Pelletier (Nora Ryan Taylor) and her boyfriend FBI agent Frank Keller (Casey St. Aubin) as each one looks for the killer of an enemy spy.

Red Herring  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe era is 1952. The Cold War is at its peak and a certain Wisconsin senator is stirring up the Communist plot. Enter the senator’s daughter, Lynn McCarthy (Tori Abram-Copenhaver), and her soldier fiancé, James Appel (Daniel Grey). He gives her a ring, reveals he is spying for the Russians (but for the good of this country to equal the balance of power!) and asks her to make the final delivery of secret plans for the bomb, as his latest Army orders make it impossible for him to carry out his assignment.

What is a girl to do??

 The microfilm plans are hidden inside a box of Velveeta cheese (which Lynn keeps insisting really isn’t cheese) and are to be delivered to Russian spy Andrei Borchevsky (Mark Moriarty). He is renting a room from Mrs. Kravitz (Lucinda Moriarty), who loves him but who is thwarted by his vows to his wife. Also, he has (mistakenly) been reported dead (the murder Maggie and Frank are investigating) on the Ogilvy Kippers pier.

Red Herring  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreIn unraveling the hilariously convoluted plot, the talented performers create many additional characters including a medical examiner, a bridal shop owner, her henpecked hubby, a police photographer, a tough cop, a sympathetic priest and a stoic matron. Each is sharply delineated and never drops out of whatever character he/she is inhabiting at the moment.

The settings designed by designer David Chudzynski make good use of every area in the intimate Warner Theatre. The lighting design by Matt Davidson underscores each scene and mood and the excellent music choices cover every dramatic segue, keeping the action on track, even in the dark.

Beneath the many absurdities, however, lurks a romantic tale — make that three romantic tales — which make this a story of romance as well as mystery and bumblingly hilarious mis-adventures.

There are many high points as the action careens from one couple to the next. My favorite comes in the second act when Maggie (who now for some reason has the Velveeta) comes upon Borchevsky drinking in a seedy waterfront bar. Asked why he takes his vodka one spoonful at a time, he replies — wait for it — he spills too much with a fork!

At the final fade out the couples are, of course, paired correctly and ready to plunge into the stormy sea of matrimony — charted with or without red herrings.

RED HERRING plays through May 11 in the Warner Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance dates, times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit


Laughs Added To Classic Hitchcock Thriller PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 28 April 2014 17:45

Richard Hannay is bored.

The 39 Steps  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INListing the reasons he regrets his return to Britain, he decides to find something “mindless and pointless” to do, like visiting a West End show. It is a decision that brings him much more than he bargained for.

This is the opening gambit of “The 39 Steps,” a broad comic adaptation by Patrick Barlow of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller. The Elkhart Civic Theatre production opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. Even though dialogue, situations and characters followed the classic film closely, it is obvious that Hitchcock was never like this.

For openers, Kevin Egelsky as Hannay is the only cast member to play just one part. Multi-talented Annette Kaczanowski creates three distinctly different females (German, Scottish and English) while Dave Kempher and Michael Honderich handle all the rest — an estimated 100 characters, but I really didn’t count — known as the Clowns.

The 39 Steps  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INAlthough it is not necessary to be familiar with the Hitchcock mystery (or the 1915 novel on which it is based), it certainly  helps, especially in making sense (?) of the plot — which twists and turns, sometimes frantically, especially in the hands of the  Clown I (Honderich) and Clown II (Kempher).

As the action increases, these two change characters at the drop (or switch) of a hat, often several times within one scene. While sustaining one character is difficult enough, sustaining several in the course of a few minutes is a monumental challenge. The Clowns work hard to meet the challenges set by the script, by director Dave Dufour and, as allowed by the script, by their own imaginations and physical abilities.

With minimal — make that little or no — set (a few chairs, a table, four boxes and a “revolving” door), much of the action is mimed, adding another layer to the requirements for each performer. Except for Hannay, the many characters, no matter how briefly they appear, require diverse dialects. Kazanowski especially handles her accent changes as clearly as she does her characters, slipping from foreign femme fatale to lonely Scot to disbelieving Brit with equal believability.

The 39 Steps  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INThe Clowns are adept at readable body language, although when sound is required, the volume often increases beyond the realm of being easily understood. Their sharp music hall bit starts the never-subtle humor train rolling and it careens along with only a few slow-downs until everything comes full circle.

Some of the less-crisp bits falter but should pick up as the run progresses.

Pipe clenched firmly in hand or mouth, Egelsky maintains a properly unflappable British stance, whether wriggling out of a deadly situation, hanging from a speeding train, dodging assassination attempts or surviving a chase while handcuffed to Kazanowski’s British persona.

The spirit of Hitchcock is never too far, in spoken references or varied visuals to at least six of his films, plus two of the famed director’s well-known profiles, as the action progresses. I recognized at least six famous films. It was obvious the audience did, too.

As conceived originally by Simon Corbie and Nobby Dimon, the farcical approach to the Hitchcock spy thriller probably would not work on all of his movies, but here laughter is a welcome passenger on the trip to the 39 steps.

“THE 39 STEPS” plays Friday through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistula St. For show times and reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit

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