Theatre
'Leading Ladies' A Comedic Gender-Bender PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 22 January 2014 20:14

If there’s nothing like a good laugh to get rid of the post-holiday blues, a look at the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Leading Ladies” is just what the doctor ordered.

Leading Ladies South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreFrom the prolific pen of American farce-master Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me A Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” et al), the tale of two down-and-out English Shakespearean actors who find their latest get-rich-quick scheme has little to do with the Bard of Avon, begins with a few snickers and ends with literally non-stop guffaws.

Yep. Guffaws. It’s that type of comedy.

No sly satirical quips here. Instead, broad obvious puns, a good deal of slapstick and a dive into the basic laugh-getter of all farces: Guys in drag and gals who can’t  recognize 5 o’clock shadow when they’re staring it in the face — lierally!

Leading Ladies  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreBill Svelmoe and Zach Gassman play Leo Clark and Jack Gable (get it??), two actors reduced to performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit in Pennsylvania.  On the train in search of their next gig, they read an article detailing an elderly widow’s dying search for two long-lost relatives, Steve and Max, who she hasn’t seen since infancy.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention and impersonating the now-adult relatives seems an easy answer. Only one catch: nephews Steve and Max are nieces Stephanie and Maxine. With the aid of theatrical garb, the guys become girls and the con is on.

Anyone who thinks there will be smooth sailing from wig on to wig off obviously has never seen a farce —especially a Ludwig farce! Offering stumbling blocks are Florence (Martha Branson-Banks), the ailing senior who gets a new lease on life; another niece Meg (Christy Burgess), a major fan of the Bard; her too-stuffy-to-be-good fiancé Rev. Duncan (Matt Deitchley); Doc (Casey St. Aubin), who can’t wait to sign the death certificate; his son Butch (Jared Windhauser); and Audrey (Nora Ryan Taylor), a friend of Meg’s serving as Florence’s part-time aide.

Leading Ladies  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreBefore the curtain falls on the proper (?) pairings, everything that can go wrong definitely does and watching the “girls” scramble to maintain their false identities while securing romantic attachments as themselves is familiar farce fodder and certainly one the audience enjoys.

This production moves along snappily under the direction of Leigh Taylor. She has assembled a very solid cast lead by the Ace of Farce, Svelmoe, who should be at the top of every director’s list for casting in this wacky genre. His final "on-again,off-again" is worth the price of admission. Gassman works hard — and successfully — to form the necessary doubles team and the sight of this tall gentleman in a mile-high wig and red patent stilettoes is hilarious, even without dialogue.

The on-again, off-again guys have two very sharp ladies with which to share the stage. Burgess and Taylor hold their own in every situation, with special applause for the latter who does it all — on roller skates.

Deitchley’s Snively Whiplash-like characterization seems a bit much at first but explodes perfectly as the denoument approaches. Branson-Banks is the perfect grandma-who-won’t-die. St. Aubin may be the last physician who makes house calls but really too young for the role. Windhauser lives up to his character’s name.

Set designer David Chudzynski’s scenic triptych (RR car right, two-story home center, Moose Lodge left) works well as the action shifts easily from one locale to another. The furnishings, however, are spare and rather worn for a wealthy home. On opening night, the area rug slipped its tape, a possible problem solved at least temporarily by a quick thinking actor. Any minor glitches were forgotten in Ludwig’s signature Mega-Mix, when the cast, no doubt already winded from its fast-paced 2 ½ hour romp, revisited the entire scenario — in case anyone had forgotten!

NOTE: Remember that ALL shows on the SBCT 2014 season begin at 7:30 pm. with matinees at 2 p.m. One half hour earlier than in previous years. Don’t get caught with your stub down!!

LEADING LADIES plays at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. through Feb. 2 in the Wilson Mainstage Theatre at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org

 
Love Found And Lost In 'Almost, Maine' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 14 January 2014 02:59

Don’t bother looking.

Almost, Maine  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INYou won’t find Almost, ME in Rand McNally or on Google Maps, but it’s definitely there — almost in the U.S., almost in Canada and unfortunately uncharted due to its residents’  lack of organization.

The stories of 18 inhabitants are told (and lovingly intertwined) in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of John Coriani’s romantic comedy which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.

Almost, Maine  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  IN“Almost, Maine” is not what you’d call a knee-slapper. Instead, it’s humor strolls up and gently takes a seat on the bench that is a favorite of  several Almost couples. As the northern lights (courtesy of assistant director Ricky Fields) play across the wintry sky, each seeks, finds or loses love in ways that offer connecting cords to each onlooker.

The frequently whimsical comedy offers aspects of relationships in a series of eight numericaly-named vignettes, punctuated by a Prologue, Interlude and Epilogue. The last three feature Fields as Pete, Stephanie Musser as Ginette and a long-lasting (and nameless) snowball.

Almost, Maine  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INNumber One offers Glory (Shirley Robey) a widowed hiker in a search for closure and the northern lights. Knocking at the door of  East (Patrick Farran) she finds more than she was looking for and discovers that she is right where she needs to be.

A misspelled tattoo is the key in Number Two, when Jimmy (Craig Kilgore) runs into former girlfriend Sandrine (Julie Musser) during her bachelorette party in the local bar. The energetic waitress (April Sellers)  brings beer and a possible solution.

An audience favorite was Number Three which finds Steve (Bob Franklin) and Marvalyn (Karen Johnston) in the laundry room of their apartment building. There is a definite message in Steve’s frequent encounters with the ironing board and, in spite of this, the two part as friends.

The 11-year partners in Number Four, Lendall (Keith Sarber) and Gayle (Valerie Ong) engage in an hilarious game of romantic one-upmanship in which the tables are turned with a vengeance.

Randy (Kilgore) and Chad (Keith Sarber) in Number Five are two good-old-boys who discover their usual Friday night routine knocks them flat.

Number Six finds Phil (Zach Rivers) and Marci (Angie Berkshire) finishing an evening of ice skating and recriminations which no amount of wishing on the stars can salvage.

Hope (Amy Pawlosky) has come a very long way to answer a question in Number Seven, but is the Man (Farran) who answers the bell the one who asked?

Number Eight is the most physical of the stories and finds Dave (Mike Honderich) and Rhonda (Carly Dunn) literally dropping everything to determine the subject of a painting.

Director Kevin Egelsky has used a light touch on “Almost, Maine,” which has been described as “a midwinter night’s dream,” and the cast, made up of some theater veterans and several newcomers, delivers. The simple setting provides the right background for all the brief-but-telling tales.

“ALMOST, MAINE” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, S.R. 120 in Bristol. For reservations call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

 
Holidays Bring Familiar Musicals To Stage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 10 December 2013 16:24

There are two reasons for this first-ever double-decker review.

First: Both shows are, if not totally sold out, at least close to it and therefore won’t be upset that neither gets a five star rating. Actually, that really shouldn’t matter.

Second: Both are familiar (maybe too much so) holiday standards and you could probably sing the scores in your sleep (or at least hum a few bars). And both count on the quotient of young performers to raise the adorable factor by many levels.

To eliminate the suspense, the musicals in question are “The Sound of Music,” which opened Friday evening at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre and “Annie,” which has been running since Nov. 29 in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Auditorium. Both will close on Dec. 22.

Both received Tony Awards as best musicals when they opened on Broadway, “Sound of Music” in 1959 and “Annie” in 1977. Both have been revived on the Great White Way at least once since then and have been recreated on stages around the world for more times than we care to count.

It seems, therefore, that everyone over the age of 5 must have had the opportunity to check out the dauntless nun or the optimistic orphan at lease once. It also seems that the holidays always have been/are/will be the perfect time to bring them out again. Obviously the jingle here is not from sleigh bells but the box office.

Family Harmony Counts in “The Sound of Music’”

This season, SOM became the only musical to play “LIVE” (on TV) to more than 18 million viewers. But we won’t discuss that production! The one at Wagon Wheel also was “LIVE” and received (as usual) a standing ovation from the enthusiastic audience of 500+, something the TV version could not duplicate.

Sound of Music Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INVocally, the cast was close to the summer companies, several members having been on the arena stage in the past. As in the original score, the trios for Max (Kenneth D’Elia), Elsa (Erin Vangemert) and Capt. Von Trapp (Ryan Wagner) survived and added a welcome bit of sardonic humor in the determinedly cheerful sea of upbeat melodies.

As Maria, Lauren Roesner carried much of the vocal demands in her strong soprano but would have been better served with an attractive wig or hairstyle. She interacted well with the children but on opening night both she and the Mother Abbess (Sarah Jackson) were battling an uneven balance between vocals and the excellent WW orchestra, a situation that undoubtedly has been resolved.

The seven von Trapp children sang well and looked familial. Kathleen Frazzetta was a charming Liesl and Derek Grose as her would-be sweetheart Rolf delivered the universal swagger of a teenage boy. As Gretl, the youngest sibling, Isabelle Awald twirled amazingly in “So Long, Farewell,” offering a glimpse of dances yet to come.

The recycled set, designed by the late Roy Hine, was, as always, flexible and believable as convent, ballroom, mountain, etc. happily subscribing to the often-ignored theory that less is more. Excepting the nuns; habits, the costumes were disappointing with the outfit Maria described as “not even wanted by the poor” about the most attractive one she wore.

Little Girls Steal The Show in SBCT “Annie”

As a community theater production, “Annie” fared less well. Director Mary Hubbard chose to double cast both Annie and the nine orphans so I can only judge by the ”Empire Cast” of youngsters who played Saturday night.

Annie South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe definite scene stealer was red-haired Emma Kopec as Molly, the “littlest orphan,” who showed comic timing and delivery way above her years and made an instant connection with the audience. In the title role, Erin Joines left no doubt as to her ability to belt “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” and their frequent reprises.

As always, the rambunctious charges of Miss Hannigan (Melissa Prestine) were justifiable audience favorites with “Hard Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” show-stoppers. Ditto for “Easy Street,” the grifters’ anthem delivered by Prestine, Kearn Hinchman as Hannigan’s brother Rooster and Jillian Tully as his blowsy girlfriend.

As Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks, Sean Hayes is several decades too young for the role but has a solid baritone and bit the bullet by shaving his head rather than opting for a wrinkley bald pate.

The ensemble works well as residents of Hooverville, members of Warbuck’s staff and residents of “NYC.” The fact that Annie’s faithful dog Sandy was black was not as upsetting as the long and very visible rope which attached him to a “homeless” person sitting stage right.

Even more upsetting was the fact that Annie, a carrot-top since her birth in the funny papers, never had a touch of red hair, even in the short and curly wig she usually-but-didn’t here don for the happy finale.

I was disappointed to find scenic designer Jaycee Rohlck’s set had the same loudly rumbling inserts shoved on and off while overhead for some reason, laundry was hung out to dry from overture to finale.

It seems that SBCT has elected to use recorded music mixed by a sound designer/operator. If this continues, I would hope they select another blend of instruments. This one sounds mostly like a calliope.

“ANNIE” plays through Dec. 22 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

“THE SOUND OF MUSIC” plays through Dec. 22 in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre, 217 E. Center Street. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com
 
Wild, Wacky Python Wit A Hit In 'Spamalot' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 15 November 2013 17:10

It’s always nice to have a hit on your hands.

That’s what original Monty Python member Eric Idle discovered soon after the 2005 Broadway opening of his musical comedy “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

Monty Python's Spamalot  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThat also is what the majority of theater groups — professional and amateur — discover soon after the openings of their productions.

Elkhart Civic Theatre is no different. “Spamalot,” based on the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” opened Nov. 8 in the Bristol Opera House. Initially scheduled for seven performances, an eighth was added before opening and a ninth, immediately after.

Monty Python's Spamalot Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThere is no doubt that early response was from Python fans. The wildly off-center humor of the original six Pythons and their wacky adjunct players has a great appeal, especially to those who have followed the group since its inception in the mid 1970s. It can, however, touch the funny bone of anyone totally unaware of Monty Python.

“Spamalot” doesn’t waste a minute. The pre-show speech is the recorded voice of Python John Cleese who urges audience members to “let your cellphones and pagers ring willy-nilly.” The tone is set and goes onward and upward from there as the curtain opens to find villagers in Finland (?) dancing and singing “The (literally) Fisch Slapping Song.”

Jolted back to medieval England, the plot (???) follows King Arthur (Rick Nymeyer) and his faithful squire Patsy (John Shoup) on their quest to recruit knights for Arthur’s proposed round table.

Before they reach Camelot (by way of Las Vegas), Arthur has been joined by Sir Lancelot (Geoff Trowbridge), Sir Robin (Robert Windsor), Sir Galahad (Deron Bergstresser) and Sir Bedevere (Brent Graber) as well as a strange conglomeration of passers-by, friendly and not-so. Among the former is the Lady of the Lake (Adrienne Nesbitt), a diva for the Middle Ages.

Monty Python's Spamalot Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe high-spirited ensemble numbers choreographed by Jackiejo Brewers and delivered enthusiastically by members of the Ladies and Knights Dance Ensembles, definitely are high spots in the show. The women become Laker Girls, Camelot Dancers (a la Vegas), Grail Girls and French Citizens. The men portray French Guards and Knights. All are Bodies, Villagers and anything else that springs up along the way to Camelot.

Zach Rivers becomes a quartet of characters — an Historian/Not Dead Fred (a plague victim who refuses to stay on the cart)/a Minstrel and Prince Herbert, who gives a new twist to the prisoner in the tower. In probably the only non-singing role, Tim Yoder earns non-stop laughter as characters well known to Python fans — the French Taunter, the Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter.

Monty Pytho's Spamalot Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INOpening night audience members could be heard humming (or singing along) with Patsy as he bolstered up the sagging spirits of the king with the show’s most familiar song “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life.” Bergstrasser and Nesbitt went on and on in “The Song That Goes Like This,” a tribute (?) to Andrew Lloyd Webber, while Windsor led the ensemble in the cautionary tale “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.”

Under the direction of percussionist Mark Swendsen, the talented eight-member orchestra did an excellent job with the score by Idle and John Du Prez. It was a pleasure to listen to them, whether supporting the singers or instrumental only.

Shoup’s set design easily morphs into many locations including castles, a forest and a casino. Especially impressive was the giant Trojan Rabbit, not to be confused with the deadly Killer Rabbit which appeared later. Linda Wiesinger served as costume coordinator for the many outfits required, most of which were as period appropriate as possible. The animation and sound effects well integrated throughout the show are credited to Brian MacGowan and Gary Cobbum, with light design by Randy Zonker.

Under the direction of Penny Meyers and assistant director Annette Kaczanowski, “Spamalot” obviously is living up to the expectations of long-time Monty Python fans and making a lot of new fans all eager to “Find Your Grail.”

”MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT” plays through Nov. 24 in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistula Street. There are waiting lists for the sold out performances and may be a few seats left for the recently-added Nov. 22. For information, call 848-4116 or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org

 
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