'Ragtime' At WW A Must-See Musical PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 02 July 2016 18:13

“Ragtime,”the Tony Award-winning musical which opened Wednesday evening at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre, is the kind of unique entertainment that combines artistry with relevance in the best possible way — wonderful music, timeless book and ageless characters.

Ragtime  Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INPut them all together, add a wildly talented cast of 39 singer-dancer-actors, a 12-member orchestra that never misses a note and a production team that creates the shifting times, locations, wigs and costumes that bring everything into focus and you have a production that deserves to be seen… and seen … and seen again!

And, of course, it never hurts to have this entire endeavor under the sure hand of WW artistic director/choreographer Scott Michaels.

If you have never seen this musical, based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, with book by Terrance McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, it should be at the top of your must-see list.

Ragtime  Wagon Wheel Theatre  warsaw INNominated for 13 Tony Awards in 1998, it won for best book and best original score and barely lost best musical to the Disney blockbuster “The Lion King.”

Because of the production requirements, it is not done often. At the Wagon Wheel, however, it moves across the small round stage like a breath of fresh air.

From the haunting “Opening,” which requires the introduction of the three groups — upper class white suburbanites, African Americans and Eastern-European immigrants, who shift and sway to their particular rhythms and come close but never really completely intermingle. There is no doubt that is definitely an evening to remember.

Just having that many on that stage at one time (and they all are there) is a logistical nightmare but one that Michaels turns into an early show-stopping dream!

Ragtime  Wagon Whel Theatre  Warsaw INIt is again obvious that he doesn’t just choreograph, he paints pictures with people!

From the three groups emerge individual characters who will grab your hearts and your minds, primarily because they are played by much more than the run-of-the-mill cast members usually found in summer fare — excepting, of course, at Wagon Wheel.

Don’t know where to start because each is unique so I’ll begin with me favorites — Mother (Lottie Prenevost), matriarch of the New Rochelle family who emerges from her husband’s (Scott Fuss) shadow when he goes exploring to the North Pole with Admiral Perry, and Tateh (Tony Humrichhouser), the Latvian immigrant who brings his young daughter (Piper Ellis) to America for a better life and encounters more of what they left behind.

Both have strong and colorful voices (as do all the other principals) and connect with the audience at the level of the heart. She because she is not afraid to stand up for what she believes and he, because he will not let circumstances defeat him, In the end, both win out.

Her answer to Father (no one in New Rochelle has names except the Young Boy (Alec Fehlmann),\ who is Edgar), when he returns expecting life to be as it was when he left, is given in “Back to Before,” one of the great solos in the Ahrens/Flaherty score. Prevenost delivers it with an emotional determination that says it all.

Humrichouser has his own heartbreaker in “Gliding.”is dream of a better life reaches rock bottom, he holds his daughter tightly and begins to turn their lives around with the snip of his silhouette scissors. Handkerchiefs were needed all around.

Ragtime  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INThe best known “Ragtime” song surely is “On the Wheels of A Dream,” with Sarah (Erica Durham) and Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Chuckie Benson) promising a new and better life to their baby son.

When Irish members of the volunteer fire department descend on Walker’s new Ford, racism rears its ugly head and the halcyon dream is over.

Along the way to the hopefully integrated finale, Young Brother (Charlie Patterson) crushes on Evelyn Nesbit (Kayla Eilers), central figure in the “Crime of the Century,” and finally finds his niche when labor activist Emma Goldman (a determinedly inspiring Kira Lace Hawkins) leads him to Coalhouse. Figures from the turn-of-the-century (1902-1912) including Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Harry Houdini, Stanford White, Harry K Thaw (see Evelyn Nesbit) and Booker T. Washington come and go, each with his/her own contribution. It is a fascinating array and author McNally fits them all into the giant puzzle that was American one hundred years ago.

The icing layers on this puzzle are the intricate stage design by Michal Higgins, the class-accurate costumes by Stephen R. Hollenbeck topped by Jennifer Dow’s many wigs, the hear-everything sound design by Chris Pollnow and the scene-setting lighting design by Patrick Chan.

Unlike the usual stop-start layout of a musical, “Ragtime” is a very sung-through show and, with the great assemblage of voices and the richly solid orchestra under the direction of conductor/keyboardist Thomas N. Stirling, it really is a must-see/must-hear production.

Ragtime  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INDon’t be surprised if it definitely reminds you of today.

I guarantee you will learn a little, laugh a little, cry a little and come out humming a tune — in ragtime, of course!

“RAGTIME” plays through July 9 at the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2515 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For show times, which vary, and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

Runyon Characters Back At The Barn PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 25 June 2016 19:57

The late Damon Runyon is known best as a writer and author of many short stories which conjure up images of brightly garbed Broadway characters best known by descriptive nicknames and a distinctive manner of speech.

Guys and Dolls  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIRunyon was a newspaper reporter and award-winning sports writer whose colorful creations remain unique. These are the stories and personalities which supplied the basis for one of the theater’s best-loved and most frequently produced musical comedies, ‘Guys and Dolls.”

It debuted on Broadway in 1951 and saw three successful revivals — 1976, 1994 and 2005 — plus unending productions in every regional and civic theater across the country. Subitled “A Musical Fable of Broadway,” it is now on stage at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI..

With the bright lights of Broadway and the elusive rumblings of “The Oldest Established (Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York)” underscoring the action, it is filled with delightfully off-center guys (gamblers and police) and dolls (nightclub entertainers and mission workers), each of whom pursues his/her ambitions with admirable determination.

Guys and Dolls  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIThe book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser are incredibly well tuned in to the Runyonesque vibe, dialogue, lyric and character-wise.

With a cast of characters that includes Sky Masterson (Eric Parker), Nathan Detroit (Robin Haynes), Harry the Horse (John Jay Espino), Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Patrick Hunter), Benny Southstreet (Sam Massey), Rusty Charlie (Jamey Grisham) and Big Jule (Charlie King), the plot revolves around Nathan’s need for $1,000 to secure a location for his floating crap game, and on Sister Sarah Brown’s (Hannah Eakin) need to produce a goodly number of “genuine sinners” for her midnight prayer meeting at the Save-A-Soul Mission..

To insure the former, Nathan bets Sky that he cannot take Sister Sarah to dinner. To insure the latter, she agrees to go, not knowing that the dinner will be in Havana.

Meanwhile, Nathan is dealing with his lack of location (for the game) and his 14-year engagement to Miss Adelaide (Brooke Evans), headliner at the Hot Box nightclub. She is dealing with a 14-year psychosomatic head cold and has already assured her mother they are married, with a large number of children.

Guys and Dolls  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIAdd to this a colorful array of Runyon’s Broadway characters all “lookin’ for action” in Nathan’s crap game and a police lieutenant Brannigan (Matt Ruehlman) determined to shut it down and you have a wonderfully off-beat mix, all set to the marvelous Loesser score.

The primary problem here, on opening night at least, was the obvious lack of rehearsal time for the too-loud, too-off key, mostly-brass orchestra. From the opening notes of the overture, familiarly known as “post time,” it was obvious this was going to be a bumpy ride. And it didn’t get any better.

In any production, the first step to a successful endgame is casting, matching the right actor with the right role as closely as possible. Even when the performer is good, he/she may not be the right one for a particular part.

The mis-matching was evident here. There was no connection between Sky and Sarah, who oversang all her solo work, and their romantic involvement was embarrassing at best. Most of the gamblers took mugging to a new level, forgetting these are written as characters not caricatures.

One successful pairing is that of Adelaide and Nathan who happily remembered that less is more and managed a definitely sweet aura even in their hilariously love me/love me not duet “Sue Me.” Evans has the most familiar song, “Adelaide’s Lament,” which she handled well, sneezes and all, while Haynes’ frequently frantic Nathan always walked the fine line between real and cartoonish with appreciated ease..

Director Hans Friedrichs, who also played Sarah’s uncle Arvide Abernathy, probably should have cast a stronger “sheep’s eye” on the entire flock.

All in all, however, it’s difficult to keep a good classic down and most of the audience seemed to be having a good time.

“GUYS AND DOLLS” plays through July 3 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit

Relationships Focus Of Ensemble Production PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 21 June 2016 18:31

What’s in a name?

The title of The Acting Ensembles’s current production, which opened Friday evening in Studio 217, might — as Shakespeare would say — give you pause.

A prize-winning comedy/drama by British playwright Mike Bartlett, the four-character study in relationships is titled “Cock.”

OK, so the program cover illustrates it in one way with a black-and-white design of two roosters obviously fighting. Among the many dictionary definitions are a faucet valve, a gun hammer and the jaunty tilt of a hat. None reference male genitalia which, however, seems to be the first connection most people make.

That’s unfortunate if it keeps anyone from seeing the clever, caustic and frequently comedic play which holds the attention completely for its 90-minute, no intermission, playing time.

Done as the playwright instructs, with no set, no props, no furniture, no specific costuming and no specific time frame, it allows everything to be focused on the participants, or should I say combatants, because that is precisely what they are. If not at first, then definitely at last.

The suggested circular arena is a box-like space here which serves equally well as the actors advance and retreat, circle, enter and exit. Round or square, they are caught within the limitations of their lives.

John (Brent Graber) and M (Geoff Trowbridge) have been in an exclusive relationship for an undesignated length of time when M feels the need for taking a break. John protests but eventually agrees.

When M returns, he is carrying the burden of another love affair — with a woman — and is, to quote an old cliché, on the horns of a dilemma. Caught between his feelings for both M and W (Angie Berkshire), John finds himself struggling to make a decision.

“What I am is not more important than who I am” he declares, torn between the two and seemingly unable to choose.

To facilitate a decision, a dinner for three is arranged with M stacking the deck slightly by adding F (Brad Mazick), his father, to the guest list. No surprise as to who’s cause he is supporting.

In the course of the evening, the pros and cons of all manner of relationships are discussed, focusing on identity and sexuality and the part they play in the life and makeup of an individual.

Agree with the outcome or not, under the direction of Melissa Gard, the solid acting quartet delivers a frequently humorous always thought-provoking evening — and one that, unfortunately, you probably will not have the opportunity to see again in this area.”

COCK” plays Thursday through Sunday on The Acting Ensemble Main Stage at Studio 217, 217 S. Michigan St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 807-0108 or visit This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Adult language and content.

Musical Satire Spears Big Business PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 18 June 2016 18:29

There are certain musicals that, for one reason or another, stand the test of time. One of these is the current production at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre — “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

How to Succeed in Business  Wagon Wheel Theatte  Warasw INNot only did the 1961 Broadway smash hit win seven of the eight Tony Awards for which it was nominated, it also earned the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for drama and, decades later, received successful revivals in 1995 and 2011.

Not bad for a satirical musicalization based on a satirical novel by Shepherd Mead. With a book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser (ironically the only nominee who did not win), it could be compared to “Mad Men” but with the accent strictly on laughs.

The meteoric rise of J. Pierrepont (“Call me Ponty”) Finch (Tom Sweeney) from window washer to chairman of the board of World Wide Wickets is every entry-level employee’s fantasy.

Armed only with a disarming grin and a do-it-yourself handbook for corporate success, Finch is the champion advantage-taker of all time. He never misses the chance to turn a seeming mishap into another step up the ladder and he never looks back.

Neither the machinations of lazy, egotistical Bud Frump (Keaton Eckhoff), the boss’s nephew-by-marriage, or the determined devotion of WWW secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Erica Durham), who has her eyes on another prize (“Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm”), can deter him from his goal.

Starting in the mailroom, he takes advice (“The Company Way”) from its head man Mr. Twimble (Evan Duff) and uses information about the collegiate history (“Grand Old Ivy”) of WWW president J.J.Biggley (Chuckie Benson) How to Succeed in Business Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INand his after-hours romance (“Love From A Heart of Gold”) with Hedy LaRue (Lottie Prenovost), ex-nightclub cigarette girl and secretary wannabe, to climb ever higher.

Along the way, he alienates fellow executives and ignores Rosemary, even after realizing (“Rosemary”) that he loves her. Nothing cracks his overwhelming self-confidence (“I Believe In You”), not even . . . Sorry. No more spoilers.

If the treatment of women in the workplace (“A Secretary Is Not A Toy”), and the limited goals they set for themselves (“Cinderella Darling”), seems way too unreal, you never worked for a big corporation in the 1950s-60s.

The fact that the secretary’s primary way out of the steno pool was marriage seems (thank goodness!) too far-fetched to be real. Then “The Brotherhood of Man” did not include females.

Enjoy ‘How to Succeed” in its proper satirical context and be glad that today’s office workers have more to focus on than getting a spouse or a bigger office.

Sweeney is believable as the enterprising Finch, with his spotlighted slow-turns as opportunities arise earning increasing laughter. Durham has a warm soprano which tends to become too shrill and rapid with dialogue.

How to Succeed in Business  Wagon Wheel Theagtre  Warsaw INScene stealers are Eckhoff’s clumsily diabolical Bud Frump, who gives nepotism an even worse name, and Laura Plyler’s Smitty, leader of the steno pool and chief advocate of marrying the boss as the way out. Their agony when the pot runs out (“Coffee Break”) is universal!

Andy Robinson’s direction keeps the devious plotlines crackling along, a necessity for a 2 ½+ hour show. The set design by Michael Higgins and Terry Julien seeks to evoke the ‘60s with a header hung with colored discs in a variety of shapes and sizes and a central playing area that, to this reviewer, strongly resembled an Etch A Sketch without the knobs.

Costume anomaly: All the women wear straight skirts except Rosemary whose outfits are a salute to crinoline.

Historical note: The “Voice” of the book, delivered here in properly stentorian tones by Mike Yocum (who also plays Willie Womper), was recorded for the ’95 revival by Walter Cronkite and, for ’11, by Anderson Cooper.

Hmmm. Wonder if they followed its advice?

”HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING” plays through June 25 in the theater at 2515 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

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