Runyon Characters People Classic Musical PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 05 March 2013 18:34

Alfred Damon Runyan — aka Damon Runyon — loved Broadway and the many wildly unique individuals who made it their home base.

Gamblers, hustlers, actors and gangsters became the colorful characters with whom the newspaper sports columnist populated his many short stories.

Guys and Dolls South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreMany of them went from the printed page to the silver screen, beginning in 1933 with “Lady for A Day,” a heartwarming story which led director Frank Capra to christen its author “Creator of the American Fairy Tale.”

Several years after Runyon’s death in 1946, the best known compilation of his works was put to music by Frank Loesser and came to the Great White Way with a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. It is, of course, “Guys and Dolls.” Taken from two Runyon stories, it is now a musical theater classic, which opened a three-week run Friday in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Auditorium.

There is no denying that the score is one of the best in the history of musical comedies. “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “Lucky Be a Lady,” “I’ll Know (When My Love Comes Along),” “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” the familiar “Fugue For Tinhorns” and, of course, the always relevant title tune.

In this production, the characters are colorful, the voices are solid and the instrumentation is again via computer track, simulating a live orchestra. Although this is nowhere near as good as the one used by SBCT in “Into the Woods,” it is many times more preferable than most of the live orchestras which have “accompanied” the group’s musicals. The set, designed by director David Chudzynski, was definitely minimalist, with doorways stage right and left serving as numerous location entrances and exits and the ever-popular hanging/rotating flats hauled in and out to do the same. A variety of set pieces were placed (and displaced) by the stage crew (of 2) and many of the ensemble. This was only extremely disturbing when a pay phone call was being made downstage left and it seemed as if a wrecking crew was attacking upstage right. Undoubtedly, this will subside.

The costumes gave no clue as to the period of the piece and any attempt at color palate was nil. The Salvation Army uniforms were ill-fitting and unattractive and had an Asian aura to their design. And for the ladies of the ensemble, the criteria unfortunately seemed to be “anything that fits.”

Guys and Dolls South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe characters who receive the most notice here (and deservedly so) are bookie Nathan Detroit and his fiancé of 14 years, Hot Box nightclub chanteuse Adelaide. In these roles, SBCT veteran Ted Manier and Allison Jones sing very well, attack their comedy lines with applaudable restraint and solid timing and deliver obviously sympathetic characterizations which happily avoid the caricature approach adopted by others. Jones had our sympathy in the frantic staging of the “Lament,” but “Sue Me” was right on,)

Gambler Sky Masterson (John Kurdelak) and Sarah Brown (Caitlin O’Brien) have solid voices but little or no character connection. As the primary love interest, this was unsettling. Even during the drunken fight in Havana and the ensuing “If I Were A Bell,” the descriptive adjective would be “awkward”.

On the plus side is the opening “Fugue for Tinhorns,” with mellow-voiced Sean Leyes as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, all-ethnicity actor Steve Chung as Rusty Charlie and John Raab as Benny Southstreet blending beautifully in the post-time trio. Leyes was very strong in leading “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat.” Raab, however, obviously determined to stand out, was mugging and constantly in motion. Instead of being funny, he became increasingly annoying as the evening wore on (2 hours and 30 minutes plus intermission).

The choral numbers — “The Oldest Established (Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York),” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Sit Down” and the title tune finale — were excellent, but I missed at least some attempt at the “Crapshooters Dance.” The Hot Box Girls were properly screechy in “A Bushel and A Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink,” and a variety of accents were displayed throughout in Runyon’s signature dialogue mix of formal speech and colorful slang.

“GUYS AND DOLLS” plays Wednesdays through Sundays through March 17. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit


'Hair' Plays Tonight At Miller Auditorium PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 15:30

The Age of Aquarius, it seems, is always with us.

hair  tour Miller Auditorium  Kalamazo MichiganOriginally on Broadway in 1968, the James Rado/Gerome Ragni/Galt MacDermott musical appropriately titled "Hair," returned to the Great White Way in 1977 and 2009, winning numerous awards with each incarnation. The most recent is now on tour, bringing its look at the movement of the '60s and '70s that changed America forever to theaters across the country. From its score, many songs have joined the list of hits on the Great American Songbook. Among these "Let The Sun Shine In," "Aquarius," "Good Morning Starshine" and the title tune.

Claude and his peace-loving friends will be on stage in (and out) of appropriate hippie attire at 7:30 p.m. today in Miller Auditorium at Western Michigan University. For tickets, call (800) 228-99858 or (269) 387-2300 or visit

For those who were "there" — and those who were not— its one way to review past mistakes and keep them from repeating themselves.  

Timeless Tale Gets Musical Makeover PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 06 February 2013 21:15

Honk Jr.  ECTeam  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INWho has not, at one time or another, felt like an ugly duckling?

These feelings were described two centuries ago by Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen, in his stories or “fantastic tales.” Frequently thought of as fairy tales for children, they actually apply to all ages.

Among the most popular is “The Ugly Duckling.”

About 10 years ago, composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe took Andersen’s fable and set it to music. The result was “Honk!” and, for younger performers, “Honk Jr!” which follows Ugly, the “odd egg out” of his mother Ida’s brood, on a delightful and sometime hazardous journey to find himself and iauroduces many varied characters who help — and sometimes hinder —him along the way.

“Honk Jr!” will be presented by the ECTeam of performers ages 8 to 18 at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Bristol Opera House.

Leading roles will be played by Gavin Rusel as Ugly, Sara Nolan as mom Ida, Joel Lininger as dad Drake and Bethany Wirick as the devious Cat.

Honk Jr. ECTeam of Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INHaving seen the ECTeam’s productions before, I can only urge families to get their tickets NOW! Under the direction of Brock Butler, assisted by Karen Johnston, with Kim Dooley as vocal director and Kristen Riggs, choreographer, I guarantee “Honk Jr!” will be a really fun evening for the whole family.

NOTE: The relatives whom cast members “reckon up by dozens” waste no time in making reservations for the limited run ECTeam productions, so make yours now.

“HONK JR!” will play at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, 120 E. Jackson in Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit at any time!

'Les Miserables' Best Seen On Stage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 31 January 2013 18:56

Tuesday night we drove to the Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo to check out the 25th Anniversary Tour of one of the last centuries most enduring theatrical phenomenon.

“Les Miserables” was written by French author Victor Hugo in 1862. It was in five volumes. Since 1934 it has been the subject, in various adaptations, of nine feature films, including the cinematic version of the Broadway musical which opened to mixed reviews on Christmas Day.

Les Miserables  Miller Auditorium Kalamazoo MIWith music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, the Cameron Macintosh production (clocking in at close to three hours) seems, like its fellow blockbuster “The Phantom of the Opera,” destined to be the show that will never close.

And after another look, at least my fifth at various productions from professional to high school, I have to say rightly so.

This “anniversary” presentation, however, obviously needed something different to warrant mounting another full-scale production. The “difference” was the elimination of the original’s most unique scenic innovations — the turntable.

Filling almost the entire center stage, it facilitated the flow of one scene into another, much as the powerful score shifted focus on locales and characters with changing musical themes.

The anniversary show has opted for projections of paintings by Hugo which fill the center of the stage, flanked by two-story towers which served as entrances to various locations and a number of large set pieces (i.e the iron gate to Jean Valjean’s final home and the barricade) which roll on and off as needed.

They work, of course, but have made this production like any big Broadway show and I, for one, really missed the impressive and effective flow supplied by the turntable. (Have to say that seeing bodies stacked in a cart is much less effective dramatically than watching the barricade slowly turn to reveal the fallen students still clinging to its crude construction, even in death). Sorry, but it’s all about theatrical impact.

That said, seeing “Les Miserables” on it’s original home — THE STAGE — and hearing the stirring score sung by obviously excellent and well-trained voices with lush and moving instrumental support from a FULL ORCHESTRA (something almost unheard of in this day of two keyboards and a drum), it was easy to understand why this show SHOULD be seen in this setting, with or without turntable.

The names of the outstanding cast, which is very large, are not well known here but one look at the impressive program bios, which list only a small portion of each individual’s work-to-date, and there is no doubt that the company IS this show.

Must cite Peter Lockyer (Jean Valjean), whose transformation from bitter thief to loving father is the lynchpin on which the story turns, and Andrew Varela (Javert), the single-minded policeman whose dogged pursuit of Valjean proves his own undoing. Each man has, in the course of the evening, a number of dramatic and difficult solos, plus equally demanding dramatic sequences. They could not have been better suited and deserved the spontaneous cheers which followed eac.

Fantine (Geneviieve Leclerc) and Eponine (Briana Carlson-Goodman) scored solidly as ladies who loved and lost, as did the dastardly Theniardiers (Shawna M. Hamric and Timothy Gulan), who, like the cockroach, survive everything, and students led by Enjolras (Jason Forbach) and Marius (Devin Ilaw). There are too many others in the large ensemble to list. Enough to say that each does his/her own part in bringing “Les Miserables” to life yet again.

Go see the movie if you want. The stage is where this musical really lives, and for a lot longer than “One Day More”!

“LES MISERABLES” plays in Miller Auditorium at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, through Sunday. Curtain times vary. Ticket prices range from 38 to $78 but are available for 50 percent off seats remaining for Friday matinee. Call (269)387-2300 or (800) 228-9858.

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