Impressive Birds In 'Cuckoo's Nest' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 17 April 2013 02:32

South Bend Civic Theatre opened its production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Friday evening in the Warner Studio Theatre. Before the lights dimmed on the first performance, the entire run had been sold out.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreEnough to say that those ticket holders will indeed get their money’s worth. The 1963 Dale Wasserman adaptation Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, definitely not a hit in its Broadway debut, has become something of a cult classic due in no small way to the 1975 film version, definitely a hit even though it is based on the novel, not on the play.

Jack Nicholson’s riveting star turn as convict-turned-mental- patient Randle P. McMurphy was only one of the five major Oscars earned by the film. No less riveting was Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, the antithesis of Florence Nightingale, whose character name has become synonymous with rigid control in many areas.

Living up to these seminal interpretations definitely can be challenging, but the SBCT players all give it their best shots.

Under the direction of Terry Farren, in a space designed by Jaycee Rohlck to surround audience and actors in a locked ward, the patients present sympathetic portraits of living on (and off) the edges of reality.

Each maintains his own aura of instability, including the “chronics,” who stay silent inside their own worlds and react only infrequently. The patients who inhabit the ward (and world) of Nurse Ratched (Melissa Gard) are individuals interacting in an atmosphere of forced reality from which they have not the strength to break free.

Into this constricted atmosphere bursts Randle Patrick McMurphy (Steven Cole), a petty criminal who sees short time in a mental ward as preferable to longer time in a penal institution. His effusive personality eventually affects everyone in the ward, mostly positively. The reaction of Ratched, however, who sees her rule slowly but surely undercut, inevitably results in a fatal end.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs everybody’s nightmare nurse, Gard has become the area’s theatrical go-to-gal for venomous females. Hiding a poisonous agenda behind a saccharine smile and a velvet voice, she manipulates her charges to achieve her own ends, no matter the cost in lives or emotional balance. She is a monstrous caregiver and the female you love to hate.

Cole’s cherubic curls and roguish smile are too good to be bad. His seemingly fearless acts benefiting his less-than-fearless ward-mates have just the right amount of irony, making them almost as sincere as they could be. He is, in the end, their reluctant savior. Cole relishes every minute and so does the audience.

Kevin Egelsky is Chief Bromden, a Native American whose silence equates with being deaf and dumb. His small soliloquies intensify the setting and the emotional atmosphere. He is a big man and I have to say I missed the deliberately violent extension of his final physical act.

Making up the ensemble of patients are Vincent Bilancio as Dale Harding, Benjamin Cass as Billy Bibbit, Bill Frascella as Scanlon, Phil Kwiecinski as Cheswick, Craig Kilgore as Martini and Aaron Bucha as Ruckly. Matt Allen, Clara Ross and David Smith are aides, Paul McDowell is a doctor, Lisa Blodgett is a nurse and Megan Corey and Joyce Dudley are ladies of the evening.

Even in the midst of their “insanity,” there is a question of who should be on the inside and who, on the out.

“ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST” plays through April 21. For ticket availability, call 234-1112.


Secretaries Take Control in '9 To 5' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 11 March 2013 21:09

During the past few years there has been a trend, like it or not, to turn movies — originally with or without music — into Broadway musicals.

9 to 5 The Musical  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  IN“Hairspray,” “Young Frankenstein,” “The Producers,” “Newsies,” “Shrek” and “Once” are among the most successful of this genre. “Urban Cowboy” was a definite disaster and the musical version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” never even made it to opening night, although a tune-less version is ready to try again.

Somewhere hovering between the successes and the failures is “9 to 5, The Musical” which opened a three-weekend run Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production is directed by Michael Cripe assisted by Sue King. In addition to being the area premiere of the Dolly Parton/Patricia Resnick show, it is the first ECT mainstage musical to use a recorded track (Digital Orchestra) implemented by keyboardist/conductor Miriam Houck with computer orchestrations by Dave Kempher.

Like the recent moves to computerized music — South Bend Civic is now on its second digital musical and the ECTeam junior shows all come with recorded tracks — learning how to “sing along” with music that waits for no man (or woman) puts an additional challenge on preparing for a show. And there also is the problem of finding the right sound level balance between live singers and not-so-live instrumentation.

Both can be very tricky and, while there is no doubt that practice will eventually make, if not perfect, at least perfectly acceptable, the electronic process does prove to be a step — or measure — in the right direction.

If you have seen the 1980 movie, also titled “Nine to Five,” you have seen the show. Few if any changes have been made in the story line and the title tune remains a real toe-tapper. In making the film a theatrical musical, however, more than two dozen new Parton songs have been added. Some are humorous, some have a 9 to 5: The Musical  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INmessage but none are very memorable.

The tale of Violet Newstead (Bridgette Greene), Doralee Rhodes (Ashlea Romano) and Judy Bernly (Stephanie Yoder) and their employment at Consolidated Enterprises under the domineering thumb of lecherous Franklin Hart Jr. (Byron Brown) speaks to anyone who has endured that type of employer/employee relationship. In the late 1970s, however, this was especially applicable to women.

The way in which the women gain, although inadvertently, the upper hand, first in the office and eventually in their personal lives, is a story that speaks to every female, with a good deal of truth in the exaggerated situations.

Greene is strong as the secretary who does everything and fumes inwardly while the boss takes all the credit. Yoder is the naïve new girl in the office pool, struggling in an abusive relationship at home. Romano is vocally and physically the Partonesque character, detemined to prove her exterior does not a mirror her interior. Her description of life as a “Backwoods Barbie” is an audience favorite.

As Roz Keith, Susan South draws an hilariously exaggerated caricature of the one and only employee blindly devoted to the boss. Brown ogles, leers, grimaces and does everything but twirl his mustache in pursuit of whatever female slows down but this is not a “mellerdrammer” and, to quote Randy Jackson, he is much too frequently “pitchy.”

The set design by John Shoup features a backdrop of clocks set at all hours and sliding flats that reconfigure depending on the location. Three large rectangular boxes serve as desks or cabinets on the multi-level set and may be one reason there was an inordinate amount of very distracting noise during scene changes.

“9 to 5 THE MUSICAL” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and March 22-23 and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on S.R. 120. For reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit

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.  

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