SBCT Hits High Note With 'Avenue Q' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 17 September 2014 01:18

This is a good news/bad news look at the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Avenue Q” which opened Sept.12 in the Warner Theatre.

The good news is the show is one of the very best put up by SBCT in its time in the new facility.alt

The bad news is, in spite of a scheduled three-week run plus one added performance, there are few, if any, seats available.

This quirky show went from Off-Broadway to Broadway in 2003, winning three Tony Awards including Best Musical. It stayed on Broadway until 2009 when it returned to Off-Broadway. It is still running today.

Avenue Q  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe title has a familiar ring, especially to parents of young children whose favorite TV fare is “Sesame Street,” but that’s really where the comparison ends.

Like the teaching thoroughfare of the PBS giant, “Avenue Q” has its share of life-lessons to impart and each is delivered with song, dance, love and laughter.

It is an unbeatable combination, especially in the hands of the talented SBCT troupe. Under the direction of Rick Ellis, with musical direction by Geoffrey Carter, its positive messages strike home with humor and honesty in a wide number of areas — relationships, race and religion, to name just a few.

If you think these topics have been examined theatrically ad nauseum, you are correct. But on Avenue Q, they get a new twist.

Eleven of the characters are puppets. Not the string variety but unique and hilariously individual “attachments” to six of the nine featured players.

Actually, the “attachments” are puppets controlled by human performers, some of whom play multiple characters. There is no attempt to hide the humans. In fact, they stand tall with one hand inside the puppet and, for the most part, the other on a long stick attached to the puppet’s “free” hand.

Avenue Q  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreFor those who think this might be a bit disconcerting, know that within just a few minutes, you don’t even notice the “real people.”

They make it look easy.

Lisa Blodgett as Christmas Eve, the Asian American (don’t call her Oriental!) therapist, and Travis Mayer as her unemployed would-be comedian fiancé, Brian, and Andre Spathelf-Sanders as Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman) are the only players who do not “control” a specific puppet.

Avenue Q  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAt the center is Princeton (the ultra-versatile Sean Leyes), a college grad searching for his purpose in life. His very limited budget brings him apartment hunting on Avenue Q. It proves to be a diverse and uniquely entertaining area.

Meeting his neighbors makes him realize that, although the problems may not be the same, everybody has at least one.

Fellow residents are Kate Monster (SBCT veteran Natalie MacRae), a kindergarten teaching assistant; mis-matched roommates Nicky (Mike Barnette) and Republican investment banker Rod (Joel Stockton); Internet porn addict Trekkie Monster (one of Kevin James’ personae which include a Bad Idea Bear, a Moving Box, Ricky and a Newcomer); and last but definitely never least, Lucy the Slut (Shelly Overgaard who also is a Bad Idea Bear, a Moving Box and Mrs. T, Kate Monster’s crabby boss, who declares “Crabby old bitches are the bedrock of this nation!”).

Avenue Q South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe ways in which this unlikely ensemble interacts through times good and not-so-good are not only wonderfully entertaining but deliver solid footnotes beneath the laughter.

The set by Jaycee Rohick is multi-purposful, allowing “regular” entrances and exits as well as providing “screens” for the many video inserts, all of which are sharp and clear and an integral part of the action. (Note the SBCT execs whose resemblance to The Muppets’ crotchety old men in the box has to be deliberate.)

 Most of the actors have solo voices, especially Leyes and MacRae, but all have a solid grasp (no pun intended) on their puppet(s) and are a solid vocal ensemble.

Obviously, a big part of any “Avenue Q” is the puppets, here the work of puppet designer/builder/trainer Dave Rozmarynowski. Each one is exactly right for its character and, combined with some very fine “controlling,” achieves the desired effect.

As in life, we can hide some of the time and let our puppets do the talking but, in the end, reality awaits.

Taking “Avenue Q” to get there is more than half the fun!

“AVENUE Q” plays through Sept.  28 in the SBCT Warner Theatre. For information and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit

Note: Production contains adult language, themes and puppet nudity (also puppet sex).

Deadly Announcement Stirs Christie Mystery PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 16:02

Nothing like announcing the date (Friday the 13th) and time (7 p.m.) of an impending murder in the  local newspaper.

A Murder Is Announced  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol  INIt certainly catches the attention of Chipping Cleghorn residents as well as others staying in the home of Miss Letitia Blalock, the designated kill site.

Who put the ad in the paper and, more importantly, who is the intended victim? Is this a hoax or is someone really in danger?

These are some of the questions facing the characters in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of Agatha Christie’s “A Murder Is Announced,” on stage through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House.

Under the direction of Jerry O’Boyle (who also shares credit with artistic/technical director John Shoup for a wonderful “move right in” set) the answers are revealed — slowly but surely — in the convolutedly familiar style that has made Dame Agatha’s plays (and novels) continuously popular for decades.

A  Murder Is Announced  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INIn addition to Miss Blalock (played with a deceptively stoic exterior by Amy Palowsky), friends, guests and employees all seem to reach their own levels of suspicion and/or guilt before the real culprit is unmasked.

On the list of suspects are Julia and Patrick Simmons (Angie Berkshire and Jim Hess), relatives of the landlady; Mitzi (April Sellers), the highly excitable maid; Phillipa Haymes (Amie Kron), a young widowed mother; and Mrs. Clara Swettenham (Karen Johnston) and her momma-pecked son Edmund (Anthony Venable), whose eye is on the widow.

Those obviously above suspicion are Inspector Craddock (Joshua D. Padgett),  his assistant Sargeant Mellors (Carl Weisinger, who also serves as stage manager) and Miss Jane Marple (Geneele Crump), a well-known amateur sleuth with whom the constabulary have been instructed to cooperate and consult.

A Murder Is Announced  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INDave Kempher is dead on as Rudi Scherr, a foreigner who drops in and leaves a lasting impression.

As in all Christie mysteries, no one is what — or who — they seem and more than half of the fun is figuring out just who — and what — they are.

Also as for all Christie works, theatrical and literary, close attention must be paid. Hang in for the early moments of seemingly non sequitur-filled conversations. There is many a clue twixt the tea cup and the lip and they can be easy to miss.

O’Boyle keeps the pace of the dialogue-heavy script to a brisk trot as often as possible, with Ong and Sellers  providing additional electricity as the odd-balls of choice. 

It is to everyone’s credit that mouths are not, as sometimes happens when accents are required, full of British mush. The audio level, however, definitely needs to be raised by several of the ladies, especially those who are dropping clues or delivering explanations.

Crump and O’Boyle are responsible for the many props and for dressing the beautiful period-friendly set which strikes just the right note the minute the lights go up. The many costumes assembled by Linda Weisinger also are a major plus in the details which pull the show together.

Aside from the “exteriors,” however, this production depends on solid, reliable performances befitting the regional premiere of  Agatha Christie’s final mystery play.

And don’t let Marple’s Gourd Calabash Pipe fool you.

“A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED” plays through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E Vistula St., Bristol. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit www.elkhartcivic

'Wonderettes' Sing Back The Years PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 16 August 2014 15:26

In the beginning there was “The Taffetas” (1988), followed closely by “Forever Plaid” (1990), the only male entry. The last in the nostalgia-based, strictly-singing., small-cast musicals was “The Marvelous Wonderettes” (1999), which opened Wednesday evening in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Marvelous wonderettes  Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INConsidering WW’s major success with its productions of “Plaid,” it’s only puzzling that “The Marvelous Wonderettes” has not made an appearance before this.

That said, the ladies are worth the wait.

There is no doubt that all “mini-musicals” are saddled with obviously contrived plots devised solely to facilitate the insertion of as many “golden oldies” as possible.

There is no attempt at being believable in any area — excepting the music. Here the quality of the solo voices as well as their blend is what counts. It’s what makes it worth sitting for the two hours it takes the Wonderettes to deliver about 30 songs. All are designed to take you back to a melodic youth or let the youngsters hear the tunes that helped mom and dad (or grandma and grandpa) fall in — and out — of love back in “the good old days.”

Director/choreographer Scott Michaels has his work cut out for him, creating movements for each number that are different yet similar and keeping the action moving along. As always, he delivers.

In this melodic time travel he has the talented Wonderettes — Leigh Ellen Jones as Cindy Lou, Kira Lace Hawkins as Missy, Sarah Jackson as Betty Jean and Jennifer Dow as Suzy — with which to work. And they succeed in creating definitely individual characters and turning back the clock whether the tempos from conductor/keyboardist Thomas Stirling and his outstanding “band of five” are up or down.

The storyline is tangled, beginning with the Wonderettes last-minute call to entertain at their 1958 high school prom. They reveal the prom theme, “Marvelous Dreams,” and announce voting (by one section of the audience) will determine the prom queen who will then choose her king.

There is an on-going rivalry between best friends Betty Jean and Cindy Lou and it becomes obvious that Suzy is dating the boy running the lights while Missy has a crush on Mr. Lee, the teacher who led the group to the cheerleading finals. (NOTE: Mr. Lee is chosen from the gentlemen sitting in the front row as is Mrs. MacPhearson, the English teacher who counts prom ballots.)

The second act is at the 10 year reunion. Suzy is married and expecting and both she and Betty Jean are having marital problems. Missy is still hoping for a proposal and Betty Jean and Cindy Lou are still feuding.

The Marvelous Wonderettes Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAnd that’s just for starters.

But no matter how flimsy the plot (and who expects believability?) the important part is the music and, from start to finish, it is solid.

Each of the quartet has at least one solo, proving all have solid voices, but their four-part harmony is the most remarkable. Difficult to deliver side-by-side, it is even more impressive when done from the four corners of scene designer Jacki Andersen’s nostalgically prom-in-the-gym setting.

Costume designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck finishes the official summer season with wonderfully decade-spanning costumes that recreate the colors and styles of the time. And the great wigs by Dow are the icing on the pastel ensembles.

There is no doubt many of the songs will bring back memories, good or not-so-good. “Mr. Sandman,” “Allegheny Moon,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Secret Love,” “Wedding  Bell Blues,” It’s My Party,” “Son of A Preacher Man” and “Respect” are only a few of the hits from the 1950’s and ‘60’s found in the repertoire of “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”

Whether you could sing along with every tune or are just hearing them for the first time, the Wonderettes make them marvelous.

“THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES” plays through Aug. 23 in the arena theater at 2515 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

'Hair' At The Barn For Musical Love-In PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 08 August 2014 16:07

In 1967, a show was born in Joe Papp’s Public Theatre — the first non-Shakespeare production in that space — that was destined to change the face of musical theater.

It moved to Broadway in 1968, settled in for a four-year run and has never stopped filling the stages of theaters, professional and non, around the world.

Hair  The Barn Theatre  Augusta  MIThe Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., opened its fifth production of that show Tuesday evening. In case you can’t “name that show,” it was/is “Hair,” aka “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical.”

“Hair’ was/is unique. Called the “first concept musical,” it had little or no plot but musically addressed numerous problems facing America including racism, drugs, sexual repression, free love. environmental destruction, poverty, corruption in government, violence at home and, certainly not least, the Vietnam War and its conscripted army.

The almost non-stop score came to define the term “rock musical” and, through the years, has ebbed and flowed almost as much as the political and social climate of the United States.

In its infancy, it undoubtedly was a forceful shocker. The famous nude scene (all of about 20 seconds) and language (songs include “Hashish,” “Sodomy” and “Colored Spade”) met with active protest against touring productions. South Bend’s Morris Civic refused to book the show and angry religious groups picketed and/or boycotted its appearance..

Hair  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MILooking back (after all it has been 47 years!), it is not so much a protest of current ills as a memory play with intermittent jabs of reality. Book and lyrics are by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who frequently took the roles leading of Berger and Claude, respectively, and who claimed those characters were modeled on themselves.

Whatever one remembers from the original script, it is the music that has remained rather unforgettable. Many of the songs — “Aquarius,” “Let The Sunshine,” “Good Morning, Starshine,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Frank Mills” and, of course, the title song — may not be at the forefront of your memory but once The Barn cast starts singing, they are front and center.

There are several main roles at the core of The Tribe (which utilizes the entire apprentice company plus). Choreographer Jamey Grisham is Claude, the newest Tribe member whose only wish is to be “invisible.” Kevin Robert White, who also serves as bar show accompanist, is Berger, Tribe leader and protest instigator. Both have, along with the rest of the group, extremely long and shaggy wigs and a lot of music to sing.

Hair  The Barn Theatre  Augusta   MIOther soloists are Melissa Cotton as Sheila, Eric Tsuchiyama as Woof, Khnemi Menu-Ra as Hud, Dallyn Brunck as Jennie, Donica Lynn as Dionne, Anna Segatti as Crissy, Nicholas Fuqua as Walter, Dwayne Everett Johnson as Ronny and Patrick Hunter as a tourist (in drag!). Senior members portray parents (Eric Parker and Penelope Alex), policemen (Bruce Hammond and a beard-less Charlie King) and a tourist (Hans Friedrichs).

Most are on stage most of the time, which adds up to a large number to put on the not-over-large stage. Luckily they have to lie or sit down (primarily on each other) for a good portion of that time. The costuming is almost too similar and too clean to be actual period, but it serves the purpose.

The just-off-stage band, which precedes the opening with an ear-shattering rendition of the national anthem a la Jimi Hendricks, plays almost constantly. Until the opening night sound levels are adjusted and balanced, they just drown out the ensemble and the soloists.

When lyrics provide 99 per cent of what storyline or character background there is, the inability to hear them really leaves the audience wondering what’s going on. And hand mikes definitely do not help! Spoken dialogue is little better as projection seems not a priority. Only Parker, Alex and Hunter are able to reach the back of the house.

Many in the opening night audience were a) fans of the show or b) fondly reminiscent of the ‘60s, and many obviously enjoyed the chance to be a part of the “all-dance” “Be-in” after the somber finale. A goodly number of “tie dye” shirts, flowers and headbands were evident but there were no elephant bell jeans in the lot.

HAIR” continues through Aug. 17 at The Barn Theatre on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269)  73`-4121 or visit

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