Theatre
Berlin Melodies Shine In Holiday Musical PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 22:59

In 1940, composer Irving Berlin put words to a melody that had been in his head since 1935. It became part of  the all-Berlin score of a Paramount musical titled “Holiday Inn.” Sung by one of the film’s stars Bing Crosby, it was not the White Christmas South Bend (IN) Civic Theatretune all thought would be the breakout hit.

How wrong they were.

Not only was the film a huge success, “White Christmas” (and Crosby’s recording) became the best-selling single of all time, and lead to yet another film and then to a theatrical musical of the same name.

The last, which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Theatre, promises to join “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street” and a myriad of other seasonal productions as a Christmas regular.

White Christmas  Sotyh Benf (IN)  Civic TheatreLike most other film-to-stage musicals, a number of “not in the movie” songs (happily all by Berlin) have been added  and minor characters have been expanded, not always for the best.

The film’s already thin plotline has been stretched to the max to make room for non-Christmasy numbers like “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano” and “How Deep Is The Ocean.”

Under the direction of Jewel Abram-Copenhaver, a major plus in the SBCT production is principals who display voices that make ballad-listening very pleasant.

Chief among these is Sean Leyes, who seems to be every area community theater’s choice for leading baritone. White Christmas South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Bob Wallace, the vocal half of the team of Wallace and Davis (the other half is William Heckaman as funny man Phil Davis), he handles the slow songs easily. His eventual love interest is Betty Haynes, played by Natalie MacRae, who displays a warm, clear voice on her share of the show’s loveliest ballads.

Heckaman takes care of the requisite dancing along with Allison Jean Jones as Betty’s sister/show biz partner, Judy Haynes. The duo acquits themselves admirably in “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” and “I Love A Piano.”  A vocal quintet backs them in the former and the dance ensemble adds to the fun in the latter, a pull-out-all-the-stops production number led by a talented tap dancing Jones.

SBCT veteran Gary Oesch delivers an appreciably low-keyed characterization as the “Old Man,” retired General Henry Waverly, the reason for the holiday hoopla. His speech recognizing veterans and active military in the audience is heartfelt and moving.

Supporting the general are his former sergeant Martha Watson (Anna Thompson) and his granddaughter Susan (Lucy Barron), both of whom take their turns in the spotlight via “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”

One jarring note is blasted too frequently by the troupe stage manager who mistakes bellowing for the way to get things done.

White Christmas  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAfter a bit of “after you, no after you” with the chorus in the opening number, the on-stage orchestra did well with the familiar score.

The mostly-singing, some-dancing chorus is exactly as good as non-dancing singers are expected to be both with the frequent changes of costumes and characters and Callie Lorenz’ choreography.

The use of projections designed by SBCT artistic director Mark Abram-Copenhaver establish the full-stage scenes effectively, especially on the “Snow” train to Vermont — although how Bob fails to realize he’s not en route to Florida is another mystery in a script that contains quite a few.

Costumer Donald Eugene Willman has assembled a number of colorfully appropriate outfits for both principals and chorus and those familiar with the movie won’t be disappointed by the final definitely-Christmas tableau which, of course, contains a title-tune sing-along.

“WHITE CHRISTMAS” plays through Dec.21 in the Wilson Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574)234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

 
Baseball Drama A Solid Hit For SBCT PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 10 November 2014 23:42

In 1889, British author/playwright Oscar Wilde wrote "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life".The truth of this is underscored by the current South Bend Civic Theatre production, “Take Me Out."

Take Me Out  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe Tony Award-winning play by Richard Greenberg which also was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, examines the effects on a major league baseball team when its star player reveals he is gay.

It was written in 2002.  

Since then, celebrity “outings” have become a regular occurrence, primarily in the field of entertainment and in individual sports. It was not until this year, however, that a professional athlete in a team sport, Dallas Cowboy’s Michael Sam, joined their ranks.

Take Me Out South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs charted by Greenberg, the announcement by Empires’ star center fielder Darren Lemming (Quinton McMutuary) hits his fellow players on the Empires baseball team in a variety of ways. Although they claim not to be upset, their easy camaraderie in the locker room, and especially in the showers, becomes stilted, self-conscious and resentful, even though Lemming makes it clear his feelings towards his teammates have not changed.

‘The whole mess” began, as recalled by shortstop Kippy Sunderstrom (Steven Matthew Cole), who serves as narrator, at Lemming’s press conference after the mid-season break. The bewilderment and frustration of team members at the new twist in relations with their star is characterized by teammate Toddy Koovitz (Mike Honderich) emerging from the shower and angry at feeling embarrassed with only a towel between himself and Lemming.  

A losing streak brings relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (Richard Isacson) up from the minors. A taciturn loner, Mungitt’s prejudices are revealed in a disastrous, epithet-filled TV interview, resulting in his suspension. Lemming thinks of retiring immediately but is convinced to stay by his accountant Mason Marzac (Brad Mazick), a newly enthusiastic baseball fan who also is gay.

Take Me Out South Bend (IN) Civic TheatrePlaying an integral part in Lemming’s decision to come out is his best friend Davey Battle (Justin F. Williams), star player for another team, who is  religious as well as a husband and father. Their friendship and rivalry touches many levels and, in the end, many lives.

“Take Me Out” is directed by Aaron Nichols, who proves again that he is one of the best in the area, delivering a clean, clear production that is smooth and sharp and hits all the right notes.

Designed by Jacee Rohick, the setting(s) moves swiftly and easily from locker room to playing field to interiors. Not only are these well defined, they are shifted quickly and quietly without detracting from the progressive action, illuminated sharply on and off the field by lighting designer Lloyd Whitmeyer

Take Me Out  Souith Bend (IN) Civic TheatreEach of the characters is definitely an individual, with some of the most humorous moments delivered by non-English-speaking players — David Seymour and Andy Barzelli as Martinez and Rodriguez, respectively, and Marion Deleon as ace pitcher Takeshi Kawabata — as well as by catcher Jason Chenier (Daniel Clymer), whose struggle to assure Lemming that he has no problem with gays is more than a little uncomfortably familiar.

In the clean-up position is SBCT veteran Mark Moriarty, batting well as the team manager, a bartender and a guard.

Topping the lineup of solid performances are those delivered by Cole, Isacson, Honderich and Mazick.

In case it’s not obvious, since much of the action takes place in the shower and locker room, there are many bare butts in view and the actors deserve much credit for being at ease in the altogether. If that, or if the frequent use of the f*** word is upsetting, this is not the show for you.

For everyone else, however, this excellent production by Nichols & Co. is a bases-loaded four-bagger.

“TAKE ME OUT” plays through Nov. 23 in the South Bend Civic Theatre Warner Theatre, 215 W. Madison St. For performance times and reservations, calls 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Frightful Humor Fills Musical Frankenstein PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 27 October 2014 18:41

‘Tis the season of Halloween, so it’s no surprise that the on-stage focus is on ghosts, goblins and monsters, especially those that are man-made.

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INGiven that the majority of these are created with terror in mind, it’s refreshing to find a band of creepy creatures whose sole purpose is to make us laugh.

That is the aim of the current Elkhart Civic Theatre’s regional premiere production of the New Mel Brooks Musical “Young Frankenstein.”

Taking its cue(s) from the 1930s films “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein,” it resurrects (pun intended) all the familiar segments of Brooks’ 1974 film “Young Frankenstein,” adds music and sees just how low it can go — laugh-wise.

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INUnder the direction of Tom Myers, who also created the choreography, the story moves from New York City to Transylvania Heights, with the assistance of projected scenery, bringing back to life the tale of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“that’s Fronk-en-steen!”), grandson of the original mad scientist, now Dean of Anatomy at the Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine  (these are the jokes, folks, and they just keep coming!).

Determined never to follow in his grandfather’s medical footnotes, Frederick (Geoff Trowbridge) nevertheless heads east to check out his inheritance.

Leaving his fiancé (“Please Don’t Touch Me”) Elizabeth Benning (Carly Dunn) behind, he arrives at the Transylvania Station (on Track 29 — I warned you!) to be met by the wonderfully weird and wacky Igor (“that’s Eye-gor”), (Jaymes Hidde-Halsey), who is determined to be his assistant (“Together Again For The First Time”). On the (“Roll in the Hay”)ride to the castle, Frederick is joined (?!) by his grandfather’s lab assistant, Inga (Alexandria Sadowski). Arriving at the castle,  he meets the housekeeper Frau (cue the horses!) Blucher (Julie Herrli Castello), who has her own agenda (“He Vas My Boyfriend”).

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INUrged by the ghosts of Victor F. (Brent Graber) and other assorted ancestors to “Join the Family Business,” Frederick succumbs to temptation and works to reanimate a larger-than-life, pieced-together corpse.  Unfortunately, Igor drops the desired genius brain and substitutes one from “Abby Normal.”

The large green, fire-fearing Creature (Jacob Medich) escapes and spends a disastrous visit with a blind hermit (Gene Harding). Then the hunt is on.

As the villagers, led by semi-mechanical Inspector Kemp (Rick Nymeyer) whose first encounter with a Creature “cost me an arm and a leg” (groans here!), close in (“He’s Loose”), another experimental procedure saves the day and puts the improper pairs together (“Deep Love”) as properly as possible.

Trowbridge hits the ground running with his first number, “The Brain,” a true test of patter a la Gilbert and Sullivan that finds every syllable in tact, and never stops, delivering the familiar “It’s alive” with true mad-scientist abandon.

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol IN He meets his match in Hidde-Halsey and the duo  makes a great comic connection, diving into “Together Again” with great timing and the infectious zeal of a real vaudevillian show-stopper! The shape-shifting Igor (“What hump?”) never loses his stride (“Walk this way!”) or his character or his ability to get a laugh.

Another show-stopper arrives in the second act when Frederick introduces his “civilized” Creature in “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” an extended tap number that received audience cheers opening night. It may not be easy bein’ green, but Medich makes the perfect Creature look like a lot of fun, groans and all. Check out the monster-size tap boots!

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe projected scenes allow for fast and easy moves from lab to forest to castle interior, but the often too-loud moves of set pieces and visibility of crew members was distracting.

Costume design by Dawn Blessing fit the medical and rural requirements well and reached new heights in garbing the green Creature! The lighting design by Brian MacGowan and John Shoup was properly (can’t help it!) “electrifying.”

Under the direction of conductor/percussionist Mark Swensden, the excellent seven piece orchestra provided the support and instrumental requirements and was a mood-setting addition to the production.

Myers keeps the pace moving and is at his best when setting the steps for primarily new dancers.

Have to say that even though “The Producers” took all the Tonys, I much prefer “Young Frankenstein” and am eagerly awaiting “Blazing Saddles”!

“YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN The New Mel Brooks Musical” will be at the Bristol Opera House through Nov. 8. For performance times and reservations, call 848-4116 or visit elkhartcivictheatre.org.

 
'Frankenstein' Less Horror More Confusion PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 20 October 2014 20:58

In the early 19th century, a young English author accepted the challenge of writing the best horror story and, in 1918, “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus” was published — anonymously.

Anonymously because the young author was a female — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

Frankenstein  South Bend (IN)( Civic TheatreSince that time, the tale of the young scientist who created life and reaped its fatal rewards, has been a real favorite of horror fiction fans in many genres, most especially in theater and films.

Undoubtedly the most popular (and best known) is the 1931 movie that brought stardom to Boris Karloff as “The Creature” and contained one of the best known lines of dialogue, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive.”

That version focused on the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation and was followed in 1935 by “The Bride of Frankenstein.” Both took liberties with the plot and characters. As written by Mary Shelley, the story is most closely followed in the 1994 Kenneth Branaugh film, which begins and ends in the Arctic Circle via the narrative of Capt. Robert Walton.

There have been countless movies, TV adaptations and even a musical comedy, all putting their own spins on the famous story. This is because “Frankenstein” is in the public domain. Translation: Anyone can do anything he/she wants with the characters, location and story. Sometimes, as with putting Shakespeare in modern times, this works well. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The latter is, unfortunately, true of the “world premiere” of the South Bend Civic Theatre version of “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus” which opened Friday evening in the Wilson Theatre.The production is the result of many months of work, first in a number of workshops during which interested community members read the book and discussed several aspects of content and production they felt would be best suited to telling the story and bringing it to the stage.

Frankenstein South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreTheir ideas were given to director Jim Geisel and director Terry Farren and the process continued through a stage reading and further rewriting, the result of which is on the SBCT stage through Nov.2.

Frankenstein  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThis most recent staging incorporates flowing panels, a series of platforms and a lot of wooden crates reconfigured frequently to suggest different locations. Also ghostly projections and some very thunderous sound effects.

The story is told here by the Zeklos Traveling Theatrical Troupe. With the exception of Victor (Matthew Bell) and The Creature (Phil Kwiecinski), the five troupe members (Megan  Michele, Judy Spigle, Don Elliott, Dan Slattery and Jared Windhauser) portray all the other characters with varying degrees of success.

They swoop on wearing white “Phantom”-style masks and swirling grey Greek chorus-style sheets. Nothing helps to distinguish what they are saying as they set the stage.

As the action progresses slowly, it becomes apparent that the Karloff version has gone overboard in favor of the Branaugh, adding characters from the latter that may be unfamiliar to those who only know the ’31 film.

Even if you have read the book, the action — and characters — are so muddled and most frequently unintelligible that it is most often impossible to follow.

The actors all work hard but too frequently to no avail. The action never really becomes clear and the narrative remains ponderous rather than focused.

The panels contribute somewhat to the horrific effects (think shrouds) and are used well with the projections but the sheets ultimately exacerbate the action rather than clarifying the plotline.

The lighting design by Sarah Akers does much to set the other-worldly mood and the beating heart underscores with just the right amount of Poe-etic license.

“FRANKENSTEIN or THE MODERN PROMETHEUS” plays through Nov. 2 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 North Main St. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.com

 
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