Perseverance Pays In Fact-Based Musical PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 13 August 2015 18:50

When you hear the words “hard body,” what comes to mind first?

I’ll bet it’s not a new pickup truck.

But that’s exactly the prize in the 2013 Broadway musical ‘Hands on A Hardbody” which opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich.

Hands on a Hardbody The Barn Theatre Augusta, MII guess that space makes the difference, although in the theatrical “Hardbody” there are a number of hard bodies, including the truck.

The bright red Nissan pickup revolving center stage is the silent centerpiece of this story by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright, with music by Anabda Green and Trey Anastasio. It is based on a documentary about an actual competition held for more than 20 years in Texas.

Even as you wonder what drives someone to stay, longer than anyone else, with one gloved hand on the body of that truck in temperatures frequently soaring above 100 degrees with rules that forbid leaning or squatting and infrequent 10-minute breaks, the characters in this fact-based musical let you know.

Hands on a Hardbory The Barn TGheatre Augusta, MIEach of the 10 contestants (there were 24 in the annual Texas competition) has his/her reason and, led by stage and TV star Rex Smith, each makes their case, sure that winning this truck will be a real life-changing experience.

This includes dealership manager Mike Ferris (Kevin Robert White) and saleswoman Cindy Barnes (Brooke Evans), both hoping the accompanying publicity will boost their sales.

Some are holding on alone and a few have on-site support. J.D. Drew (Smith), the oldest competitor, is accompanied by his wife Virginia (Penelope Ragotzy) who worries about his health and provides as much assistance during the breaks as the rules allow. His resistance drives her away but when he finally recalls what “Used to Be,” (the show’s loveliest ballad, delivered with palpable empathy by Smith) it’s time for the tears to start.

Hands on a Hardbody The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe most disagreeable contestant is a past winner, Benny Perkins (Eric Parker), not above using mind games and sarcasm (“Hunt With The Big Dogs”) to intimidate the opposition. His final revelation (“God Answered My Prayers”) is stunning and Parker has the vocal and dramatic power to make it matter.

Norma Valverde (Dani Apple) is a little girl with a big voice. Norma’s support comes from her prayer chain which, she says, includes fellow Christians around the world. Her gospel number, “Joy of the Lord” is a real showstopper.

Each of the players has his/her chance to vent vocally. One is an embittered soldier (Michael Tuck) determined to be “Stronger,” while the token Hispanic (Cody Stiglich) lashes out against their ignorance in “Born in Laredo.”

Janis Curtis (Jackie Gubow), mother of six, is championed by hubby Don (Charlie King) who circles the fast-fading group wearing a KFC bucket and joins his wife in declaring “It’s A Fix.” They are not far off as Heather Stovall (Bethany Edlund) relies on age-old tricks to achieve a leg-up (no pun intended) on her competitors.

Outlining “My Problem Right There” is Ronald McCowan (Aron Hudson), the only African American contestant and the first one to take his hand off the truck. Dreams of going “anywhere” are shared by Kelli Mangrum (Samantha Rickard) and Greg Wilhote (Brandon Michaud) who declare “I’m Gone.”

If the script is more than a bit predictable as each contestant steps into the limelight (or onto the truck bed) to share his story, I will say that it went right down to the wire as to which would drive off into the sunset.

The increasing effects of the extreme heat, however, were lacking.

This is the third set this season to feature stairs and wooden planks, but it works well, The orchestra maintains support of the soloists and the ensemble numbers are powerful, especially the initial “Joy to the Lord,” begun acapella by Apple.

The only problem seems to be sound at the top level and the floor level. Dialogue in these areas is lost almost completely and loud crackles abound.

Director Hans Fredrichs gets as much physical action as possible into a script that basically call for all the protagonists to stand in one area throughout.

”HANDS ON A HARDBODY” plays through Aug. 23 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121.

Brevity Here Definitely Is The Soul Of Wit PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 07 August 2015 19:01

The average theater-goer facing an evening of Shakespeare might find the prospect just a bit daunting.

Never fear.

Lost Shakespeare Play Notre Dame South Bned INA veritable explosion of Shakespearean proportions began Tuesday evening in the Philbin Studio Theatre at Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center where it will repeat its classical madness through Aug. 30, and there is no need to know the works of The Barn of Avon or to be a big fan — or even a little one.

Created by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)” joins their long list of abridged works that have compacted a wide variety of subjects from history to the Bible to Hollywood, touching each with irreverent hilarity.

The duo, managing partners in the Reduced Shakespeare Company, often perform in their works. At ND, however, the mind-boggeling assignments are handled by three outrageously talented actors — Dan Saski, Teddy Spencer and Chad Yarish.

Lost Shakespeare Play Notre dame South Bend INNo need to ask which roles they play. After the whirlwind character switches, it’s difficult to tell. Enough to say that whether you are familiar with all (or any) or Shakespeare’s 39 plays, it doesn’t make any difference.

From the opening by “Chorus,” a generally neutral character who delivers scene-setting prologues and ties up loose ends with epilogues, you know its time for Shakespearean mix-and-match!

For the next two hours (including intermission), the audience is treated to one hilarious mashup after another, all delivered at a break-neck pace by the actors who not only change roles but robes and wigs and voices and accents and . . .well, it has to be seen — and heard — to be believed!

Shakespeare's Lost Play Notre Dame South Bend INTheir tongues go so trippingly on the text that even Hamlet would be impressed!

The premise is based in fact.

In the fall of 2012, a skeleton was found under a parking lot in Leicester, England. Months later the bones were confirmed as those of King Richard III. (Fact)

The authors claim to have seen, in that lot, a 435-page manuscript of the first play by William Shakespeare. Believing this to be the true find, they took the pages and threw the bones away. (Not fact.)

Since the manuscript contained all Shakespeare’s plots, characters and situations, the authors pared down its “100 hours traffic of our stage” to a comfortably watchable length and let the fun begin.

Shakespeare's Lost Play Notre Dame South Bend INAlong the rocky path to the epilogue are found Ariel (The Tempest) and Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), both of whom claim to have the best magic and begin a contest to prove their boasts..

Enlisted in the competition are three witches, three daughters, a murderous queen, a drunken knight, ill-fated lovers, a narcissistic steward, twins, fairies, kings and commoners, all summoned in the name of magical one-upmanship, plus nods to the present day including Gilligan and the Kardashians — and that’s just for starters!

Even the audience gets to take part, volunteers and/or recruits!!

As impressive as the work of the acting trio is, praise must go to the equally impressive trio of stage hands who aid and abet the performers in their seconds-long character changes! Just having to learn which wig and what gown goes on which actor at what time has to have been a Herculean task.

Like the talented trio on stage, they never miss a change!

And if, when the curtain falls or the lights go out or whatever, you by some unlikely chance still say “It was Greek to me,” guess what?

You are quoting Shakespeare!

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE”S LONG LOST FIRST PLAY” (Abridged) plays daily (except Mondays) through Aug. 30 in the Philbin Studio Theatre of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame. For performance times and tickets (it is general seating), call (574) 631-2800 or visit

'Fiddler On The Roof' Plays In The Park PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 04 August 2015 20:09

Let me begin by saying it is very difficult to review a show if you can only see the stage by standing up, which is not an option when the show is close to three hours long.

Fiddler on the Roof SouthBend (IN) Civic TheatreThat was the problem Friday when we arrived at St. Patrick’s Park in South Bend for the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Fiddler on The Roof.”

Curtain time was 7:30 p.m. and we foolishly thought getting there at 7 would be plenty of time, especially since we were informed that there was no spraying for bugs and the other outdoor hazer — cigarette smoke — was a thing of the past, so arriving when the park opened at 6 p.m. was really not an option.

In my younger days, I did a lot of standing for Broadway shows. But the key word is younger and the area was a solid floor and semi-wall on which to lean.

After weighing the options, we decided to stay. After all, a large number of people were in about the same location. We could see what they could see, which turned out to be not much.

Standing allowed a view of the stage and the performers who were, at this distance, more like miniatures than real people. Sitting down allowed a view of the backs of peoples’ heads.

We settled on standing for production numbers and sitting to listen to the rest. Having seen many productions, the visuals offered few surprises. Actually, the sound was much better in the park than in the SBCT Wilson Theatre. Dialogue and lyrics were, for the most part, easily understood and the voices, both solos and ensemble, were excellent, although the coming and going of bad accents was obvious.

Fiddler on the Roof South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThere is no doubt that any “Fiddler,” large or small, depends for its success on the singer/actor portraying the leading role of Tevye, the dairyman of Anatevka. The father of five “daughters!” he deals with constant poverty in an increasingly hostile environment, but his strong relationship with God and strict adherence to the traditions of his race and faith, support him throughout.

Fiddler on the Roof South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreSBCT is fortunate in having a Tevye for all seasons in Jason Medich. Younger than most who play this role, his interpretation carried more suppressed anger and less meek subservience. It was different but it played well. His accent was consistent and his rich and powerful voice filled in all the gaps

Numerically, this has to be the largest production staged to date by SBCT. It numbers a cast of 27, an ensemble of 29, an orchestra of 14 directed by Roy Bronkema and a flexible, multi-wagon set designed by David Chudzynski. Director David Case is a SBCT veteran.

Fiddler on the Roof  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe familiar Jerome Robbins choreography (I said we stood for the big numbers) is the basis for that done by Callie Lorenz. I missed the familial groupings for “Sabbath Prayer” and the mass exodus that brings the show to a close, but the Bottle Dancers were, as expected, drop-less, and the Russian dancers literally flew.

Rather surprising that “Miracle of Miracles” became a duo song-and-dance for Motel (Sean Leyes) and Tzeitel (Natalie MacRae) which rather undermined the shock value of Perchik (Justin Green) asking Hodel (Bree Haler) to dance at the traditionally segregated wedding.

It seems almost impossible that, after a nine-Tony Award Broadway debut in 1964 which played to more than 3,000 people, four revivals (a fifth is planned for this winter), a popular 1971 movie, countless tours and endless productions in schools and community theaters, some remain who have never seen “Fiddler on The Roof.”

It is most definitely a music theater classic.

Now is your chance.

NOTE: There are no programs. For cast, crew and other information, consult your smart phones or computers. Concessions available.

“FIDDLER ON THE ROOF” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in St. Patrick’s County Park in South Bend. For information and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit

'Midsummer' Laughter Spans Centuries PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 02 August 2015 02:47

If you’ve ever heard that true love never runs smooth, believe it or not, you were hearing Shakespeare — almost.

Midsummer Night's Dream Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INThe age-old explanation of the entanglements of that emotion is found, in it’s more erudite form, in the first act of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare’s most popular comedy (circa 1595), which opened Wednesday evening in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Whether you are an avid fan, avoid Shakespeare whenever possible or are a newcomer to his plays, the WW production is just right for all.

Ok. If there is a choice, you may never select Shakespeare over Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” etc), but, at least, you’ll be willing to give The Bard of Avon another try.

Midsummer Nigjht's Dream Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INThe WW show makes this a definite possibility, for a goodly number of reasons.

First: directors Andy Robinson and Ben Dicke work well at highlighting aspects of ageless humor that definitely appeal to all. Harking back to the silent screen days of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and the great Charlie Chaplin, they allow the underlying humanity of each character to at least peep through the exterior. Even a jackass can shed a tear.

Second: the assembled cast brings each role to life, whether a noble or a fairie or a working man, and their joy, even when in deep “sorrow,” is highly contagious.

Third: the events (with apologies to R&H) of this enchanted evening are played out on a set designed by David LePor and in beautifully fantastic costumes created by Stephen R. Hollenbeck that could not be anything but magical. Elves and fairies pop in and out of the swirling platforms which collectively resemble a giant seashell, all in frequently shimmering light by Alexander Rodgers.

Everything takes place in one night during which mortals and fairies alike become hilarious entangled but, by dawn, manage to pair properly and resolve all differences.

The story begins stolidly with an approaching wedding, veers to a romp with mis-matched lovers, sidesteps to the preparation of a theatrical production and careens around spells mislaid by a mischieveous fairie.

Leading the earthly contingent are Hermia (Laura Pyler), Helena (Kira Lace Hawkins), Lysander (Angel Lozada) and Demetris (Alex Dorf), gathered for the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens (Jordan Edwin Andre) and Hippolyta,          Queen of the Amazons (Elaine Cotter).

When it becomes evident that Demetrius is engaged to Hermia who loves Lysander, who loves her, while Helena is in love with Demetrius, who also loves Hermia, it’s obvious that there is trouble ahead.

Midsummer Night's Dream Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAll four wind up in the nearby enchanted wood where fairie King Oberon (Danny Burgos), is quarreling with fairie Queen Titania (Ellen Jenders), who refuses to give him a changeling boy in her care. To expedite his demand, Oberon sends Puck (Jennifer Dow) with a magic flower that, when applied to sleeping eyes, makes the sleeper fall in love with the first person he/she sees when awakening.

Of course, Puck applies the flower’s juice to all the wrong eyes and mayhem ensues.

Midsummer Night's Dream Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INTo add to the confusion, a group of workmen are in the woods to rehearse their play, to be presented at the reception. Peter Quince (George O. Vickers V) assigns roles to Bottom the Weaver (Scott Fuss), Flute (Sean Watkinson), the Bellows Mender, Snout the Tinker (Keaton Eckhoff), Starveling the Tailor (Asher Durbin) and Snug the Joiner (Dylan Troost). Bottom, sure he can play every part, loudly directs everyone.

No surprise then, that Puck puts the head of a donkey on the braying Bottom and the flower’s juice on the wrong Athenian resulting in a chaotic mix-up of lovers.

It would be difficult if not impossible to name a standout in the talented cast. Dow is consistently delightful as the impish Puck and Fuss is hilarious as the arrogant would-be actor (check his instruction on attention to consonants). Hawkins is perfect as the neglected Helena who responds with outrage — and outrageously — to sudden romantic attentions, while Lozada and Dorf earn applause for their overkill in proving who is the best man.

The “finale,” the workers’ presentation of “Pyramus and Thisbe,” is the comedic icing on this frothy fare which proves with century-spanning accuracy “What fools these mortals be!”

“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM” plays through Saturday in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041u

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