Wopat And Rogers: A Likeable Pairing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 27 August 2015 18:30

There is nothing so good for an actor as having a faithful fan base, which means that Tom Wopat should be feeling very good right about now.

The Will Rogers Follies The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe singer/actor opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI in “The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue” and the audience erupted in applause, whistles and cheers even as the top of his western hat cleared the platform stairs spanning the stage.

It was Wopat they came to see and he did not disappoint.

Actually, like the role of Frank Butler in “Annie Get Your Gun” which earned Wopat a Tony nomination in 1999, that of Will Rogers fits him like a glove. His ability to communicate with the audience is a hallmark of Will Rogers’ low-key, straight-to-the-heart personality and it works well.

The Will Rogers Follies  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIFor those too young to remember, during the 1920s and ‘30s, until his death in 1935, Will Rogers was the best-known man in the world, his sly humor and all-encompassing good nature reinforced his best-known statement “I never met a man I didn’t like.”

The musical recap of his life, with book by Peter Stone, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is presented as a revue, resembling the Ziegfeld Follies in which Rogers starred on Broadway for several years.

The Barn production, directed by Ann Cooley, has an impressively sparkly show curtain which hides the aforementioned stairs, the edges of which light up when required.

Up (and down) these stairs climb the important players in Rogers’ life: his dad Clem (Charlie King), his wife Betty Blake (Brooke Evans), and a variety of Indians, showgirls and cowboys, all singing and dancing, frequently together. The stages of is life and career are introduced by Ziegfeld's Favorite (Julie Grisham), a perky showgirl who enjoys the spotlight. One of the most significant characters, however, fellow flyer Wiley Post (Hans Frederichs), remains in the audience, moving the years along with his never-changing request “Let’s go flying, Will.”

The Will Rogers Follies  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIEvans delivers a well-sung, sympathetic portrait of the lady who mostly waited for Will, first to be married, then to come home. On opening night, she was the target of an angry insect which Wopat managed to eliminate. Neither missed a note.

For whatever reason, the four Rogers children unfortunately are missing from this production as are the opulence and glamour for which Ziegfeld was famous, especially in the extremely bland costuming of the showgirls who frequently seem to be ads for a brassiere company.

The Will Rogers Follies The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe most theatrical excitement comes in Act Two, beginning with AJ Silver who opens with a show-stopping “Roping Act,” followed soon by the show’s best-known number “Our Favorite Son.” Flanked by showgirls in red, white and blue, Rogers accepts his state’s request to run for president. The rapidly precise hand-and-foot work of the ladies — with Wopat in sync most of the time — was an example of what should have been displayed in the rest of the ensemble numbers.

For most of the evening, singers and instrumentalists were at odds, with the orchestra frequently overplaying the vocalists. Hopefully, a better balance has been achieved.

No matter what the plus and minuses of this “Follies,” the title character delivers the unmistakable humor and honesty of the man. His radio talk at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt is taken from Will Rogers’ actual speech. As recreated by Wopat, its impact remains stronger than ever and, sadly, even more relevant today than during the dark days of the Great Depression.

Also ahead of its time (the show was written in 1991) is a ballad, “Look Around,” sung by Wopat to his own guitar accompaniment, which warns of the continuing disappearance of America’s heartlands.

Note: For Wopat fans who can’t get enough, the star is on the bill in the after-show cabaret in The Rehearsal Shed where he IS the third set (except between the Saturday matinee and evening performances).

It’s definitely worth the wait!

“WILL ROGERS FOLLIES A Life in Revue” plays through Sept. 6 in The Barn Theatre on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, Mi. For performance times and reservations, call (269)731-4121.

'The Winter's Tale' Is Number 16 for NDSF PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 21 August 2015 20:18

In 1623. the first published collection of the works of William Shakespeare, aka the First Folio, contained his 36 plays, divided as comedies, tragedies and histories.

The Winter's Tale Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival South Bend INNumber 14 among these is “The Winter’s Tale,” a production of which opened officially Thursday evening in the Patricia George Decio Theatre in the Marie P. DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame — a location worthy of the works it houses every summer.

“The Winter’s Tale” marks the 16th production in the annual Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival which has, to date, presented many of the best known works by the prolific Bard of Avon.

This “Tale” is listed in the First Folio as a comedy, a designation that seems to me rather iffy, considering others in this category including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “Twelfth Night,” offer a good many more laughs than this tale which, looked at in modern times, really has a closer connection with daytime (and sometimes primetime) drama.

The Winter's Tale NDShakespeare Festival South Bend INConsider the characters: a king whose undying love flips to raging hate faster than you can say paranoia; a queen who is punished harshly for following her husband’s request; a mysterious lady friend of the queen; a good friend who becomes the target of murderous rage; a faithful follower who puts his life on the line; an abandoned baby; a simple peasant (and his even simpler son) who unknowingly save the day, and a giant bear.

And that’s just act one.

Not a lot of laughs there, although the bear (considering the recent sightings in the area) gets a big reaction.

Everything does come right in the end, however, with happy pairings of all ages, and even a magical resurrection.

The Winter's Tale ND Shakespeaare Festival South Bend INComedy, tragedy or history, Shakespeare gets the royal treatment at the NDSF. The cast, which combines professional actors with students (and a very pre-teen young prince played alternately by local elementary students, a boy and a girl) is headed by performers whose resumes are extremely impressive and, for the most part, filled with Shakespearean credits.

But, credits aside, the proof is in the doing and this ensemble definitely does things right.

Heading the cast are the two kings Leontes of Sicilia and Polixenes of Bohemia, played by Grant Goodman and Jens Rasmussen, respectively.  Shanara Gabrielle is Leontes’ long-suffering, much-castigated and really too-good-to-be-true Queen Hermione. His faithful follower Camillo is Joneal Joplin,

The Winter's Tale  ND Shakespeare Festival  South Bend INThe mysterious lady Paulina, an obvious ancestress of Gloria Steinem and Elphaba, is Wendy Robie. L Peter Callender is Paulina’s husband Antigonus (act one) and The Old Shepherd (act two).

The young lovers who have no knowledge of their actual connection are Perdita and Florizel, portrayed with true Elizabethan restraint by Alison Morse and Xavier Bluel.

All work beautifully under the direction of Drew Fracher on the latest in a continuing line of amazing sets designed by Marcus Stephens. Costume designer Christine Turbitt has followed the scenically neutral color palette in dressing the players, excepting one brilliantly colored gown for Paulina and one for Perdita.

A crucial moment comes in the end of act one when lives and locations are forever disrupted by a monumental storm. For this, and for its flashingly thundering reality (faint-hearted take note!), credit goes to sound designer Matt Callahan and lighting designer Kevin Dreyer.

As mentioned, everything comes up roses (except for Paulina’s husband who is, unfortunately, eaten by that bear). The only question remaining for us was “Where did the title come from?’

So, right or wrong, I recalled Prince Mamillius’ (ill-fated son of Hermione and Leontes) answer when his mother asks him for a tale “As merry as you will.”

“A sad tale’s best,” he replies, “for winter.”

Especially one provided by Shakespeare!

“THE WINTER’S TALE” plays through Aug. 30 in the Patricia George Decio Theatre in the DeBartolo PAC on the ND campus in South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 631-2800 or visit

World Premiere of Local Play At The Firehouse PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 17 August 2015 17:42

Summer is a very exciting time for theater.

In addition to local groups’ big summer musicals, area seasonal venues offer classic and familiar shows from June through August.

A  False Lie South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreNot often, however, is there the actual first-time-ever production of a brand new play, especially one by a local author.

Such an event is in progress through Saturday in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Firehouse Theatre where “A False Lie” by Matt Benedict made its wotrld premiere Friday evening.

In the intimate (aka very small) space afforded by the reconfigured Firehouse, the story of family conflict and resolution plays out fairly well. There are no big dramatic surprises but the relationships are well-defined and mostly believable.

At the crux of the story are sisters Grace (Kimberly Gaughan) and Lorrie (Rebecca Frederick) who share a home in New England.

Grace is a lawyer and former Olympic swimmer who shared the team relay silver medal and is recovering from a mastectomy. She is in the midst of ending a relationship and her outlook on life is, to say the least, less than positive.

A False Lie South Bend (IN) Civic TheaatreLorrie, who finds work as a seamstress, has a better attitude but also deals with her live-in boyfriend Jonas (Justin Williams) and his young son Toby (played opening night by Matthew Siler), an enthusiastic hockey fan. Jonas is increasingly frustrated by his lack of steady employment, which adds to the increasing tension.

Into this mix comes the proverbial straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back in the person of Kane (Steven Matthew Cole), recently-divorced and a would-be writer, renting the house next door.

Like a reverse version of the man who came to dinner, he stops in to use the telephone and accepts Lorrie’s invitation to dinner.

As days go by, Kane becomes an adjunct family member, charming Lorrie and helping Toby with his math homework and tales of his time as a hockey player. Grace, however, remains suspicious and Jonas becomes even more taciturn and hostile.

A False Lie  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreNo surprise, the players swirl in ever-changing configurations, the varied triangles Kane explains to Toby obviously a metaphor for the relationship patterns. The finale finds all triangles congruent.

The strength in this production lies with Gaughan and Frederick, both of whom make their characters extremely believable.

Gaughan could make Grace an insecure whiner. Frederick’s Lorrie could be an impossible Pollyanna. Instead, they bicker and share and fight and support with amazingly recognizable familiarity. I believed both.

The role of Toby is shared by Siler (whose dad Scott appears very briefly as the UPS Guy, no connection to “Legally Blonde”!) and Owen Glassman. Siler was an extremely convincing pre-teen, enthusiastic without being obnoxious.

Williams has little to do but look dour and Cole frequently goes way over the top as a neighborly glad-hander.

The premier production was directed by Deb Swerman with a convincing set design by Fred Kiefer and original music by Sebastian Giraldo,

Note: We were still a bit confused by the title but concluded that a false lie must be the truth.

“A FALSE LIE” plays through Saturday in The Firehouse Theatre on Portage Ave., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.

Classic Tale Is Wagon Wheel Season Finale PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 15 August 2015 17:22

At the request of her publisher, American author Louisa May Alcott wrote two books in 1868 and 1869 that have survived the test of time to be as popular today as they were a more than a century ago.

Little Woman Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INPublished in one volume in 1880, “Little Women” has moved to film (two silent, four sound), to television, to opera and, most recently, to the stage.

Alcott’s semi-autobiographical tale, based on the young lives of herself and her three sisters, came to Broadway in 2005 in a musical version which opened Wednesday evening in the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw.

As the final offering of the 2015 WW season, “Little Women the musical” maintains the high standards that have marked the theater’s presentations throughout the summer.

Little Woman Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INIt is impossible to fault any part of the production, directed and choreographed by artistic director Scott Michaels who once again does the seemingly impossible, space-wise. Jacki Anderson’s set design is, in keeping with the Civil War period, appropriately crowded making the frequently vigorous dance numbers even more amazing.

The story of the four March sisters and how they grew, their individual hopes and dreams and the triumphs and tragedies, large and small is one that resounds in any century.

The book by Allan Knee pretty much follows Alcott’s story line with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein set to music by Jason Howland underscoring the diverse familial connections.

The WW cast features some of the summer’s best singer/actors. Elaine Cotter as tomboy Jo believably directs her own lurid dramas and defends her impulsive actions, determined to find life in her own way. Her character has two “11 o’clock” numbers — “Astonishing” and “The Fire Within Me” — and Cotter handles them impressively.

This is Kira Lace Hawkins’s summer for playing mothers. Each has been completely individual and each has been beautifully acted and sung. Marmee is no different. Her solos — “Here Alone” and “Days of Plenty”— lyrically describe the emotions of a loving wife and mother left single by war and sharing her strength with her family.

Each of the sisters — Ellen Jenders as Meg, Alison Schiller as Beth and Laura Plyler as Amy — has her own time to shine and each creates her familiar character without a hint of caricature.

Curmudgeonly Aunt March is played to the hilt by Kristen Yasenchack who, once again, is assigned more than one role and who, once again, makes the most of each assignment.

Little Women  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INThe men get short shrift in “Little Women” but Keaton Eckhoff’s Laurie is ingratiatingly sweet as the unlucky suitor who winds up with the right sister after all.

Scott Fuss, minus a wig/plus an accent, is Professor Bhaer who finds the cure for his lonely life in Jo, while Danny Burgos is the dashing tutor who shares Meg’s dreams. Mike Yocum plays Laurie’s growly grandfather, who softens quickly when faced with Beth’s persistent sweetness.

Several play swashbuckling roles in the enactments of Jo’s penny dreadful tragedies.

The vocal talent is surrounded and supported by the excellent nine-piece orchestra led by musical director/keyboardist Thomas N. Sterling.

The various locations of the action all are singularly illuminated in the lighting design by Greg Griffin and Chris Polnow’s sound design lets every word and lyric come through.

As always, the wrapping on this 19th century romance is provided by Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s period-perfect costumes, topped by Jennifer Dow’s stay-put wigs.

Special applause to the stage crew and production stage manager Caitlin Denney-Turner who, throughout the season, have run at least a marathon-and-a-half up and down the raked aisles carrying all manner of props and furniture AND doing it silently!

“LITTLE WOMEN The musical” plays through Aug. 22 in the arena theater at 2517 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations call (574) 267-8041
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