Cast Does Well With Sondheim Fable PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 03:07

In the world of musical theater today, there is no greater talent than that of composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. His body of work is complex and impressive and his subjects range from murderous barbers to presidential assassins to fairy tale characters.

Into the Woods South Bend Civic South B end IN In 2010, his 80th birthday was the occasion for concert celebrations by theatrical superstars and, since then, a rash of productions by professional, regional and community theaters. Among these is South Bend Civic Theatre which opened its production of Sondheim’s award-winning fantasy “Into The Woods” Friday evening.

There is no doubt that producing a Sondheim show offers more than its share of challenges. His complex rhythms and sharply defined lyrics have delighted audiences for more than half a century. For the unwary, they also are filled with many musical and dramatic pitfalls as the journey progresses.

Young People Shine In Youth-Only Shows PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 19:41

I always love it when I am “pleasantly surprised” (in quotes because I borrowed it from someone else) at the theater.

I love it even more when my expectations are exceeded.

ECTeam Alice in Wonderland Elkhart Civic Bristol INThat being true, you can imagine how delighted I was to find that the latest production by the Young Actors Workshop at the Wagon Wheel Theatre both surprised me and way exceeded my expectations which, I admit, were rather high.

It was the annual YAW show, a one-performance-only mid-season event, performed on the existing stage set and chosen for its adaptability to said set. This year directors Andy Robinson and Kira Lace Hawkins (both WW ‘12 company members) chose “Honk!” an absolutely delightful musical setting for the Hans Christian Anderson tale of “The Ugly Duckling.” With the addition of tall weeds and cattails, it worked beautifully with the "senior" setting for "Carousel."

This was the third YAW production I have seen. The first time I went was in 2010, because Elkhart Civic Theatre had done “Once on This Island” and I had difficulty believing that young performers could handle the mostly-music show.

Which just goes to prove that even I can be wrong.

It was amazing. Even more so was last year’s selection, Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” also mostly-music but ramped up to the enth degree with intertwining melody lines and tongue-twisting lyrics and absolutely no room for error.

After that, I was pretty sure that there was nothing those young people could not do, but then again, casts are different every year and strong performers come and go. And the show is put up in only 10 days, which raises the difficulty factor and makes the finished product even more amazing.

No need to worry. “Honk!” proved to be an absolutely delightful, glitch-less show. The leading players had beautifully strong voices and the ability to make fantasy characters come to life. And the chorus, all playing assorted animals, never missed an entrance or a beat

In addition, for the first time they were accompanied by a live orchestra of equally young musicians!

Honk! Wagon Wheel Youth Theatre Workshop Warsaw INAs well as making for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, the show offered a very heartening look at where performers, players and production staff might be coming from in the future.

Not that Wagon Wheel is the only theater that has a unit which uses young people only. There is one at South Bend Civic and another at Elkhart Civic. Have not seen an SBCT production, but judging from the excerpts presented Saturday evening during the Arts Everywhere Performing Arts Series annual program at Potawtomi Park, those young people also can hold their own. Their upcoming musical is “All Shook Up.”

Have seen several of the ECTeam (Elkhart Civic’s name for its youth theater) productions and I can vouch for their top quality. “Charlotte’s Web” was delightful and “Seussical Jr.” was outstanding! This year, the musical will be “Honk Jr.” and the play, “Ramona Quimby.”

Check the websites of all organizations for show dates, times, tickets, etc., but be aware they usually are presented for one performance or one weekend only.

Premier Arts also has performances by young people, usually the matinees of whatever adult production is on the main stage. I have never seen one (more on that later) so I can’t judge the quality.

Enough to say that whatever involves young people in the performing arts has got to be a plus, with long-lasting effects. You just may be looking at the stars of tomorrow!

WW 'Chicago' Hits All The Right Notes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 20 July 2012 16:47

You must excuse me while I consult my thesaurus in search of additional laudatory adjectives for the current Wagon Wheel Theatre production of “Chicago.”

Chicago Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INTo paraphrase Johnny Mercer, “It’s just too marvelous for words!” And that is an understatement!

Let me begin my saying that “Chicago” is one of my very favorite musicals and I have seen it too many times in too many incarnations not to be just a bit wary of any new production.

I should remember, however, that when director/choreographer Scott Michaels promises to “knock your socks off” it’s not just an empty threat.

Of course, he has a lot of help from WW’s fantastic costume designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck and its equally marvelous music director Thomas N. Sterling, lighting designer Greg Griffin and sound man Chris Pollnow, but as everyone knows, the buck (sorry Harry!) stops at the door of the director.

Playing on a set designed by the late Roy Hine for a WW production of “Cabaret,” Michaels creates atmosphere-plus as he brings to life the Windy City in the Roaring Twenties when prohibition was a way of life and murder was entertainment.

Sour Notes Plague 'Wedding Singer' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 20:19

There are many components that go into making a good theatrical production. Lacking one or two, a show may survive if the basic product itself is strong. Without a strong product, however, there is little hope for the final result.

The Wedding Singer The Barn Theatre  Augusta MISuch is the fate of The Barn Theatre’s current production of “The Wedding Singer,” another movie-based musical which literally left me wondering why any group would expend time, talent and money on such a basically weak premise.

It is an accepted fact that any show, professional or amateur, can rise or fall on the strength of its cast. It is also a fact that not every performer, no matter how talented, can be believable in every role. Finding the right fit is everything.

As wedding singer Robbie Hart, Barn veteran Eric Parker works hard to find that fit but, in spite of his excellent baritone, which is best in the show’s few ballads, it just doesn’t work. And his laughably frowsy ‘80’s rocker-style wig doesn’t help.

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