Theatre
'Nunsense' humor is habit-forming PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 16:24

If you don’t think “Nunsense” can be habit-forming, just ask playwright/composer Dan Goggin or the literally millions of audience members who have enjoyed the results of his efforts for the past 30 years.

Nunsense  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INThe proof is on stage at the Bristol Opera House where the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of Goggin’s initial effort — titled just plain “Nunsense” —opened Friday evening.

I say “just plain” because the six sequels and three spin-offs all have additions to the singular title. Having seen the original (and more sequels than I care to count), I will share my opinion that the first was (and is) the best of the lot.

“Nunsense” began as a line of greeting cards which expanded to a cabaret show and then to an off-Broadway production where it delivered “habit humor” for more than a decade and, in the process, became an “international phenomenon.”

The premise is silly but fun, the score is catchy if not memorable and the enthusiasm of the performers — a requisite for any of the seven incarnations — never wavers.

The setting is the auditorium of Mount St. Helen’s School where the background is the set for the school’s production of “Grease” or as the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina (Valerie Ong), mistakenly calls it, “Vasoline.”

Whatever the title, the opening number introducing the sisters is up-tempo and leaves no doubt that this is the direction for the evening (or afternoon).

Nunsense  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INSurvivors of a fatal batch of vichyssoise whipped up by the convent chef, Sister Julia, Child of God (groans start here!), the remaining quintet is determined to raise enough money to bury the deceased nuns left above ground after the mother superior purchased a flat screen TV with part of the burial fund.

Back home in Hoboken (NJ) after a stint in a leper colony, the ladies reveal their hidden talents by putting on a fund-raising revue. Time is running out as a visit from the health inspector is imminent.

Each nun takes her turn in the spotlight but it seems that only a miracle will save them — and bury the “Blue Nuns.”

Sister Mary Regina reminisces about growing up with tightrope-walking parents and provides one of the show’s most hilarious moments examining the contents of a confiscated bottle labeled “Rush.”

Sister Mary Hubert (Christa Norwood), Mistress of Novices, believes “The Biggest Ain’t The Best” and tackles temptation with a vigorous “Time Step.”

With Sister Mary Regina — or rather nipping at her heels — is Sister Robert Anne (Stephanie Zonker Isley), assistant to Mother Nunsense  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INSuperior. Obviously unhappy “Playing Second Fiddle,” she examines the pros and cons of “Growing Up Catholic” and finally declares “I Just Want to Be A Star.”

With the aid of her outspoken helper Sister Mary Annette, Sister Mary Amnesia (Christina Herrick) explains what it takes to be a nun and reveals, finally, “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville.” Sister Mary Leo (Rachael Hall) welcomes convent life on pointe.

Under the direction of Penny Meyers and Annette Kaczanowski, the action rarely falters, with “Father” Mark Swendsen and his ecclesiastically-garbed quintet providing heavenly tempos.

As a final note, attendance past or present at a Catholic school is not necessary to “get” the jokes which have a universal appeal. And if there are some you don’t understand, Sister Mary Regina will be happy to explain it all for you — but that’s a different play.

“NUNSENSE” plays Friday through Sunday and March 20-21 in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in Bristol. For information and reservations, call 848-4116

 
'Lost In Yonkers' Finds Best Of Simon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 21:49

Most theater-goers, movie and TV fans know Neil Simon for his fast-paced comedies, filled with sharp one-liners and frequently bumbling characters.

Lost in Yonkers South Bend IN Civic Theatre“Lost in Yonkers,” the Simon play which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Theatre is not one of these.

Not that there is a lack of typical Simon humor, but it is blended with deeply touching character studies and frequently painful reality. As one character in another playwright’s comedy declared “Laughter through tears is my favorite kind.”

There is a great deal of that in “Yonkers” where teenage brothers Arty (Noah Hickey) and Jay (Noah Johnson) Kurnitz are brought by recently widowed father Eddie (Casey St.Aubin) to stay with their Grandma Kurnitz (Mary Ann Moran) while he takes a traveling job to pay off loan shark debts incurred during his wife’s illness.

Grandma Kurnitz is a grim, strict survivor of Nazi Germany and the unrelenting struggle to survive in a new country with a large family. Sympathy, empathy, understanding and forgiveness are not in her vocabulary.

Lost in Yonkers  South Bend IN Civic TheatreTo say the boys are unhappy is putting it mildly.

The only bright spot in the Yonkers household is their Aunt Bella (Crystal Ryan), a mentally challenged 35-year-old given to emotional outbursts. She is their ally in spite of sharing a fear of Grandma Kurnitz.

Into the mix creeps (literally) another relative, Uncle Louie (Tucker Curtis), a bag man hiding himself and his little black bag from the mob. He stirs the boys’ imaginations of life on the wild side and tells them how he survived his mother’s severe punishments and is the only one of his siblings who is not afraid of her.

This includes the Aunt Gert (April Sellers) whose vocal anomaly is the remnant of her traumatic childhood.

Put them all together and it is difficult to say which is the most lost. Only Jay and Arty leave Yonkers with a real chance of survival.

Lost in Yonkers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreUnder the direction of Scot Shepley, the actors bring each of the strikingly individual characters believeably to life. The boys are typical brothers, baiting each other yet solidly together if one is the object of adult scrutiny. As the older, Johnson takes the lead in their daily life adventures, and his frustration is increasingly obvious. Hickey is the sometimes unwilling follower. His soup showdown with Grandma is familiarly hilarious.

Lost in Yonkers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreRyan’s Bella is both the victim and the heroine of this Yonkers household. A positive persona in spite of her handicap, she deals with her limitations and accepts the disintegration of her dream, emerging as a surprising survivor.

Curtis brings a blast of energy to the suffocating atmosphere, albeit the energy is primarily bravado. He is the sibling who left in order to live and who, finally, warns his nephews of the danger in repeating his choices.

St. Aubin gathers strength as his character deals with illness and work on the road, returning at last to find a way out for himself and his sons.

As Grandma Kurnitz, Moran is unyielding, ruling her fractured household with an iron grip which today would definitely be described as abusive. It is not important that her grandsons like her, she declares. It is only important that they live. Alone at last, whether or not she will remain so is left to the individual .

Set, costumes and props all work well to recreate a typical middleclass apartment in the 1940s. Love the sofa antimacasars! Wigs are not as successful, however, especially Moran’s iron braid.

It is said that all of Simon’s plays are at least in some degree related to his own life. In 1991, “Lost in Yonkers” earned him the last of his three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Obviously Grandma was right.

“LOST IN YONKERS” plays through Jan. 25 in the SBCT Warner Theatre. For performance dates, times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org

 
'The Odd Couple' Going Strong At 50 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 13 January 2015 17:22

Opposites may attract, but not for long as the increasingly combative protagonists of Neil Simon’s comedy “The Odd Couple” quickly discover.

The Odd Couple Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe Elkhart Civic Theatre production which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House under the direction of Karen Johnston marks the 50th anniversary of Simon’s first Tony Award-winning play.

The love/hate relationship of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison obviously is one that never grows old. It began on Broadway in 1965, moved to film in 1968, segued easily to TV from 1970 to ’75 and will return to the small screen in the upcoming season.

The set design by John Shoup goes from trashed to immaculate with the flick of a duster. Along with the costumes coordinated by Shoup and Dawn Blessing, it easily evokes an earlier era when an eight-room apartment on Riverside Drive could serve as a bachelor pad.

The Odd Couple Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INOscar is played here by Carl Wiesinger, complete with bristling mustache, Hawaiian shirt, baseball cap, ever-present cigar and belligerent attitude. A sports writer with a careless lifestyle, the character is said to be the prototype for Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch. Both live contentedly in less than sanitary environments.

Into this unkempt atmosphere comes his best friend Felix, a buttoned-up, buttoned-down hypochondriac news writer played with persnickety persistence by Dave Kempher. Oscar is divorced and Felix, recently separated from his home and family. Convinced that his large apartment holds plenty of room for them both, Oscar invites a distraught Felix to room with him — temporarily.

In a very short while, fastidious Felix has moved in and cleaned up everything in sight, putting a definite damper on Oscar’s lifestyle and on the weekly poker game.

As the players — Murray the cop (Patrick Farran), allergic accountant Roy (Zach Rivers), henpecked Vinnie (Roy Carlson) and sarcastic Speed (Bob Franklin) — grow disenchantd with Felix’ persistent housekeeping (napkins, coasters, ashtrays, air spray), they quit the game, leaving Oscar to deal with his now-unwelcome houseguest.

The Odd Couple Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe final straw comes in the person of the Pigeon sisters. Upstairs neighbors Cecily, a divorcee (assistant director Carrie Lee), and Gwendolyn, a widow (Elise Davis), are invited to dinner by Oscar over Felix’ objections. They are immediately sympathetic to the weeping Felix, ruining Oscar’s less-than-platonic plans for the evening.

The third of playwright Simon’s comedies, “The Odd Couple” depends on broad characterizations and snappy one-liners for its fast-paced humor. Timing is definitely the prerequisite here.

There is an old saying, attributable over the years to several famous performers, that “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” On opening night, the truth of this was often apparent.

In spite of the frequently stop/start rhythm, however, audience members who braved the decidedly inclement weather obviously enjoyed the angst-ridden repartee. Whether it was familiar to them or not, there was no lack of laughter as the slob and the neat-freak escalate their verbal battles.

When the linguini settles, things gradually return to near normal but with some new perspectives. As an exiting Felix declares, “Marriage may come and go but the game must go on.”

After a half century of laughs so, it seems, must “The Odd Couple.”

“THE ODD COUPLE” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on S.R. 120 in Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org.

 
WW Musical 'Story' A Holiday Must-See PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 08 December 2014 21:03

For more than 15 years, a large part of the television viewing public has tuned in to one or more showings in the 24-hour TNT Christmas Eve/Day marathon of “A Christmas Story.”

A Christmas Story, The Musical  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INIt is my favorite, never-miss holiday show.

Being a believer in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” theory, I was in no hurry to see “A Christmas Story, The Musical,” a production which premiered in 2009 and toured several major cities before landing on Broadway in 2012.

The musical itself was an outgrowth of the 2000 play based on the 1983 movie. How good, I wondered, could yet a third incarnation be and how have they transferred a film filled with so many memorable moments to the admittedly limited theatrical stage?

A Christmas Carol, The Musical  Wagon Wheel Theatre warsaw INIf this is taking a long time to get to the point, it is to underscore my initial reluctance to check out “A Christmas Story, The Musical” which opened Friday evening at the Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Five minutes into the opening number, I was sold. At the end of the less-than-two-hour production, I was wishing it would begin again.

Under the direction of artistic director/choreographer Scott Michaels, the outstanding cast delivers an evening that brings smiles, laughs and well-deserved cheers throughout. And everything I love about the film is there — and frequently better!

As always, the adult performers are excellent, with WW favorites Matthew Janisse as The Old Man and Kira Lace Hawkins as the understanding Mother. Janisse’s exultation at winning “A Major Award” is frantically hilarious while Hawkins’ description of “What A Mother Does” strikes a solid chord of recognition.

As Jean Shepherd, Hoosier author of the tale and show narrator, Kenneth D’Elia is properly in-and-outside the action as required, and Ellen Jenders as Ralphie’s teacher, Miss Shields, gives a whole new meaning to “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”

A Christmas Story, The Musical  Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INIn this production, however, it is the younger generation that is absolutely amazing!

In the hands of talented Parker Irwin (6th grade), Ralphie Parker is loveably determined. Bespectacled eyes fixed firmly on the prize (“Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun”), Ralphie dreams of heroic scenarios (“Ralphie To The Rescue”) and methods of achieving his goal (“Up On Santa’s Lap”).

Irwin is not only a strong singer but delivers a solid character, never missing a lyric or a line, honestly portraying all Ralphie’s ups and downs in pursuit of his dream gift.

Beside him is Alek Fehlmann (5th grade) as brother Randy, struggling with mealtime and his restricting winter garb. Their friends Flick (Callen Hoskins, 5th grade) and Schwartz (Caleb Mouat, 6th grade) are as true blue — and as self-protective — as kids that age can be. Nicholas Lowman and Jackson Moeller (both 6th grade) as school bully Scot Farkus and his toady, Grover Dill, respectively, recall everyone’s elementary school nightmares.

In addition to these young performers, this “Story” boasts seven more singers/dancers ranging from 3rd to 6th graders. From the busy opening to the grand finale, they are a major part of the production numbers, and “A Christmas Story” has many! Throughout they sing, dance and inhabit many characters with a confidence many adult actors would envy. All, according to Michaels, are participants in the theater’s Wagon Wheel Jr. program, and it shows!

The extremely mobile set designed by Michael Higgins requires large set pieces to come and go frequently and as swiftly and silently as possible. A Christmas Story, The Musical Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INTo the credit of the movers and shakers, it is never a distraction.

As always, the excellent orchestra led by musical director Thomas Stirling does well with a score that is unfamiliar but thoroughly enjoyable. Stephen B. Hollenbeck’s costumes, circa the 1940s, recreate the colors and shapes of the gentler time recalled by this holiday memory.

If you are looking for one holiday show for this year, I definitely put this production of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” at the top of the list. A word to the wise: Several of the public performances already are sold out.

“A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL” plays weekends through Dec. 21 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2515 E. Center Street, Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org

 
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