Laughs, Chills In The Barn's 'Deathtrap' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 11 July 2013 03:03

Few contemporary authors have been as successful as novelists, playwrights and screenwriters as the late Ira Levin.

Deathtrap  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIAlthough his comedy “No Time for Sargeants” was an award-winner on stage and screen (and brought fame to Andy Griffith), his genre of choice was mystery thrillers.

One which combined both thrills and laughs — and was a hit on stage and screen — was “Deathtrap,” which opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich.

The play-within-a-play, which opened on Broadway in 1978, still holds the record for being its longest-running comedy thriller. Check out The Barn production and you’ll understand why.

Actually, its not exactly a play-within-a-play, it’s about a playwright with writer’s block and the writing of a murder play that eventually leaps (literally!) off the printed page and into the lives of the playwright, Sidney Bruhl (Robert Newman), his wife Myra (Samantha Rickard) and a former student Clifford Anderson (Patrick Hunter).

Stirring the murderous mix are Helga ten Dorp (Penelope Alex), a psychic renting the cottage next door, and Porter Milgrim (Steven Burright), Bruhl’s lawyer and friend.

To Levin’s credit, if seeing “Deathtrap” for the first time, you will never spot the endgame. I won’t begin to unravel the twisted plotline because even if I could remember all the detailed ins-and-outs (make that dead/not dead), what makes this thriller worth seeing (or seeing again) are the performances, especially those of Newman and Alex, with Hunter a close third.

Deathtrap  The Barn Theatre  Augusta  MI

'Dolly!' Going Strong at Wagon Wheel PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 06 July 2013 00:40

Sometimes, it takes a new look at an old standard to make us realize how good the “classics” can be.

Hello, Dolly!  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INProof of this is in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of the multi-Tony Award-winning musical “Hello, Dolly,” which opened Wednesday evening in the Warsaw playhouse.

A wildly energetic company under the ever-sharp eye of director/choreographer Scott Michaels gives the meddling widow from Yonkers a burst of new life.

Suddenly, in case you haven’t noticed before, Jerry Herman’s score provides a plethora of melodies from which to choose for humming on the way home. Personal favorites: “It Takes A Woman,” “Elegance” and “Dancing,” but probably the most familiar is the title tune, which spent months on the ‘60s pop charts thanks to Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

The character of the indefatigable Dolly Gallagher Levi was created by Carol Channing, who made it her signature role, and has been played by some of the most prestigious divas of the musical comedy world. Not easy footsteps in which to follow.

Kira Lace Hawkins takes up the challenge of becoming Dolly and delivers an engaging and vocally dynamic character who is, as Horace Vandergelder finally admits, a “wonderful woman.” Distributing “business” cards for every eventuality, Hawkins tempers Dolly’s manipulative exterior with a wistful interior that looks for a sign from her dead husband giving permission to her hunt for his successor. And she has a strong and warm soprano that gives depth to “Before the Parade Passes By” and adds a New York snap to “So Long, Dearie.” Her NY accent, which for some can be a problem, is there but not too overdone, and her iron fist/velvet glove achieves the results for which every wife aspires.

Hello, Dolly!  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INAs Vandergelder, the object of her intentions, Robert Joseph Miller delivers a beautifully blustering misogynist whose bark is worse than his bite and worth a lot of laughs. His reactions are perfectly timed and never overdone. His eventual (and unavoidable) capitulation is a foregone conclusion but much fun to watch.

“Young love” is handled expertly by a trio of talented pairs.

Rob Montgomery is Cornelius Hackl, Vandergelder’s chief clerk, and Lauren Roesner is Irene Molloy, a widowed milliner. In spite of themselves, they find true love and deliver the show’s lovely ballads., “Ribbons Down My Back” and “It Only Takes a Moment,” with empathetic clarity.

Kevin Clay and Collean Joy Gallagher are Barnaby Tucker and Minnie Fay, Vandergelder’s clerk and Irene’s assistant, who come together in a delightful rush and share the search for love and “Elegance.”

Kevin Nietzel and Heather Dell (a GREAT cryer) are artist Ambrose Kemper and Ermengard, Vandergelder’s niece, who hope to dance their way into matrimony.

Special notice to Sarah Jackson as Ernestina Money (and in the outstanding “gown” of bright yellow and purple by costumer extraordinaire Stephen R. Hollenbeck, you can’t miss her!) for giving new meaning to “chow down.”

Leading players and featured performers all are on their best games here, but the loudest and most sustained applause must go to the gentlemen (and some ladies) of the Harmonia Gardens wait staff. Displaying an incredible amount of stamina — and some equally incredible coordinated dance moves — they combine to make the daunting “Waiter’s Gallop” an unquestionable highlight of this production.

Leaping and twirling and tossing the cuisine with unerring accuracy, they never miss a step (or a glass) and move smoothly from one seemingly impossible pattern to another. You really have to see them to believe it. (Note: Check out the disgruntled droop on the waiter who consistently chalks up a “near-miss”.)

In addition to the “Gallop” and the title tune, “Dolly!” boasts several familiar ensemble song-and-dance numbers. From the opening “Call on Dolly” through the wildly colorful “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” to the happily-ever-after finale, the young people blend their voices beautifully while never skipping a beat.

In the WW tradition of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the beautifully flexible set was designed for an earlier “Dolly” by the late Roy Hine. It works just as well in this decade.

“HELLO, DOLLY!” plays through July 13 in the theater at 2517 E. Centre Street in Warsaw. For show times and reservations, call 267-8041 or (800) 823-2618 or visit

'Peter Pan' Flies At The Barn Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 28 June 2013 01:54

Summer seems to be the time for indulging in fantasies.

One of these, the perennially popular tale of “Peter Pan,” the boy who refused to grow up, is alive and very active on stage at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., where it opened Tuesday evening under the direction of Hans Friedrichs.

Peter Pan The Barn Theatre Augusta MIWritten in 1901 by Sir James M. Barrie, the book became a play in 1904, a Disney animated musical in 1953 and a TV/theatrical musical in 1954. The Mary Martin/Cyril Ritchard production came into the homes of America via TV. It has been repeated periodically, and the musical has become a favorite of theater companies across the world.

One of the big plusses for any company with an accommodating stage (high enough to fly) and a large enough budget (flying is never cheap), is seeing Peter and the Darling children float around the nursery and then fly away to Neverland.

It’s not easy to sing strapped in a harness many feet above the stage floor. Just ask petite Emily Fleming as Peter who has mastered the art of graceful ascent and equally graceful flight patterns. And she is just as charming on land, never overdoing the requisite strutting that marks the egotistic Pan, but adding just the right amount of lonely lad. (Note: The role of Peter has traditionally been played by a girl.)

As Peter’s major adversary in Neverland, Robert Newman brings the “crookedest crook” Capt. Hook to believably (and hilariously) blustering reality. Brandishing his glittering hook, he roars at everyone who stands in his way — excepting, of course, the ever-ticking crocodile. Newman is best known for his multi-decade turn as Josh Lewis in the former CBS daytime drama “Guiding Light.” Since that “Light” went out, he has been active on the musical comedy stage in leading roles around the country as well as guest starring on top TV dramas.

Women Are Winners in Parton Musical PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 21 June 2013 16:18

Every female in America who has worked “9 to 5” will find something in the Dolly Parton musical that strikes a familiar chord.

9 to 5 Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INThe tuneful tale of three female office workers — their trials and tribulations and how they overcome — opened Wednesday evening at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre. The setting is the 1980s, but there is no doubt that many of the “roadblocks” experienced by Violet, Doralee and Judy are, unfortunately, still around.

Based on the 1980 movie of the same name, “9 to 5 The Musical” benefits from the addition of many more Parton songs, each of which moves the plot or exposes the feelings of the main characters. The title tune is, of course, the most familiar and it is just about impossible to keep the feet still when the excellent WW orchestra led by Thomas N. Stirling strikes up the opening chords.

Violet Newstead (Kira Lace Hawkins) is a widow with a teen-age son, hoping for the promotion that will recognize her professional accomplishments. Doralee Rhodes (Libby Schneider) is a secretary with a husband and the dream of becoming a country singer. Judy Bernly (Lauren Roesner) is the new girl, recently divorced and learning slowly to stand on her own. She has no secretarial skills, in spite of which Violet hires her.

The snake in the office grass is Franklin Hart, Jr. (David Schlumpf), described accurately as a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” and that’s putting it mildly. He is fixated on Doralee who holds off his chasing and groping in order to keep her job. Unfortunately, reluctance to fight back leads others to believe her a willing participant.

9 to 5  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INA series of pretty improbable events results in the women holding Hart a captive in his own home. His wife Missy (Heather Dell) is on a cruise, leaving his administrative assistant and office spy Roz Keith (Sarah Jackson), the only one who even notices he is missing. She loves her boss!

Of course, no good deed goes hidden for long but just when it seems that the scheme has failed, like all good musical comedies, everything is right by the finale. (Think “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”)

Along the climb to the top of the corporate ladder — or, at least, to the next pay tier — there is some very excellent singing (this seems to be the year of great voices in Warsaw), some very high-stepping dancing (choreography is by former Wagon Wheeler Marjorie Failoni, asst. choreographer for the Broadway production), and a whole lot of very funny business from the mind of director Andy Robinson, executed with no regard to loss of life or limb (just kidding!) by the no-holds-barred ensemble.

Schlumpf, who opened this season as the scene-stealing Lord Farquaad in “Shrek The Musical,” proves here that tall can be as hilarious as short. Sporting a black handlebar mustache (which he obviously wishes could be twirled), a wicked gleam in his eyes and a killer baritone (too bad Hart’s second act solo was written out to shorten later productions), he is definitely the boss you love to hate!

Hawkins is again a triple threat! Singing, dancing and acting, her character is the strongest of the trio and she delivers beautifully on all counts. Whether dreaming of being “One of the Boys” or giving in to a romance with Joe (Matt Hill), a younger colleague (“Let Love 9 to 5 Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INGrow”), she infuses what could be a stock character with warmth, humor and determination.

There is no doubt that Schneider’s Doralee is the Broadway version of show creator Dolly Parton. Blonde curls bobbing, pink knit skirt and sweater hugging every curve and southern accent softening each word, she details her history well in “Backwoods Barbie” and, never losing that familiar Parton smile, is a real audience favorite.

Roesner is the newcomer, several years back fashion-wise and in corporate world experience. Her on-the-job education is interesting and, when she finally stands on her own (“Get Out and Stay Out”), her vocal eviction of her slimy ex is a ceiling raiser and almost too much of a belt.

A crowd pleaser, Jackson is hilarious as she vamps her absent boss in “Heart to Hart,” a soapy serenade to a skank which makes her odd attachment almost understandable. And in the “no small parts” department, kudos to Leigh Ellen Jones for a very convincing tippler.

The production values are up to the usual excellence of a Wagon Wheel show. An added touch is a special video appearance by — but you can check that out yourself.

”9 TO 5” plays through June 29 in the arena theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

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