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

Berlin Melodies Shine In Holiday Musical PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 22:59

In 1940, composer Irving Berlin put words to a melody that had been in his head since 1935. It became part of  the all-Berlin score of a Paramount musical titled “Holiday Inn.” Sung by one of the film’s stars Bing Crosby, it was not the White Christmas South Bend (IN) Civic Theatretune all thought would be the breakout hit.

How wrong they were.

Not only was the film a huge success, “White Christmas” (and Crosby’s recording) became the best-selling single of all time, and lead to yet another film and then to a theatrical musical of the same name.

The last, which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Theatre, promises to join “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street” and a myriad of other seasonal productions as a Christmas regular.

White Christmas  Sotyh Benf (IN)  Civic TheatreLike most other film-to-stage musicals, a number of “not in the movie” songs (happily all by Berlin) have been added  and minor characters have been expanded, not always for the best.

The film’s already thin plotline has been stretched to the max to make room for non-Christmasy numbers like “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano” and “How Deep Is The Ocean.”

Under the direction of Jewel Abram-Copenhaver, a major plus in the SBCT production is principals who display voices that make ballad-listening very pleasant.

Chief among these is Sean Leyes, who seems to be every area community theater’s choice for leading baritone. White Christmas South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Bob Wallace, the vocal half of the team of Wallace and Davis (the other half is William Heckaman as funny man Phil Davis), he handles the slow songs easily. His eventual love interest is Betty Haynes, played by Natalie MacRae, who displays a warm, clear voice on her share of the show’s loveliest ballads.

Heckaman takes care of the requisite dancing along with Allison Jean Jones as Betty’s sister/show biz partner, Judy Haynes. The duo acquits themselves admirably in “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” and “I Love A Piano.”  A vocal quintet backs them in the former and the dance ensemble adds to the fun in the latter, a pull-out-all-the-stops production number led by a talented tap dancing Jones.

SBCT veteran Gary Oesch delivers an appreciably low-keyed characterization as the “Old Man,” retired General Henry Waverly, the reason for the holiday hoopla. His speech recognizing veterans and active military in the audience is heartfelt and moving.

Supporting the general are his former sergeant Martha Watson (Anna Thompson) and his granddaughter Susan (Lucy Barron), both of whom take their turns in the spotlight via “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”

One jarring note is blasted too frequently by the troupe stage manager who mistakes bellowing for the way to get things done.

White Christmas  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAfter a bit of “after you, no after you” with the chorus in the opening number, the on-stage orchestra did well with the familiar score.

The mostly-singing, some-dancing chorus is exactly as good as non-dancing singers are expected to be both with the frequent changes of costumes and characters and Callie Lorenz’ choreography.

The use of projections designed by SBCT artistic director Mark Abram-Copenhaver establish the full-stage scenes effectively, especially on the “Snow” train to Vermont — although how Bob fails to realize he’s not en route to Florida is another mystery in a script that contains quite a few.

Costumer Donald Eugene Willman has assembled a number of colorfully appropriate outfits for both principals and chorus and those familiar with the movie won’t be disappointed by the final definitely-Christmas tableau which, of course, contains a title-tune sing-along.

“WHITE CHRISTMAS” plays through Dec.21 in the Wilson Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574)234-1112 or visit

Baseball Drama A Solid Hit For SBCT PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 10 November 2014 23:42

In 1889, British author/playwright Oscar Wilde wrote "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life".The truth of this is underscored by the current South Bend Civic Theatre production, “Take Me Out."

Take Me Out  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe Tony Award-winning play by Richard Greenberg which also was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, examines the effects on a major league baseball team when its star player reveals he is gay.

It was written in 2002.  

Since then, celebrity “outings” have become a regular occurrence, primarily in the field of entertainment and in individual sports. It was not until this year, however, that a professional athlete in a team sport, Dallas Cowboy’s Michael Sam, joined their ranks.

Take Me Out South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs charted by Greenberg, the announcement by Empires’ star center fielder Darren Lemming (Quinton McMutuary) hits his fellow players on the Empires baseball team in a variety of ways. Although they claim not to be upset, their easy camaraderie in the locker room, and especially in the showers, becomes stilted, self-conscious and resentful, even though Lemming makes it clear his feelings towards his teammates have not changed.

‘The whole mess” began, as recalled by shortstop Kippy Sunderstrom (Steven Matthew Cole), who serves as narrator, at Lemming’s press conference after the mid-season break. The bewilderment and frustration of team members at the new twist in relations with their star is characterized by teammate Toddy Koovitz (Mike Honderich) emerging from the shower and angry at feeling embarrassed with only a towel between himself and Lemming.  

A losing streak brings relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (Richard Isacson) up from the minors. A taciturn loner, Mungitt’s prejudices are revealed in a disastrous, epithet-filled TV interview, resulting in his suspension. Lemming thinks of retiring immediately but is convinced to stay by his accountant Mason Marzac (Brad Mazick), a newly enthusiastic baseball fan who also is gay.

Take Me Out South Bend (IN) Civic TheatrePlaying an integral part in Lemming’s decision to come out is his best friend Davey Battle (Justin F. Williams), star player for another team, who is  religious as well as a husband and father. Their friendship and rivalry touches many levels and, in the end, many lives.

“Take Me Out” is directed by Aaron Nichols, who proves again that he is one of the best in the area, delivering a clean, clear production that is smooth and sharp and hits all the right notes.

Designed by Jacee Rohick, the setting(s) moves swiftly and easily from locker room to playing field to interiors. Not only are these well defined, they are shifted quickly and quietly without detracting from the progressive action, illuminated sharply on and off the field by lighting designer Lloyd Whitmeyer

Take Me Out  Souith Bend (IN) Civic TheatreEach of the characters is definitely an individual, with some of the most humorous moments delivered by non-English-speaking players — David Seymour and Andy Barzelli as Martinez and Rodriguez, respectively, and Marion Deleon as ace pitcher Takeshi Kawabata — as well as by catcher Jason Chenier (Daniel Clymer), whose struggle to assure Lemming that he has no problem with gays is more than a little uncomfortably familiar.

In the clean-up position is SBCT veteran Mark Moriarty, batting well as the team manager, a bartender and a guard.

Topping the lineup of solid performances are those delivered by Cole, Isacson, Honderich and Mazick.

In case it’s not obvious, since much of the action takes place in the shower and locker room, there are many bare butts in view and the actors deserve much credit for being at ease in the altogether. If that, or if the frequent use of the f*** word is upsetting, this is not the show for you.

For everyone else, however, this excellent production by Nichols & Co. is a bases-loaded four-bagger.

“TAKE ME OUT” plays through Nov. 23 in the South Bend Civic Theatre Warner Theatre, 215 W. Madison St. For performance times and reservations, calls 234-1112 or visit







Frightful Humor Fills Musical Frankenstein PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 27 October 2014 18:41

‘Tis the season of Halloween, so it’s no surprise that the on-stage focus is on ghosts, goblins and monsters, especially those that are man-made.

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INGiven that the majority of these are created with terror in mind, it’s refreshing to find a band of creepy creatures whose sole purpose is to make us laugh.

That is the aim of the current Elkhart Civic Theatre’s regional premiere production of the New Mel Brooks Musical “Young Frankenstein.”

Taking its cue(s) from the 1930s films “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein,” it resurrects (pun intended) all the familiar segments of Brooks’ 1974 film “Young Frankenstein,” adds music and sees just how low it can go — laugh-wise.

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INUnder the direction of Tom Myers, who also created the choreography, the story moves from New York City to Transylvania Heights, with the assistance of projected scenery, bringing back to life the tale of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“that’s Fronk-en-steen!”), grandson of the original mad scientist, now Dean of Anatomy at the Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine  (these are the jokes, folks, and they just keep coming!).

Determined never to follow in his grandfather’s medical footnotes, Frederick (Geoff Trowbridge) nevertheless heads east to check out his inheritance.

Leaving his fiancé (“Please Don’t Touch Me”) Elizabeth Benning (Carly Dunn) behind, he arrives at the Transylvania Station (on Track 29 — I warned you!) to be met by the wonderfully weird and wacky Igor (“that’s Eye-gor”), (Jaymes Hidde-Halsey), who is determined to be his assistant (“Together Again For The First Time”). On the (“Roll in the Hay”)ride to the castle, Frederick is joined (?!) by his grandfather’s lab assistant, Inga (Alexandria Sadowski). Arriving at the castle,  he meets the housekeeper Frau (cue the horses!) Blucher (Julie Herrli Castello), who has her own agenda (“He Vas My Boyfriend”).

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INUrged by the ghosts of Victor F. (Brent Graber) and other assorted ancestors to “Join the Family Business,” Frederick succumbs to temptation and works to reanimate a larger-than-life, pieced-together corpse.  Unfortunately, Igor drops the desired genius brain and substitutes one from “Abby Normal.”

The large green, fire-fearing Creature (Jacob Medich) escapes and spends a disastrous visit with a blind hermit (Gene Harding). Then the hunt is on.

As the villagers, led by semi-mechanical Inspector Kemp (Rick Nymeyer) whose first encounter with a Creature “cost me an arm and a leg” (groans here!), close in (“He’s Loose”), another experimental procedure saves the day and puts the improper pairs together (“Deep Love”) as properly as possible.

Trowbridge hits the ground running with his first number, “The Brain,” a true test of patter a la Gilbert and Sullivan that finds every syllable in tact, and never stops, delivering the familiar “It’s alive” with true mad-scientist abandon.

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol IN He meets his match in Hidde-Halsey and the duo  makes a great comic connection, diving into “Together Again” with great timing and the infectious zeal of a real vaudevillian show-stopper! The shape-shifting Igor (“What hump?”) never loses his stride (“Walk this way!”) or his character or his ability to get a laugh.

Another show-stopper arrives in the second act when Frederick introduces his “civilized” Creature in “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” an extended tap number that received audience cheers opening night. It may not be easy bein’ green, but Medich makes the perfect Creature look like a lot of fun, groans and all. Check out the monster-size tap boots!

Young Frankenstein Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe projected scenes allow for fast and easy moves from lab to forest to castle interior, but the often too-loud moves of set pieces and visibility of crew members was distracting.

Costume design by Dawn Blessing fit the medical and rural requirements well and reached new heights in garbing the green Creature! The lighting design by Brian MacGowan and John Shoup was properly (can’t help it!) “electrifying.”

Under the direction of conductor/percussionist Mark Swensden, the excellent seven piece orchestra provided the support and instrumental requirements and was a mood-setting addition to the production.

Myers keeps the pace moving and is at his best when setting the steps for primarily new dancers.

Have to say that even though “The Producers” took all the Tonys, I much prefer “Young Frankenstein” and am eagerly awaiting “Blazing Saddles”!

“YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN The New Mel Brooks Musical” will be at the Bristol Opera House through Nov. 8. For performance times and reservations, call 848-4116 or visit

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