Theatre
Music Of Queen Rocks At The Barn PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 12 July 2017 19:20

In this age of frequent revivals, the term “juke box musical” has become too familiar.

We Will Rock You The Barn Theatre Augusta MIIt describes an “original” show whose “score” is cobbled together with existing songs and a “plot” that serves only to provide them with a flimsy framework.

That said, these musicals have large followings among those who find them a melodic passport to their younger days.

Among the most specific of these is “We Will Rock You,” a kind of “1984” meets “Heartbreak Hotel.” With music and lyrics by Queen and a story and script by Ben Elton, it opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI.

I say “specific” because, unlike “Motown “ or “Rock of Ages” which feature music by diverse composers, the music here is attributed solely to the 1970- 80s rock band — and the plot to a variety of sci-fi and fantasy films.

We Will Rock You The Barn Theatre Augusta, MIIf none of these genres strikes your fancy, the way to enjoy “We Will Rock You”(and take it from a limited-Queen fan, you CAN enjoy it) is just to sit back and let the music (what else?) rock you!

The enthusiastic Barn company obviously enjoys its assignment, with primary kudos going to the most wildly wacky characters — Brit (Chase Gray) and Oz (Dani Apple), the two chief Bohemians (underground rockers waiting for the Dreamer), and the Killer Queen (Penelope Alex), ruler of iPlanet and its controlling Globalsoft Corp., and her chief henchman Khashoggi (Eric Parker).

Conformity is the law of the day with musical instruments forbidden and rock music, unknown.

Two rebellious teens— Galileo (Quinn Moran) and Scaramouche (Samantha Rickarad) — break out of the robotic Gaga Kids pack. They eventually join with the Bohemians and their chief, Buddy (a very solid Hans Friedrichs), who guards the relic Vie-day-O (aka Video) which he believes holds the key to returning rock.

We  Will Rock You The Barn Theatre Augusta MIAll Bohemians take their names from those on the tattered posters in their hideout, the Hard Rock Café. Brit is short for Britany Spears, Oz for Ozzie Osborne and on and on and on….

Once the Bohemians shake their brain freeze and find their way to “the place of the living rock,” guitar riffs win the day, Khashoggi sinks into the wherever, dark glasses glowing green, the Queen is vanquished and rock rules!

Along the way, thanks to solid vocals and instrumentals, even those not familiar with lesser-known Queen works will enjoy the kitschy goings-on.

Easily recognizable are “Killer Queen,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (I was surprised by that one, too), “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Lest we forget — one major hit that was not in the “score” gets an all-inclusive production after the curtain call: What else? “ Bohemian Rhapsody!”

The stage set is minimal, a couple of platforms, lighting towers, a giant projection screen and proscenium ladders; costuming (for Bohemians) is raggy and (for Gaga Kids), uniform (literally). The most stand-out ensemble is the one worn off and on by the Killer Queen, turned on or off!

Directed by Brendan Ragotzy, with musical direction by Matt Shabala, the 2 ½ hour tribute to Queen can be enjoyed by anyone, even with no teen-age connection whatsoever to the British group.

Interesting to know that, although the show played for 10 years in its initial theater in London and has toured the world several times, it never made it to Broadway.

So in case it never does, this is your chance to go back (or ahead) to revisit the fantasy world of Queen!

It will rock you!

WE WILL ROCK YOU” plays through July 23 in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.

 
Dickens' Whodunnit Lets Audience Help PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 01 July 2017 17:08

Solving “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is the primary objective of the multiple Tony Award-winning musical which opened Wednesday evening in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Based on an unfinished novel by the Victorian era’s best known and most prolific writer, Charles Dickens, it offers audiences the opportunity to participate in the final outcome of the mystery: Is Edwin Drood dead or is he not? Is it a murder or is it not? And if it is, who is the murderer?

The Mystery of Edwin Drood Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INUnder the aegis of guest director Tony Humrichouser, the arena stage is the Music Hall Royale, complete with gaslit playing areas and a willing company of talented performers who venture into the audience before the show begins to recreate the comraderie of a 19th century playhouse, complete with instructions on how to react whenever the title is pronounced.

The biggest “gimmick” of this mystery is its dangling denoument.

Dickens, who died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 58, left no instructions as to which of his colorful characters would be named the killer so, about halfway through the second act, The Chairman (Mike Yocum) stops the action and asks the audience to vote for its preferred villain.

As you might suspect, this can be different with each performance and puts the pressure on the primary characters as to what is to follow when he or she is named, specifically performing an individual ”Murderer’s Confession.”

Not that being named by the crowd means any special perks, but each of the characters obviously has a great deal of fun recruiting his/her fans.

The character of The Chairman is not strictly Dickens but was created by author/composer/lyricist Rupert Holmes as a player and narrator of the frequently convoluted plotline. He also introduces each of the actors to the audience by their real/professional names as well as the names of their characters. It is a daunting assignment which Yocum carries off with appropriate panache.

The Myster of Edwin Drood Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INFirst up is John Jasper (Riley McFarland), the local choirmaster and Edwin’s uncle who also lusts after Miss Rosa Bud (Kelly Britt), his music pupil and Edwin’s fiancé. There is no doubt that Jasper is a most wonderfully hissable villain (McFarland obviously loves it and I kept waiting for the twirling mustache). His problem is described hilariously in his solo “A Man Could Go Quite Mad.”.

Edwin, as was the custom in that era, is played by a “Lead Boy,” always a female, here in the person of the very excellent Elaine Cotter. Britt, as the much sought-after Rosa Bud, is beautifully fluttery and delivers a soaring soprano (“Moonfall”). She is the obvious heroine while Princess Puffer (Leanne Antonio) represents the dark side (“The Wages of Sin”) as mistress of the local opium den. Like the others, she is not quite what she seems.

The Mystery of  Edwin Drood  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INFilling the suspect list are The Rev. Crisparkle (Andy Robinson), his frustrated assistant Bazzard (Evan Kinnane), the Landless twins Helena (Sarah Ariel Brown) and Neville (Britton Hollingsworth) recently immigrated from “Ceylon,” Durdles the gravedigger (Michael Bradley) and his son Durdles the Second (Blake R. Bojewski).

All have secrets and motives (some stronger than others) for doing the dirty deed but which one is the real killer? It totally depends on what the audience wants, which is half the fun of “Edwin Drood.”

The other half is watching the company unravel the serpentine thread of Dickens-via-Holmes. It is no easy task which may be one of the reasons this show is only infrequently produced.

They meet the challenge well, although frequently understanding the lyrics is a problem

In addition to the period set by designer David Lepor, the richly colorful costumes by Stephen R. Hollenbeck and the corkscrew curls of the wigs by Jennifer Dow — all of which are major assets in visually turning back the clock — the award-winning score is solidly interpreted by guest musical conductor Alyssa Kay Thompson and her nine-member orchestra.

On opening night a misfire from the fog machine enveloped the entire stage in a too-realistic London brown-out during which Princess Puffer continued her solo — completely fogged in (or out) — without missing a beat.

The dark side of “Edwin Drood” was, however, quite literally too dark. The atmospheric lighting design, aimed at recreating London’s murky nighttime, unfortunately left soloists faceless. Undoubtedly, more light has been shed on that problem.

“THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD” plays through July 8 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheelcenter.org

 
Music Of Buddy Holly Fills The Barn PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 19:48

Charles Hardin Holley of Lubbock, Texas, dropped the last “e” and became everybody’s “Buddy” during his too-brief life in the emerging world of rock ‘n roll.

His story, as told in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” opened Tuesday evening on the stage of The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI. It was the first of what has now become a familiar theatrical genre known as the “jukebox musical.”

Buddy{ The Buddy Holly Stry  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIIf some of the characters may be composites and the chronology sometimes a bit difficult to follow, there is nothing lacking in the music which, on Tuesday, was obviously more than familiar to the enthusiastic audience.

The show is directed by rock ‘n roll aficionado Brendan Ragotzy

The title role is played by guest artist Andy Christopher who, coincidentally, was working as an EMT in Lubbock, Texas when he auditioned for the part. That was 2010 and he has been Buddy Holly ever since.

Tall and lanky with dark curly hair and the requisite horn-rimmed glasses (needed or not), Christopher obviously is comfortable with his theatrical persona, a character into which he definitely warmed up as the action progressed.

It is to his credit that he avoided any semblance of caricature, a trap into which some of his fellow “rockers” unfortunately stumbled.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story  The Barn Theatre  Augusta. MIThe focus here, as it should be, is on Holly. His focus, after opening for Elvis Presley three times, shifted from gospel and country to rock. Determined to do “My music, my way,” he moved from Nashville to a producer in Clovis, N.M. and, seemingly without missing a beat, turned out “That’ll Be The Day.”

The rest, as they say too often, is history.

This show, written by Alan James, of necessity gives short shrift to all the details in Holly’s life, concentrating instead on the music and the one love of his life, Maria Elena Santiago (a very compassionate Andrea Arvanigian), whom he met and married in less than a day.

Even though everyone on stage and off obviously knows the tragic ending to the story, the only sense of foreboding is felt by his wife who reportedly dreams about a ball of fire in the sky.

That ball became a reality in February 1959, just two years after Holly’s break into rock ‘n roll stardom, when a private plane crashed killing the pilot, Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. Here the mention of it is bookended by “Rave On!” “Johnny B. Goode” and “Oh Boy,” which allow no time for tears. (all I could think of was Don McLean and “American Pie”)

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIObviously the most important ingredients in any jukebox musical are the singers and THE BAND. Here the four piece band, under the direction of Barn music director Matt Shabala , fits the bill without dropping a note (although at times it as so loud they could have dropped several and I couldn’t have told the difference.).

Christopher provides his own guitar riffs and also sings well and offers several rock steps without breaking a leg!

A vocal standout is Emily Agy as “Marlena,” a mix of the many singer/mc’s at the Apollo Theatre. She rocks the hall with “Shout!” proving that tall talent can live in short bodies.

The joke about Buddy’s meal-obsessed mom wears thin after a while and other relationships — Buddy’s early manager Norman Petty and wife Vi (Eric Parker and Penelioe Alex) and Lubbock dj Hipsockets Duncan (Hans Friedrichs) — come and go fairly quickly, but the music goes on and on and on and, after all, that’s what the people came to hear/see.

Scenic designer Samantha Snow deserves applause for the music-themed set with features sound booths stage left and right and a revolving sheet music panel which allows quick changes of locale (except for the crew member pulling the rope to make it change0.

The downside to this production is the in-and-out sound which is blasting during musical numbers and, at too many times, disappears during dialogue, leaving us to ponder what is being said.

Never mind.

Buddy Holly is center stage surrounded by the Crickets (Quinn Moran and Alex Crossland) and friends and Clear Lake is eclipsed by a wonderful wave of music.

BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY plays through July 9 in The Barn Theatre on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121.

 
Everybody Gets Footloose At Wagon Wheel PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 17 June 2017 18:29

The dancing feet of the talented 2017 Wagon Wheel Theatre company are again in the spotlight in its current production of “Footloose,” which opened Wednesday evening in the Warsaw theater center.

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INThe driving rhythms of the title tune open and close the high-energy musical, based on the 1984 film which brought everyone more than six degrees closer to star Kevin Bacon.

From first to last, the mix of pop and country styles offers something for everyone, underscoring the tale of rebellious youth and allowing all the happy endings expected for most musicals. If there are few surprises, the fun really is in getting there.

The score by Tom Snow and lyricist Dean Pitchford (plus a number of others) includes a number of tunes that became chart-topping hits, especially the title song by Pitchford and Kenny Loggins.

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INFamiliar or not, there is no way to sit still — or keep your toes from tapping — as the eventually-rebellious teens of Bomont, Utah persuade their elders that singing and dancing do not equate with sinful.

Leading the charge is the traditional “outsider,” Ren McCormack (Matthew Copley). Recently relocated with his mother Ethel (Jennifer Dow) from a major city to the small town home of her brother, where dancing is against the law, he finds it difficult to stay within that law

Ren becomes friends with Willard Hewitt (Blake Bowejski) who reveals the origin of the no-dancing law.

Of course, Ren is immediately attracted to Ariel Moore (McKenzie Kurtz), daughter of the minister, Shaw Moore (Brett Frazier), who proposed the law after the death of his son. His bitter grief has resulted in shutting out his wife, Vi (Kira Lace Hawkins), and his daughter. She rebels via a relationship with the town bad boy Chuck Cranston (Britton Hollingsworth) and hurls her frustrations to the winds under a nearby railroad trestle.

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INLed by Ren, the town’s teens gradually gather the courage to face their parents — and the town council — to demand a prom.

No surprise. Eventually, everybody winds up dancing!

Getting there in the WW production is more than a lot of fun. Solid voices and incredibly flexible bodies throw themselves energetically into director/choreographer Scott Michaels’ dances, leaving the opening night audience literally cheering their efforts.

The plotline is painfully obvious but, in “Footloose,” it really doesn’t matter. The good people (Vi Moore, Ethcl McCormack) are very good and even better when they decide to stand up for their children. One of the loveliest moments in the show dials down the decibel level considerably and allows Hawkins, Dow and Kurtz to reflect on the difficulties of “Learning To Be Silent.”

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INAs Ren, Copley never seems to run out of steam, forging ahead to win not only the girl but her stony father and, with him, the entire town. Frazier delivers a deeply wounded parent who has shut down completely and, finally, struggles to listen (“Heaven Help Me.’”) Hawkins adds warmth as the wife and mother torn between husband and daughter.

As Willard, Bowejski’s aw shucks persona offers his friend some homespun advice in “Mama Says” and slowly and hilariously comes out of his shell.

Rusty (Leanne Antonio) has her eye on Willard and, with her girls (Bailee Enderbrock, Sarah Ariel Brown and Kurtz), leads the show-stopping “Let’s Hear It For the Boys.”

The WW orchestra is a six piece band here, delivering excellent support under the direction of guest conductor/keyboardist Alyssa Kay Thompson.

Mike Higgins’ ingeniously rustic set design translates rapidly from church to home to soda shop and more. Applause (silent) to cast and crew members who deliver the non-stop, quiet and difficult scene changes in the dark. It’s all part of the WW professionalism.

Stephen Hollenbeck’s costume designs are appropriately country, with plenty of required wiggle-room!”

“FOOTLOOSE” plays through June 24 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre in the WW Center for the Arts, 2517 E. Center St in Warsaw. For performance dates and times call (574) 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheelcentef.org.

 
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