“West Side Story” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards’ production of West Side Story, which opened this week, is for me another of those very familiar shows for which I have long held an honest love and appreciation. Brought into the musical theatre world in 1957 with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, the show had so much energetic and romantic appeal that even as a youth, I fell in love with the stylized score, the perfect, heart-rending words and the emotional storyline. It was an undeniable masterpiece and remains so after 60 years.

What director Eddie Curry and choreographer Ron Morgan have brought to B&B’s stage is a faithful yet updated rendition of the classic. This dance rich production pays due homage to Jerome Robbins’ original movements, which were so new to the theatre world in the late 50’s, but here Mr. Morgan opens his own bag of tricks and brings a surprising and imaginative new vision to the work. Mr. Curry innovates with his employment of a reduced cast and a confined setting, still developing engaging relationships and filling the stage with every necessary action, whether it be rumpus or romance.

Somewhere

Maria (Courtney Cheatham) and Tony (Glenn DeVar) imagine a place “Somewhere” where they are free to love in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

All the performances are true. Led by Courtney Cheatham’s Maria and Glenn DeVar as Tony, the talented cast tells this sometimes painful story with impressive abilities. Ms. Cheatham is blessed with an angel’s sweet voice and an innocent countenenace, perfect for the coming of age Maria. DeVar brings a likeable boyishness to his role, finding new range in the part with his fervent approach to Tony’s changing life.

A Young Lady of America

Maria (Courtney Cheatham), left, is excited for the dance she is about to attend with Anita (Marisa Rivera) and her brother Bernardo (Dan Higgins), in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

Marisa Rivera is a sultry Anita, showing strong dance skills and vocal abilities; Dan Higgins is commanding as Maria’s protective brother Bernardo; and Ben Cullen was impressive with his honest performance as Riff, the Jets de facto leader.

Cool

The Jets, led by Riff (Ben Cullen), center, learn to play it “Cool” in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

The dance corps, comprised of Jets, Sharks, and their girls carry out their assignments with aplomb, raising the roof in the many dance numbers and songs they are party to.

Lew Hackleman, Peter Scharbrough and Doug King round out the cast with effective portrayals of Doc, Krupke and Lt. Shranke, respectively.

Doc Im in love

Tony (Glenn DeVar) reassures Doc (Lew Hackleman) that everything will be ok for him and Maria in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

Though much of the show is ensemble in nature, the 5 leads are due ovations for their thoughtful and emotion driven turns onstage. Under director Curry’s deft hand, every familiar song is a joy to experience again, and every well remembered turn of events in the storytelling is offered with truth and depth.

I would be remiss to leave out the contributions of the wonderful orchestra lead by Terry Woods, which delivers the heart of the show through their fine rendering of the complex score. From the first familiar pulses, to the emotive final notes, Mr. Woods and his players give noteworthy performances.

Likewise, Jill Kelly Howe’s costumes give the various characters texture and placement in the world of the street.

Bottomline: I am too often underwhelmed when I attend a show I know so well and love so greatly, but as I sat in the darkness at the end of this production, wiping the moisture from my eyes, I knew this cast had fulfilled my wish for this show to be something special.

West Side Story continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through October 1st. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or you may call the box office at  317-872-9664.

* – Photos by Julie Curry

 

 

“Ring of Fire” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre continues their 2017 season with the Johnny Cash tribute show Ring of Fire. Directed by Curt Wollen, with choreography by Wendy Short-Hays, this highly entertaining and perfectly cast production showcases over 30 of the songs that made The Man in Black one of America’s most beloved performers. Presented as a sectionalized rolling history of Cash, illuminated by music selections from his and others’ catalogues – we become acquainted with his life and times. For want of a term, I would call the show a “biological revue”.

I've Been Everywhere

The entire cast joins in on “I’ve Been Everywhere” during B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

The musical selections move from earnest, to slick, to high-stepping, onto uplifting as we progress through the story of what began as a hard life in Arkansas, moved through the days of hits and kicks, then turned upward to more reverent ideals. Each number is compelling in it’s presentation, whether it be rousing or poignant. This works well to array the varying audience reactions from foot-tapping bliss to choked back emotion.

The wonderfully organized production benefits from the unique cast which has been assembled for it, most of whom make their B&B debuts. The requirements to be in the cast must have been: 1) have recording contract quality vocal talent, 2) be able to play a multitude of stringed instruments, plus a few others, 3) have the exceptional ability to show that you are having so much fun onstage, that we all want you to never stop. This generously talented ensemble of players includes B&B newcomers Melody Allegra Berger, Tim Drake, Allison Kelly, Jeremy Sevelovitz, Travis Smith and Zack Steele. Brian Gunter returns for a third B&B show. Jill Kelly Howe is also a B&B veteran and indeed is also the resident costumer for the theatre.

Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart

Jill Kelly Howe as Minnie Pearl for “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” with Brian Gunter on bass and Jeremy Sevelovitz on ukulele during B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

This ensemble of eight talented singing musicians works amazingly well together, especially when blending their voices in close harmony. In fact, their stage presence and easy delivery throughout may have you thinking that they have all been touring this show together for 10 months or more. But that is not the case – they have somehow acquired a remarkable cohesion, which makes the program ever more enjoyable.

Ring of Fire

Allison Kelly joins Travis Smith for a rendition of the title tune in B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

Some highlights in the show include Ms. Howe’s haunting ballad “Far Side Banks of Jordan” and her comical turn with “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” (a lá Minnie Pearl); Mr. Drake’s stirring rendition of “Ragged Old Flag”; the ensemble’s lively “Daddy Sang Bass”; and flashy piano and guitar work by Mssrs. Smith and Sevelovitz, respectively. Ms. Berger is an extraordinary fiddle player – and she “burns” her instrument on her featured appearance in the Act Two opening number; Ms. Kelly is tremendous in her renditions as June Carter in “Ring of Fire” and “Jackson”, as well as her soulful solo “All Over Again”; Brian Gunter exhibits his rare musical abilities in countless numbers; and Mr. Steele displays a variety of talents throughout, while he is especially noteworthy in the encore piece, “A Boy Named Sue”.

Oh Come Angel Band

The entire cast blends their voices for “Come Angel Band” in B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

Bottomline: It’s hard to be a critic when there is nothing whatsoever to criticize. This show is fresh, lively entertainment (with a PG rating due to some lyrics about drugs and crimes). Honestly, I think it just may be as fine a show, in terms of musical performance, as I have ever seen at this venue.

Ring of Fire continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through August 13. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or call the box office at  317-872-9664.

  • – Photos by Julie Curry

“Richard III” at IndyFringe Basile Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

First Folio Productions and Catalyst Repertory have combined forces to present the epic drama Richard III at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre.

Shakespeare’s tragic play offers up one of his most intriguing characters in Gloucester/Richard, the physically flawed, and notoriously hateful villain, who murdered all who stood between him and the throne of England. Skillfully adapted by Ben Power, Casey Ross and director Glenn Dobbs – the production begins with the 2012 discovery of Richard’s remains in a Leicester, England parking lot. This scene melds into Gloucester’s opening monologue, “Now is the winter of our discontent…” and we are off.

What follows is a compelling account of the King Richard III saga, augmented by Linda Schornhorst’s lush costume designs, a rich soundtrack designed by Brian G. Hartz, and fight choreography by Scott Russell, all on the simple set designed by Fred Margison and Andy Burnett.

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Matt Anderson as Richard in First Folio and Catalyst Repertory’s production of “Richard III”.

Matt Anderson is thoroughly masterful as Richard. He truly becomes the fated scoundrel in what is a very physical and methodical portrayal. Anderson leaves no doubt that this is a damaged man, his extreme awkwardness only amplifying his focused desire to achieve the throne. Richard’s words drip with desire and hatefulness, and his body reveals the pain of his being. The supporting cast has a great advantage by being able to react to the seething performance Anderson renders.

Carey Shea plays the dual roles of Richard’s brother Clarence and his opponent Richmond. Both are offered with confident, spot-on depictions. Allison Clark Reddick gives a stirring performance as the widow of Richard’s brother – Queen Elizabeth. Her sorrow at the tragedies in her character’s life is immense yet varied enough to be compelling and genuine. Matthew Socey is effective as the weakened husband of the queen, King Edward IV; Christina Howard is sad and lovely as the stricken Lady Anne; and Nan Macy projects her role as Richard’s mother, Duchess of York, with great authority.

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Matt Anderson (Richard), Allison Clark Reddick (Elizabeth), and Nan Macy (Duchess of York) in First Folio and Catalyst Repertory’s production of “Richard III” .

The various assignments given Jay Hemphill (Buckingham), Casey Ross (Queen Margaret), Doug Powers (Rivers/Sir Urswisk), Kevin Caraher (Hastings), and Ryan Reddick (Stanley),  plus John Mortell, Mark Cashwell and Mike Varick (each in various roles) are all well met. Also, Dalyn Stewart and Lex Lumpkin both do themselves honor with their portrayals of Richard’s young nephews, Prince Edward and Duke of York.

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Kevin Caraher (Lord Hastings), Matthew Socey (King Edward IV), and Allison Clark Reddick (Queen Elizabeth) in First Folio and Catalyst Repertory’s production of “Richard III” .

This is a strong presentation, filled with well-developed performances. Most everything that has been pieced together for the production emphatically meets the goal of conveying this complicated story to the minds of the audience in an understandable and potent way.

My only negative comment for this impressive show is that the background sound track, while well-chosen and effective in its result, was at times too intense in volume, keeping me from fully understanding the players. I think this could easily be corrected – as I believe the most important part of theatre is the actors’ conveyance to an audience.

Bottomline: Shakespeare fans, and indeed anyone who loves good theatre, will want to attend this high level Richard III. Director Glenn Dobbs has gained an impressive reputation with his well-researched, high quality productions of the bard’s works. This one is not to be missed.

Richard III continues weekends at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre near Mass Ave through July 9th. You can get information about the shows, and purchase tickets, by going to http://www.indyfringe.org/theatre-show/richard-111 .

  • – photos by Gary Nelson

 

“The Great Bike Race” at TOTS

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

In July 1904, the second Tour de France bicycle race was held. It was plagued by cheating and scandal. Participants broke rules on many stages, everything from catching illegal rides by car and/or train, to finding unauthorized nourishment along the route, to nails thrown out on the course to cause flat tires. Some of the riders’ conduct was so bad that the race’s organizer stated that it would be the last time the race was run. In the end the top finishers were disqualified and the youngest rider in the contest, Henri Cornet, was declared the winner.

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From left: Carrie Bennett Fedor, Evan Wallace, John Kern, Frankie Bolda, Sonia Goldberg, Paige Scott, Craig Kemp, Ben Asaykwee and Joshua C. Ramsey make up the cast for Zach Rosing’s production of “The Great BIke Race” at TOTS

Playwright/director Zack Neiditch has taken this amazing sports story from the distant past and turned it into the lively and original production, The Great Bike Race – which is produced by Zach Rosing and currently on the bill at Theatre on the Square. The show first appeared at the 2014 Indy Fringe Fest and has been elongated somewhat for this run.

The story is told as a series of episodic vignettes and the fit cast of 9 actors and actresses zooms through the race’s action with aplomb. The over-the-top activity is stuffed with comic turns, silly songs, a motion picture background, a virtual cow, love story sidebars, looney characterizations, a popular 1904 radio program and lots of high powered racing action.

The comedy is uneven at best, ranging from cheap fart jokes and profanity to really inspired situational humor. The songs are actually quite good (original music is by Paige Scott) and they move the story along nicely, plus they are offered by some very talented voices. The background is ingenious and very much a part of the storytelling. The cow speaks for itself. The love stories tend to be uno-gendered and a bit forced. The looney characterizations are a delight and are fully rendered. The radio show is a nice twist of contemporary insanity (cleverly anachronistic was their pitch) which adds to the mayhem. The high powered cycle racing looks exhausting – but this cast is, as I said, fit. And I must make special mention of Peachy Keen Costuming as their added touch is a vital one.

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From left: Paige Scott, Frankie Bolda and Ben Asaykwee in a scene from Zach Rosing’s production of “The Great Bike Race” at TOTS

I do applaud the production team on their penchant for taking chances. Some concepts fall by the way-side, but a good many of the ideas land truly and provide a worthwhile entertainment. The team of actors functions well as an amazing ensemble, but standout performances by Frankie Bolda as winning rider Henri Cornet, Ben Asaykwee as a likeably villainous Maurice Garin, and Paige Scott (whose mustachioed image in the publicity ads and posters for the production has become nothing short of iconic) as the dastardly Hippolyte Acoutrier, lead the way. Additionally, Josh Ramsey does an impressive job – his hands full with a trio of very varied rider depictions.

Bottomline: this was a perfect Father’s Day afternoon entertainment – full of laughs, a few groans, and much quirky and imaginative story-telling. I enjoyed it!

The Great Bicycle Race continues at Theatre on the Square for two more performances, June 23 & 24, 2017 at 8:00 PM. For tickets and information, go online to https://zrpevents.vbotickets.com/events

  • – Photos provided by Zach Rosing Productions

“Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at Westfield Playhouse

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reviewed by Larry Adams

The skies were clear, the moon was bright and full, and the temperature was just right. It was one of those beautiful Indiana summer evenings, and so I closed up the office and took the short drive out to the hundred-year-old church that now serves as home to Westfield Playhouse. A jog up the steps and through the lobby, and I quickly found myself in the fictional town of Bunyan Bay, Minnesota for a performance of Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married.

Which reminds me- before I even get to the play, a word about the venue: the refurbished little church in and of itself is a charming place to see a show, but board president John Sampson consistently impresses with his sets, in this case creating a mammoth, high-ceilinged interior of a small-town drinking establishment complete with tables and chairs, a full- size bar and a separate stage for the occasional entertainer or local singer. I’ve been on this stage a few times over the past couple of years and I know it isn’t big enough to hold this set. It’s easy to forget the contribution of the peripheral elements in a production as we focus on the actors, but, with the help of tone-perfect set decoration by director Doug Davis, this impressive set draws the audience into the fictional world of Bunyan long before the actors first take the stage.

Clara (Karen Webster,) Trigger (Doug Stanton,) Bernice (Tanya Haas,) and Kanute (Kevin Shadle)

Clara (Karen Webster,) Trigger (Doug Stanton,) Bernice (Tanya Haas,) and Kanute (Kevin Shadle) in a scene from Westfield Playhouse’s production of “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Married”.

Ok. On to the show. Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married, by Phil and Paul Olson, is apparently the fifth in a series of Don’t Hug Me plays, all revolving around the same six characters, who presumably must therefore have some sort of longstanding intimacy problems. (I say “apparently” and “presumably” because I haven’t actually seen any of the other plays or bothered to do any research beyond asking the actors after the show. I’m on a deadline here, and my internet barely beats dial-up.) Westfield staged one of the previous shows in the series a few years ago and has brought back three of the original four actors to reprise their roles in this sequel. DHMWM takes a look at three different relationships among the characters: a new one just starting along the wedding track, a longstanding marriage that has lost its spark, and a, well, semi-reluctant romantic entanglement. Throw in a stun gun and a plague of encephalitis infected mosquitoes and, as they say, hilarious hijinks ensue.

This ain’t Shakespeare. It’s pure fluff, which makes it perfect entertainment for a summer evening after a long week at work or dealing with the kids. And although that’s not usually my favorite cup of tea, I have to admit this production has such an endearing quality to it that I couldn’t help but be sucked in. Partly that’s a credit to the script, which is filled with winks at the audience, almost early David Letterman-esque winks (kind of a “sure, it’s stupid, but what the heck, it’s just a show” sort of thing) which serve to reassure that no one, including either of the writers, is taking this too seriously. But it’s more than that. The cast just has a palpable chemistry, a comfort level perhaps developed in the previous production, that allows them to play it with abandon. They just look like they’re having fun on stage, and that fun is infectious. Like elephantitis. (Alright, you won’t get that one unless you see the show.)

Kevin Shadle shines in what I think is his best role yet as the rich and lonely Kanute, while Mike Green, who impressed me years ago in A Nice Family Gathering, again lights up the stage as the new groom-to-be Aarvid. Karen Webster and Tanya Haas, two ladies with whom I have had the absolute pleasure and honor of sharing a stage or two, show why they are among Indianapolis’s most enjoyable and dependable actresses as Clara and Bernice respectively, nailing both the laughs and the occasional poignant moments. Doug Stanton, however, gets the juiciest role (roles?) of the show as both Clara’s husband Gunner and his “identical twin sister” Trigger, and he revels in the latter. Cheap laughs? Sure, but he embraces them fully and makes them work to the point of being scene stealers. Put together, the five (six?) work together so smoothly and naturally you suspect they didn’t need a director- which, of course, is generally the hallmark of good directing. Credit Doug Davis here for both inspired casting and deft direction.

Aarvid (Michael Green) and Bernice (Tanya Haas)

Aarvid (Michael Green) and Bernice (Tanya Haas) in a scene from Westfield Playhouse’s production of “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Married”.

Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married was advertised during the previous production as a “play with music” rather than a musical, a distinction which, after watching it, seems somehow accurate even if I can’t quite put my finger on why. The show mixes a surprisingly lengthy set of short songs into the fun through the gimmick of a karaoke machine that can supposedly read the thoughts of the characters. If that sounds a bit hokey, well, it is, but not to worry- the writers aren’t particularly wedded to the idea and don’t seem to mind ignoring or completely disregarding it if it gets in the way of a joke. The cast, to their credit, does an admirable job of voicing the songs and pulling off what little choreography goes along with them.

In terms of pure musical talent, the ladies, I must say, outshine the gentlemen; however, even if the guys are not in great danger of becoming The Next American Idols, they still prove themselves perfectly capable of carrying a tune and are infinitely better dancers than Yours Truly (that last part’s not saying much, guys). Fortunately, the songs themselves don’t require major feats of operatic virtuosity, and, in fact, would probably be lessened by them. Even with the occasional missed note or chopped rhythm, there is a certain charm and, if I may say so, “authenticity” in hearing the thoughts and dreams of these simple characters revealed in pleasing but untrained voices.

Initially, I couldn’t quite decide if the whole musical concept of the show was working for me, with some of the first act songs seemingly rather forced and pedestrian; but the second act numbers, including Doug Stanton’s hilarious “The Day That Bob Dylan Was Here” and the show-stopping “We’re All Gonna Die,” easily won me- and clearly the rest of the audience- over. Again, it’s not Shakespeare, and it’s not Les Miz either; but, in a word or two, the music and the actors’ performances of it are, like the rest of the show, simply “great fun.”

Bottom line (as A Seat on the Aisle’s glorious leader Ken Klingenmeier would say): if you’re looking for a night of no-thought, pure fun entertainment, head out to Westfield Playhouse’s Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married.

Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married continues through June 18th. You can get theatre information and reservations at http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org or by calling 317.402.3341 .

  • – Photos from Westfield Playhouse’s Facebook page

Dance Kaleidoscope’s “Dance is a Contact Sport” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Dance Kaleidoscope completes it’s 2016-17 season with a compilation of pieces presented on Indiana Repertory Theatre’s OneAmerica Stage. Dance is a Contact Sport features two excerpts from DK Artistic Director David Hochoy’s catalogue of works, along with a creation by guest artist Kiesha Lalama and the premiere of a new work by choreographer Stephanie Martinez.

The evening begins with a selection from Hochoy’s 1991 work, First Light. This dance is presented over a spectacular piece of music – “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” by John Adams. The composition, described as “a fanfare for orchestra”, gives the DK troupe an intense musical bed full of rising action with which to convey their most energetic movements. Propelled by this force of ever-increasing tension, the dancers are very successful in raising our pulses and taking our breath away. Of special note is the dynamic lighting by Laura E. Glover coupled with the intensely colorful costuming by Cheryl Sparks.

First Light

DK dancers perform David Hochoy’s “First Light” as part of “Dance is a Contact Sport” presented at IRT.

The mood changes to a smooth and romantic pace with Jillian Godwin and Zach Young’s sublime performance to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” from Mr. Hochoy’s Deep in the Heart of Country (2014). This familiar ballad’s message of helpless love is sweetly imparted by the dancers’ skillful work and it provides a needed resting point between two very lively selections.

Crazy-Jillian Godwin-Zach Young

Jillian Godwin and Zach Young perform “Crazy” as part of “Dance is a Contact Sport” presented at IRT.

Kiesha Lalama’s Catapult, which she created with the DK troupe in 2015, begins with stillness. But this quietude is very much like a launch pad before the rocket blast. Soon enough the music (“Forget Your Limitations” by Rishi and Harshil) rises and the troupe catches fire, launching into a powerful display of energetic imagery. The assorted combinations work through amazingly vigorous sets of group dance, and featured solos, duets and trios. I was left breathless for a second time as DK’s corps of performers showed just why they are so highly regarded.

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Mariel Greenlee performs Kiesha Lalama’s “Catapult” with fellow DK dancers as part of “Dance is a Contact Sport” presented at IRT.

Intermission followed with an open discussion by Stephanie Martinez about the piece we were to see next – her new False Start, Pass Interference.

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DK dancers perform the rollicking conclusion of Stephanie Martinez’s “False Start, Pass Interference” as part of “Dance is a Contact Sport” presented at IRT.

This long form work examines, celebrates, and satirizes sports in our culture, with good humor and raillery. Costumes by Michele Hankins emphasize “team” and the accompanying sound track features everything in sports – from field action and arena celebrations, to commentaries, tv commercials and congratulatory fan-songs. Very free-form and abstractly original in style, Ms. Martinez’s creation shows us aspects of sports participation, viewing, and fandom. And in the midst of all the frenzied hoopla, it slows down to take time for a beautifully sensitive look at a couple (Mariel Greenlee and Stuart Coleman) dealing with a situation due to sport fixation. Some of the composition’s highlights include Jillian Godwin’s feisty referee, Brandon Comer’s wild and wordy commentator, and something I believe I have never before witnessed – a singer dancing the national anthem! False Start, Pass Interference is a wonderfully imagined and perfectly presented new piece. Its unique and thoroughly enjoyable form presents a program dance on subject matter that surrounds us, but which is rarely featured in a format such as this. I’ll hope to see more from Ms. Martinez’s interesting creativity.

Dance is a Contact Sport only runs thru Sunday June 4th, so you will need to get your tickets rather quickly. You can get performance and ticket information by going to http://dancekal.org/features/concerts/dance-is-a-contact-sport-june-1-4 or by calling the IRT Ticket Office at 317.635.5252.

  • — Photos by Crowe’s Eye Photography

“Shrek – The Musical” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre continues its 2017 season with a very ambitious production of Shrek – The Musical. Based on the 2001 DreamWorks film, “Shrek”, the show is directed and choreographed by Ron Morgan, with musical director Terry Woods conducting the lively score. Book and lyrics are by Pulitzer-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and music is by Jeanine Tesori.

As I say, the show is an ambitious endeavor, especially relating to costuming (provided with many flourishes by Travis Grant and MSMT Costumes), makeup design (accomplished here by the incomparable Daniel Klingler) and wig design (rendered by Kurt Alger). Michael Layton provides the swamp, forest, and castle scenic design, and Ryan Koharchik handles the lighting.

Donkey urges Shrek to Make A Move

From left: Emily Grace Tucker (Fiona), Julius Thomas II (Donkey) and Peter Scharbrough (Shrek) in a scene from Beef & Boards’ production of “Shrek – The Musical”.

Most of the characters from the film come alive onstage, led by Peter Scharbrough as the stoically grumpy ogre, Shrek. Scharbrough overcomes the necessary encumbrance of his extreme makeup to give a fully realized performance. His strong voice is well-suited for the part, and he comes through with a truly fine rendition of Shrek’s various emotions in his quest to save a princess in order to save his swamp. On the way, he meets Donkey, played with an original flair by Julius Thomas III. Thomas manages to incorporate all the silly fun of the movie’s character while never copying the Eddie Murphy depiction. His animated dynamism resulted in many of the laughs the show generated for a younger than normal audience.

Princess Fiona, whose release is the object of Shrek’s travels, gets three portraits in the story-telling. We meet Young Fiona and Teen Fiona – done in brief but skilled portrayals by Emery Allen and Reagan Minnette, and Fiona (the impatiently-waiting-in-a-tower-for-her-prince maiden) in a spirited offering by Emily Grace Tucker. Ms. Tucker finds just the right measure of spunkiness for the princess, topped off by her sensational vocal talents.

What's Up Duloc

John Vessels (as Lord Farquaad, center) and members of the ensemble in a scene from Beef & Boards’ production of “Shrek”.

John Vessels is dastardly and comical as the height-disadvantaged Lord Farquaad. Vessels’ penchant for physical comedy is somewhat stymied by his visually humorous but physically demanding short-guy costume, which seems to put him at a disadvantage at times. His energetic performance is just what is needed though, and he comes through it all in fine stead.

Donkey meets Dragon

From left: Julius Thomas III as Donkey faces Dragon, voiced by Kelly Teal Goyette, in a scene from Beef & Boards’ production of “Shrek – The Musical”.

Kelly Teal Goyette plays a number of roles but is most notable as the voice of Dragon – a huge three-man puppet that dominates the stage during its scenes. Cody Knable ably takes front and center as Pinocchio, complete with a tricky wooden nose. And Sean Seager is a standout as a cross-dressed Big Bad Wolf. At times, there is a stage full of fairy tale characters, well-played by the ensemble of actors and dancers, and by the corps of young school-aged players. A total of 20 performers are needed to tell this story and they are all graced with talented voices and feet.

Freak Flag

Fairy tale characters in a scene from Beef & Boards’ production of “Shrek – The Musical”.

Bottomline: This may have been a tough show to mount, but with rare exception B&B has given us a superb event for kids and family. Some great features for young audience members are that the story is so familiar, and that all the characters come to life with such vivid panache.

Shrek – The Musical continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through July 2nd. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or you may call the box office at  317-872-9664.

  • – Photos by Julie Curry

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