Dance Kaleidoscope’s “A World of Christmas” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

One of the many, very special things about living in Central Indiana is the remarkable number of Christmas entertainments that are available in the month of December. Over the years, I have enjoyed many of the holiday revues, the Christmas Carols, the symphonic celebrations, and the cheerful holiday themed plays and programs that are offered here. They are wonderfully traditional fare and they form an enduring fabric of the season for us all. This year, I had the opportunity to savor a different sort of celebration – one consisting entirely of dance.

Dance Kaleidoscope’s festive offering, A World of Christmas, is currently lighting up the UpperStage at IRT with a jubilee of dance selections that are both delightful and sublime. Under the inventive hand of choreographer David Hochoy, the DK troupe stages two very differing pieces: Hochoy’s 1997 creation, Ceremony of Carols, and his evolving set of internationally inspired and themed works entitled World of Christmas Kaleidoscope.

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One of the many beautiful arrangements from David Hochoy’s “Ceremony of Carols”, part of  “A World of Christmas”.

The first, Ceremony of Carols, opens with an immediate impression of purity and light as the dancers arrive bearing gifts created by the Herron High School sculpture class, and wearing costumer Carol Sparks’ varietal immaculate white creations. Moody lighting by Laura E. Glover enhances the imagery. The dancers perform a series of mostly brief presentations set to music by Benjamin Britten which places the ensemble on a softened ethereal plain. The choreography is flowing and precise, very much a set of momentary still images connected by graceful repositionings. In total, the combined sets result in a serene and hopeful feeling.

The second half of the performance, World of Christmas Kaleidoscope, is much more bright and lively. The appealing selections begin with Mariel Greenlee’s playful rendition of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” celebrating Russian influences, continuing on through group dances of the USA’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” and a Hawaiian favorite, “Mele Kalikimaka”, plus solos by Stuart Coleman (a sharp “White Christmas”), and the Norwegian carol “Kling no Klokka” – a smoothly striking piece performed by Emily Dyson.  Through it all I noticed not a peep from the 3 year old in my neighboring seat, who was entirely transfixed by the wonderful dancers.

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Emily Dyson performs to “Kling no Klokka” (“Now the Bells are Ringing”) as part of “World of Christmas Kaleidoscope”.

The remaining renditions visit Spain, for an emotional duet depicting Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging; then it’s on to Jamaica, for the bouncy island beat of “All I Want for Christmas”; and Benin for a striking “O Holy Night”, one of my favorites. The set concludes with a return to the first act’s stylings for “Silent Night”.

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The Dance Kaleidoscope company performs “Mele Kalikimaka”, a part of “World of Christmas Kaleidoscope”.

This awesome holiday show confirms for me the following truths: I consider DK to be an artistic treasure that we are fortunate to have access to in Central Indiana. The dancers are all strong, precise and amazing performers, whether as a group or in duets and solos. The leadership provided by Mr. Hochoy cannot be overlooked – his vision as a choreographer is creative and unique, full of vitality and imagination. This celebration of Christmas is a gift to the city, and is hopefully a pleasant new addition to Indianapolis’ traditions.

A World of Christmas continues Thurs-Sun, Dec 7-10 on the IRT UpperStage. Ticket information and schedules can be found at http://www.dancekal.org or by calling 317.635.5252.

  • – Photos by Crowe’s Eye Photography

 

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“A Beef & Boards Christmas” – 2017

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reviewed by Mark Kamish

Dorothy wanted to go over the rainbow, only to discover there is no place like home, and beauty sometimes lies in your own backyard. Sure, I’ve been many times to other Indy holiday favs like IPL’s “Yuletide Celebration” at the ISO and IRT’s A Christmas Carol. Unsure why, especially having lived on the north side now for six years, this is my first time experiencing A Beef & Boards Christmas.

It’s the show’s silver anniversary production this year, for goodness sake. Add to the significance of that milestone the fact that this Indianapolis holiday tradition will not return in 2018 (life is seasons, isn’t it?), I was so glad to have had the opportunity to finally enjoy seeing this heart-warming production with Patricia and Marina. Thanks so much to Patricia Rettig, B&B’s Director of Marketing & Media Relations, as well as to the entire theatre and production staff, for working so hard to ensure that we and the rest of Saturday’s full house had a lovely evening of food, drink and excellent holiday entertainment.

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Santa makes an appearance in “A Beef & Boards Christmas” – 2017.

Doug Stark, owner of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre (and an integral part of this year’s show, donning the red suit to personally extend his heartfelt holiday wishes as jolly old St. Nick himself), reflected by saying, “A Beef & Boards Christmas has been our own original Christmas greeting to our guests for 25 years. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our audiences for making the show part of their holiday tradition.”

And whether you are returning to make A Beef & Boards Christmas part of your family holiday tradition, or are experiencing it for the first time like I am, the cast and crew will not disappoint.

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Kenny Shepard hosts the 25th annual “A Beef & Boards Christmas”

Kenny Shepard, who is truly part of the fabric of this show (having performed in it since its second year in 1994 (when it was still called the Beef & Boards Christmas Spectacular) is once again the featured host.

Other faces familiar to Beef & Boards faithful take the stage as well. Principal singers Kyle Durbin, Betsy Norton and Peter Scharbrough all return from the 2016 production. They are joined by Marisa Rivera, who was just seen on stage as Anita in B&B’s production of West Side Story. These four perform the vocal yeoman’s work of this musical variety show beautifully. Norton’s “Tennessee Christmas,” Scharbrough’s “Santa’s Back” (with members of the gorgeous and talented dance ensemble), Rivera’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and Durbin’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (the latter two pieces with full Ensemble) were among my favorites.

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Renée Jackson performs in “A Beef & Boards Christmas” – 2017.

The featured singer this year is Renée Jackson, a Brooklyn-based actress (and Ball State B.F.A. Musical Theatre program alum), who just made her Beef & Boards debut in Ghost, The Musical (as Oda Mae Brown). Her vocal and physical command of the stage is moving. “O Holy Night,” performed with the entire Ensemble, is a showstopper. One often watches professional actors, singers and performers without a thought as to the struggles and hardships they have had to endure and overcome to be onstage. Ms. Jackson’s story certainly sounds to be one of those personal journeys marked with dark days and hurdles. Judging by her performance, she sure seems to have emerged on the other side with grace and radiance.

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The B&B Christmas Quartet: (from left) Peter Scharbrough, Marisa Rivera, Betsy Norton and Kyle Durbin.

The Ensemble of vibrant and talented singers and dancers include a pair of Carmel sisters (Kari and Maggie Baker), accomplished professional actors, half a score or more of returning B&B veterans and, well, that guy in the red suit and white beard, coming to you directly from the North Pole.

Supporting the show throughout is a fabulous orchestra, perfectly suited for this variety-show format. Thank you, Kristy Templet, Terry Woods, Dorothy McDonald, Rick Hajduk, John Huntoon, Brad Koser, Fred Withrow and Nathan Shaw. You guys and gals are amazing!

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The B&B Orchestra is back in full force, skillfully led by Kristy Templet (at left piano).

From familiar songs (some maybe not so familiar) to great choreography to cute sketches to dazzling costumes (and quick costume changes) to feel-good emotions, A Beef & Boards Christmas is, I now know for myself, another great Indianapolis holiday tradition. You owe it to yourself and your family to experience it one more time this season. ‘Cause you never know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone.

A Beef & Boards Christmas will continue its run of 36 total performances in the intimate atmosphere of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre through December 23 (and includes Chef Odell Ward’s holiday dinner buffet, fruit & salad bar, unlimited coffee, tea and lemonade – as well as adult beverages and gourmet desserts available for purchase). For more specific information on dates and show times, visit beefandboards.com.

Reservations may be made by calling the box office at (317) 872-9664 anytime between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays.

Merry Christmas!

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  • Photos by Julie Curry

IRT’s “A Christmas Carol” – 2017

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reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

Indiana Repertory Theatre celebrates Christmas 2017 once again with it’s warm, loving stage classic of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, directed by Executive Artistic Director, Janet Allen. The opening night celebration with alumni actors joining the festivities on stage for the final song, and the after show champagne toast was enjoyed by a full house to kick off this timeless tradition for the 25th year. The play, with a single stunning set by Russell Metheny, covered with snow and framed in iron, presents the story through multiple characters’ narration. The raked stage, trap doors, and clever set displays of villages brought in by sleds, add to the scene changes while the cast switches roles seamlessly.

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Joey Collins, Emily Ristine, Maddie Medley, and Ryan Artzberger in IRT’s 2017 production of “A Christmas Carol”.

Dickens’ story, written in 1843, has been called by some a “sledge hammer” against the ills of industrialism and consumerism. Dickens’ own father had been sent to debtors’ prison, and Charles Dickens himself, at the age of 12, bitterly remembered having to leave school and work in a boot blacking factory near Convent Garden. He modeled Bob Cratchit’s lifestyle from his own experiences living in Camden Town, London. Dickens demonstrates that even in poverty, the winter holiday can inspire good will and generosity towards one’s neighbors. He shows that the spirit of Christmas has not been lost in the race to industrialize, but can live on in our world.

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Ashley Dillard, Ryan Artzberger, Charles Pasternak, and Mark Goetzinger in IRT’s 2017 production of “A Christmas Carol”.

My two favorite rituals every Christmas are to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” and to see a production of A Christmas Carol. IRT has been that tradition. Each performance has its own personality and each of the actors give a little of themselves to the roles. Ebenezer Scrooge, (Ryan Artzberger) returns as a youthful version of the sarcastic character but still possesses the cold hearted, miserly manners of a man who lives in isolation and does not enjoy Christmas. On the eve of Christmas, Scrooge is visited by his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley (Charles Goad), who died seven years prior. Being punished for his own stingy and greedy behavior, he warns Scrooge not to repeat the same behaviors, and to give up his selfishness and instead serve with a good heart so he doesn’t bear the results of his own greed in the afterlife.

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Ryan Artzberger and Charles Goad in IRT’s 2017 production of “A Christmas Carol”.

In serial order, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, (Emily Ristine) whose delightful voice takes Scrooge on a painful remembrance of life as a boy. Followed by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Milicent Wright), who returns as the feisty and funny spirit showing Scrooge the plight of the Cratchit family led again by Jeremy Fisher and Ms. Ristine as Bob and Mrs. Cratchit. To complete the family, Gideon Roark, Miles M. Morey, Jordan Pecar, Nina R. Morey, Camil McGhee, Aidan Betts, Ali D. Boice, Elise Keliah Benson, Tobin Seiple, and Maddie Medley, share the roles as the Cratchit children. This year, Scott Greenwell portrays the silent Christmas Future who reveals the prospect of demise for Scrooge. I especially enjoyed his subtle comic relief. Jennifer Johansen as Mrs. Fezziwig and Joey Collins, (Schoolmaster, et al.) are creative scene stealers. Ashley Dillard plays the adoring Belle while Charles Pasternak is entertaining and energetic as the nephew Fred and as Young Scrooge. The audience is treated by being surrounded from time to time with acapella singing blended beautifully into the scenes, under the musical direction of Terry Woods. Michael Lincoln’s lighting design and Murell Horton’s costumes are picturesque.

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The cast of IRT’s 2017 production of “A Christmas Carol”.

You revisit the experience because you love the story and the characters. Out of all the versions, A Christmas Carol is best experienced on a live stage. It remains one of the most popular and enduring Christmas stories of all time. Check out IRT’s Special Events for the whole family, A Christmas Carol & Holiday Hoopla. Reserve your tickets soon at www.irtlive.com. This show continues through December 24th.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing

“A Grand Night for Singing” at ATI

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Actors Theatre of Indiana continues their 2017-18 season with A Grand Night for Singing, a musical revue celebrating the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue of songs from their wide range of Broadway shows. Conceived by Walter Bobbie, with musical arrangements by Fred Wells, Michael Gibson, and Jonathan Tunick, the production opened on Broadway in November of 1993 and was a modest success with 52 performances.

My research shows that the collection is most often presented in a cabaret style, featuring well-dressed cast members moving song to song with minimal connection. Director/choreographer Carol Worcel has crafted a colorful carnival setting and arranged with designer Stephen Hollenbeck to have her charges in a nifty array of  bright, mid-20th century costumes that more realistically covey the characters that Rodgers and Hammerstein were writing their songs for. It works tremendously well. A narrow story line of love and loss, happiness and dismay, and solos mixed with duets and ensemble work fills the show with a variety of interpretations. Ms. Worcel’s task of choreographing and/or staging 30+ musical numbers is well met with expert level results.

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From left: Don Farrell, Annalee Traeger, Cynthia Collins, Ian Black, and Nathalie Cruz provide the onstage performances for ATI’s “A Grand Night for Singing”.

All this is performed by ATI’s usual lineup of wonderfully talented performers. Don Farrell, hot off his amazing performances in La Cage aux Folles, supplies his customary magic on stage, in both song and dance. Joining him is his co-ATI founder, Cynthia Collins, who provides many of the comic moments in the production as well as a full range of soft and spunky song renditions.

Three ATI newcomers fill out the cast. Ian Black takes the other male role in the show. His strong baritone voice and remarkable dancing abilities makes him a valuable addition in this production and hopefully many others at ATI. Nathalie Cruz is a familiar face for those of us who have noted her many roles around Indy. Her musical talents are obvious here and Ms. Cruz provides her usual striking performance to the proceedings, especially with her sensitive “Do I Love You” in the first act.

Annalee Traeger is a bit of a breakthrough story, I believe. Theatre goers have seen her quite a lot at our local dinner theatre. She has been a member of more than a few dance corps there, with occasion small supporting roles. It is so good to see her front and center in this production. Ms. Traeger’s dancing abilities are no surprise. What we didn’t realize is that she possesses a beautiful solo voice. Her highlights include touching renditions of “If I Loved You” and “It Might as Well Be Spring”.

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From left: Nathalie Cruz, Annalee Traeger, and Ian Black all make their ATI debuts in “A Grand Night for Singing”.

The cast’s polished vocal performances show the hand of musical director Levi Burke, as does the impeccable work by his four piece orchestra. A delightfully vibrant set design by P. Bernard Killian, lights designed by Theresa Bagan and sound by Zach Rosing round off the technical contributions to this ATI offering.

Bottomline: This is a wonderfully relaxing and mild entertainment. The show is full of many interesting arrangements of familiar songs. The performances are strong throughout, and it is great to see the ATI debuts of three talented performers as well as portrayals by the more familiar Ms. Collins and Mr. Farrell.

A Grand Night for Singing continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through November 19th. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – photos by Zach Rosing

 

“The Originalist” at IRT

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reviewed by Mark Kamish

When I began law school in 1996, Antonin Scalia was a third of the way into the almost 30 years he would spend on the bench as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. By then, Scalia had amassed a body of opinions that were becoming legendary. I was assigned to read many of them. They were unparalleled – brilliant in legal analysis, sharp, witty and biting in prose. But the times they were a-changin,’ and Scalia’s words were being more frequently found in dissenting rather than majority opinions. But Scalia held firm. Until his passing in 2016, his career was marked by a conservative ideology and an originalist judicial viewpoint: the belief that the interpretation of the Constitution should be based on what it originally meant to the people who ratified it 230 years ago.

In the past two decades, that judicial philosophy was at odds with an ever-growing number of Scalia’s more liberal colleagues on the High Court, who viewed the Constitution as a living document – one that was written by its framer in flexible terms that would allow and even encourage an evolving interpretation as society grows and changes. Scalia’s originalist creed informed his legally conservative interpretations – many of them seen as “heartless” – opposition to affirmative action or any law that made distinctions by race, gender or sexual orientation, support of capital punishment, favoring states’ rights over federal authority and police power over Fourth Amendment rights of citizens, to name a few.

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Ayanna Bria Bakari, Henry Woronicz and Jeb Burris in IRT’s 2017 production of “The Originalist”.

But while John Strand’s drama, The Originalist, spotlights this iconic and polarizing figure, the play (100 minutes without intermission) is not biography; it is a question. And that questions is this: Can our fervently-believed and deeply-held “truths” allow us to ever make room for the alternate and opposing “truths” of others (just as fervently believed and deeply held)? Can we “suppress our fear and distrust, take a step toward the middle, and sit down with the monsters?”

This incredibly timely piece (originally produced in 2015) centers on the relationship between Justice Scalia and a fictional left-wing Harvard Law graduate named Cat who, after initially interrupting Scalia at a public presentation and arguing with him, is hired as one of his law clerks. Cat is Scalia’s “counterclerk” – a liberal who serves as his in-chambers sparring partner.

SCALIA: Just how liberal are you anyway?

CAT: Sir, I fall into the ‘flaming’ category.

SCALIA: Probably every liberal’s fate in the afterlife.

The two rant and ramble over a broad range of legal and policy issues, ending with Scalia’s dissent in United States v. Windsor (the 2013 Supreme Court decision holding unconstitutional a federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” as applying only to opposite-sex unions).

And as those heated, soul-revealing debates unfold, something interesting begins to happen. As time is spent together and passionate, intellectual (and often loud) debates take place, trust is developing and defenses are dropping – a little at a time. Soon, inexplicably, polar opposites are attracting, pulling one another toward middle ground.

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Ayanna Bria Bakari and Henry Woronicz in IRT’s 2017 production of “The Originalist”.

Despite Scalia’s belief that the heart has no role in constitutional interpretation (“Cat, you’re arguing from emotion. Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change. Emotion is what you had for breakfast yesterday.”), his law clerk draws him to matters of the heart. He reluctantly describes his devastation and the personal, privately-held pain of not being nominated for Chief Justice by President George W. Bush after the death of Scalia’s friend and ideological ally, Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He shares his fondness for and friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose contrary views on controversial issues are just as outspoken as his own. And he brings consolation, empathy and fatherly love to his law clerk when Cat is left broken and reeling by a family member’s death.

The arc of Cat’s move to the middle bends, of course, toward “the monster” who is her boss.

SCALIA: Why do you want to work for me?

CAT: Well, you are probably the most polarizing figure in American life.

SCALIA: Probably? I hold the title, thank you. Strike the probably.

The most comical (but representative) depiction of Cat’s evolution in tolerance involves scenes that begin on a Virginia rifle range, with Scalia teaching the gun-control advocate Cat how to fire a semiautomatic AR-10 assault-style rifle.

CAT: <BANG!> Did I hit anything.

SCALIA: Something in Maryland, I’d suspect.

By the end of the show, Cat is scoring bullseyes on the range, as well as on the battlefield of ideas. She admits she has matured in her self-understanding and tells Scalia that when liberals depict him as a monster, they’re just seeing their own fears in the mirror. The English language has words to describe projecting one’s own fears onto ideological and political opponents: “demonization,” “prejudice” and “bigotry,” to name a few.

Of course, the hidden qualities each character reveals as they move toward the center have always been there. Scalia indeed has heart, as well as a weakness for opera and the music of Mozart. And Cat has a great legal mind; the ability to apply law to facts and very effectively write summaries and arguments her boss will use to write opinions that conflict with her personal beliefs and world view.

Plays like The Originalist, comprising almost exclusively monologues and dialogues between two characters, are tricky. If the performances on stage don’t quickly create believable characters the audience cares about, and if those characters don’t as quickly and effectively transport the audience to emotional experiences, it can be a long night. Thankfully, both John Strand’s script and the three talented actors performing it succeed on both counts; an hour-and-forty minutes seems to fly by.

IRT veteran actor Henry Woronicz (whom I enjoyed in last year’s IRT production of The Mousetrap) more than makes up for what I felt was not a strong physical resemblance of Justice Scalia, with a spellbinding performance that captures the charm, eloquence, wit, self-assuredness and self-awareness (not taking himself too seriously) the late Justice is said to have been blessed with. Woronicz creates the endearing antagonist the Scalia character was surely meant to depict.

Cat was portrayed by IRT newcomer Ayanna Bria Bakari. Her bio expresses excitement in “kicking off” her professional acting career with this role. In this reviewer’s opinion, last night was one hell of a kickoff. For me, memorable performances by a stage actor are not crafted from splendid line delivery, but from the splendid way in which the actor actively listens to the other characters. Perfect reactions in body, face and voice to other characters and to situations seem to follow. Ms. Bakari nails this role – “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances” (as actor and acting coach Sanford Meisner was fond of teaching). Her performance alone is reason to check out this show.

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Jeb Burris in IRT’s 2017 production of “The Originalist”.

The supporting role in this play, a straight-laced, hard right-winged, young Republican sycophant named Brad (another of Scalia’s clerks) does his own sparring with Cat, and seeks to undermine her growing relationship with the boss. Actor Jeb Burris does a great job in portraying a hateful character with no openly-redeeming qualities (including a refusal to let his boss and ideological hero be influenced by the temptress, let alone consider positions contrary to his own). The heated debates between Brad and Cat didn’t work for me as well as the Scalia-Cat exchanges, however. Maybe there seemed to me less depth in smart exchanges between 20-somethings than between characters separated by 50 years of life and experiences; or maybe it was because there seemed little point to hearing the same ideological arguments between two people who the audience knew would never be able to see beyond their differences (especially after a betrayal that shatters the trust needed to come together).

We seem to live in a very divided nation these days. However, as I watch Burns and Novick’s film The Vietnam War, things don’t seem a great deal different from the way they were 50 years ago in this country. I don’t know if there is value in compromising one’s deeply-held convictions and beliefs to reach consensus with the “other side.” But maybe in recognizing those qualities of sameness that connect us as human beings in the very ways our thoughts and ideas divide us . . . , maybe by attempting to do that, we can all become better off for the effort.

The Originalist will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Upperstage through November 12. For more specific information on dates, show times, ticket orders, plus back stories of the play, the cast and crew, visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/.

 * – Photos by Zach Rosing

“Annie” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre opens its 2017-18 season with a well-crafted production of Annie. This perennial favorite took the Broadway theatre world by storm with its original production in 1977, running for six years. Based on Harold Gray’s depression era comic strip, the musical features music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and a book by Thomas Meehan.

Under direction and choreography by Anne Nicole Beck, and musical direction by Brent Marty, Civic Theatre’s offering in a sometimes spectacular presentation. Though it sports an unevenness in some production areas, the show is dotted with numerous impressive performances and musical numbers.

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Daniel Scharbrough (Daddy Warbucks) and Mary Kate Tanselle (Annie) star in Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie”

On the high side, we are treated to Mary Kate Tanselle’s plucky and energetic Annie. Young Miss Tanselle shows an easy talent in her portrayal and lights up the stage with her fine vocal talents. Already a stage veteran in her eighth grade year, Miss Tanselle never wavers in a poised and professional grade performance.

Another shining light, much “like the top of the Chrysler Building”, is provided by Daniel Scharbrough, whose superior Daddy Warbucks reprisal comes off with a smooth confidence that reflects this fine actor’s many years of stage experience. Scharbrough is joined at this high level by relative newcomer Amanda Boldt, who turns in a successfully full portrayal of Warbucks’ faithful secretary, Grace Farrell.

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“It’s a Hard Knock Life” for the orphans in Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie”

 

Ms. Beck’s cadre of orphans gives solid energies in their various appearances in the show. Anna Wagner (Duffy), Nya Beck (Julie), Emily Chrzanowski (Kate), Abigail Judy (Molly), Emily Carlisle (Pepper), and Claire Kauffman (Tessie) are especially wonderful in “Hard Knock Life” with its robust choreography – one of Ms. Beck’s best efforts in that department.

Speaking of choreography, this is one of the areas which, in my opinion, was somewhat variable. Some numbers, such as “Hard Knock Life” and especially “NYC” and “Easy Street” were simply knockouts with remarkable performances of inventive step patterns. A few others, though somewhat creative, lacked that special something I have grown to expect from this choreographer. I know there are more than a few musical numbers to deal with here, but after the inventive creations I saw from Ms. Beck in Civic’s The Music Man,  I was struck by a downturn with what I saw here. Again, merely my observation and opinion…

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One of the many ensemble numbers in Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie”

Civic’s use of set designs based on the work of legendary designer Ming Cho Lee, is certainly among the high points in the show. Soaring skylines, lofty highway bridges, and well-appointed mansion interiors are provided, along with subtly slanted renditions of the orphanage and the oval office. Also high on my list is the wonderful presentation of the score by the Annie orchestra, under the baton of Matthew Konrad Tippel. It is first rate throughout. The costumes by Adrienne Conces also enrich the big-show quality of the production.

Other fine performances are sprinkled throughout: Paige Scott (Miss Hannigan), Jeremy Shivers-Brimm (Rooster Hannigan) and Virginia Vasquez (Lilly St. Regis) have some five star moments in their trio work as well as in their scene work together; Piper Murphy makes the most of her spotlight moment as “Star to Be”; and the rather vast ensemble has moments of spectacular rendition.

Frankly, any disappointment I may have had with this edition of Annie could be the product of several factors. Primarily, I have seen various productions of this piece and that in itself always lends an aspect of familiarity and undeniable comparison. Also, it occurs to me that the show I saw last evening was a second show in the run – which in theatre circles can often mean a letdown in the performers’ energies and efforts after a hellish full week of preparations for the opening night show. I know that feeling well.

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From left: Paige Scott (Miss Hannigan), Virginia Vasquez (Lilly St. Regis) and Jeremy Shivers-Brimm (Rooster Hannigan) provide the villainry in Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie”

Bottomline: I believe if this is the very first production that you have seen of Annie, you will be blown away and delighted by what is offered here. In that light, it was fun to see all the little girls in attendance with Annie-bows in their hair, some in red dresses, all very excited to see this show. As for an old theatre goer like myself, I genuinely appreciate what has been assembled here, and was impressed by many of the choices and performances.

Annie continues at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts through October 28th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

“Ghost The Musical” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Ghosts, those various spirits, apparitions and other-worldly beings we are endlessly fascinated by, have long been “seen” in entertainments. From Hamlet’s father’s ghost, to Marley’s ghost, to George and Marion Kirby in the movie/television series “Topper”, to Casper in cartoon form, to “we ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts” in “Ghostbusters” and on and on – the spirits of the dead have provided endless story situations in novels, shows, comic books and movies.

In 1990, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore starred in the film “Ghost” which swept the country as a box-office winner. Ghost The Musical, with book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, followed with a West End opening in London in the summer of 2011. Now, this production has found its way to haunting the Beef and Boards stage.

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Molly Jensen (Andrea Laxton) and Sam Wheat (Eddie Egan) in a scene from B&B’s “Ghost The Musical.”

Directed by Douglas E. Stark, with musical staging by Ron Morgan, B&B’s production is a decidedly modern stage offering. Set on Michael Layton’s slick set design, with dynamic lighting effects from designer Ryan Koharchik, everything has the feel of a new era style of theatre, raising the bar in B&B’s production history.

The show is very well cast. Eddie Egan and Andrea Laxton make their Beef and Boards debuts starring as Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen, young lovers on the verge of taking the next big step in their relationship when a street confrontation turns everything around. Sam dies, but is left in a phantom state where he cannot leave Molly until he has taken care of the many loose ends his demise has brought about. Egan is impressive in his portrayal of the ghostly Sam. He covers all the emotional bases in his arc with sensitivity and, when necessary, good humor. Ms. Laxton skillfully weathers her emotionally charged course as she is left to lament her fate, highlighted by her mournful “With You” and the hopeful “Nothing Stops Another Day”. These two performers’ voices blend extremely well on a number of shared tunes, and Ms. Laxton, especially, has a smooth vocal quality one could listen to all day.

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Carl Bruner (Patrick Michael Joyce), center, and ensemble members in a scene from B&B’s “Ghost The Musical.”

Patrick Michael Joyce takes the part of antagonist Carl Bruner, a friend of the couple who has dug an ever deepening hole for himself at his job. Joyce is a perfect choice for the crooked Carl and is well up to the task for all levels of his role. Likewise, Renée Jackson is ideal as psychic medium Oda Mae Brown, who forms a communication connection with Sam and helps solve the problems he has left behind. Ms. Jackson’s far-fetched Oda Mae is delightful, and exquisitely extreme, adding a comic touch to a most often poignant story.

A superb group of supporting ensemble members completes the cast list. B&B veteran John Vessels is brilliant in his characterizations of both the Hospital Ghost and Lionel Ferguson. Joshua L.K. Patterson creates a fierce and psychotic Subway Ghost with unfettered aplomb. Kelly Teal Goyette has great fun as a duped psychic client of Oda Mae Brown, Logan Moore is deadly and intimidating as gunman Willie Lopez,  and Ayana Bey and Christine Zavaskos deftly pair up in their various secondary roles.  Furthermore, this group is charged with skillfully performing the precision-like Ron Morgan choreography on a number of occasions.

Get out of here - leave me alone

Storefront psychic Oda Mae Brown (Renée Jackson) in a scene from B&B’s “Ghost The Musical.”

Jill Kelly Howe’s rich costume designs and Zach Rosings’ visual effects design (just wait until you see the comeuppances in store for the bad guys) complete the picture. And the entire show is enhanced by Terry Woods’ musical direction and the B&B orchestra which features the tear-inspiring work of violinist Kara Day. (Nice job, Ms. Day!)

Bottomline – a refreshingly modern approach to this boy-girl story makes Ghost The Musical a highly worthwhile production. Strong performances by all involved, both onstage and behind the scenes, are noteworthy.

Ghost The Musical continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through November 18th. 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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