“Mrs. Harrison” from Indiana Repertory Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

IRT continues their 2020-21 virtual season with R. Eric Thomas’ very interesting Mrs. Harrison. The play is directed by Mikael Burke, who offered last season’s much appreciated The Agitators at Phoenix Theatre, and performed by Celeste M. Cooper and Mary Williamson, in their IRT debuts. The story is an examination of truth, memory, and perception as two former college classmates reminisce (in a ladies’ room) about their shared experiences and how their lives and successes have been shaped by them.

One mistook, the other is mistaken – but which is which?

Mary Williamson as Holly, and Celeste M. Cooper as Aisha in IRT’s production of “Mrs. Harrison”

Ms. Cooper, as successful playwright Aisha and Ms. Williamson, as struggling comedienne/storyteller Holly, are both convincing in their roles. In their long conversation, both aptly portray their character’s undercurrent facets with ease. And that is what is remarkable – one can see from the beginning that something hidden is at stake here – something that will come out as the story unwinds and bubbles.

The entire play is open to interpretation, and I applaud director Burke for the course he has plotted for us. We are sent through various stages of understandings and misunderstandings, remembrances and misconceptions. Aisha seems to perceive that Holly is the bathroom attendant at one point. Holly has a notion that Aisha is able to rub elbows with the rich and famous.

And when the crux of the matter finally lifts its head, we observe disturbing accusations of racism, stolen ideas, ownership, misperceptions. One mistook, the other is mistaken – it is all open to interpretation.

Tickets to stream Mrs. Harrison are available by going to Indiana Repertory Theatre (irtlive.com) and clicking the BUY NOW button on the opening web page. The show will be available through May 30th.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

Beef & Boards is back!

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At last, a crack in the Covid Curtain – Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre has announced its long awaited reopening with Smoke on the Mountain beginning May 4 and running through June 20. Limited-sized audiences will be offered performances at first, but there is hope that the theatre can get back to more normal operation as soon as is possible.

Several common sense restrictions will be put into place for the reopening as per these points from B&B:

•Seating remains distanced to maintain a minimum of 6′ spacing between parties.
•Masks are required at all times unless eating or drinking.
•Dinners will be plated and brought to your table.
•Arrival times are staggered to avoid crowding in the lobby area.
•Individuals will have their temperature checked upon arrival.
•Ample hand sanitizer is available throughout the theatre.
•Daily cleaning and sanitizing protocols are in place throughout the theatre.
•The cast of Smoke on the Mountain will be vaccinated by the show’s opening.
•We are utilizing the services of Enviro-Master, to kill viruses on all surfaces.
•We have installed UV lighting in all of our air handlers to kill any viruses in the air.
•Our air handlers have been adjusted to provide 25% higher rate of air exchanges per hour than the minimum recommended by the CDC.
•The rate of air exchanges includes 2.5 outdoor air changes per hour.

Following Smoke on the Mountain, Beef and Boards has scheduled these popular shows:

The Sound of Music – June 24 – August 15

NewsiesAugust 19 – October 3

Phantom – October 7 – November 21

A Beef and Boards Christmas – November 26 – December 23

You may order tickets online for any upcoming shows by going to Home (beefandboards.com) or by calling the box office at 317-872-9664.

“Cyrano” by Indiana Repertory Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Indiana Repertory Theatre continues their 2020-21 virtual theatre season with Cyrano, adapted for the stage by Jo Roets, and based on the original play by Edmond Rostand. Rostand’s story is known to be a fictionalized account of a real person – Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-55), who himself was a novelist and playwright. The original five act production was all in verse and was a throwback to Romanticism against the burgeoning Modernism style of the times. It is said that at the opening (December 27, 1897) the audience stood and applauded for a full hour at the play’s conclusion.

Roets’ compact, modern, eighty minute, three actor adaptation relates the essential story arc of the eloquent Cyrano, whose undying, unattainable love for his cousin, the beautiful Roxane, is traversed through the man she most admires – the handsome, yet tongue-tied Christian de Neuvillette.

Stylistically staged by director Janet Allen, on a conceptual set by Russell Metheny, the noteworthy cast plays their parts in a fittingly naturalistic vein, which provides for striking portrayals in contrast to the background choices.

Roxane (Melisa Pereyra) in a scene with Cyrano (Ryan Artzberger) from IRT’s production of “Cyrano”

Veteran IRT actor Ryan Artzberger adds to his impressive roster of roles with his very human Cyrano. He takes the text to new levels of honesty as he unravels the ardent soldier’s conflicting feelings of love and lack of self-value due to his large nose. It is through this portrayal that we encounter most of the play’s themes – love, loyalty, selflessness, honor, and sacrifice. Cyrano’s heart’s delight is palpable as he quietly celebrates his love’s hearing his words of deep affection, albeit through another man’s presence.

That other man, Christian, is well-offered – along with several other characters – by Jeb Burris. Burris sharply conveys the young lover’s lack of depth, his eagerness, and his reaction to opportunities that fall his way. Burris’ added duties as various soldiers, a monk and especially Cyrano’s rival, Count de Guiche, are all well-met with the varying styles and senses necessary to delineate the corps of characters.

Roxane (Melisa Pereyra) meets her love Christian (Jeb Burris) in a scene from IRT’s production of “Cyrano”

The beautiful Roxane is skillfully offered by the beautiful Melisa Pereyra. Ms. Pereyra’s portrayal brings all the woman’s aspects to account. No obedient, obligated female she, Roxane is seen as an advanced lady – needy only for the eloquent speech which she believes Christian has written and spoken to her. Roxane’s intensity on that facet of the story comes through with emotional clarity and Ms. Pereyra’s finishing touches in her realization that it was Cyranos’ words that moved her are indeed heartbreaking.

Christian (Jeb Burris) and Cyrano (Ryan Artzberger) plan a romance in a scene from IRT’s production of “Cyrano”

Added effects of the costumes by Linda Pisano, lighting designed by Xavier Pierce, and an evocative score by Michael Keck, all play a large part in this piece’s impact. And once again, the technicians and camera operators from WFYI television do precise work in the endeavor.

Bottomline: IRT has combined the talents of many to present this classic story in an exceptional presentation. Although we all long to return to our seats in their fine theatre, the attention to quality as is offered by this production is fully appreciated.

Tickets to stream Cyrano are available by going to Indiana Repertory Theatre (irtlive.com) and clicking the BUY NOW button on the opening web page. The show will be available through May 9th.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing
  • – Artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “NO. 6”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

“Ripped from today’s headlines!” is a dated adage often used to sensationalize a movie or show – overly emphasizing the relevance of a story. But playwright T.J. Young’s NO. 6, which is based on a 2001 incident of racial imbalance and it’s aftermath, can be described thusly without any sensational intent. The play offers views of the devastation of communities, lives and, indeed, souls which derive from events that have all too often been reported and re-reported in today’s minute-quick media outlets.

Set in Cincinnati after the acquittal of a police officer involved in the shooting of a young black man, NO. 6 examines many sides of the emotions and troubles rendered by the verdict. Although the story unfolds in a forthright manner, it is full of sudden surprises which I feel leaves me unable to reveal much of it in this critique. The themes, however, are easily identified: distress, lack of trust, change, frustration and hope. I believe it may be noted that the titular No. 6 refers to a theory that a sixth extinction is on its way, wiping out human-kind if it cannot be stopped.

Michael Stewart Allen as Kelly and Milicent Wright as Ella in IRT’s production of “NO. 6”

Milicent Wright leads the cast as Ella, the widowed mother of twin teens – Felix (Jamaal McCray) and Felicia (LaKesha Lorene) whose neighborhood and business eventually become preyed upon by angry protesters. We first meet the family as they set plans to survive the onslaught as best they can. Michael Stewart Allen soon joins the scene as Kelly, a surprising man who is deeply snared in the circumstances in the streets. The cast is solid through a longish exposition, then blossoms in the more intense sections. Especially notable is a scene between Ella and Kelly which reveals the depth of emotions on both sides of the issue in a balanced outburst of feelings and ideas.

Jamaal McCray as Felix and LaKesha Lorene as Felicia in IRT’s production of “NO. 6”

Dwandra Nikole Lampkin directs the action with a deft hand at tempo and pace, and allows the story to unroll even-handedly, with artfulness rather than agenda. Technical aspects are all in order, including Rob Koharchik’s straightforward set, and LeVonne Lindsay’s costuming. Matthew Tibbs inserts sounds of the street with economy. IRT’s virtual production of the play, with a huge assist from local PBS station WFYI, is well-done and easily accessible online.

Bottomline: Although the play shows the anger, hardships and griefs that are damaging our society, it cannot show a solution. Perhaps it can act as the playwright intends: to “open us up to the conversations that are needed to filter out whatever bile is in the waters of our nation”.

Tickets to stream NO. 6 are available by going to Indiana Repertory Theatre (irtlive.com) and clicking the BUY NOW button on the opening web page. The show will be available through April 4th.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

Cardinal Stage Company’s “Ordinary Days”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs. K and I have just finished watching Cardinal Stage Company’s excellent virtual production of Adam Gwon’s sung-thru musical – Ordinary Days – in the comfort of our living room. A stellar cast works through the show’s 19 song catalog with endlessly fine performances, unerringly portraying the coupled stories of the arc of a modern romance and the discovery of a diverse friendship. Mr. Gwon’s popular creation began it’s journey as an Off-West End production in 2008, followed by an Off-Broadway run the following year, before being produced around the globe in the 2010’s.

Director Kate Galvin takes advantage of our theatre community’s challenging Covid-19 misfortune by choosing to stage the musical in film style using both in-home settings and green-screened backgrounds to put her actors in a variety of locales. Her methods give an increased clarity to the numerous places and environments in the show.

The four member cast shines throughout. Julian Diaz-Granados and Kayla Marie Eilers play the romantic couple, Jason and Claire. Their storyline runs the course of a typical twosome’s tale of getting together, growing apart and resolving what their relationship means. They tell their feelings and thoughts with superior vocal talents in both their duets and their solos. Diaz-Granados is gifted with an amazingly versatile range of stylings, while Ms. Eilers can sing sweetly or when necessary belt with the best. Together they provide an engaging account of their characters’ encounters and growth.

Kayla Marie Eilers and Julian Diaz-Granados portray Claire and Jason in Cardinal Stage Company’s production of “Ordinary Days”

Nina Donville and Henry Miller are Deb and Warren, two dissimilar people who come together for friendship’s sake. When Warren finds Deb’s lost dissertation notebook, they begin a comedy of coupling that is filled with both hilarious and meaningful moments. Ms. Donville melds her impressive character acting prowess with a truly wonderful voice. Miller’s talent for playing charm and unyielding idealism are likewise matched by his vocal skills.

Nina Donville and Henry Miller play Deb and Warren in Cardinal Stage Company’s production of “Ordinary Days”

Music director Ray Fellman, who also plays piano as the single accompaniment for the program, must feel very blessed to have the highly diverse and adept cast he inherits here. The sound design by Robert Hornbostel was top-notch, as was the video design and editing by Co-Op Productions.

Bottomline: It was very interesting to see a theatre company take the action off the stage and delve into what amounted to a film-making endeavor. I applaud the methods, which all worked very well for this particular production. Everything comes together quite nicely and we are provided with a very worthwhile entertainment.

Tickets can be purchased for Ordinary Days at Cardinal Stage Company’s webpage Shows | Cardinal Stage . The show is available for streaming through February 21st.

“Tuesdays with Morrie” from Indiana Repertory Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

It has been many years since I last read Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom’s exceptional account of his days visiting his old professor Morrie Schwartz during the man’s final months of life. The book was highly regarded and resulted in an Emmy award winning TV movie in 1999, as well as the 2002 play by Mr. Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher.

Of course, the play presents the noteworthy outlooks of Albom’s old professor, who is dying of ALS, in a rather more immediate way than the book could. Two of my favorite IRT actors, Ryan Artzberger and Henry Woronicz, take the roles of Albom and Morrie, respectively. Both are excellent in their turns, taking Albom’s memories and transforming them into solidly built portrayals of the men and their meetings.

Artzberger accomplishes Albom’s progression from cynical student to coldly successful journalist and on into humanistic advocate through a series of noteably measured steps. As he becomes dutifully bound to his dying teacher, we note that many of the changes suggested by Morrie’s ideas appear in his personality.

Morrie Schwartz (on left, played by Henry Woronicz) and Mitch Albom (Ryan Artzberger) became friends as professor/student at Brandeis University in the late 70’s.

Woronicz also portrays changes, far more severe. Morrie’s path from highly regarded sociology professor, through diagnosis and surrender to his ACL disease, is well marked and effective. It is often painful to watch the actor portray the demise of the man as he loses function and ability. Through it all, Morrie’s high regard for finishing a meaningful life, and his dedication to teaching “to the last” are the triumphant aspects of his being.

Director Benjamin Hanna organizes the action, with assists from scenic designer Ryan Koharchic, costume designs by Guy Clark, plus Xavier Pierce and Melanie Chen Cole, who provided designs for lighting and sound, respectively. The venture leans toward a simplistic approach and results in a very telegenic production, perfectly captured by a crew from local PBS station – WFYI.

Tuesdays with Morrie explores themes of loving, living and dying in a humanistic way.

Bottomline: It is remarkably meaningful to revisit the ideas and thoughts put forth by the piece, especially as a seasoned septuagenarian, which is my circumstance. Morrie’s uncomplicated ideas about living, loving and, finally, dying are strongly conveyed. IRT’s presentation of this virtual play, with an eye on continuance of their mission to entertain and educate in meaningful ways, is perfectly placed in these times.

Tickets to stream Tuesdays with Morrie are available by going to Indiana Repertory Theatre (irtlive.com) and clicking the BUY NOW button on the opening web page. The show will be available through February 21st.

  • – photos by Zach Rosing
  • – artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

“The Dealer Smiles” – the movie

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Today, I am very excited to write about a new film adaptation of a popular play by a local actor/playwright.

It was the summer of 2012 when a good friend of mine, Larry Adams, sent me a DVD of a performance of a play he had written – The Dealer Smiles. When I got around to watching it, it immediately had a surprising impact on me. Later the same day, I asked Mrs K to watch it with me, and she too was duly impressed. The story is about one Matt Pierson, a recently divorced man who is having trouble facing a spiral of regret and bitterness until he meets Josh, a very special man with some powerful insights. It spoke to us in a rather unique and clear way.

What my friend had written, and performed, was an uncommon excursion into some high-level questions which have been posed forever. I wrote about it at the time thusly: “What develops in the arc of the play, is an entertaining, yet deep conversation about life, God, faith, enduring one’s problems and making more of what we are given in this world. There are so many enriching “ah-ha” moments, mixed in with a lot of clever, funny and even ridiculous humor. The subject matter deals with questions we have all asked ourselves. Where is God? Is there a God? – How does He allow such evil to be in our midst?… (but) let me be clear – this is not a religious play – it is more a philosophical discourse. While it does not give any definitive answers – it allows our own interpretations. We do not get conclusions – and yet, we somehow are left with a new understanding – of ourselves among other things. It is a powerful, intelligent, non-judgmental examination of the questions of the ages.”

The play succeeded on many levels – as an entertainment, as a thought-provoking experience – and it spoke to people in a way that was unusually direct and understandable. Larry and his fellow cast member Jaime Johnson began a journey with the play that went through a reworking for Westfield Playhouse, and onto an IndyFringe stage in August of 2013. Again, their efforts drew positive attention. One further readaptation took place at the Westfield venue in 2016.

Laurence Adams as Matt Pierce (right) and Jaime Johnson as Josh – from The Dealer Smiles

Now, Larry has gone to another level with his creation and, with the guidance of film-maker Nathan Crowder (of SILO Cinemaworks), he has produced a movie version of the story. When asked about taking this next step, Larry told me this:

“The impact I’m hoping for is the same as for the play: I’m hoping to stimulate conversation and, I suppose, contemplation of ideas of faith. A great many people have drifted away from faith (whatever the religion) because the very questions this show asks are not only never answered in their churches, synagogues or mosques, they’re not even allowed to be asked. Many people, faced with this dilemma, have simply thrown it all out and walked away, and I believe this leaves a huge hole in the lives of many people, a whole facet of existence left unexplored. I wanted people to know that these questions are legitimate, it’s ok to ask them, and that the journey toward answering them can be a fulfilling and life-altering one.”

After viewing the film, I am very impressed with the Crowder/Adams results. They have melded all the original enriching, entertaining, thought-provoking facets of the play, into a solidly paced, visually attractive piece. The story has been expanded in the film with added scenes – of Matt’s youth, of his dismay during his father’s passing, even scenes of the Dealer himself. Plus the cutting action of video-storytelling adds appeal to the story arc.

Larry Adams and his acting partner, Jaime Johnson are impressive in their roles. Transferring the elements of a play – timing, characterization, emotion – from stage-acting to an on-the-screen performance is tricky stuff, but the duo keeps all the components in fine working order and are top-notch in their portrayals.

Bottomline: Taken all together, this video production richly hits the mark with an inspirational, humorous, sharply dialogued tale we ALL can relate to and learn from.

You can gather more info about the DVD and about the production at The Dealer Smiles (thedealersmilesmovie.com) . The disk is available for purchase for $10 plus mailing.

Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “This Wonderful Life”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

With Indiana Repertory Theatre’s revered, traditional holiday fare A Christmas Carol set aside this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the venerable theatre company has moved on to a virtual entertainment with playwright Steve Murray’s This Wonderful Life, an adaptation of the screenplay for Frank Capra’s iconic holiday film, It’s A Wonderful Life. Directed by Benjamin Hanna and starring IRT regular Rob Johansen, this re-imagining of the beloved story is full of both familiar moments and surprises.

Mr. Johansen is in top-notch form in the role of The Storyteller, springing through characterizations, story points and side bars. Energetically playing every single citizen of Bedford Falls, his creative powers are as elastic as his facial expressions and body movements. His rendition of our hero George Bailey is offered with a deft nod to Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal, while Mr. Potter holds a sharp likeness to Lionel Barrymore’s efforts. Mary Bailey comes through as a gentle spirit, the children are all sweet and endearing, Uncle Billy is as outrageous as we remember him to be, and Angel 2nd Class Clarence Odbody is lovable and charming. Taken all together, Johansen has constructed the Masterwork of his career and hopefully, preserved in video form, we will revisit it for many years to come.

Rob Johansen is chameleon-like is his array of portrayals in IRT’s “This Wonderful Life”

Adding to the grand experience is the thoughtful set design by Rob Koharchik, the skillful costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, lighting by Xavier Pierce, and sound designs by Todd Mack Reischman. WFYI television provided the video production, which was coordinated by Nathan Garrison.

Bottomline: Everything comes together for a truly remarkable and commendable undertaking resulting in an immensely pleasurable holiday special. Johansen’s moving, humorous and skillful performance is a triumph. What we lost due to the cancellation of A Christmas Carol, we gained ten-fold with this new IRT classic.

Virtual tickets can be purchased at irtlive.com or by calling the IRT Ticket Office at 317.635.5252 Tuesday – Thursday from 11 am – 5 pm. 

  • – photos by Zach Rosing
  • – artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

2020 Most Impressive Theatre Awards – Community Theatre

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It’s time for the 10th annual Mitty Awards!

As I wrote in the previous awards post: 2020 has been a year like none other. Most theatres suffered extended shutdowns, lost revenue, trashed schedules and uncertainty for the future. In mid-March, when most production companies halted their output, we had attended a surprising number of productions to start the year off, only to be left off at that point save for two brave shows we gained invitations to. Furthermore, we completely missed celebrating our 10th anniversary online.

I know the entire Indianapolis theatre community, both professional and avocational, long for a full restart to our amazing theatre scene. I truly hope that 2021 will prove to be a banner year of great new shows and renewed attendance.

So it is from a very limited sample of only 5 community theatre offerings that we present 2020’s Most Impressive Theatre winners: (Please note, some categories have, out of necessity, been left off the list this year.)

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Community Theatre Division: Ryan Koharchik’s striking set for Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing was this year’s standout design, featuring a lavish two story exterior and garden.

In the category – Most Impressive Costume Design – Community Theatre Division: Likewise, Adrienne Conces’ costume designs for Civic’s Much Ado About Nothing extended the lavishness of the show’s theme.

In the category – Most Impressive Newcomer – Community Theatre Division: I still consider fifth grader Sadie Cohen a newcomer, although I have seen her perform on local stages in the past. This young lady impressed me yet again, this time as Small Alison in Footlite Musical’s Fun Home. From the review: “Ms. Cohen shows a lot of stage presence through her acting scenes and knocks her solo, “Ring of Keys’, out of the park.”

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Supporting Role – Community Theatre Division: Tim Spradlin gives a noteworthy performance as the father, Bruce, in Footlite Musical’s Fun Home. “Spradlin takes on an immensely emotional role – with multiple levels of anxieties, improprieties, sorrows and joys. This is a complicated man, and Spradlin’s gifts are heightened throughout in his portrayal, resulting in a winning performance.”

In the category – Most Impressive Ensemble in a Play – Community Theatre Division: This small group of supporting actors worked hard to advance the story of two unsure people on a First Date. Footlite Musical’s production featured Austin Stodghill as Casey’s BFF, Reggie; Darrin Gowan as The Waiter; Ben Fraley as Aaron’s dating adviser, Gabe; DonaMarie Kelley as Aaron’s ex, Allison; and Hannah Janowicz, who doubles as Casey’s sister, Lauren, and as Aaron’s mother.

In the category – Most Impressive Duo in Lead Roles – Community Theatre Division: In Carmel Community Players’ The Last Five Years, Nina Stilabower as Cathy and Daniel Draves as Jaime impressively work through this unusual musical show. “Both are veteran performers who possess wonderful vocal talents and acting abilities – and both come through with amazing portrayals. Ms. Stilabower is near perfect as the struggling actress Cathy. Her remarkable voice, coupled with a winning sense of mood and emotion, makes her performance memorable…Mr. Draves…(as) the successful novelist Jaime, pulls together a sensitive and well-thought out characterization, with powerful song interpretations…”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role – Community Theatre Division: Kristen Cutler does a masterful job in her role for Footlite Musicals’ Fun Home. “Kristin Cutler takes the central role of Alison. Part narrator, part scene-influencer, she takes us back through various stages of her life and her blossoming as a lesbian…Ms. Cutler has a perfect, steadily-calm countenance for her duties, as well as a terrific singing voice…”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction – Community Theatre Division: For Footlite Musicals’ Fun Home, “Director Maria Matters has gathered an outstanding community theatre level cast to tell the story and has managed to deftly propel them with just the right levels of tragic and humorous choices. Ms. Matters’ sense of the themes at work here is invariably on-the-mark. The result is a highly emotional odyssey for her audience, who gave it a much deserved standing ovation.”

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Play – Community Theatre Division: Civic Theatre wins with their wonderfully concise production of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. “The play is well-directed, most of the action being readily understood (hey, this IS Shakespeare), with apt portrayals by (Director) Tzucker’s crew of players… this is a nicely compact Shakespearean experience – a pleasure to look at, entertaining to take in. Civic Theatre should perhaps do more of the Bard’s offerings – with their amazing capabilities for stagecraft and production, there are many from his folios which they could provide for their followers in an impressive manner.”

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Musical – Community Theatre Division: Footlite Musicals’ Fun Home was presented just before the shut down and it left a sharp impression. Here’s what I wrote in the review: “Footlite Musicals’ Fun Home is an exceptional piece of community theatre. It is a moving, informative, and important theatrical undertaking. Full of amazing performances, you’ll be well-rewarded by the company’s efforts when you attend.”

That’s it for another year. Congrats to all those who were included. I know this has been an impossible year for all theatre lovers and practioners, and I join everyone in the hope that we will be able to get back to some normalcy soon.

2020 Most Impressive Theatre Awards – Professional Theatre

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It’s time for the 10th annual Mitty Awards!

2020 has been a year like none other. Most theatres suffered extended shutdowns, lost revenue, trashed schedules and uncertainty for the future. In mid-March, when most production companies halted their output, we had attended a surprising number of productions to start the year off, only to be left off at that point save for two brave shows we gained invitations to. Furthermore, we completely missed celebrating our 10th anniversary online.

I know the entire Indianapolis theatre community, both professional and avocational, long for a full restart to our amazing theatre scene. I truly hope that 2021 will prove to be a banner year of great new shows and renewed attendance.

So it is from a very limited sample of 9 professional offerings that we present 2020’s Most Impressive Theatre winners: (Please note, some categories have, out of necessity, been left off the list this year.)

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Professional Theatre Division: IRT’s production of Murder on the Orient Express was, among other things, a wonder for the eyes. The set by Robert M. Koharchik was truly astonishing in it’s polish and proficiency. From the review: “Pivoting on a large 3 sectioned turntable, the design allows for: 1) a general area used for the opening Istanbul hotel scenes as well as subsequent less-specific onboard areas, 2) a set of three train compartments where much of the action is featured, and 3) a dining room style area with tables and chairs where many scenes of Poirot’s investigative interviews take place. These diverse areas are all fashioned with luxurious details: richly crafted wood paneling and shiny brass appointments – fine points of the opulence that was a special quality of the Orient Express. Finally a set of “windows” rises at the rear, indicating the scene’s whereabouts, whether it be in Istanbul, on the moving Express, or stuck in the snows of a mountain pass.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical –Professional Theatre Division: Kyra Leeds wins this category for her heartfelt portrayal of Tony’s “wanna-be” girlfriend, Annette in Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Saturday Night Fever. Her rendition of “If I Can’t Have You” was a winner: “Soulfully offered by (Ms.) Leeds, the slower form resonates more fully as a sorrowful reaction than the original disco beat version would and is one of the highlights of the show.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical –Professional Theatre Division: Mario Almonte III lit up the stage as Adolpho Pirelli in ATI’s lavish Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The precision of his characterization was a delight to behold, as he took over the stage in his scenes.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play – Professional Theatre Division: From Beef and Boards’ production of Steel Magnolias, Deb Wims gave a sparkling performance as beauty shop operator Truvy. “(Ms.) Wims proves she is more than purely a musical performer with a terrific turn… Ms. Wims delves into the lady’s fun-loving nature with a genuine touch of lowdown southern spunk.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Actors Theatre of Indiana’s spectacular offering of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street featured the most dynamic performance of the year. “Don Farrell leads the proceedings in the title role with a Broadway level performance. His talents are undeniable as he ranges through the Barber’s many levels and emotions, never failing to capture the incessant passion of his vengeful heart.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Beef and Boards’ February production of Saturday Night Fever introduced us to the charms and talents of Amanda Tong. “As Tony’s comely dance partner – Stephanie Mangano, Ms. Tong brings her remarkable talents to the fore and is also quite striking.” 

In the category – Most Impressive Actor and Actress in Lead Roles in a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Phoenix Theatre’s thoughtful The Agitators shows the remarkable friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Lauren Briggeman plays Susan B. Anthony and Jerome Beck handles Frederick Douglass. They accomplish near perfection. “Their portrayals extend out from the stage, into our minds (and hearts), with flawless clarity. Both leaders are offered with strong convictions, yet it is details of their frailties that complete the richness of the portrayals.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Director Mikael Burke finds a trove of deep truth for his actors to work through in Phoenix Theatre’s The Agitators by Mat Smart.In the end, it is the connection between these two important Americans that is most abundantly played. There is support, there is understanding, there is love for each other’s cause and personage. The actors’ dynamic turns precisely show these facets of the Douglass/Anthony friendship, which many of us never knew existed.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Faced with restaging ATI’s Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, from his original small stage concept (for ATI’s Studio Theatre) into an expansive setting (the huge Palladium stage in Carmel), director Robert J. Roberts’ inventiveness and his allowance of the audience’s imagination made the changeover a seamless endeavor.

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Phoenix Theatre presented a remarkably effective story with their production of the history laden The Agitators. “Playwright Smart has said that his aim in imagining the discussions engaged in by these two agents-for-change is to resist putting them on a pedestal, as they themselves were fighters for opportunity on a level basis. His research into their lives and personalities has afforded him the confidence to create a piece that relates not only their ideas and conflicts, but also their true personalities, i.e. – Douglass’ charisma and Ms. Anthony’s tenacity.”

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Production – Professional Theatre Division: Two very dissimilar presentations tie in this category both from ATI: their expanded production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and their two man mystery show – Murder for Two. In the former, the impressive cast matched the oversized venue stage in energy and vision. augmented by Janna Hymes’ apt leadership of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra (and the Indianapolis Arts Chorale). The immensely complex Sondheim score came through with flawless precision.

Murder for Two was another matter: “two talented performers, collaborating on stage for 90+ minutes, offering a cleverly silly musical murder mystery – one playing a police detective wannabe, the other portraying a literal room full of people, both playing the piano… Directed by Tony Clements, with musical direction by Stephen Goers, the adept duo (Adam Lasalle, as Officer Marcus Moscowicz and David Corlew, as everyone else in the room) exhibit crisp and precise comedic skills and over-the-top musical talents for the cartoonishly hilarious, madcap paced, endlessly ingenious musical comedy.”

That will do it for this year’s awards. Congrats to all those who were included, and a thank you to all the city’s professional performers. I know this has been an impossible year and I join everyone in the hope that we will be able to get back to some normalcy soon.

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