“Appoggiatura” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Indiana Repertory Theatre continues its 2017-18 season with James Still’s completely wonderful Appoggiatura, directed by Peter Amster, with musical direction and arrangements by Gregg Coffin. This delightfully original piece takes us on a trip to Venice, filled with music, longings, laughter and fresh encounters with the past.

Amster’s superb staging, with significant assists by scenic designer Lee Savage’s immense Venetian set, alongside Alexander Ridgers quite magical lighting design and Tracy Dorman’s perfect costumes, guides us on the outing and its compelling storyline of three travel companions, lost at times, and looking for answers to a variety of important questions.


from left: Tom Aulino, Casey Hoekstra, Susan Pellegrino, and Andrea San Miguel in in a scene from IRT’s production of “Appoggiatura”.

Susan Pellegrino takes the role of Helen, who is traveling with granddaughter Sylvie – played by Andrea San Miguel, and old friend Chuck (“it’s Charles”) – offered by Tom Aulino, on their grand tour to memories and discoveries. Casey Hoekstra’s native Venetian, Marco, joins the trio as “tour guider”.

Ms. Pelligrino and Mr. Aulino are impeccable as two elder tourists, linked by their love for a common person, Gordon, who first married Helen, then later partnered with Charles. His passing has had a profound effect on them both and they have traveled to Europe in the hope of finding something to perhaps fill that void – an understanding, a recollection, a new consciousness. Andrea San Miguel tenders her Sylvie as a lively and open-to-anything type traveler: different for her companions – younger, freer, while discovering she is not quite ready for a commitment at home. She handles well a dual role, in fact, as she also appears as another Venetian visitor – Helen, who is on a honeymoon trip with her new husband, Gordon.

Mr. Hoekstra’s Marco is both comic relief and truth-sayer. Hoekstra does a complete job with the accented character, making him a sort of lovably earnest man, searching for elusive successes in his worklife and in his lovelife. He also plays a duel role – portraying the honeymooning Gordon as well.


Helen (Susan Pellegrino) meets honeymooning couple Helen (Andrea San Miguel) and Gordon (Casey Hoekstra) in a scene from IRT’s production of “Appoggiatura”.

An enchanting trio of musicians wanders the streets of Venice for our pleasure – enriching this setting with some exquisite performances with vocals and on violin, guitar and accordion. Talented musicians all – Andrew Mayer, Paul DeBoy, and Katrina Yaukey, offer various minor characterizations as well – everything from an amusing array of international tour guides, to Ms. Yaukey’s plaintive online Kate, DeBoy’s memory-losing Gordon and Mayer’s waiter, gondolier and Vivaldi.


from left: musician/actors Paul DeBoy, Katrina Yaukey, and Andrew Mayer in IRT’s production of “Appoggiatura”.

“Appoggiatura” is a term for the musical technique of adding a tone, usually sustained, which delays the cadence and often leads to the resolution. It is an unusually hard word to title a play with, but it entirely suits its purpose – labeling exactly what is happening as the story unfolds.

Bottomline: James Still’s Appoggiatura is magical in its presentation, moving in its story-telling, delightfully charactered, and noteworthy in its production values, with first-rate acting and design. Mrs K recognizes it as “one of the best plays I have seen”. It is undoubtedly a “must-see” – if you can see it, do yourself that favor!

Appoggiatura will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through March 31st. For specific information on dates, show times, and ticket orders, visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Ed Stewart



“Lucky Me” at Epilogue Players

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Poster crop

reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Epilogue Players continues their 2017-18 season with Lucky Me, by Robert Caisley. This rather dark comedy is directed by Susan Rardin in her directorial debut, and presents the very original story of a woman, Sara, whose luck in all matters has gone south after a tragic occurrence in her life. Light bulbs blow out, fish die, cats flee, objects fly through her window and she is beset by some unlikely injuries. The latest injury accident puts her in contact with Tom, a friendly and empathetic TSA agent and new neighbor, who tries to help her find her way to a new beginning. Standing in the way of that restart is Sara’s blind father Leo, a complicated man with his own life issues, who hopes to “protect” his daughter from all harm.

Lucky 1

from left: Sonja Distefano (Sara), Kelly Keller (Tom), and Larry Haworth (Leo) in a scene from Epilogue Players’ “Lucky Me”

Sonja Distefano takes the role of the troubled Sara, deftly playing her with an almost shell-shocked persona. Her complex father Leo is handled by Larry Haworth. His curmudgeon is alternately angry, conniving, forgetful, delusional, contemptible and rude – a feast of characteristics which Haworth displays with skill. Tom is offered by Kelly Keller, in what is the best performance of the show. He mixes the TSA agent’s various emotions and desires in a polished and nuanced performance, concocting a believablity factor that comes rare. Mike Bauerle completes the cast as Sara’s Ukrainian landlord, Uri. His comic choices provide a nice new addition to the action in the second act.

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Mike Bauerle (Uri) with Kelly Keller (Tom) in a scene from Epilogue Players’ “Lucky Me”

The well-cast play is beset with some problems, I’m afraid. Uneven timing issues, specifically pacing and tempo, prevail. The presence of good pacing lends itself well to the set em up, knock em down nature of the comedy. These smart and snappy back-and-forth dialogue exchanges, which the script implies (and needs), do not find their way into many of the scenes – however, on the few occasions it does – it works marvelously.

If this had been a preview night, I might have accounted for this lack of sparkle as a result of preparation or nerves, but the performance I saw was the third before a paying audience and so I must assume it was an omission in the prep. Or perhaps it could have been a low energy factor – a result of the long production week of tech rehearsals, dress rehearsals and opening night that occurs sometimes by end of the first weekend. Whatever the cause, there seemed a lack of “pop” in the cues which did affect a number of the scenes in the performance I saw. A quick-paced line rehearsal could well be the cure.

Lucky cast

The cast of “Lucky Me” (from left) Larry Haworth, Mike Bauerle, Kelly Keller and Sonja Distefano

Bottomline: A good enough first-time effort by director Rardin. I’ll look forward to her subsequent turns. This production features a veteran cast of players and while there are the noted factors that could be sparked a bit more, the story is none-the-less original and engaging.

Lucky Me continues at Epilogue Players through March 18. For more information about dates, times and reservation go to http://www.epilogueplayers.com or call 317.926.3139.

  • – Photography: Duane Mercier, Rann Destefano

“American Buffalo” at Carmel Community Players

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

In the final show at its versatile Clay Terrace venue (more on that later), CCP offers up David Mamet’s vividly dark and comic depiction of small-time crooks in big city USA, American Buffalo. Lori Raffel ends her short directing hiatus by leading an all-star cast consisting of three award-winning actors in this impressive production.

The 90 minute play tells the tale of three low-end criminals: Donny Dubrow, the owner of a run-down Chicago inner city junk shop – played by Larry Adams; his dim-witted gofer, Bobby, offered by Daniel Shock; and their quick-tempered, cocky friend and colleague, Teach, who is brought to life by Earl Campbell. These characters work through themes of friendship, loyalty and especially business and opportunity, although they are, in fact, failures at these four aspects of successful living.

The story centers around a buffalo nickel, purchased from the store by a customer for an impressive sum, which sets off the idea in Don’s mind that this person has a great knowledge of coins, has rooked him by paying much less than the coin is worth, and must be a collector holding a set of very valuable coins. So, in the name of “business”, he plans a heist of the man’s property, using Bobby as his operator. When Teach learns of the plot, he sees a lucrative opportunity for himself and insists that Don should forget about using Bobby for the job, and instead employ himself, as he is obviously far more qualified and experienced. However, Don worries at first that this will hurt Bobby, whom he has taken under his wing – providing fatherly advice about life and how to live it correctly. Eventually, Don agrees that Teach would be better for the job, but only if their poker-buddy, Fletcher is also involved – an idea that really sets off the tempestuous Teach, who accuses Fletcher of being a card cheat and unreliable. These conflicts provide a view of all three men’s ineptness in all the theme areas.

Ms. Raffel expertly directs with a razor sharp touch, with special attention to pacing and tempo – matching Mamet’s quick and harsh wordings. Language is a huge part of the play’s impact and intentions, by providing a graphic cloak showing us who the characters are, as well as revealing their holdings and hubris, their frailties and protections. Vulgarities abound as the men, especially Teach and Don, use the cover of foul language to deal with their lives’ messes and upsets. Friends are diminished with curses and oaths. Loyalties are expressed with the same coarse phraseology. The players give their characters this phony bravado, so much a part of their being, without batting an eye.

Indeed, the actors work seamlessly together, but this is a familiar trio. Ten years ago, almost to the day, they appeared together on CCP’s Studio 15 stage in a very well-received production of ART by Yasmina Reza. (Their director for that production was yours truly.)

Adams’ Don is torn between successfully advancing his business, albeit through larceny, and treating poor dim-witted Bobby with a measure of respect that the poor guy is not very used to. The conflict is well-conveyed as Adams steps through ring upon ring of frustration. Bobby is a sympathetic character, as adroitly rendered by Shock, always trying to do the right thing, but never sure what the right thing is. Teach is a hair-triggered fury in the hands of Campbell. His quick-paced outlay of the man’s self-centered nature, often with comic nonsensical results, is a strong feature of the show.


from left: Earl Campbell (Teach), Larry Adams (Don), and Daniel Shock (Bobby) reunite in    David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” at CCP.

Although American Buffalo is being offered as a special addition to the CCP season, it holds a significant place in the theatre group’s history. It will be the final show to be done at the Clay Terrace venue which the group has used for the past 8+ years. A search is on for a new home and arrangements have been made so that the next show scheduled – Ragtime – will be presented in the auditorium at the Ivy Tech campus in Noblesville.


Bottomline: This event was a tremendous treat for me on a number of levels: first of all, it was a remarkable production of one of Mamet’s most popular plays; secondly, I was able to see a trio of fine actors, whom I have such a great personal affinity for, splendidly reunited on stage; thirdly, it was wonderful to welcome Lori Raffel back to the fold, as she is one of the most outstanding directors we have in our community; and finally, a bittersweet moment, saying goodbye to a theatre venue which has provided me with many wonderful memories, both as an audience member and as a director.

Carmel Community Player’s American Buffalo continues at their Clay Terrace venue through March 4th. Coarse language should be noted. To learn information about times and dates, visit their website: http://www.carmelplayers.org or call 317.815.9387.

  • – Title banner and cast photo provided by Carmel Community Players




“Sense and Sensibility” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

When Jane Austen had her novel “Sense and Sensibility” published in 1811 (with the author line: ‘by a lady’), she could have never imagined the impact her story would have for the next 200+ years. Not only has it been endlessly ‘in print’, it has been adapted for film, for the stage, in parodies, and reimagined with a 21st Century setting. A most recent reworking was offered in 2016 by Kate Hamill, working with the BEDLAM theatre group in New York City. It is this modern adaptation that is presented by the Civic, directed by John Michael Goodson.

Ms. Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility seems to follow the original story and characters faithfully enough. (Note: my only previous exposure to the story has been the wonderful 1995 eponymous film with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet). The modern aspects of this adaptation come about mainly through the staging elements that are used here. An open stage with a gated backdrop becomes all the many areas needed for the 35 scenes that play out for the audience – through furniture placement, set rotation and a dash of audience imagination. Players are re-charactered with the addition (or subtraction) of a costume piece or with a hairdo alteration, rain sound is made for us with wandering rain sticks, a rambunctious pack of dogs appears, and a marvelously depicted horse is nothing more that an actor performing a horse’s gait via a clever dance-step. Each of these ideas works very well on the vast Tarkington stage.

In case you don’t know, the story concerns the plight of the Dashwood family, made up of a second wife and her 3 daughters, after the husband/father dies. Because of difficulties with strict inheritance laws and the father’s unsympathetic oldest son and his wife, they are left without means. The two oldest sisters are further left in the position of being far less attractive for good marriages due to the loss of their father and any reliable income.


From left: Matt Anderson, Abby Gilster, Emily Jackson, Bradford Reilly, Marni Lemons, Elisabeth Giffin Speckman, Justin Klein, Morgan Morton, Emily Bohn and Joshua Ramsey perform a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Sense and Sensibility”

Civic newcomer Emily Bohn stars as older sister Elinor, whose countenance is very down-to-earth and whose manner is to absorb most of life’s challenges to her future with a certain grace. Ms. Bohn plays her role with a steady hand, and is a pleasure to watch as she manages Emily’s perspective. Younger sister Marianne is brought to life by Morgan Morton, who also makes her Civic debut. Ms. Morton is very genuine is her role, giving the overly romantic and soft-hearted middle sister every ounce of vulnerability we might expect. Youngest sister Margaret is offered by yet another debuter, Elisabeth Giffin Speckman. Ms. Speckman, who is also featured as Anne, does solid work with both characters, and manages to garner many of the laughs in the show.

Several Civic regulars handle secondary characters – Carrie Neal is a sweet and motherly Mrs. Dashwood; Justin Klein is adroit and effective in his series of portrayals: as John Dashwood (the late Mr. Dashwood’s first child and only son), as John Willoughby, a scoundrel who wins then wounds Marianne’s heart, and as the aforementioned horse; and Joshua Ramsey is perfect as Elinor’s favorite, Edward Ferrars (with a quick stopover as Edward’s áffected brother, Robert).

Dashwood Family

The Dashwoods: Carrie Neal as Mrs. Dashwood, Emily Bohn as Elinor, Morgan Morton as Marianne, and Elisabeth Giffin Speckman as Margaret.

Marni Lemons is absolutely wonderful in her turn as the good-natured busybody, and friend to the young women – Mrs. Jennings; Matt Anderson is a walking excitement as Sir John Middleton; Bradford Reilly is solid and straightforward as the kindly and sincere Colonel Brandon; Abby Gilster finds all the fun in Lucy Steele, while balancing it with the snobbishness of John’s wife, Fanny; And Emily Jackson fills out her roles as the Lady Middleton and the elderly Mrs. Ferrars with polished efforts.

These actors move through the action of their scenes, their stagehand assignments, and their background character duties (very correctly listed as “Gossips”) with well-practiced precision, which accounts for a good deal of the audience’s enjoyment of the piece.


From left: Joshua Ramsey, Justin Klein, Bradford Reilly, and Matt Anderson in Civic’s production of “Sense and Sensibility”

The costumes by Adrienne Conces set just the right tone for the period and for the characterizations, and Ryan Koharchik’s contributions in scenic and lighting design are most impressive, to say the least.

Small problems with actor diction can and should be addressed here. There are some complicated passages that go by undistinguishably, and the unmiked state of the actors should demand extra care in pronouncing the English accented lines.

Bottomline: Overall, the presentation of this treasured story is a truly pleasant two hours. I recommend it both for its familiarity and its innovative staging.

Sense and Sensibility continues at the Booth Tarkington theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through February 17th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

  • – Photo from Civic Theatre

“Mamma Mia” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Many of us, maybe most of us, have seen the 2008 film version of Mamma Mia, the romantic comedy about a young bride’s attempt to find her father, set in Greece, and festooned with songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA. Fewer of us have seen the stage version, at least locally, unless you are among the estimated 60 million who have attended the show worldwide since it opened in 1999.

Beef and Boards brings us a grand opportunity to attend and enjoy a top-level edition of the show, which, under the inspired guidance of director/choreographer Ron Morgan, rocked the packed house at the local dinner theatre last evening with a breathless and eye- popping presentation.

Mamma Mia is, in a word, fantastic, with a prize cast of outstanding singers, dancers and actors, who carry us away with their amazing vocal talents while performing some of the most inspired choreographic work I have witnessed from Mr. Morgan.

Mamma Mia at Beef and Boards

Donna Sheridan (Amy Bodnar), left, is shocked to see three former lovers (from left) Sam Carmichael (Mark Epperson), Harry Bright (Don Farrell), and Bill Austin (Jeff Stockberger). Donna’s daughter, Sophie (Rachelle Rose Clark), seated, watches her reaction.

Broadway veteran Amy Bodnar stars as single mom Donna Sheridan, alongside Rachelle Rose Clark who plays her daughter/the bride – Sophie. These two uniquely gifted performers give remarkable turns, especially Ms. Bodnar’s show-stopping “The Winner Takes It All” and Ms. Clark’s lovely “I Have a Dream”. They are supported onstage by a plethora of talent – beginning with Donna’s cohorts from a past incarnation – Donna and the Dynamos: the thrice married Tanya, played by the lovely Jalynn Steele and the nebbish Rosie, played with great comic skill by Lanene Charters. The combined trio offer up outstanding renditions of “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper”.

Super Trouper

The Dynamos, Donna (Amy Bodnar), center, Tanya (Jalynn Steele), left, and Rosie (Lanene Charters) sing “Super Trouper”.

Add in a talented trio of males – the prospective fathers (all having had romances with Donna, the better to confuse Sophie’s search for her dad) played by Mark Epperson as architect Sam Carmichael, Jeff Stockberger as travel writer Bill Austin, and Don Farrell as Brit banker Harry Bright. Then – count in Sophie’s fiance, Sky, played by Will Leonard, and her bridesmaids – Ali and Lisa, Chloe Kounadis and Lauren Morgan, respectively. All in all – with the 10 additional ensemble members, you have a huge cast onstage, performing incredible dance routines and songs, wearing Jill Kelly Howe’s vibrant arrangement of costumes, to the orchestral offerings of Terry Woods’ fine B&B orchestra – I tell you, it was pretty darn remarkable and impressive!


One of Ron Morgan’s incredible creations: “Voulez-Vous” with the entire “Mamma Mia” cast.

There are way too many highlights from the show to include them all. The entire female ensemble’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” was a standout number, as was “Does Your Mother Know?” with Jalynn Steele and company. Jeff Stockberger and Lanene Charters join forces for a hilarious encounter, as Bill and Rosie discover each other in “Take a Chance on Me”; and certainly the grand finale is an unbelievable display of talents, colors and sound.

Does Your Mother Know

Jalynn Steele as Tanya is spotlighted in her rendition of “Does Your Mother Know?”

Bottomline: You simply do not want to miss what has to be near the top of the list of superior productions that Beef and Boards has offered us over it’s 45 year history. And that goes for Chef Odell’s exceptional buffet for this show, as well. There is not much more I can say to get across what a truly phenomenal theatre experience this is. I loved it – go see it!

Momma Mia continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through April 8th. 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

“33 Variations” at Mainstreet Productions

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reviewed by Larry Adams

In 1823 the well-known music composer and publisher Anton Diabelli published a set of 33 “variations” on a waltz, written between 1819 and 1823 by famed composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Widely regarded as one of the greatest of all piano works, its origins are clouded in mystery. Diabelli had asked a number of composers each to produce only a single variation of his simple waltz, to be compiled and used in a charity project; why did Beethoven, one of the most famous and sought-after composers of his time, subsequently devote years to the effort, seemingly transforming what should have been at most a minor favor into a grand obsession? It is this question that drives Dr. Katherine Brandt to her own obsession, as she races a deadly and debilitating disease to find answers both professional and personal in Moises Kaufman’s 2009 play.

Mainstreet Productions’ 33 Variations is an incredibly complex theatrical endeavor and may in fact be the greatest “team effort” production I have ever had the pleasure to attend. Creating a series of short scenes set in two different centuries (and sometimes in both simultaneously), the acting, visual effects, set design, music- and even scene changes and props- are all not merely integral but interwoven in the play, necessitating an unparalleled degree of cooperation, coordination and trust between the participants to run seamlessly and smoothly- and seamlessly and smoothly it did indeed run during the opening night performance this past Friday. The various elements of the production are each so essential to the whole that it is difficult to know where to start in a review; however, as a sometimes thespian myself, I’ll, of course, start with the actors. You behind-the-scenes folks are probably used to that anyway.

Leading this exceptional cast is Monica Reinking as Dr. Brandt, a musicologist battling the slow, inexorable progression of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a rare neurologic disorder otherwise known as ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” (As a side note, Main Street Productions has partnered with the ALS Association Indiana Chapter for this production, donating to the charity $2.00 for every ticket sold.) Although Ms. Reinking’s take on the assertive Dr. Brandt is initially perhaps a bit too acerbic to generate the necessary level of audience sympathy, her subsequent portrayal of the emotional and physical toll of the disease interacting with the professional and personal struggles of her life is simultaneously marvelous and painful to behold. In what must be an exhausting role, Ms. Reinking shines as the dramatic linchpin of the story.

Doug Stanton, last seen in Westfield Playhouse’s 2017 comedy “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married,” gets to show his dramatic chops as Beethoven, often oblivious to the practicalities of the real world as his own progressive malady, deafness, threatens to take away the world of his music. Stanton is a commanding presence during each of his scenes, even when not saying a word during a very creative staging of a conversation to which history was left only one side.

A true standout in the production is Katelin Reeves as Clara, Dr. Brandt’s semi-estranged daughter. Ms. Reeves’ biography boasts a background steeped in theatrical training, and it shows; her natural and seemingly effortless handling of the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship as well as a blossoming romance lend credibility to dialogue that at times, quite frankly, threatens to strain it.

Steve Jerk, whom I have somehow managed to miss in all his previous stage efforts, is a true delight as Anton Diabeilli. I wish I could come up with a grand reason or erudite phrase to back up that assessment, but I have to admit I’m hard pressed to pin down in words just exactly why I enjoyed his performance so much. Alas, I’m a doctor, not a theater critic- really- so I’m not sure I can sum it up much better than “he acted real good.” Don’t take my word for it- please- just don’t miss him in this show.

Bridging the interactions between Beethoven and Diabelli is Anton Schindler, played with aplomb in both comedic and dramatic moments by Dave Hoffman. I particularly enjoyed his scenes with Jerk; the two have shared a stage before in Carmel Community Players’ “The Odd Couple,” and the camaraderie and trust in each other are evident in “33 Variations” as well.

Rounding out the cast are Susan Hill as Dr. Ladenburger, Brandt’s colleague, and Kelly Keller as Mike Clark, Brandt’s nurse and Clara’s love interest. Ms. Hill nails the gradual thawing of her character’s relationship with Dr. Brandt, giving the audience some of the most tender and amusing moments of the show. Mr. Keller does a fine job with a role that seems somewhat unnecessary and tacked on by the playwright. In a show that undoubtedly already strains the attention span of modern day audiences, the love story does little to advance the main narrative and is unfortunately encumbered by some of the most cringe-worthy romantic dialogue since Anakin met Padme. A scene in which the two potential lovebirds share a first date, however, is both sweet and hilarious, and Keller runs with it, much to the enjoyment of all in the audience.

A unique feature of 33 Variations is the presence of a pianist on stage at all times, unseen by the characters, but periodically providing musical accompaniment to the scenes through the use of the titular variations. Mainstreet Productions is absolutely blessed to have secured Kyle Thomas for this critical role, an experienced performer who can perhaps relate to Beethoven better than most, as Kyle himself is “profoundly deaf,” according to his bio. His efforts to overcome this challenge are well spent; not only does the music add to the overall effect of the show, but his talent at the keyboard is such that, as my wife Anita commented afterwards, “I could listen to him forever.”

The crew list in the program for 33 Variations is extensive, and yet I find it hard to imagine how so much was accomplished by so few, and I was singularly impressed with the synergies each department added to the others. John Sampson’s set, for example, is appropriately simple and evocative, but is raised to new heights with lighting and visual effects that are surprisingly sophisticated for a small community theater. Accents- the bane of many a performer’s existence- abound in this production, and, although dropped a bit on occasion, show clear evidence of work with a “Dialect Coach,” making them authentic yet clear to the audience. Costuming, particularly for the 19th Century characters, had to be a nightmare, but appears genuine and is used to great effect. Each of these “departments” deserves a round of applause as great as the actors receive.

A particular word of praise for the stage manager and backstage crew. The scene changes in “33 Variations” are relentless and, if not handled swiftly and smoothly, would absolutely kill this show. The fact that they are barely noticeable is a testament to the crew’s skill, preparation and commitment. And how they managed to store all the props, costumes (and actors!) behind the set is a magic trick worthy of David Copperfield.

There is only one reason that all the pieces of a show this complex can fit together so precisely, and that is the presence of a strong director. Jan Jamison, who after last year’s Encore Awards ceremony has more hardware than a Home Depot, has built a reputation now as a director not afraid to take a chance with challenging and often underperformed material. As both an actor and an audience member, I appreciate this inclination.

In her Director’s Notes, Ms. Jamison describes this play as “masterful.” I would not go that far. Though it often soars, Kaufman’s dialogue is at times clunky and his sentiment heavy handed and schmaltzy. The cast, crew and director of this production rise above these shortcomings, however, making Westfield Playhouse’s 33 Variations a theatrical experience not to be missed.

33 Variations continues at Mainstreet Productions’ Westfield Playhouse through Febraury 18th. Find out more information about dates and tickets at http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org or by calling 317.402.3341.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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bannerreviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs. K and I kicked off our big theatre weekend with Actors Theatre of Indiana’s opening night presentation of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The original 2005 Broadway production was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two – including Best Book. It’s a very successful musical – with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin – which has spread to theatres all over the USA and indeed around the world.

Director Michael Blatt has found an uber-skilled cast of players for his staging and, with the help of musical director Brent E. Marty and choreographer Carol Worcel, his efforts provide a sparkling program of wonderful musical and comic performances. While the show’s thin premise of a middle-school spelling bee is stretched to the max, the resulting array of characters and many hilarious one-lined jokes, make the show highly entertaining, and full of pleasant surprises. Clever arrangements of songs abound, as well.


The cast of spellers in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”: clockwise from front left, Arianne Villareal as Marcy, Emily Crowley as Olive, Brett Mutter as Barfée, Adee David as Logainne, Keith Potts as Chip, and Danny Kingston as Leaf.

The show’s cast, led by ATI newcomers Brett Mutter as word-nerd supreme William Morris Barfée and Emily Crowley as his rival/new friend Olive Ostrovsky, is a treasury of talent. Mutter’s fine turn as the rather touchy (and mono-nostriled) Barfée is an undeniable highlight of the show. His spot-on characterization, full of many little details and nuances, is further augmented by his wonderful singing talent. Ms. Crowley is perfect as the diminutive Olive, also making the most of her impressive musical abilities. Her rendition in “The I Love You Song” (along with wayward “parents” Judy Fitzgerald and Johnnie Taylor) is one of the most beautiful numbers in the song-filled show.

Keith Potts illuminates Chip Tolentino, the pubescent reigning spelling champ, with a witty performance, including the unique “Chip’s Lament”; Adee David brings the desperately libbed-out Logainne Swartzandgrubenierre to life with an energetic accounting; Danny Kingston is marvelously vulnerable as the challenged youth, Leaf Coneybear; and Arianne Villereal is perfect as the exceptional Marcy Park, who is especially winning in her matter of fact rendition of “I Speak Six Languages”.


Brett Mutter stars as William Morris Barfée in ATI’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”.

Judy Fitzgerald, Doug Trapp, and Johnnie Taylor add plenty of additional texture with strong offerings as past champion Rona Lisa Peretti, spelling bee moderator Vice Principal Douglas Panch, and official Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney, respectively. Four additional spelling bee “cast members” are selected from the audience pre-show and opening night was graced with a more-than-able grouping for this assignment.

Technically, P. Bernard Killian’s “gymnatorium” set design is perfectly rendered. The four piece orchestra, led by Mr. Marty, provides a flawless accompaniment to the proceedings. Costumes by Donna Jacobi add much to the characterizations.

Bottomline: This lively show has all the ingredients: great songs, some very funny lines and bits, a few surprises, and a great cast (creating a memorable set of characters) which is supported by the wonderful talents of director Blatt, choreographer Ms. Worcel, and musical director Marty. And I have a feeling that my friend Kevin Casey’s contribution as Production Stage Manager has a lot to do with the great precision of the show.  I recommend you go see this one – you’ll spend a happy two hours at the bee.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through February 18th. You can find complete information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – photos by Jason Gaskins


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