“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, IRT’s fine current offeringfirst came to light as a 1967 motion picture. No doubt you may have seen the Tracy/Hepburn film which also starred Sidney Poitier. The story of a young white woman announcing her engagement to a professional black widower was ground-breaking in its time, capturing the social “codes” of the day as they related to mixed-race relationships. It presented as well the honest perceptions their parents might have of a situation that is threatening to the couple’s well-being. This all serves to highlight the generational divide that existed, and which to a certain extent still exists, related to varied views of race, love and division.

Seeing the stage version of the story, which is adapted for the stage by Todd Kreidler, seamlessly directed by Skip Greer, and presented on an amazing set designed by Robert M. Koharchik, reminds us that while the divides have narrowed somewhat in the time since 1967, the entirety of the problem has not gone away.

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Annie Munch as Joanna Drayton talks with Chiké Johnson as Dr. John Prentice in IRT’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

In what I think is one of the best sets of conflicts and circumstances in modern theatre, the full cast joins in force for a smooth and engaging depiction of this crisis situation. Annie Munch (as Joanna Drayton) and Chiké Johnson (as Dr. John Prentice) have a remarkable chemistry as the mixed-race couple who must face the familial complications that their planned marriage brings about. Craig Spidle and Brigitt Markusfeld adeptly teeter between their dismay and their liberal ideology as Ms. Drayton’s flabbergasted parents, Matt and Christina. Lynda Gravátt owns the role of the Drayton’s cook/housekeeper Matilda Binks, delivering some of the show’s best laugh lines along the way – but more importantly honestly enacting both sides of the conflict as she too struggles to discover that true love is the important catalyst here.

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Brigitt Markusfeld as Christina Drayton and Craig Spidle as Matt Drayton ponder the situation in IRT’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

Add in – Cleavant Derricks and Nora Cole as Dr. Prentice’s likewise befuddled parents, John Sr. and Mary; Constance Macy – snooty as Hilary St. George, a family acquaintance who offers some unwanted advice; and Mark Goetzinger, delightfully upbeat as Monsignor Ryan who wisely illuminates the troublesome situation – to complete the entirely first class ensemble.

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Chiké Johnson as Dr. John Prentice and Lynda Gravátt as Matilda Binks in a scene from IRT’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

Bottom line: This is a superior group of actors, presenting a compelling and truly still significant conundrum. I cannot see how it could have been performed any better. The set is absolutely stunning, and the stage work matches.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through February 4th. For more specific information on dates and show times visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/ or call 317.635.5252.

*-Photos by Zach Rosing

Upcoming shows: “Calder, The Musical” at IndyFringe Theatre

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by Ken Klingenmeier

Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s finally January and we are just days away from a theatrical world premiere here in Indianapolis! On Friday January 27th, IndyFringe Basile Theatre will be the site of the much anticipated opening night for Calder, The Musical. Written and directed by Dustin Klein and Tom Alvarez, and presented by Marianne Glick and Mike Woods, this portrait of American artist Alexander Calder had a preview at the IndyFringe Festival last summer and had the honor of being the #1 Best Selling Show for 2016 IndyFringe.

The preview has since been expanded into a full length offering featuring Logan Moore in the role of Calder. You may have seen the 2014 Butler grad when he appeared in the Calder preview or in ATI’s productions of The Fantasticks, as El Gallo, and The 39 Steps as Richard Hannay.

Others in the cast include: “Christa Fleming-Runion as The Muse, Kate Schuman as Louisa Calder, Ian Gamble and Teddy Rayhill alternating as young Alexander Calder, Jordan Pecar and Piper Murphy alternating as Peggy Calder, Jake McDuffee as Stirling Calder/Piet Mondrian, Danielle Carnagua as Nanette Calder. The ensemble includes Leslie Gaudreau as Gertrude Stein, Gabby Thurman Niehaus as Zelda Fitzgerald , Tiana Williams as Josephine Bakerand Jenna McGregor Jarvis, Mark Whetstone and Matt Rohrer in various supporting roles.” ¹

The show “traces the life of Calder and brings his art to life on stage through a theatrical experience of drama, music, dance, and visual art. Narrated by an unlikely muse, the show chronicles his beginnings as a young boy through nearly eighty years of artistic creation. The story opens in 1976 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City at the opening of Calder’s Universe, a major retrospective of his career and is followed by flashbacks to major turning points in Calder’s life. The evolution of his whimsical creations beginning in his childhood workshop, to the streets of Paris, to his movable wire circus of the 1920s and 30s, new loves and paths to follow on ship journeys, hardships as a struggling artist and creation of his mobiles and stabiles and more—are all explored. Amid the dark influences, ongoing conflicts and times of the 20th century, audiences will be transported to Calder’s imaginative world where art has the ability to bridge ideas of peace, hope, and harmony.” ¹ This show marks Klein and Alvarez’ first musical theatre collaboration.

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Composer Dustin Klein (right) and lyricist Tom Alvarez

Dustin Klein composed the music for the show. He has worked as an actor, musical director and producer, and currently serves as the chairman of the Department of the Arts at The Orchard School in Indianapolis, where for the last 15 years he has been the choir director and drama teacher.

Tom Alvarez provided the lyrics for the show. He is familiar to many for his regular appearances on IndyStyle on Wish TV – Channel 8. Alvarez has over 40 years experience as a free-lance journalist covering productions of theatre, dance and music. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary James Dean And Me, which aired nationally on the TLC network.

Performance dates and times are: Friday Jan 27, 7:30 p.m., Saturday Jan 28, 7:30 p.m., Sunday Jan 29th, 2 p.m., Friday Feb 3, 7:30 p.m., Saturday Feb 4, 7:30 p.m., Sunday Feb 4, 2 p.m. Friday Feb 10, 7:45 p.m., Saturday Feb 11, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday Feb 12, 2 p.m.

Tickets are priced at: $20 for adults, $15 for seniors/students and $12 for children under age 12.

IndyFringe Theatre is located at 719 E St Clair Street, Indianapolis in the Mass Ave District.

You can go online to buy tickets at Calder tickets . For other ticket information, call 317-522-8099

Mrs. K and I are so looking forward to seeing this original production by our friends, Dustin and Tom. I know they have worked very hard on the show and when I last talked with them about it – they both gave me the feeling they have put together something very special.

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      1 – from the Calder press release

  • – Photos from Klein/Alvarez

 

 

 

 

“Shear Madness” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre opens its 44th season with Shear Madness, the cleverly interactive mystery/comedy based on a script by Paul Pörtner, and created by Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan. The award-winning play has a remarkable durability. For example, its current run at Boston’s Charles Theatre began in January 1980 – which was during the final year of the presidency of Jimmy Carter! The show’s current run at the Kennedy Center in D.C. started in August of 1987! I believe one of the keys to its continued success, aside from it’s originality, might be that the script is frequently updated with current events and references. B&B’s production contained many referrals to local Indy issues and notables to the extent that there is a mention of yours truly and the blog you are currently reading, which was a pleasant surprise.

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From left: Nathan Robbins, Suzanne Stark, Jeff Stockberger, Daniel Klingler, Michael Shelton and Jenny Reber star in Beef & Boards’ production of “Shear Madness”.

Directed by Eddie Curry, the proceedings take place in Michael Layton’s finely appointed salon set design. The six person cast of characters, include flamboyant salon owner, Tony Whitcomb, played to the hilt by Daniel Klingler; his peppy co-worker Barbara DeMarco, offered with ardor by Jenny Reber; a mysterious salon client – Eddie Lawrence, given a pointed portrayal by Michael Shelton; the wealthy regular customer Mrs. Eleanor Shubert, delightfully snooty as done by Suzanne Stark; and the undercover team of Mikey Thomas and Nick O’Brien,  portrayed by Nathan Robbins and Jeff Stockberger.

The story itself is a rather simple one concerning an aggravating elderly upstairs neighbor who has connections to each of the salon clients and employees. She is murdered and the audience is charged with figuring out which of the six characters is the culprit. A bevy of activity lays out multiple clues, with plenty of red herrings included in the offerings. In a unique arrangement, the entire middle of the show is done with house lights up and direct interaction between crowd members and the cast. Questions are asked and answered, and once it is decided which of the suspects is thought to have done the deed, the play continues to its revealing conclusion and the audience sees if they were correct.

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Tony (Daniel Klingler) explains to Mrs. Shubert (Suzanne Stark), seated, about the problems he’s had with the old lady who lives upstairs while Barbara (Jenny Reber), at right, listens in Beef & Boards’ “Shear Madness”.

The performance I attended was fortunate to have a very engaged and intelligent congregation. They had paid great attention to the many factors each character brought to the story and had plenty of good questions. I do have a feeling that the variety of audiences greatly influences the measure of the play’s fulfillment, but this is a very skilled cast, so I assume they can direct the show toward the most satisfying results.

The script itself, as well as being made contemporary with current and local references, is a quick fire, pun-filled effort, loaded with word-play jokes and one-line rim-shotters. Director Curry has allowed the cast to have a fast and loose feel and the players were not averse to improvisations and perhaps some inside jokes, much to the delight of the packed house crowd. Indeed, the ensemble work was a highlight of the show.

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Nick O’Brien (Jeff Stockberger), right, watches as Tony Whitcomb (Daniel Klingler) fills his hand with shaving cream as he prepares to give Nick a shave in Beef & Boards’ “Shear Madness”.

Bottom-line: This show is certainly a worthwhile entertainment, especially for a group who loves mysteries and loves to laugh. Although I was told this is PG-13 rated, the text slid over to perhaps a PG-18 at times. But there were plenty of good laughs and chuckles and the “current” references were fun to note. As always, the play is preceded by a lot of good food and excellent service from the B&B staff.

Shear Madness continues through January 29th. You can find out more about the schedule and reserve your tickets by calling the Box Office at (317) 872-9664, or by going to the B&B website at http://www.beefandboards.com.

*- Photos by Julie Curry

 

2016 – Most Impressive Theatre Awards – Part 2

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So – in my previous post I listed my choices for Most Impressive Theatre Awards in the Community Theatre Division. Now, my choices for the Professional Theatre Division for 2016: (Please note that I define a Professional Theatre as one which is contracted with Actors Equity)

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Professional Theatre Division : The award this year goes to William Goodblood for his ultra-adaptable set design in IRT’s The Three Musketeers. Granted, it is an advantage to have the grand mechanical possibilities which are available on the OneAmerica Stage, but Goodblood’s design was fashioned to be quickly rearranged into many various locations so that the galloping action of the story did not have to be put on hold at any point. Truly, this added to the enjoyment of the show.

In the category – Most Impressive Costume Design – Professional Theatre Division :  I could give this award to Jill Kelly Howe for sheer number of costumes in her handling of the costumes for A Beef and Boards Christmas. The 16 members of the cast each average at least 5 or 6 (or 8) changes of costumes during the course of the holiday revue. But not only are there lots of costumes, they are all extremely flashy and/or festive. Such a monumental task deserves recognition. I was impressed!

In the category – Most Impressive Newcomer – Professional Theatre Division: There were a number of talented high-schoolers who hit the boards this year but in ATI’s Sweeney Todd, “Elizabeth Hutson (was) striking as Todd’s daughter Johanna. She is gifted with a beautiful voice and adept stage presence.” I will expect to see more performances by this accomplished young lady!

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Supporting Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: From Beef and Boards’ fine production of Into the Woods, I feel that Jaddy Ciucci wins here for her sassy portrayal of Little Red Ridinghood. From the review: “Ms. Ciucci nearly steals the show in her early scenes as her bouncy, physical portrayal and sharp delivery add a  comic aspect to the familiar miss.”

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Little Red Ridinghood (Jaddy Ciucci) meets up with the Wolf (Timothy Ford) in B&Bs “Into the Woods”

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Supporting Role in a Comedy – Professional Theatre Division: From Beef and Boards’ comic farce Run for Your Wife, Sean Blake “is over-the-top of the top with his Bobby Franklyn. This obviously sexually liberated gent is in turn campy, naughty, rim shot comedic and glamorous. It is a wild combination and Blake seems to be having the best time of all the cast in his rendering of this dynamic character.”

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Supporting Role in a Drama – Professional Theatre Division: From IRT’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”: Robert Neal is on the mark as an alleged victim’s father. “…Neal is large and ugly and easy to dislike as the villainous Bob Ewell, which is pleasing (as well).”

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Mayella Ewell (Katherine Sheldon) and Bob Ewell (Robert Neal) in the IRT’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird.

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Lead Role in a Non-musical – Professional Theatre Division: This is not the first time I have been impressed by the talents of Ryan Artzberger. A Mitty winner for his role in last year’s The Great Gatsby, Artzberger has been playing Ebenezer Scrooge for the past 3 or 4 years, I believe. I have been struck by the originality of his choices for this iconic character from literature. With his talents, he has found a Scrooge diverse from what we have come to expect and it is very impressive.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Cynthia Collins’ Sally Bowles is as fresh a recreation of what is a familiar character as I have seen in Indianapolis theatre. Ms. Collins seemed to take a road less traveled at every opportunity and thus made her character’s journey a stirring experience for her audience. I wrote this: “Totally convincing as the lively, party-loving, and impetuous young singer, Ms. Collins shows a fine understanding of her character’s hopes and fears – while lifting the show with her freshly innovative and dramatic renditions of “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret”.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: I have seen this actor in quite a few roles now. He is a mainstay at Actors Theatre of Indiana, which he co-founded. Don Farrell’s performances always show a great deal of preparation – meaning he does not rely on his talents alone. I feel that Farrell’s Sweeney Todd incorporated all the talent, preparation and love of his craft that he could muster. From my review: “The title role belongs to the talented Don Farrell, whose theatrical strengths are magnified in his portrayal. (I sat there musing – this is the same guy who last month was endearing us with his lovely portrayal of Toad in “Frog and Toad”?) Farrell is a fierce and strongly voiced Sweeney Todd, bent on revenge – torn apart by his losses – unmindful of anything but his quest for total destruction of his enemies and the safety of his daughter. There is a magnitude of emotion and dismay in this depiction, balanced only by the book’s more frivolous moments, which Farrell uses well to move his righteous wickedness forward. It is a totally wonderful, brilliant and accomplished turn by one of the most versatile actors is our region.”

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Don Farrell as the title character in ATI’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”.

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Performance – Professional Theatre Division: I have to say – you must be pretty impressive to topple Kendra Lynn Lucas from this category – but they did it. The tremendous ensemble from ATI’s Million Dollar Quartet left nothing to be desired in a performance that rocked the rafters.  Jeremy Sevelovitz as Carl Perkins, Brandon Alstott as Johnny Cash, Taylor Gray as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Tron as Elvis Presley, and Betsy Norton as Presley’s girl Dyanne, backed by – on bass: Roy Presley as Jay; and on drums: Nathan Shew as Fluke brought the audience out of their seats. “Million Dollar Quartet is an accomplishment! To call this show energetic would be a severe understatement – to say it is powerfully lively and spirited again lands short of the mark – only by describing it as a kick-ass, red-blooded, high-powered ball of fire would I be closing in on the fact of the matter.”

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The entire cast in performance – from left foreground: Jeremy Sevelovit as Carl Perkins, Brandon Alstott as Johnny Cash, Taylor Gray as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Tron as Elvis Presley, Betsy Norton as Dyanne, back – on bass: Roy Presley as Jay, on drums: Nathan Shew as Fluke, and in the booth: Don Farrell as Sam Phillips.

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Non-musical – Professional Theatre Division: Janet Allen’s revisions in IRT’s A Christmas Carol might have been slight, but I noticed them and I believe she gave new life and meaning to what has become (in it’s 25 years in Indy) a beautifully moving annual celebration of the holiday season. “The result of her choices, which includes female ghosts, feels like a whole new experience – in fact it is an energizing and uplifting tonic, beneficial to the holiday’s soul.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: From the review of ATI’s Sweeney Todd: “Nothing about (the show) feels the least bit diminished under director Richard J Roberts’ skillful handling of the cast and the story-telling in Studio Theatre’s compact 200 seat setting. The demanding score is presented with rousing intensity…” This was a large story, put on in a “reduced” space – and it worked unfailingly!

In the category – Most Impressive Comedy Production – Professional Theatre Division: The winner is IRT’s The Mystery of Irma Vep. From the review: “IRT’s UpperStage production of Ludlam’s most famous and durable play, skillfully directed by James Still and peopled by the onstage creations of Rob Johansen and Marcus Truschinski, is faithful to this absurd and twisted vision. It is at once a classic story of the troubled rich, a horror-filled tale of dread, a spoofish exploration of theatre convention, a lark, a creepy film noir, goofy, slapsticky, over-the-top, quick-changing, emotionally charged and above all, unique. Tour de force performances by both Mssrs. Johansen and Truschinski are certainly at the top of the theatrical wealth that is presented here. The two veteran actors lay into their multi-roled assignments with relish – resulting in full energy, totally committed high jinx on both their parts. You can readily see the inventiveness that came out of their rehearsals, which they seem to carry into their live performances with great enjoyment and satisfaction.

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Rob Johansen (back) as Nicodemus Underwood and Marcus Truschinski as Lord Edgar Hillcrest in IRT’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep”

In the category – Most Impressive Dramatic Production – Professional Theatre Division: Indiana Repertory Theatre’s A Christmas Carol takes the prize this year. From the review: “If you have seen the show in recent years, you may recall the snow-filled stage, the huge golden frame, perhaps even the surprising and refreshing characterizations that Ryan Artzberger brings to his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge. All these familiar pieces are in place, but Ms. Allen has lovingly brought a more melodic and descriptive sensitivity to the story-telling.”

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Production – Professional Theatre Division: As always, there are so many splendid shows to choose from in this category. But the show that really impressed me the most was ATI’s Sweeney Todd. Filled with high grade performances, wonderful characterizations and solid story-telling, only to be augmented by the wonderful vocal talents of the cast – I just loved it! “Finally, I must note how extraordinarily well the entire cast worked together in rendering this extremely complicated score. The layers of composition which are performed in this musical masterpiece are daunting, but directors Roberts and Tavianini, and their cast, have treated it with the respect it deserves. The result is more than merely impressive, it is a triumph!”

Special categories allow for award areas I would not normally give awards in. This year I have only one special category:

In the category – Most Impressive Orchestra – Professional Division: The musicians that were joined together for Beef and Boards’ Into the Woods certainly deserve special mention. From the review: “I particularly want to give high marks to the B&B orchestra – a band of five led by Terry Woods. Sondheim is some of the most difficult music to produce and this group of fine musicians never missed a note or beat in their complex accompaniments. The additional scoring necessary to play most of the orchestra sounds on two electric pianos was especially well done, I thought.”

So, that’s it for 2016. If you have read this far, I thank you, and I encourage you to continue to go out and see wonderful shows and performances in both professional and community theatres in the Greater Indianapolis area! We are so lucky to live in an area where the theatrical arts are valued and well performed.

And if you have not already – you can read about this year’s Mitty Awards for Community Theatre productions here.

 

2016 – Most Impressive Theatre Awards – Part 1

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Well, it has been another fun and interesting year of local theatre. Community and professional theatre have both been impressive with their shows – in some cases, they were the best productions I have seen. But, now it is time for the SIXTH Annual Mitty Awards!

For those of you not familiar with the Mittys, this is something I have been doing since 2011 to celebrate the Most Impressive Theatre that I have witnessed in the past calendar year. This year, I attended 27 shows, so while I certainly did not get to every show in the area, I have a fair amount of shows to choose winners from. I split the awards into two divisions: Community Theatre and Professional Theatre, my definition of professional theatre being those which work under an Actors Equity contract.

So, here goes. Part 1 deals with community theatre shows and performances:

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Community Theatre Division: We start off with a tie: from First Folio’s production of Hamlet we honor Fred Margison’s design work for it’s beauty and it’s functional aspects. All the many scenes of the play moved well on his design and it’s form with it’s framed beams and angles suggested the strength of the ruling class.

Conversely, Jim LaMonte put a realistic perspective to work in his design for Spotlight Players’ Blues for an Alabama Sky. The wonderfully wide and deep stage at the Theatre at the Fort was fully utilized as LaMonte presented two apartments, a central hallway and a downstage sidewalk for this production. The details that were worked into the settings aided in the story-telling.

In the category – Most Impressive Costume Design – Community Theatre Division: Undoubtedly, the costumes for Civic Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast were the most impressive I have seen this past year. The show’s  enchanted qualities certainly lended itself to some unusual costume pieces – including a clock, a teapot, a bureau and a candelabra. Adrienne Conces put a special creativity to work here and then upped it with an impressive set of character pieces to reflect townspeople, enchanted ensemble members and, of course, Belle’s spectacular gown.

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“Be My Guest” from Civic Theatre’s “Beauty and the Beast”

In the category – Most Impressive Newcomer – Community Theatre Division: Elissa Maudlin played the fragile Beth in Belfry Theatre’s Little Women  with a deft understanding of the girl. From my review: “Of special note to me is Ms. Maudlin, whom at the tender age of 15 does impressive work with a multi-faceted character. She is talented beyond her years and I look forward to seeing her progress in our theatre community.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy – Community Theatre Division: Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project’s The Merry Wives of Windsor featured Rob Johansen as the jealousy ridden Ford. No one I see on stage locally has as good a time with a comic role as Mr. Johansen seems to have in any he does. Here, his joy translated to high frivolity and as Ford, he found every silly and fun nuance the character could have.

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama – Community Theatre Division: In Epilogue Players’ Dial M for Murder, as I wrote in my review: “Ken Ganza’s rendering of Inspector Hubbard is a thing to behold. Here again, an underplayed style is most effective and Ganza’s Scottish accent is right on the money. The character is written with an almost Columbo-like persona, and Ganza presents what is basically a master-class on playing a murder-mystery inspector.”

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Sarah M. Froehlke as Margot Wendice, Ken Ganza as Inpector Hubbard and Jay Hemphill as Tony Wendice star in Epilogue Players’ production of “Dial M for Murder”.

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical – Community Theatre Division: In The Belfry’s production of Little Women, Darrin Gowan  was “splendidly unsettled as the proper Professor Bhaer.” His unsureness through the changes that take place in his life were a well-crafted characterization which was a pleasure to see.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Comedy – Community Theatre Division: Again, a tie! In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare wrote parts for a two woman team of characters – Mistress Ford and Mistress Page – who delightfully scheme to put down the scoundrel Falstaff. Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project filled these roles quite adroitly with Amy Hayes as Mistress Ford and Claire Wilcher as Mistress Page. Presented as two giddy gal-pals, these ladies bring a heap of fun working together in the classic roles.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Drama – Community Theatre Division: Alicia Collins hits the mark as Delia in Spotlight Players’ Blues for an Alabama Sky. From my review: “Alicia Collins’ portrayal of Delia’s innocence and hopefulness is palpable and true. She is delightfully inexperienced and so hopeful in her ideals – and she steps into a delayed womanhood with grace and demure modesty.”

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Delia (Alicia Collins) shares her excitement with her neighbors, Angel (Gabrielle Patterson) and Guy (Phillip Armstrong) in Spotlight Players’ “Blues for an Alabama Sky”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical – Community Theatre Division: One of the most memorable characters in Young Frankenstein, which was presented by Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre this year, is Frau Blücher (cue the distant horse whinnies). I felt that Vicki Cornelius Phipps did a masterful job with the role, “catching and delivering all the clever nuance of the mysterious Frau…”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Comedy – Community Theatre Division: My friend (and sometimes blogging cohort), Adam O. Crowe had a lot on his hands playing the role of Sir John Falstaff in Wisdom Tooth’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. But his comedic timing and delivery brought the old lech to life in fine form. In a whirlwind of action and funny bits, Mr. Crowe set old Falstaff on his shoulders and ran!

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Adam O. Crowe as Falstaff meets up with Carrie Schlatter as the sultry Mistress Quickly in Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor”.

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Drama – Community Theatre Division: As the husband, Tony Wendice, in Epilogue Players’ Dial M for Murder, Jay Hemphill absolutely knocked it out of the park. From the review: “Jay Hemphill is flawless as Tony Wendice, the husband with murder on his mind. He is totally in tune with his character and presents a completely detailed portrayal. He is fast becoming one of the most highly regarded actors in our local theatre scene and this is for good reason.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role in a Non Musical – Community Theatre Division: Ann Marie Elliott was a perfect casting choice for the role of Cordelia in First Folio’s King Lear at this year’s Bardfest. Playing both Lear’s daughter and the Fool that Cordelia herself portrays, Ms. Elliott skillfully conveyed the gentle nature in both.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role in a Musical – Community Theatre Division: Once more, a tie. One of the greatest “surprises” in our local avocational theatre scene is the high level of talent, in actors certainly, but especially in singers. Two ladies who were overwhelming in their musical talents are Anna Dewey, who sang the role of Jo in Belfry Theatre’s Little Women, and Virginia Vasquez whom I just saw as Belle in Civic Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast. From the reviews: “Anna Dewey is nothing short of phenomenal in her grand depiction of Jo. Her brilliant vocal talent is augmented by wonderful acting choices throughout the arc of the story. Ms. Dewey soars through intricate solo pieces – especially the impressive first act closer “Astonishing” and the second act’s tender “The Fire Within Me”. She is presently a senior musical theatre major at Belmont University, so we’ll hope to see much more of this skilled performer on this and other stages.” And this: “Virginia Vasquez is the perfect Belle. She plays the part with a thoughtful ease and her melodic voice is truly a marvel – one could listen to her sing for hours. But it is her talent for expressive interpretation that sets her apart, I think. Ms. Vasquez brings truthful emotion to the performance of her songs. Her rueful rendition of “Home”, and her hopeful “A Change in Me” are both great examples of this performer’s uncommon talents.  All told, I think her Belle may well be my favorite of all I have seen.”

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Belle (Virginia Vaquez) and Le Fou (Alex Smith) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Beauty and the Beast”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Non Musical– Community Theatre Division: This year’s award winner repeats from last year. Jim LaMonte directed Spotlight Players’ Blues for an Alabama Sky, which is set in 1930’s Harlem at a time between the Harlem Renaissance and the Depression. It is an emotional story and LaMonte leads his players to an engrossing telling. “Of special note to me is Jim Lamonte’s excellent direction. He has his players on track emotionally,  with a truth in their characterizations. The actors’ pacing is right on the money and the story-telling is clear.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Musical– Community Theatre Division: I believe that Carlos Nepomuceno has a great understanding of humanity and of human frailties and emotion. His direction of CCP’s Next to Normal brought out the best in his actors and delivered an emotional and memorable show. From my review: “Carlos Nepomuceno has once again provided us with an entertaining musical that carries with it a heart-rending story of our frailties and challenges. He (and CCP) is to be congratulated on a presentation that is striking in both it’s wealth of talent and it’s universal message. This community theatre endeavor is much like any professional offering in town. It is a “must-see”.”

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The cast of “Next to Normal”: (from left) Daniel Hellman, Kyle Mottinger, Sharmaine Ruth, Georgeanna Teipen, Russell Watson and Bradley Kieper.

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Non Musical – Community Theatre Division: Spotlight Players’ Blues for an Alabama Sky hit the mark for me. In terms of an emotional, interesting story it was so well done by the very well-directed actors and actresses. Although it was longish at 2 1/2 hours, I was totally engaged in the proceedings.

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Musical – Community Theatre Division: Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast was Broadway quality entertainment. Although B&B is now a very familiar story, I was thoroughly entertained and effected by the wonderful performances and the dynamic technical aspects. Great music, great talent and a wonderful visual quality brings this show to the fore. And let me add a nod to Musical Director Brent E. Marty for the impressive work he did here.

Special categories allow for award areas I would not normally give awards in. This year I have two special categories:

In the category – Most Impressive Fight Coordination – Community Theatre Division: From the review for First Folio’s Hamlet: “…vigorous fight choreography by Scott Russell is amazingly realistic with a spontaneous feel.” And as far as I know – nobody got hurt…

In the category – Most Impressive Set Change Crew: From the review for Belfry Theatre’s Little Women: “…in a show filled with set changes, this production employs a large, well-rehearsed crew of stagehands and an ingenious set designed by Kendell Roberts. The longest change is probably about 30 seconds or so – the quick, choreographed movement, aided by …. music as an accompaniment to it, is greatly appreciated by this “not a fan of long set changes” critic. Well done!”

That’s it for another year. Congratulations to all the winners! Once again, I certainly encourage my readers to continue to go out and see the outstanding memorable shows and performances in community theatres all around the Greater Indianapolis area! They have a lot to offer for a very reasonable ticket price.

Now, if you like you can read about the 2016 Mitty Awards in the Professional Theatre Division. Just click here.

“Beauty and the Beast” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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Reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

The final event of our 2016 series of reviews is opening night of BTCT’s Beauty and the Beast at the beautifully decorated Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. The classic tale is a fairly popular one with area theatres – this is our second viewing of a production this calendar year. But the show always seems to  capture one’s imagination, although it is a rather difficult story for most any group to tell properly, with a heap of winsome characters, intricate scoring and demanding technical aspects.

The fine direction and choreography of the show by Ron Morgan is everything we have come to expect from this noted theatre practitioner, with a plethora of choreography that is interesting and fun. Musical direction by Brent E. Marty has all voices soaring, especially in the many ensemble pieces. Trevor Fanning leads the great sounding 23 member orchestra. They add immeasurably to the texture of the production.

Also, the Civic staff has done yet another spectacular job with all technical facets. The details of the costuming designs by Adrienne Conces, the spectacular scenic and lighting designs by Ryan Koharchik, and sound design by Michael J. Lasley all contribute to the professional feel of the show, while the fine particulars of prosthetics by David Schlatter, and wig and hair designs by Debbie Williams and G. Michael Salon render a polished look.

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Virginia Vasquez (center) as Belle, joins the ensemble for “Be My Guest” in Civic Theatre’s “Beauty and the Beast”

As mentioned, the ensemble members are especially good – with top-notch efforts in the big numbers – a flashy “Be Our Guest” show-stopper being the epitome. Performers in supporting roles all handle their duties effectively. Standouts include the castle’s enchanted household staff of Cogsworth (Tom Beeler), Lumiere (David Brock), Mrs. Potts (Ragen Sanner), Babette (Lauren Leigh) and Madame De La Grande Bouche (Susan Boilek Smith) with special mention going to Ms. Sanner for her beautiful rendition of the show’s title song. Also, Andrew Dalstrom and Alex Smith offer a lively pairing as Gaston and Le Fou, respectively, while Will Carlson’s Maurice has an on-the-mark poignancy.

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Belle (Virginia Vasquez) and her father, Maurice (Will Carlson) share a moment in Civic Theatre’s “Beauty and the Beast”

Will Tople brings considerable talents to his portrayal of the Beast and has a precise understanding of the many emotions at work in the character. His “If I Can’t Love Her” is one of the highlights of the show.

Lastly, Virginia Vasquez is the perfect Belle. She plays the part with a thoughtful ease and her melodic voice is truly a marvel – one could listen to her sing for hours. But it is her talent for expressive interpretation that sets her apart, I think. Ms. Vasquez brings truthful emotion to the performance of her songs. Her rueful rendition of “Home”, and her hopeful “A Change in Me” are both great examples of this performer’s uncommon talents.  All told, I think her Belle may well be my favorite of all I have seen.

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Le Fou (Alex Smith), Gaston (Andrew Dalstrom) and Belle (Virginia Vaquez) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Beauty and the Beast”

Bottom-line: As usual, dozens of small girls with roses dotted the audience. This is a wonderful production for them and for their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to bring them (and their brothers) to. Thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted, Beauty and the Beast makes for yet another special holiday treat.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast continues at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts through January 1st. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

 

 

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” at Carmel Theatre Company

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

This year’s cavalcade of Christmas shows continues for Mrs. K and I, this time on a community theatre stage, with Dylan Thomas’ charming remembrance – A Child’s Christmas in Wales. In what will sadly be CTC’s final show at the Studio 15, this sentimental picture of another era’s celebration is filled with songs and stories and mischief. Director John C. Clair works with a large cast of 24 performers, nearly half of them children and young adults, to bring Thomas’ wonderful use of language to the fore.

Rick Sharp plays the narrator, the mature Dylan, as he looks back to days long ago when, as a boy, he spent Christmas Day with aunts, uncles, cousins, townspeople and his parents. Sharp’s delivery of Thomas’ poetical prose is sensitive and on the mark, projecting a rich nostalgia. Playing the younger Thomas, Dalyn Stewart repeats his role from 2 years ago. Young Mr. Stewart has an easy feel for stage work and is very appealing as he imparts a lively imagination and a thrill for the holiday.

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Dalyn Stewart plays young Dylan Thomas, while Rick Sharp portrays Dylan Thomas the elder. (This picture is from the 2014 presentation of the show.)

The various other roles are played out with energetic enthusiasm by a talented corps of actors and actresses. Highlights for me were Anthony Johnson, effusive as Dylan’s father -D.J.; Smith David, engaging as Dylan’s best friend Tom; Valery DeLong, alternately harried and in charge as the Thomas mother; LeRoy Delph as a very lively Uncle Gwyn – full of song, dance, and stories; Nan Macy as larger than life Aunt Nellie; Thom Johnson, who gives his all in multiple comic roles; and Rachelle Woolston, whose amazing voice is a show-stopper, as her Aunt Eleri sings the traditional Welsh song Calon Lân with a beautiful interpretation.

The musical accompaniment by Musical Director Carol Keddington on clavinova and percussionist Dick Leap adds to the texture of the show and the six members of The Swansea Singers regale us with ageless carols before each act.

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Bottom line: This is unusual Christmas fare. Tunefully adapted for the stage by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell – it takes a little while to settle into the Thomas prose, but we are thus led into a holiday from another time. The simplicity and joy conveyed here cannot help but put one into a fine holiday spirit.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales runs at Carmel’s Studio 15 through December 17th, with Thursday through Saturday evening shows at 7 pm and one Sunday show on December 11th at 2:30 pm. For ticket reservations and information go online to http://www.carmeltheatrecompany.com or call the reservation line at 317.688.8876.

A short note of remembrance: It truly is sad to me that the central Indiana theatre community will be losing Carmel’s Studio 15. (It is being razed to become valuable Arts District parking spaces.) The squat building has been utilized as a unique venue for both actors and audience members since I directed the first show there in 2002. CCP’s production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams starred Jean Adams and Joshua French and was played in 3/4 round – before the 2 inch high stage was built at the north end of the building for the next show. A lot of improvements were made over the years – many by Larry, Susan and Ron Creviston, many by John and June Clair – but the old city office building always provided a singularly intimate theatre experience. As my friend Larry Adams once wrote here, “As an actor, I’ve always loved that feeling of being in the audience’s face- practically in their collective lap – connecting with them, drawing them into the experience. Now, as an audience member, I can tell you that feeling is just as much fun, and something you simply won’t experience at a bigger theater.”

Here’s hoping that CTC finds a suitable replacement as they move away and into the future!

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