“To Kill a Mockingbird” at IRT

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Last night found Mrs. K and I at a second weekend performance of the Indiana Repertory Theatre production of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel.

Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the 1960 Harper Lee novel about racial tension and injustice, loss of innocence, and the rewards of integrity. Ms. Lee’s 2015 follow-up novel, Go Set a Watchman, has recently garnered much publicity for the landmark best-seller, which was turned into a film in 1962 starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. The 1990 play is much less famous, but it nonetheless does a wonderful job of showing the conflicts and courage portrayed in the book and the film.

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Jem (Grayson Molin), Atticus Finch (Ryan Artzberger), Scout (Paula Hopkins) and Dill (Mitchell Wray) in the IRT’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Director Janet Allen takes a very down-to-earth approach to this iconic American story, employing Bill Clarke’s rough-hewn scenic design as a starting point. She also adds an infusion of traditional music, presented in a gospel hymn to open the show and with dashes of live guitar playing singers providing music beds for transitions and thoughtful monologues. Through the music we are given a feel for the era and for the emotions of the story. Those factors are the basis for this pleasing rendition of memories by Jean Louise Finch, the adult once known as Scout, who narrates the proceedings.

The cast is well chosen. Ryan Artsberger projects a very ordinary countenance as Atticus, which is pleasing. His standing as Maycomb, Alabama’s most upright citizen is shown through actions and deeds and there is the feeling of underplaying the icon at work here. Conversely, Robert Neal is large and ugly and easy to dislike as the villainous Bob Ewell, which is pleasing as well.

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Jean Louise (Lauren Briggeman) and her younger self, Scout (Paula Hopkins) in the IRT’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lauren Briggeman is a constant reassuring presence as Atticus’ grown daughter, Jean-Louise. Showing us her recollections, she moves us from frame to frame, revealing what lessons she has learned along the way. Her smaller self, Scout, is played by Paula Hopkins, a local 5th grader, who does a nice job with the rudiments of such a large role. Scout’s friend Dill and her brother Jem are also well portrayed by Mitchell Wray (whom I thought showed much promise in his “Velveteen Rabbit” role last season) and Grayson Molin (who is fast becoming an IRT regular).

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Atticus Finch (Ryan Artzberger), Sheriff Heck Tate (Tim Grimm), and Tom Robinson (Daniel A. Martin) in the IRT’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Other standouts in the large cast include Daniel A. Martin, who finds precise emotional levels for the wrongly accused Tom Robinson; Tim Grimm, whose sheriff Heck Tate is level-headed and righteous; Milicent Wright as the motherly housekeeper, Calpurnia; and Christopher Walz, who provides musical content (along with the aforementioned Tim Grimm), does a turn as Judge Taylor in the Robinson trial, and plays  Boo Radley with a touching vulnerability. Also, Katherine Shelton is quite impressive as the victimized daughter of Bob Ewell.

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

There are some technical issues to address. The two youngest actors, tasked with filling the large auditorium with their unmiked voices, have trouble at times being understood. Part of this, I realize, was my position in the seats – far off to the stage left area, but part also is the basic skill of voice projection which should improve with experience. Knowing the story pretty well helped the situation, but I could have enjoyed the show more with a full understanding of all the lines.

Nonetheless, the play is thoughtfully directed to be so evenly paced and, for the most part – underplayed, that one is drawn into the emotions almost without even realizing it. The sadness felt at the end is something of a surprise in that it is felt so directly placed in oneself. This sadness seems to be both of empathy for the loss felt by the characters as well as a genuine disappointment for the state of mankind. And I think this latter point is perhaps what Ms. Lee was getting at, especially in 1960 America: We need to do better than this – we need to change.

Bottom-line: This is a very worthwhile production of a rather familiar story. Although there are some problems with understanding lines at times, we are treated to a well-crafted endeavor, which I am glad to know 10,000 local school children will be exposed to this month. Kudos for IRT and their outreach to our schools.

To Kill a Mockingbird will continue on the OneAmerica stage at IRT through February 28th. Ticket information can be found by going online at http://www.irtlive.com or by calling the IRT box office at 317-635-5252.

* – Photos by Zach Rosing

**- Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

 

“Sweeney Todd” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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Actors Theatre of Indiana continues their 2015-16 season with its brilliant production of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The show is noteworthy for many reasons, but primarily it again illustrates ATI’s impressive capabilities to produce large shows in a small venue.

Nothing about Sweeney Todd 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 under the direction of Johnna Tavianini, whose modest orchestra features her keyboard, a cello, a violin and percussion. P. Bernard Killian’s fine set design expands the limited onstage space with accommodations for a barber shop, pie shop, asylum, streets and docks. Katie Cowan Sickmeier’s muted costume designs set the Dickensian tone for the piece, and sound and lighting designs by Jonathan Parke and Erin Meyer complete the atmospherics needed to transport the audience. Dynamic makeup and hair design by Daniel Klingler added character, as well as the “horror effect”, where needed.

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

For those of you unfamiliar with the Sweeney Todd tale – it is an old one. The character of the deadly barber who murders his clients first appeared in a story titled The String of Pearls: A Romance in the late 1840’s. It has been continuously adapted and reworked as plays, a melodrama and a 1936 film, finally evolving into the dynamic ground-breaking work by Sondheim in 1979.

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Judy Fitzgerald (left) as Mrs. Lovett with Caleb Wertz as Tobias Ragg in ATI’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”.

Director Roberts has cast an impressive combination of veteran performers and fresh talents. Accomplished performances of important roles by three skilled high-schoolers is a pleasant surprise here. Elizabeth Hutson is striking as Todd’s daughter Johanna. She is gifted with a beautiful voice and adept stage presence. Playing opposite her is John Collins, as the love-struck Anthony Hope. Collins’ vocals are a satisfying match with Ms. Hutson’s and he carries the day with his smooth, sure solos. Caleb Wertz’s Tobias Ragg is notable as well, as he shines in his performance of “Not While I’m Around”.

Rory Shivers-Brimm, Karaline Feller and John Vessels all handle multiple roles and chorus work with aplomb. Shivers-Brimm makes the very most out of his assignment as a continuing string of Sweeney Todd’s victims in one particularly well imagined section of the show. Ms. Feller is likewise employed in many smaller roles and is a standout vocally. Vessels is a priceless shyster as Adolfo Pirelli. His unique gift of a strong stage presence cannot be denied.

Paul Nicely, as Judge Turpin, and Craig Underwood, as The Beadle, both take on their villainous roles with relish. Nicely takes a quiet approach for his scoundrel, but we are nonetheless eager for his plans to fail. Underwood treats us to an over-sized evildoer who is blessed with outstanding vocal talent.

Cynthia Collins and Judy Fitzgerald fill demanding roles as, respectively, the Beggar Woman and Mrs. Lovett. Ms. Collins is sufficiently disturbing and off-putting as the tragic street lady. Her fateful end is well-played and emotionally charged. Ms. Fitzgerald’s strong performance shows qualities of a music hall talent, perfect for Mrs. Lovett’s song list. She plays the pie-maker with both joyfulness and a wistful longing for what cannot be.

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

 

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.

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!

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Rehearsal picture of the cast of ATI’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street continues its run through February 14th. This is going to be a very popular production, so I would urge you to make your ticket reservations soon. You can find out more about the performance schedule and reserve tickets by calling the Box Office at (317) 843-3800, or by going to the website at http://www.atistage.org.

  • – Photos courtesy of Actors Theatre of Indiana

Keep an eye out for this upcoming happening: a new musical!

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I feel compelled to write about a conversation I had at IRT the other night with an old acquaintance of mine, Tom Alvarez. As we chatted in the cabaret just before seeing The Mystery of Irma Vep, Tom told me about a project he is working on – a new musical which will be presented as a short one hour piece at next summer’s IndyFringe. The plan is to subsequently expand that into a full length Broadway style musical for later production.

This new musical is being put together under the working title “Calder: The Musical” and Tom is collaborating on the project with a musician friend,  Dustin Klein, who joined our conversation later. They both spoke excitedly about the process of creating a show which includes forming a corporation, finding funding, plans for work-shopping the project as well as having an upcoming appearance on WISH-TV 8’s morning program Indy Style next Thursday (2/21/16) at 9 am.

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Dustin Klein (right) and Tom Alvarez, collaborators of “Calder: The Musical”

A little about the subject matter – Alexander Calder, the American sculptor known as the originator of the mobile and other mechanized pieces originally worked as a mechanical engineer, but he had a life-changing experience aboard a ship which launched him into his remarkable and prolific artistic career. The musical intends to bring his life in art to life as art.

It won’t be until March that any opportunity for local performers will become available when auditions for the work-shop version of the show are held. I understand that from this working cast, the cast for the local premiere of the show will likely be formed. I’ll try to keep you informed – stay tuned.

PS – you can read more about the project here and here .

Photo by Crowes Eye Photography

“The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

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Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful is a “modern classic” – the most popular play in the playwright’s catalogue of ridiculous pieces. I say ridiculous because that was his most frequent intension. As founder of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1967, Ludlam’s works were projections of his uncanny knack to spoof conventions and create fantastic avant-garde plays that were both entertaining and purposeful.

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.

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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”

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. They both convey a happy looseness, which is exactly what their characters need.

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Marcus Truschinski as Jane Twisden and Rob Johansen as Lady Enid Hillcrest in IRT’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep”

But it is not just the actors that make this such a successful piece. The set by scenic designer Tom Buderwitz and his crew is stylish and perfect for the two-man show, with plenty of exit doors to allow the comings and goings of the quick-dressing characters. Couple that with the sharp lighting effects as created by Betsy Cooprider-Bernstein and the specially designed for speedy changing costumes by Guy Clark, and art meets function in a most agreeable way. The major contributions to the overall setting as provided by composer Lindsay Jones’ soaring sound track cannot be overlooked. The booming organ dominates the breaks and several more subtle instrumentals add to tensions and expectations.

This is a hugely enjoyable, highly crafted show with all the creative functions of theatre at play. The standing ovation it received was well-deserved. The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful continues on IRT’s UpperStage through February 14th. Schedules and ticket information can be found at http://www.irtlive.com or by calling the ticket office at 317.635.5252.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing

“Run For Your Wife” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre opens it’s 2016 season with Ray Cooney’s fast-paced PG-13 farce, Run For Your Wife. Directed by J.R. Stuart, this 1983 play tells the story of one John Smith, a London taxi driver whose life resembles a Gordian knot as he works through the situation of having two wives – one in Wimbledon and the other in Streatham. All goes well enough until his rescue of an elderly woman who was being mugged by a couple of thugs. These heroics get him both notoriety and a head wound, causing him much stressful and unwanted attention. His life and the lives of many of those around him spin out of control in a mostly hilarious scenario which gets more and more complicated with every turn.

Eddie Curry (center) plays John Smith who has 2 wives - Barbara, played by Erin Cohenour (left) and Mary, played by Sarah Hund (right).

Eddie Curry (center) plays John Smith, who has 2 wives – Barbara, played by Erin Cohenour (left) and Mary, played by Sarah Hund (right).

B&B mainstay Eddie Curry plays the put-upon Mr. Smith, with B&B theatre regulars Jeff Stockberger, Sarah Hund and Erin Cohenour taking the roles of his neighbor – Stanley Gardner, wife #1 – Mary Smith and wife #2 – Barbara Smith, respectively. This core group is joined by A.J. Morrison as Streatham Detective Sgt. Troughton and Adam O. Crowe as Wimbledon Detective Sgt. Porterhouse. Add to that – Sean Blake as feistily queenish neighbor Bobby Franklyn, and Antonio LeRoy King, who briefly appears as a newspaper reporter.

As in any farce, the stage is equipped with assorted doors for the constant coordinated entrances and exits. This time the actors work on a uniquely conceived design where both Smith households use the same set, with two telephones and two differing drape colors being the only visual delineations. (This actually works quite well, and is set in the audience’s mind in the first scene.) Also, as in most farcical stage journeys, this story comes loaded with mistaken identities and misunderstandings. Indeed, it is at times more tangled than a cup of noodles.

Jeff Stockberger (left) appears as Stanley Gardner, a neighbor to John Smith, played by Eddie Curry (right).

Jeff Stockberger (left) appears as Stanley Gardner, a neighbor to John Smith, played by Eddie Curry (right).

Curry is marvelous as the bigamist Smith, using a full range of witty reactions and frenzies. With much of the play having a break-neck pace, his clamorous, humorous style shines, while still giving plenty of room to his on-stage cohorts to do their thing. Curry’s efforts are nicely balanced by the rubbery physicalities of Jeff Stockberger – a performer who has the rare ability to put a funny spin on lines that have no apparent humor to them at all. His energetic Gardner is a fine vehicle for his gifts – the topper being one highly original bit involving a newspaper and a familiar piece of big-top music. (It must be seen to be fully appreciated.)

Ms. Hund is in great form as the usually demure wife #1. Her climb into stark comic hysteria is well measured and expertly conveyed. Ms. Cohenour’s sultry wife #2 takes a different route altogether – trying to get her way with divine promises and winding up in a most tempestuous state. Ms. Cohenour is more than up to the task, creating her own set of feverish tensions onstage. Mssrs. Morrison and Crowe are steady and solid as the two police detectives. Their roles early on are mostly to add to the plot’s knots, but they make the most of their later opportunities to cavort in the mayhem.

Det Sgts Porterhouse and Troughton (played by Adam O. Crowe (left) and A.J. Morrison.

Det Sgts Porterhouse and Troughton (played by Adam O. Crowe (left) and A.J. Morrison.

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.

Sean Blake goes all out in his portrayal of neighbor, Bobby Franklyn.

Sean Blake goes all out in his portrayal of neighbor, Bobby Franklyn.

The play, with all this highly charged fun, is certainly entertaining, well acted and tightly directed, although I give higher marks to the first act than to the second – my reason being that the story itself becomes such a web of complicated lies and confusion, I briefly lost the handle of the thing. (Though I realize this might be only me, alone in a drift of confusion.) Regardless – it is worthy fare and is unquestionably a strong start to B&B’s new season, which includes Guys and Dolls, Beauty and the Beast and Into the Woods, among others.

Chef Odell’s buffet is pleasing, as is usual, and I am always impressed by the energetic and watchful staff who make any visit to Beef and Boards such an enjoyable treat.

Run For Your Wife continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through February 7th. Show times and reservations can be obtained at http://www.beefandboards.com or by calling 317-872-9664.

  • – Photos by Julie Curry

2015 – Most Impressive Theatre Awards – Part 2

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Mitty Awards 2015

So – in my previous post I listed my choices for Most Impressive Theatre Awards in the Community Theatre Division. Here are my choices for the Professional Theatre Division for 2015. (Note: I define a Professional Theatre as one which is contracted with Actors Equity)

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Professional Theatre Division : This award simply has to go to Indiana Repertory Theatre’s designers for their amazing Good People set. From the review: “One of the stars of the show has to be the inventive multi-faced set, splendidly designed by Jo Winiarski, made up of 4 revolving triangular structures (called periactoids) that handled the five varied stage settings in a quite remarkable and expedient way.” This design allowed for such breezy scene changes, I was glad to be in a balcony seat that night to better see how it all worked. So, congrats to designer Jo Winiarski.

In the category – Most Impressive Costume Design – Professional Theatre Division : There were so many wonderfully designed shows this year. I honestly could have picked at least one from each of the theatres. But I believe the most impressive of the bunch was the work done by Tracy Dorman for IRT’s The Great Gatsby. The colorful, 1920’s period clothing certainly helped to set the mood for this famous story. From Gatsby’s immaculate white outfit, to Daisy’s soft toned shifts and gowns to the brassier clothes of the ‘underclass’ characters, it was a delight to the senses.

In the category – Most Impressive Newcomer – Professional Theatre Division: I saw two young actors who impressed – one a young man, Grayson Molin, who played Jonas in IRT’s UpperStage offering, The Giver. The other was a young lady who made her debut at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre in their The Addams Family. Samantha Russell took on the role of Wednesday in that musical comedy. Both these talented high school  students did amazing work, Grayson as a futuristic boy who must learn to handle the most important role in his society and Samantha as the coming-of-age daughter of the kooky, spooky Addams couple. I have hopes of seeing both of them again soon as they progress through their roles locally.

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Smaller Role in a Non-Musical – Professional Theatre Division: I was struck by Ryan Artzberger’s portrayal of the gas station owner George, whose reaction to his losses filled the final scenes of IRT’s The Great Gatsby. As I wrote: “Ryan Artzberger drips of piteousness” in his depiction of a most put upon human being.

In the category – Most Impressive Performers in a Smaller Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: In Actors Theatre of Indiana’s The Fantasticks,  I found two winners for this category. “In a brilliant contortion of gender, Cynthia Collins and Judy Fitzgerald take the roles of the lovers’ fathers – Hucklebee and Bellomy, respectively. In that twisted circumstance, these two stage pros add a layer of comedy to the proceedings, and as always, they offer up polished skills with their humorous characterizations and their song and dance.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Larger Role in a Non-musical – Professional Theatre Division: Constance Macy is very good in any role she plays, but I was impressed by how she handled the role of Margie (with a hard ‘g’) in IRT’s Good People. ” IRT favorite Constance Macy delivers a remarkable, spot-on performance as Margie. Her character’s journey of hope mixed with desperation is fully rendered as Ms. Macy finds all the levels necessary to project Margie’s many struggles.” And she does this fine work impressively, without ever employing banalities or clichés of character.

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Larger Role in a Non-musical – Professional Theatre Division: I was very impressed by the way Jay Gatsby was portrayed in the IRT production of Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby. “Matt Schwader makes the role of Jay Gatsby his own with a vulnerable quality that somehow rings truer than the movie Gatsbys I have seen or the one that existed for me in my readings of the book. Schwader seems to understand that the native Dakotan is a bit out of his element in his current status and that all his climbs and accumulations have been for one, perhaps misguided, purpose – to win Daisy.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Larger Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Laura Sportiello was a nice surprise in the main female role in ATI’s The Fantasticks. As I said in my review: “Ms Sportiello is truly lovely in her endearing portrayal of the romantic young Luisa. Her clear and perfect vocal skills are unfailing in her renditions of Luisa’s many songs and she acts the part with such a sweet and dreamy quality that one cannot help but fall under her spell.”

David Schmittou plays Man in the Chair in Beef and Boards' "The Drowsy Chaperone"

David Schmittou plays Man in the Chair in Beef and Boards’ “The Drowsy Chaperone”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Larger Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: I’ve seen this actor in quite a few roles at Beef and Boards, but I don’t think I have ever seen David Schmittou have more fun on stage than he did in B&B’s The Drowsy Chaperone. “Schmittou… is absolutely perfect as Man in the Chair, our guide for a rather unique stage premise as he shares his infatuation for a recording of a 1920’s musical with us. Schmittou’s uncanny choices for his character’s nebbish and unsure persona are completely wonderful and entertaining. It all seems entirely “in the moment”, which only certifies Schmittou’s consummate stage talents.”

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Performance – Professional Theatre Division: Without question, in a repeat win, from A Beef and Boards Christmas – “Kendra Lynn Lucas, who knocked us out last year with her vocal gifts, returns to knock us out again. Her powerful” O Holy Night” is one of the highlights of the show!” And that highlight was merely one of her fantastic musical performances.

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Non-musical – Professional Theatre Division: The Hound of the Baskervilles was an impressive offering by IRT this past year. I have enjoyed the work in it’s director – Paul Amster in recent years with IRT’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Game’s Afoot. “As Mr. Amster has proven before, his director’s eye sees all things onstage. Every detail of his production seems to be assembled with great care and aplomb.” This was a wonderful production that was a feast for the senses.

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: I love when I attend a show that is familiar and come away with genuinely new impressions of it. The Fantasticks was just such a show, as directed for ATI by Bill Jenkins (with Musical Direction by Brent Marty) “… this edition is everything any theatre lover could hope for in such a familiar piece. Director Jenkins has set up his talented cast with the perfect interpretation of this classically simple  “boy meets/loves/loses/reconnects with girl” story.”

In the category – Most Impressive Comedy Production – Professional Theatre Division: Nothing could possibly have beaten this year’s most impressive comedy – Actors Theatre of Indiana’s The 39 Steps. “…under the brilliantly open-minded direction of Richard J. Roberts, with an uber-talented quartet of actors, this outrageous spoof of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film of the same name is a high-energy, hold-no-bars sensation!”

Hillary Clemens and Matt Schwader star as Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby in IRT’s production of “The Great Gatsby”

Hillary Clemens and Matt Schwader star as Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby in IRT’s production of “The Great Gatsby”

In the category – Most Impressive Dramatic Production – Professional Theatre Division: Indiana Repertory Theatre’s The Great Gatsby takes the prize this year. I absolutely loved it! From the review: “IRT’s staging of the script is an ambitious, glittery, and well cast event, which I am certain would please even the most enthusiastic of Fitzgerald aficionados” and “One goes to an IRT production with a certain expectation of quality and that was surely met here – with an outstanding and captivating production, both in interpretation of the classic source work and in innovative stagecraft that presented the multifaceted story with authority.”

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Production – Professional Theatre Division: So much great musical theatre gets done at this level – I was stuck between two offerings and so we have a tie – ATI’s The Fantasticks and Beef & Boards’ The Drowsy Chaperone. Both were superior examples of the wonderful theatre experiences available in Central Indiana. As I said in my reviews: “The Fantasticks is the first of this theatre season’s “don’t miss” productions. The sweet, simple story, it’s portrayal by the amazing cast, and the beautiful voices providing soaring versions of the familiar score – makes for a delightfully perfect evening at the theatre. Or is it perfectly delightful? Either will do…”

and  “I am so happy to have seen this much anticipated production (of The Drowsy Chaperone) – I was totally taken in by the very unique qualities of the book and by the highly talented cast. If you are unfamiliar with this show, be sure to give it a chance on your entertainment calendar. I think you will be very pleased that you did!”

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

In the category – Most Impressive Ensemble – Professional Division: This was probably the hardest working group I saw all year – the 4 cast members: Logan Moore, Lisa Ermel, Don Farrell and Ian McCabe were a blur of stage action from beginning to end. From the review for The 39 Steps: “I can only imagine the controlled mayhem backstage as they accomplish full costume and wig changes in astonishing speeds. It all makes for a very enjoyably fun presentation, full of comic lines and comic bits: the cast was rewarded with lots of applause after scenes and even one rare sustained applause after a particularly clever and well-done bit of comic business. The full house’s standing ovation at the end was more than justified and I am sure it was gratifying to the hard-working actors. This is an actor’s script and they make the most of it.”

The Beef and Boards Christmas Orchestra - 2015

The Beef and Boards Christmas Orchestra – 2015

In the category – Most Impressive Orchestra – Professional Division: The Beef and Boards Christmas Orchestra certainly deserves a special tribute. They are simply the best sounding orchestra of all. Led by Kristy Templet with outstanding piano work by Terry Woods, this 7 member powerhouse backs the dozens of Christmas numbers performed in A Beef and Boards Christmas, as well as knock out a handful of featured numbers by themselves. Outstanding! (And very impressive!)

Hold on! I just had to stop the presses for a late addition:

In the category – Most Impressive Onstage Energy – Professional Division: the quartet of performers in ATI’s production of The Andrews Brothers knock it out of the park in terms of energy spent in their wonderful show. Michael Dotson, Don Farrell and Jay Emrich team up with the lovely Mary Jayne Waddell in this funny musical journey to the ’40s. The second act especially is filled with musical number after musical number as the men must dress up as the Andrews Sisters so that the troops won’t be disappointed. The action is nonstop and as I wrote in my review: “Their tremendous talents are obvious as they whip through song after terrific song – non stop and with a perfect exuberance. The program lists 25 memorable wartime songs, which the cast of 4 share as solos, duets, trios and quartets.”

So, that’s it for another year. 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 very lucky to live in an area where the theatrical arts are so valued and well performed.

2015 – Most Impressive Theatre Awards – Part 1

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Mitty Awards 2015

Well, it’s that time again. Time for the 5th annual Most Impressive Theatre Awards – the Mittys! For those of you who aren’t familiar with this ‘prestigious’ set of awards – since 2011 I have been giving them out annually here on ASOTA. Each year, I select the most impressive accomplishments in theatre which I have seen (and reviewed) over the course of the calendar year. You can view last years awards here: Part 1 and here: Part 2 .

Beginning last year, I have awarded the best of what I see in both community theatres (part 1 above) and in professional theatres (part 2). I define professional theatres as those which hold Actor’s Equity contracts.

This year I attended and reviewed 24 shows. In that total, I include all shows since the last Mitty announcements were made – so there is actually one show which occurred in late December that is in the mix here. So here are the 2015 Most Impressive Theatre Awards in the community theatre class:

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Community Theatre Division: Belfry Theatre’s production of Noises Off featured possibly the most challenging set in theatre – one that must spin or be unassembled and reassembled so as to feature a backstage look of the proceedings in Act 2. Then, of course, the set has be facing front-side out again for Act 3. In my review of this show, after praising the hard working cast, I wrote: “The compliment extends to the remarkable set change crew whose precise work during the act breaks, as they twice turn the well-designed set (by Terry Prentkowski) 180 degrees, is a marvel.”

Lion group

Elaborate period costuming, in CCP’s “The Lion in Winter” wins the Mitty in this category.

In the category – Most Impressive Costume Design – Community Theatre Division: The Lion in Winter, a period play set in 1183 offered by Carmel Community Players topped this category. Linda Grow, in what I am told was her first foray into the craft, had her hands full but did a very impressive job with the design and construction of every player’s outfit.

In the category – Most Impressive Newcomer – Community Theatre Division: here we have a tie, although they were both in the same production. From my review for Jake’s Women at Center Stage: “Young Julia Frisby and younger Bella Doss, share the role of Molly – portrayed at present age – 21, and past age – 12, respectively. Both give nicely rounded performances as Ms. Doss does a fine job delivering some typical Simonesque zingers while Ms. Frisby is especially effective in an emotional imagined reunion with her late mother.” Both were equally impressive in their roles.

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Smaller Role – Community Theatre Division: In Buck Creek Players’ fine production of A Few Good Men, Aaron E. Smith gives a dynamic performance as the gung-ho Marine Lt. Jonathan Kendrick. His outward intensity showed a good understanding of this character and was noteworthy on that account.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Smaller Role – Community Theatre Division: I just recently saw Spotlight Players’ holiday offering, It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play. One actress in particular impressed me with her performance of an array of characters.  Elisabeth Giffin showed a certain verve in her roles, creating feelings of both a carefree comic nature and, when necessary, feelings of distress and wantonness. And she did it all with what seemed to be an enviable effortlessness.

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Larger Role – Community Theatre Division: Every year I have one or two selections which are without question. I was most impressed by an actor who is very familiar to me, a person I have directed, and who is a good friend – Laurence Adams (I call him Larry) whose portrayal of Jake in Center Stage Community Theatre’s production of Jake’s Women has already won him an Encore Award. From my review of the play: “…this play belongs to Jake, played with complete abandon in a tour de force rendition by veteran actor, Laurence Adams… Jake is complicated; a manic-depressive creature, controlling, angst-filled, living in his past, wanting to command his future, while lacking a basic trust for women. Adams soars through all these facets and more in a truly exceptional display of his thespian skills.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Larger Role – Community Theatre Division: We have another tie here. First, I was most impressed with an actress who, again is familiar to me, having worked with her onstage. From my The Lion in Winter review: “Susan Boilek Smith shines in the role of Queen Eleanor, who has been let out of her prison cell (10 years or so ago, she tried to kill Henry) for the Christmas court. In a role filled with humor and conniving, Ms. Smith puts forth a deep, well-conceived and multi-faceted portrait of this complicated and original female…  I believe this is her best work.”

Our other winner had won in this category a year ago. From Spotlight’s It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play: “Jean Childers Arnold (my 2014 Mitty Award winner for her superior work as Bella in CCP’s Lost in Yonkers) is perfect in the role of George’s wife, Mary. Her eloquent conveyances of Mary’s character are spot-on and a pleasure to see and hear.” She really did an excellent job in this show.

In the category – Most Impressive Direction – Community Theatre Division: This year’s award winner is Jim LaMonte, who provided great guidance to his cast of voice actors in Spotlight Players’ It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play. The story really came alive as we listened to the arc of this very familiar tale. From my review: “…under LaMonte’s sharp direction the story is effectively told with emotion and joy as the pay-offs.”

In the category – Most Impressive Production – Community Theatre Division: Although I only saw a handful of plays on the community theatre level this year, I do not think I could have seen a finer, more completely realized production than Jake’s Women at Center Stage Community Theatre. “Under the carefully crafted direction of Jan Jamison, her talented cast members once again show just how amazingly good central Indiana community theatre can be…. It is an outstanding production of a rather difficult play.” Kudos to all involved!

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

In the category – Most Impressive Ensemble Cast – Community Theatre Division: This special award goes to the 9 member cast of Noises Off, which was produced at The Belfry. Again, from my review:

“Director (Ron) Richards does an exemplary job managing this troubled crew through a web-like set of situations and movements, especially in the extraordinary second act, which presents a back of the set view of the play’s goings on. By this time, the story is a tangle of love triangles, jealousies and physical comeuppances. The entire troupe shines in this display of nearly silent acting chores. It is great fun to see this unusual combination of pantomime and slapstick.

Overall, the cast does a fine job with a truly difficult endeavor. It is evident that this show required a lot of precision from all involved and this was indeed well accomplished.”

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That’s it for another year. Congratulations to all the winners! 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.

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