“Pipeline” at IRT UpperStage

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Dominique Morisseau’s play, Pipeline, is an American tragedy, filled with themes of American life and it’s challenges, and packed with confrontations. There are themes of parenting, loyalty, divorce, education, growth, love, hate, rage, failure, turmoil, hope and consequences. Although mainly set in an African-American family’s attempt for a better tomorrow, it unveils the universally troubling problems we all face in our attempts to lift our children to a more promising future, as well as the challenges on both sides of that issue – for the lifters and the lifted.

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Cole Taylor as student Omari, in IRT’s production of “Pipeline”

High school teacher Nya’s world is turned inside out by the trouble caused by her son Omari’s violent actions at the private school he attends. While very intelligent, Omari possesses an “ominous rage” that has reached strike three on his school conduct record and he is now in danger of losing his spot in the prestigious school. He himself is also troubled by the consequence of failure and feels separate from: a father he does not respect, the expectations of his ever hopeful mother and the life he now has spoiled with his actions.

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Xavier (Andre Garner, right) explains his position to Nya (Aime Donna Kelly) in IRT’s production of “Pipeline”

Side two of the drama illuminates the difficulties educators have with the task of teaching youths who do not wish to learn, who have violence as an answer, and who care not for anything, including themselves and their futures.

In some ways, Pipeline is a pointed indictment of the system that cannot quell the problems of these youths. In others, it highlights the futility of our own attempts to do so.

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Jasmine (Renika Williams, left) is confronted by Nya (Aime Donna Kelly) in IRT’s production of “Pipeline”

Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges’ cast for the play is simply tremendous. Aimé Donna Kelly’s intense portrayal of Nya, the mother, is filled with the overwhelming strife and fear of a parent without any answers to the problems her child brings. Cole Taylor is flawless and sharp in the part of Omari, bringing a great amount of truth and honesty to a difficult role. Omari’s girlfriend, Jasmine, is offered by Renika Williams, with an aptly unsure dreaminess, while Omari’s off-site father, Xavier, is presented with abrupt candor by André Garner.

Toussaint Jeanlouis and Constance Macy round out the cast as two of Nya’s often frustrated school colleagues, caught in the turmoil of the public education system and its many faults.

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Omari (Cole Taylor, left) confronts his father, Xavier (Andre Garner) in IRT’s production of “Pipeline”

Director Myrick-Hodges has placed her cast at a very high emotion level. There are a lot of intense and loud exchanges as the characters display their fear, their anger, and their frustrations. A good 50% of the dialogue is shouted, it seems, and that, to this writer’s senses suggests a bit too much hysteria for a staging. Surely these characters have much to be disappointed by and to be afraid of, but I submit – there is a variety of levels to employ to express a character’s miseries, all of which are not as strident.

That said, through the onslaught of high volume exchanges, the themes and crises come to light with a brilliance. The family’s problems are notably unresolved at the finish, but that is surely intentional as we are clearly left with a good measure of hope. And hope is all we ever really have in these circumstances, after all.

The story is enhanced by the creativity of Junghyun Georgia Lee’s clever set design, Xavier Pierce’s lighting design, and Ari Fulton’s costumes. Also noteworthy is Reuben Lucas’ amazing projection design, which is hugely illustrative.

Pipeline will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through November 11th. 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 Zach Rosing
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“Man of La Mancha” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

On a Sunday evening, most small business owners are likely watching football or enjoying a quiet evening before heading back into the work week. But not Doug Stark. Stark spends Sunday greeting his audience at Beef & Boards Dinner Theater.  An Indianapolis institution, Beef & Boards often appears to be a well oiled machine. Seeing Stark reminded me that not all the work is done backstage . . . or in the kitchen. And in all the years that Stark has been producing at Beef & Boards, presenting hundreds of plays and musicals, this is the first time they have presented Man of La Mancha.

Written by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and Lyrics by Joe Darion, Man of La Mancha is based on Miguel Cervante’s “Don Quixote”. The musical tells the story through the device of a play within a play. At the outset, Cervantes is being held by the Spanish Inquisition and in order to appease his fellow prisoners, spins the tale of Alonso Quijano, an old gentleman who has read so many books of chivalry and thought so much about injustice that he has lost his mind and set out to be a Knight, renamed Don Quixote. The adventures of Don Quixote make up the bulk of the story, with Cervantes casting a spell over his fellow prisoners, even as he himself heads to interrogation as the musical ends.

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Eddie Curry (Sancho Panza) and Richard White (Don Quixote) in a scene from Beef and Boards’ “Man of La Mancha”

Man of La Mancha features a beautiful score of Spanish influenced music, including the classic songs “The Impossible Dream” and “Dulcinea”. Terry Woods and his talented orchestra are in fine form and I especially enjoyed Chris Tucker’s terrific acoustic guitar playing. The Cast is uniformly delightful and features Richard White as Cervantes/Quixote. White has quite a resume, including voicing Gaston in the original Disney feature “Beauty and the Beast”. He is joined by Beef & Boards regular Eddie Curry, as the delightful sidekick Sancho Panza. Erica Hanrahan-Ball rounds out the leading players as the tortured Aldonsa, re-christened Dulcinea by Don Quixote. All three give performances of depth and pathos. These strong leads are joined by over a dozen actor/singers playing multiple roles. Every cast member excels. Together, performers and musicians combine to cast their own spell on the audience. I was enchanted.

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Erica Hanrahan-Ball as Aldonsa in a scene from Beef and Boards’ “Man of La Mancha”

Beef & Boards theatrical offerings are usually on the lighter side. Man of La Mancha is a departure, insofar as it incorporates some of Cervantes’ tale’s darker turns. I found it a refreshing change of pace and thoroughly enjoyed seeing this rich and layered show in such a beautiful and professional production. I must also mention that the show is beautifully staged and designed as well. Michael Layton’s set and Ryan Koharchik’s lighting transformed the theater’s intimate space at every turn. I’m always pleased to see an often overlooked classic get a strong production, and Beef & Boards delivers with Man of La Mancha. Make room in your busy Fall schedule to catch this stirring show.

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre is located at 9301 Michigan Road on Indy’s Northwest side. Tickets may be purchased by calling (317) 872-9664. Man of La Mancha performs Tuesdays through Sundays through November 18th.

  • – Photos by Julie Curry

“Anything Goes” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

Before the curtain rose on the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s Season opener, Anything Goes, Artistic Director Michael J. Lasley thanked the Great American Songbook Foundation for their support of the production. It made perfect sense. Anything Goes is Cole Porter’s most popular musical, and no American composer is more deserving of his own chapter in the Great American Songbook than Indiana’a own Cole Porter. First appearing on Broadway in 1934, Anything Goes has been revived and/or re-staged in many well received Broadway productions, not to mention the huge number of times it has been produced in schools and community theaters.

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Kari Baker (right) as Hope Harcourt in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Anything Goes”

Civic’s production, directed by Lasley and choreographed by Anne Beck, is the version produced on Broadway in 1987. Many of the original 1934 songs are now standards, and this version of the show has the addition of other well known songs like “Friendship“ and “It’s De-Lovely”, which Porter originally wrote for different shows. As a whole, the music is a feast for Cole Porter fans.

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Nathalie Cruz (center) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Anything Goes”

As I’d expect, the Civic “polish” is evident. The technical aspects are beautifully designed and executed. The set may be a rental, but the production values are pure Civic. That said, the book for Anything Goes, credited to an amalgam of P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, (with additions by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman) is very much of the last Century. Modern audiences, accustomed to character development in their musicals, might feel a bit let down. Luckily, Porter’s score, and the talented cast’s singing and dancing of it, buoy the proceedings nicely, even in the script’s weaker moments.

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The cast performs one of the many production numbers in Civic Theatre’s “Anything Goes”

Civic has corralled a great group of veterans and newcomers. A particular standout is Susie Harloff, who’s Reno Sweeney is fully alive and constantly compelling. The always eye-catching Nathalie Cruz, in a supporting role, is also delightful. Cruz is Great – more Cruz would be better! As a whole, the cast is strong and enthusiastic. Also as expected, the musical direction of Brett Marty is strong and sure. His orchestra is wonderful. In summary – if you are a Porter lover, or just a fan of big, old-fashioned musicals, then this Anything Goes is for you!

Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre is located in the Center for The Performing Arts in Carmel. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at civictheatre.org or by calling (317) 843-3800. Anything Goes performs Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Performances run through October 27th.

Bardfest: First Folio’s “The Merchant of Venice” at Indy Fringe Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

First Folio’s entry into the 4th annual Bardfest program is William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – a rather pithy tale of love and vengefulness. Directed by Doug Powers, and presented on a very bare stage setting, a well-prepared cast puts on a very enjoyable and meaningful entertainment.

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from left: Zach Taylor as Bassanio, and Ryan Ruckman as Antonio in a scene from First Folio Production’s “The Merchant of Venice”

The story is thus: Merchant Antonio is devoted to his friend, the nobleman Bassanio – albeit in this interpretation, he is a bit more than merely devoted. When Bassanio comes to Antonio with a need for funding to pursue the heiress Portia of Belmont, Antonio sets a deal by which he will back any loan that his friend might procure. In his desperation, Bassario gets the loan from Shylock, a Jew who is not well thought of in Venice, especially by Antonio. The agreement for the loan requires that Shylock, if Antonio defaults, will acquire a pound of flesh from near the heart of Antonio as settlement of the unpaid loan. Antonio agrees, although he hates the Jew, for his friend’s sake. Funds in hand, Bassanio goes to Belmont, succeeds in gaining Portia’s hand, but soon finds that Antonio’s merchant ships have all been lost, leaving him destitute. Very dismayed, he tells his new wife of the situation, then leaves for Venice to support his friend. Wise Portia devises a secret solution to the problem, acts on it dressed as a man (good old Shakespeare loved cross-dressing his male actors playing females to be females acting as males), and saves the day – defeating and humiliating the vindictive Shylock in court.

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from left: Ryan Reddick as Shylock and Emily Bohn as Portia in First Folio Productions’ “The Merchant of Venice”

Director Powers is fortunate to have collected a fine group of Shakespearean actors for his project. Especially notable in leading roles are Ryan Ruckman and Zach Taylor as the confident Antonio and faithful Bassanio, respectively; Ryan Reddick as a fairly sympathetic, though vengeful, Shylock; and Emily Bohn as the resourceful Portia. Fine supporting work is done by Pat Mullen as Launcelot, Amanda Boldt as Nerissa, and Dwuan Watson Jr as the debonair Prince of Morocco.

The story-telling itself, always a challenge with Shakespearean language, is clear for the most part. All the players give nicely interpreted accounts of their character’s contributions to the tale, most with great usage of hands and expressions. The most common bug-a-boo is one I run across often in watching Shakespeare’s works – the lack of e-NUN-ci-A-tion. Many actors, such as Mr. Reddick, Mr Watson, or Mr. Mullen, never waver in their work to have each word distinctly communicated. Many others go in and out of the zone, falling prey to a lack of precision in their speech. This can and should be corrected.

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Pat Mullen as Launcelot in First Folio Productions’ “The Merchant of Venice”

My only other misgiving to this effort at mounting this difficult play, is that it is perhaps “under-edited”. That is to say: some speeches could have been cut down further, some eliminated altogether, to make what is a monstrously long work in the original, even more pared down for the modern audience. Several scenes go on and on and there is questionable value for the inclusion of all they are in the storyline. I realize that this may just be a matter of my own taste for the script as it was edited and played – so be it.

Bottomline: This hard-working group of producers, directors and players have wrought a fine version of one of the Bard’s most famous plays. Heavy on antisemitism as it is, I believe it reflects a time gone by, illustrating, as many older plays and films that deal with intolerance do, how far we have come as a society in our acceptance of each other’s differences.

The Merchant of Venice continues at the Indy Fringe Theatre through October 7th. Go to this link for further info on dates, times and reservations for the show.

  • – Photos by Matt Wall

“Holmes and Watson” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created his Sherlock Holmes series between 1897 and 1927, he developed a character who was a non-pareil in terms of his highly skilled powers of deduction, scientific knowledge, use of disguise, and combat abilities. His apparent death at the hands of arch-enemy Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls in the story entitled “The Final Problem” caused a bit of chaotic reaction amongst Sherlock fans in the late 19th century and has often led to speculation as to what actually happened at the falls; how did Holmes escape to live another day?

The falls survival question is at the very heart of playwright Jefferey Hatcher’s excellent offering, Holmes and Watson, which opens the 2018-19 season at IRT, directed by Risa Brainin. In the play, we again meet Dr. Watson (played by Torrey Hanson). Three years after the Reichenenbach Falls episode, Watson has been summoned to an island asylum by a Dr. Evans (Henry Woronicz) to help identify which of three inmates there (Michael Brusasco, Nathan Hosner and Rob Johansen) is the real Holmes. The three patients all believe they are the great detective and Dr. Evans hopes Watson’s familiarity with the man will end the mystery. The only residents on the island are the three patients, Dr. Evans, an unnamed orderly (Ryan Artzberger) and a Matron (Jennifer Johansen).

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from left: Dr. Evans (Henry Woronicz), Matron (Jennifer Johansen) and Watson (Torrey Hanson) in a scene from IRT’s production of “Holmes and Watson”.

As the play evolves, we are caught up in the task Watson is charged with, and at times, any of the inmates appear to be Holmes, while at other times none of them could possibly be the sleuth. Watson appears to be a rather good investigator in his own right and selects one of the three to be the likeliest choice. The denouement has a shattering effect and as we leave the theatre, we realize we have been utterly and completely hood-winked. Nothing we had witnessed was the truth and, indeed, some of what I have told you here is a kind of fraud as well.

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from left: Rob Johansen, Nathan Hosner, and Michael Brusasco. IRT’s production of “Holmes and Watson” asks the question: which of these three inmates is the real Sherlock Holmes?            (Photo by Alexis Morin)

You really must go see this marvelous show to grasp what I am trying to tell you here – so do that – for yourself!

In what is in essence an ensemble piece, all seven cast members are marvelous in their roles. This high quality of acting is a huge part of what carries us away and leads us to the conclusions we draw, which we later must pitch.

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Ryan Artzberger takes the flashback role of Professor Moriarty in a scene from IRT’s production of “Holmes and Watson”.

The 90 minute story is told in an intensely gripping manner, but Director Brainin has set her charges to keep a humorous aspect within the proceedings. A mysterious style of showing  flashbacks is quite effective and much aided by scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan’s dynamic set. Devon Painter has designed the costumes with great effect and Michael Klaers’ lighting design adds to the successful story-telling. Composer Michael Keck’s contribution also lends a dramatic quality to the production.

Bottomline: I am a Sherlock fan, and it is always a pleasure to see the character come to life. His appearance here comes with a bonus – the mystery surrounding his return. This is truly one of the most enjoyable Holmes stories I have ever encountered; indeed – it is one of the best stage mysteries I have ever seen. Well-written, well-wrought and well-appreciated.

Holmes and Watson will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through October 21st. 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 Zach Rosing unless otherwise noted

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Hendricks Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin, is Hendricks Civic Theatre’s 2018-19 season opener. Directed by Ryan Thompson, this delightfully quirky musical comedy first came to Broadway in 2005 and has enjoyed a succession of productions by theatre groups across the country and around the world. The show is stocked with a plethora of atypical songs and  some truly hilarious laugh lines.

In the story, a group of area champion spellers are meeting to compete for the Putnam County title and are led by an adult former champion and monitored by a vice principal with some past undisclosed infractions. Add in a “comfort counselor”, who is a parolee doing his community service work, and I think you get the picture for what kind of eccentric proceedings are offered here. Each child brings a unique and sometimes bizarre personality quirk to the contest, and the fun is expanded by including several extra contestants “from the audience”.

Director Thompson must count himself lucky to get the wonderful cast he has for the production. Alphabetically, they are – Shelby Brown as over-achiever Marcy Park; Onis Dean as parolee Mitch Mahoney; Robert Ellis as confident contestant William Barfee (pronounced Bar-fay); Cameron Hicks as the very special Leaf Conybear; Codie Knose as the easily upset Vice Principal Douglas Panch; Jackson Lindner as the suddenly pubescent Chip Tolentino; Rachel McKenney as the pie-in-the-sky past champion Rona Lisa Peretti, Gabby Niehaus as the raised by gay fathers Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere; and Jennifer Wells as the parental-love seeking Olive Ostrovsky.

There is plenty of ensemble work to be had here (highlighted by the extensively choreographed “Pandemonium”) but the script is unique in that it also provides each of the characters with their own spotlight moment. Hicks shows off a beautiful voice in Leaf’s “I’m Not that Smart” – I was also impressed by his sweetness of character without going over board. Ellis is terrific in his confident “Magic Foot” number, while Lindner’s “My Unfortunate Erection/Distraction” nearly stops the show entering the second act. Ms. Niehaus is cute and sensitive in her plaintive “Woe is Me” about her parents’ expectation levels. Ms. Brown romps around the stage in her lively “I Speak Six Languages” and Ms. Wells’ “The I Love You Song” takes a dramatic turn as she portrays her longing for her parents’ love, joined with wonderful turns by Ms. McKenney and Mr. Dean. The latter two actually have several rather high-end performance opportunities that they make the most of with their obvious vocal talents.

The show is wholly entertaining – every minute is lively and fun. Mr. Knoses’s V.P. Panch provides many of the funniest lines in the competition, with his responses to “Can you use that (word) in a sentence, please.”

The orchestra led by Musical Director Linda Parr sounds great throughout and the choreography by Karla Janning keeps the show moving in interesting ways. The set design by Andy Janning works well, and costumes by Chris Grady fill the bill.

This is a wonderful show with many great performances, and I hate to express a negative here, but I feel it is a very important one to note. Very often there is a definite deficit in the performers’ ability to be heard. One single mike down stage center is useful much of the time to alleviate the problem, but as the actors move about, their singing voices become rather difficult to hear and/or to understand. Often, the band plays at a level that drowns out the words of an unmiked singer or speaker. An obvious solution would be to mike all the performers, but I think that would likely have been done if that range of technology was available at this theatre. (Jackson Lindner’s early act two solo was effective and I noticed he wore an over-the-ear mike for that number.) I hope a solution can be found for this noteworthy problem. I expect a set of wireless personal mikes is high on the “must-have” list for this theatre company. They are presenting such a high-quality product here and it is a shame to not connect fully with their audiences. End of negativity.

Bottomline: Regardless of any problems, I feel the show overall is a very winning and enjoyable production of a really fun script. All the performers deserve recognition – there are no weak cogs in this one, believe me.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will continue through September 30th at HCT’s Longstreet Playhouse venue located at 4998 N County Road 100 E – north of Danville. Ticket information can be found by going to http://www.hendrickscivic.com or by calling (317) 913-3126.

CCP’s “Forever Plaid” at The CAT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Last night, Mrs K and I headed up to Carmel’s The CAT for a preview performance of Stuart Ross’s musical revue, Forever Plaid. This perennial favorite is being offered as Carmel Community Player’s season opener for 2018-19 and is in some ways a reconstruct of the theatre company’s popular 2001 staging of the same.

The show is a tribute to the “nice-guy” era of pop quartets which were popular in the 1950’s and early 60’s and tells the story of The Plaids, a close harmony foursome who return to life, after their untimely demise in a car accident many years ago, for one final chance at a defining stage appearance. It is a fun mix of songs and personality-driven humor that has delighted audiences since its off-Broadway debut in 1989.

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from left: Howard Baetzhold (Smudge), Rich Phipps (Frankie), Syd Loomis (Jinx), and Darrin Gowan (Sparky) cavort during a musical number in Carmel Community Players’ production of “Forever Plaid”.

CCP’s production is directed by Sandy Baetzhold, who was involved in the 2001 CCP edition of the show. Ms. Baetzhold also performs the piano accompaniment duties for the performance, alongside percussionist Richard “Sticks” Leap. The Plaids are brought back to life by Darrin Gowan as Sparky, Syd Loomis as Jinx, Rich Phipps as Frankie, and Howard Baetzhold as Smudge. (Mssrs. Loomis, Phipps and Baetzhold all appeared together in the same roles in the 2001 CCP offering, while Mr. Gowan repeats his role from The Belfry’s 2003 version.) The four men appear to have a tremendously good time presenting their characters and they offer any moments of good light-hearted comedy to the proceedings. But the real high point, the best part of the show, is the close harmony work these four gents turn in. The blended sounds of their four very well matched voices is simply splendid. Song after song is arranged to highlight their superb tight harmony work, and it is a true pleasure to hear them.

A simple set and sharp costuming, both designed by Ms. Baetzhold, add to the polish of the show, as do the lights designed by Jeff Timi.

Bottomline: Forever Plaid is an entertaining 90 minutes devoted to some of the wonderful old songs of the 50’s and 60’s. The Perry Como tribute especially brought back a lot of great memories of watching television at home with my parents and sister. The cast boasts four outstanding singers, who work especially well together recreating their very comfortable characterizations.

Forever Plaid opens September 21st and continues at CCP’s temporary venue, The CAT, 254 Veterans Way, Carmel IN, through October 7th. For information about the show and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.carmelplayers.org or call the box office at (317) 815-9387.

I’d also like to mention, regarding CCP’s search for a new home: the group has announced their 2018-19 season and all but one show will be offered at The CAT in Carmel. These shows include Forever Plaid, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Failure to Zig Zag. The Christmas show, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, will be offered at the Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy, 10029 E 126th St. Suite D, in Fishers IN. I have been told that the hunt for a new permanent address goes on.

 

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