“The Three Musketeers” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Indiana Repertory Theatre opens the 2016-17 season with The Three Musketeers – a play by Catherine Bush, adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ eponymic 1844 novel. Ms. Bush has produced a mostly faithful reflection of the original, dramatizing the famous story with an adventurous styling that presents the tale’s heroes with all the necessary flourish and swash. I especially enjoyed her use of the portrayals of memories, which include the story-telling in words shown beside the action of said story.

Set on the ultra-adaptable scenic design of William Bloodgood, with actors dressed in perfect costumes designed by Devon Painter, director Henry Woronicz has laid down a smooth presentation that is sweeping and seamless. Scene changes happen before our eyes as if turning a page. No chance for humor is ever lost in the ultimate drama of the story, and Woronicz has made certain any of Ms. Bush’s alterations to the original as presented without question. Striking sound elements by Barry G. Funderburg and impressive lighting designed by Ann G. Wrightson add much to the final product.

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Jeb Burris (d’Artagnan), Nathan Hosner (Aramis), Robert Neal (deTreville), David Folsom (Porthos) and Ryan Artzberger (Athos) in the IRT’s production of “The Three Musketeers”.

A rather large cast of 17 portray the population of the play, most supplying a number of roles. Standouts include Ryan Artzberger, David Folsom and Nathan Hosner as the three musketeers – Athos, Porthos and Aramis, respectively. Jeb Burris joins in as the hopeful d’Artagnan. All four display themselves as agile and worthy heroes. Their swordplay, excellently choreographed by Paul Dennhardt, is lively and realistic. Dan Kremer is excellently villainous as Cardinal Richelieu, joined in like force by Rob Johansen as his nefarious henchman Rochefort and Elizabeth Laidlaw as a conniving Milady de Winter.

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Dan Kremer (Cardinal Richlieu) and Elizabeth Laidlaw Milady de Winter) in the IRT’s production of “The Three Musketeers”.

Amanda Catania is lovely as d’Artagnan’s sweetheart, Constance, while Charles Goad and Scot Greenwell generate most of the tale’s laughs as Goad’s King Louis XII minces about self-centeredly, and Greenwell’s Planchet shows surprising fight skills. The remainder of the ensemble members contribute first-rate skills in what looks to be an enjoyable endeavor for them all.

The total combination of excellent staging, dynamic depictions of familiar characters and a heroic story of romance plus intrigue fills the IRT stage to the brim.

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One of the many fight scenes choreographed by Paul Dennhardt in the IRT’s production of “The Three Musketeers”.

Bottom-line: All in all, this is quite an engaging adventure accented by the usual stunning stagecraft designs one comes to expect from any IRT production. It makes for a very entertaining and worthwhile evening.

IRT’s The Three Musketeers continues on the OneAmerica Mainstage through October 15. For more information about tickets and show schedule call 317.635.5252 or go online at http://www.irtlive.com.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing

“The Dealer Smiles” at Westfield Playhouse

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reviewed by Mark Kamish

Friday night was my first-ever visit to Main Street Production’s Westfield Playhouse (the 150-some-year-old theater just north of Indy – yes, still no running water indoors) where I enjoyed The Dealer Smiles, a thought-and-feeling-provoking play written by, starring and directed by local playwright, actor and guest reviewer for “A Seat on the Aisle,” Larry Adams.

Although Larry’s “comedy of Biblical proportions” and philosophical look of religion has been around for a few years – once before in Westfield, once at IndyFringe and for several church groups (there are even a couple YouTube clips out there) – it was a brand new opening night on Friday for this three-weekend run. See it for the first time, or see it again! The show is not too long (about an hour), but in that relatively short time, much “heavy” ground is covered in this two-man show, albeit in a light and easy way.

The plot and set are pretty simple. Matt Pierson (Larry Adams), recently divorced and in the thick of guilt over his role in his marriage’s demise (he’s noticeably still wearing his wedding band), is in the self-help section of a small local bookstore (where have those all gone, by the way?). There, he seeks answers to the struggles and losses he is dealing with in the crosshairs of middle-age.

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From left: Larry Adams and Jaime Johnson in Main Street Production’s “The Dealer Smiles”

In walks Josh (masterfully played by Jaime Johnson), a bubbly but odd fellow wearing a red “smiley face” shirt and matching red tennis shoes. After bumming some change from Matt for a cup of the bookstore’s own elixir of hot chocolate, Josh, by way of conversation (uninvited by Matt), goes on about the history of chocolate. Taken out of his self-absorption by Josh’s cocoa monologue, Matt is ready now to engage in a discussion with Josh that becomes much more.

What develops is a conversation we all seem to have at different points in our lives: Is there a God? If there is, who is She? What am I doing here? What purpose do I serve? How do I deal with this loss? Why is everything always changing? What did I do to deserve this? Am I the only person having these weird thoughts?

And, as in real life, Matt’s open, candid conversation with Josh (who seems to have an inside track with the “Almighty Dealer”) ultimately reveals no answers and resolves very little, other than to cause Matt (and the audience) pause; to be open to greater self-awareness and the peace that comes from being present and not resisting what life brings our way.

Very organized, light-hearted, certainly laugh-out-loud funny in some spots, and fast-paced, The Dealer Smiles will likely lead to discussions that continue long after you leave the theater.

In fact, Larry and Jaime take some time at the end of the show to launch those discussions, holding a “no-holds-barred” Q & A with the audience. I found this 30 minutes or so as interesting and entertaining as the show itself.

In a similar free-for-all discussion about religion I once had with a high school teacher of mine, I remember that teacher telling me, “I’m not Catholic because I think Catholicism is the second-best religion.” Religion and faith play such vital roles in our lives. Somehow, whether we are members of a particular church, spiritual seekers unaffiliated with any particular dogma, or even atheist, our beliefs, pursued in search of meaning and deeper connection, become very, very personal. These faiths and beliefs do, in fact, become part of our identity in many cases.

I think Larry’s play reminds us of a danger brought about by our strong-held spiritual faiths and religious beliefs. Unfortunately, our commitment to following those faiths and beliefs, purportedly in the pursuit of recognizing the interconnectedness we all share with one another and with our Source, can ironically separate us from each other (and from our Higher Power). The inevitability of the ego to begin to view “my church,” “my spiritual belief,” “my faith” to distinguish our “right ways” of thinking and believing” from all of those “lost souls” who believe differently, doesn’t unite; it divides. One of many beautiful things about The Dealer Smiles is the way Larry’s script appears to make room at the table for people of all spiritual beliefs (and even disbeliefs) to participate in this greatly-needed human conversation.

The Dealer Smiles continues its run at Main Street Production’s Westfield Playhouse through October 9. For more on specific dates, show times and to order tickets, call the reservation line at (317) 402-3341, email the box office at info@westfieldplayhouse.org or visit Main Street Production’s website: http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org/.

And remember to stick around after the show to talk with Larry and Jaime about all things spiritual and to discuss bringing this show to your church or spiritual group.

” It’s Only A Play” at Theatre on the Square

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

TOTS opens the 2016-17 season with Terrance McNally’s It’s Only A Play, directed by Darrin Murrell. Mr. McNally is considered one of this country’s most important playwrights and he is a multiple award winner with Tony, Drama Desk Emmy, and Obie Awards for his work in theatre and television.

It’s Only A Play depicts the opening night of playwright Peter Austin’s “The Golden Egg” – detailing the after-party angst of said playwright, his director, the producer, a rebounding actress who stars in the play, the playwright’s best friend, a newly arrived actor wannabe, and a critic who would rather be a playwright. Meant as a satirical examination of the world of theatre and it’s participants, McNally’s play is only partially successful, in my opinion – but more on that later.

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From left: Thomas Cardwell, Kathy Pataluch, Dave Ruark and Afton Shepard in a scene from TOTS’ production of “It’s Only A Play”

Director Murrell has been blessed with a superior cast. Veteran Indianapolis actors Dave Ruark and Adam O. Crowe lead the way as playwright Austin and his best friend, actor James Wicker. Both provide steady and skillful characterizations of men who are thrust into a negative circumstance on this night. Thomas Cardwell plays director Frank Finger with a flair for his eccentricities and his rather extraordinary hope of failure.

Kathy Pataluch is great fun as the drug-ingesting, fit to be avenged, much put upon (she has to wear a probationary ankle bracelet in performance) stage actress, Virginia Noyes. Jeff Maess does a noteworthy job with theatre critic Ira Drew. Drew’s invasion of the backstage arena is played off as his opportunity to push for a colleague’s new play, but winds up with his observation of how his words really can sting – something I have certainly dealt with from time-to-time.

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From left: Adam O. Crowe and Jacob Swain in a scene from TOTS’ production of “It’s Only A Play”

Jacob Swain, whom I also enjoyed seeing in CCP’s The Lion in Winter around one year ago, lends a cheery persona to his vision of the young NYC newcomer Gus P. Head. And Afton Shepard’s air-headed Julia Budder is an over the top delight. Her energetic approach to the play’s producer is filled with high ranged excitement interchanged with a sort of goofy pathos. Both are very funny.

Much of the enactment Murrell herded his charges into is purposely over the top, but this adds texture and a bit of fun to the scenario.

Okay – so I really did love the acting. The connections between players were strongly evident. The energy filled performances carried the day. And other audience members seemed to be appreciative, as well. But in all honesty, in my opinion, the script these characters lived in was lacking.

McNally tried multiple times to put a worthwhile finish on this endeavor. Starting with a “failed in tryouts” version called “Broadway, Broadway” in 1978, a revised version saw life as an off-off-Broadway production in 1982. Following that it reappeared as an off-Broadway rendition for about one month in early 1986. A further revised version came to Los Angeles in 1992. Then, a once-more rewritten form opened on Broadway in October 2014 and had what was called a “megaseller” run thru June 2015. One might say – McNally wanted very much to have his words heard – and what words they are.

The play opens steadily enough. It is lots of fun to meet all the characters and see their anxieties on this important night. And once most are met and the exposition is laid out, the momentum of the action is fine. But when the playwright finally arrives, having contemplatively wandered the streets around the Broadway district, he delivers the first of three momentum stopping monologues. The first two are divided by an apology for being up on a “soapbox”, the third is a spur-of-the-moment prayer that endangers any recovery of the play’s propulsion, in spite of the wonderful attempts to do so by the actors.

What we are left with – again, in my opinion – is a series of well-divided laugh lines popping up here and there, in a scenario we have forgotten to care about.

Here, one might say, “but, Ken, this version was a huge hit on Broadway”. Well, I am thinking that one could put Nathan Lane (who played James Wicker, relieved at one point by Martin Short), Matthew Broderick (Peter Austin), F. Murray Abraham (Ira Drew) and Stockard Channing (Virginia Noyes) onstage making toast and wind up with a hit.

Bottom-line: I congratulate this cast and director. The performances were funny, thoughtful and at times, even courageous, but in the end – the play about a bad play was, in a way, prophetic.

It’s Only A Play continues at Theatre on the Square through October 1. Information about tickets and scheduled performances may be found at http://www.tots.org .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

“Million Dollar Quartet” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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Reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Let me get right to the point:

What ATI presents for their 2016-17 season opener is far more than a mere production – 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.

Director DJ Salibury has taken his crew of extremely talented actor/musicians and has lit the fire in their bellies to assembly a juke box musical that has the audience on their feet and, for my generation at least, joyously rolls out the memorable music of our youth.

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A photo taken at the historic gathering of the four rock talents; (from left, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash)

If you don’t know the premise – Sam Phillips was the founder of Sun Records, the company that first recorded such 50’s pop stars as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Phillips was lucky enough on December 4, 1956 to have that foursome gather at his Memphis studio for an occasion that turned into a jam session which was recorded and eventually released years later in 1981 as “The Million Dollar Quartet” with 17 tracks. It was an unprecedented meeting of rock and roll royalty and it serves as the background for the work written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott. The show opened in 2006 at the Seaside Music Theatre in Florida before making it’s way to Chicago in 2008 and Broadway in 2010.

We are shown this historical summit in dramatic terms as the four music giants are all in their early careers and must make decisions about their futures. Don Ferrell imbues Sam Phillips with a wide personality – eager to succeed, direct in his assessment of these talents, masterful in his technique to find the hidden values in the music and in the performers. Ferrell has the most dramatic role and his sharply tuned rendering places it at just the right level, so as to not take any shine off the many fine performances surrounding him.

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The entire cast in performance – from left, foreground: Jeremy Sevelovitz 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.

Jeremy Sevelovitz takes the role of Carl Perkins, who started his Sun Records run with “Blue Suede Shoes”. Sevelovitz’ outstanding guitar work is a highlight of the show and his portrayal of the slightly edgy performer works well. Brandon Alstott gives his Johnny Cash a deep voiced sincerity that rings true. Playing such a well-known personage is not easy but Alstott skillfully makes the most of Cash’s style in his performances of “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line”.

Taylor Gray (who also was Music Director) is top-of-the-line wild and crazy as the energized Jerry Lee Lewis, also managing the man’s youthful naiveté with a fine touch. Gray seems to have mastered Lewis’s mad piano style, slapping the keys with tuneful precision and decorating his performances with an array of gymnastic moves to go along with the signature unfettered vocal style. Adam Tran may have the hardest task of all in these proceedings – impersonating the most iconic figure in rock and roll history, Elvis Presley. Tran does an amazingly adept job – finding Elvis’ confident performing style, as well as his shy aw-shucks mannerisms. His vocals hit the a King-like mark in such recognizable numbers as “That’s All Right” and “Hound Dog”. What I saw here was an actor who transcended impersonation and, impressively, built a portrayal of depth and nuance that had a very truthful quality.

Enhancing these quality performances is Betsy Norton as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne. Ms. Norton contributes two flashy numbers – a hot “Fever” and a spirited “I Hear You Knockin'” – as well as many strong background vocal stints. Kroy Presley adds his musical craftsmanship on the standup bass as Perkin’s brother Jay, while Nathan Shew is the vigorous studio drummer, Fluke. The entire cast of singers provides a constant stream of striking vocal talents in both solos and in close harmonies.

Bottom-line: You may have a hard time finding a more completely satisfying production to attend than ATI’s Million Dollar Quartet. As Mrs. K said as we were exiting the venue – “They really couldn’t have done a better job.” She is correct! Be aware, tickets for this one will go fast – opening weekend is virtually sold out.

Million Dollar Quartet continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through October 2nd, 2016. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

ADDENDUM: Acting on the principle that it is never too late to heap praise, I felt that in my zeal for the work of the performers and my attempt to meet my personal deadline I had neglected noting a very vital part of this incredible production.

I am referring to the fantastic effects of the set design, lighting, sound and costumes that did not just happen, but were the work of some behind the scenes visionaries who did as noteworthy a job as anyone who appeared on stage. P. Bernard Killian’s set design takes one to the scene of the historic meeting. The angled setting, as well as the complete recording booth, certainly act as a solid and realistic basis for telling this story. Likewise, Donna Jacobi’s costumes are period perfect. Jonathan Parke adds factors to the singers’ voices that enhance and are very close to what we heard on the original platters back then. And Marciel Irene Greene’s dynamic lighting effects add to the pulse and power of the music and the storytelling. Without these designers’ contributions, I dare say this show would have lacked many of it’s intensities.

“Menopause the Musical” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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Beef and Boards continues it’s 2016 season with the popular musical revue, Menopause the Musical. Written by Jeanie Linders, and first performed in 2001 at a 76 seat venue – the production has grown to be among the most popular shows in the USA and in international cities.

Directed by Kim Simari with musical direction and costume coordination by Terry Woods, the show provides a mirthful look at the “silent passage” through 25 parodies of popular songs with hilarious results. Mary Wells’ “My Guy” becomes “My Thighs”; “Puff, the Magic Dragon” is now “Puff, My God, I’m Draggin'”; and the lyric “I wish they all could be California girls” is penned as “I wish we all could be Sane and Normal girls”. You get the picture.

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Clockwise from left: Teri Adams, Donna J. Huntley, Paula Kline-Messner and Ingrid Cole star in B&B’s presentation of “Menopause the Musical”

While the piece itself is clever entertainment, there is the added bonus of 4 uber-talented performers who handle the various roles and musical numbers with high proficiency. Teri Adams (Iowa Housewife), Ingrid Cole (Earth Mother), Donna J. Huntley (Professional Woman) and Paula Kline-Messner (Soap Star) each bring a decade or more of “Menopause” experience to the stage. All are making their B&B debuts, and all should be invited back!

Their familiarity with the material certainly shows as they playfully present the characters and their predicaments. It truly is all good fun as the ensemble spins through number after number with great comedic timing and wonderful, well-trained  voices. The entire packaged production from GFOUR Productions is first rate and immensely entertaining

Of course, part of the evening’s satisfaction is provided by Chef Odell’s wonderful buffet and by the as-always great service given by B&B’s dining room staff. All in all, it is a highly worthwhile evening.

Menopause the Musical continues at B&B through October 2nd. Dates and times for performances can be found by calling 317.872.9664 or by visiting http://www.beefandboards.com

Let me just add that I got a peek at the B&B 2017 season schedule and it has some outstanding shows on it. B&B will be presenting 4 new offerings and one fabulously famous show that has not been done there for 20 years – I’ll just say “Wouldn’t It be Loverly?” to be there for this landmark theatre production? Official announcements are coming September 1 – so be watchful online, in Nuvo, and in the Star!

  • – photo by Julie Curry

“Next to Normal” at CCP

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Carmel Community Theatre concludes it’s 2015-16 season with an excellent choice – Next to Normal, the reflective 2009 Tony and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning rock musical by Tomm Kitt and Brian Yorkey. This thought-provoking story depicts a mother’s trials with bipolar disorder and explores the effects it has on her family and her future.

CCP’s production is directed by Carlo Nepomuceno, with musical direction by Levi Burke. Both do a remarkable job, especially Nepomuceno, whose staging and emotionally correct leadership of his cast results in a devastatingly effective presentation of a significant study of our human condition. The exceptional cast of 6, all possessing well developed vocal skills – so necessary in a show that is about 95% singing – simply knocks this one out or the park.

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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.

Georgeanna Teipen’s portrayal of Diana Goodman, leads the way in excellence. Ms. Teipen is perfect as the troubled mother, portraying the angst and delusion of her disorders in just the right measure, never wavering from an unsureness that reaches out to the audience. Likewise, Russell Lee Watson, as her husband Dan, comes through with a stirring depiction of the troubles of the faithful and loving spouse of a disordered person – unfailingly patient and hopeful of getting his stable partner back.

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Diana confronts her delusions in a scene from CCP’s “Next to Normal” with (from left) Kyle David Mottinger, Georgeanna Teipen and Bradley Kieper.

Three adroit, young performers – Kyle Mottinger as lost son Gabe, Sharmaine Ruth as much ignored daughter Natalie, and Daniel Hellman as Natalie’s somewhat slacking boyfriend, Henry – add to the talent laden cast. All three have well honed singing skills and handle their various roles in the story arc with clarity and polish. Their talents fill the stage and Hellman’s and Ms. Ruth’s romantic interplay never fails to be believable and on the mark. Mottinger’s nearly ghostlike rendition of the dead son is precisely crafted as antagonistic without being overdone.

Bradley Kieper takes two lesser roles as Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden and makes them memorable merely through the power of his singing. He is an excellent vocalist and makes the most of a rare comic bend in the script.

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A scene from CCP’s “Next to Normal” with (from left) Daniel Hellman, Sharmaine Ruth and Russell Lee Watson.

The set design by Nepomuceno and Bill Fitch is imaginative and utilitarian, costumes “managed” by Pat Dorwin are always correct for mood and character, and the 4 piece band led by Levi Burke is consistently bright and well-toned, although at times a bit more “powerful” than perhaps is necessary as the musicians occasionally overtake the vocals – my only criticism to what is truly an amazing music production.

Bottom-line: 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”.

Carmel Community Player’s Next to Normal continues at their Clay Terrace venue through August 21. To learn information about times and dates visit http://www.carmelplayers.org or call 317.815.9387.

  • – Photos provided by Carlos Nepomuceno

 

 

 

“Church Basement Ladies” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre fills their mid-summer schedule by pulling out the original edition of the Church Basement Ladies series – last seen on their stage in 2010. This beginning chapter is written by Jim Stowell and Jessica Zuehlke, and directed by Curt Wollan (who directed the very first production of the show in 2005) with choreography by Wendy Short-Hays.

Set in the mid 1960s, we meet the “pillars of the church”: Vivian Snustad, the senior member of the crew, winningly played by Licia Watson; Mavis Gilmerson, the feisty one in the group, done with panache by Karen Pappas; Dawn Trautman as Karin Engelson, the quietly energetic part of the quartet; and Karin’s daughter Signe, who has some different ideas about how things might be better and who is nimbly portrayed by Lindsay Sutton. Their spiritual leader is Pastor Gunderson, revisited by B&B’s own Eddie Curry in his usual earnest style.

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Signe (Lindsay Sutton), center, performs “Sing a New Song” in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of “Church Basement Ladies”.

This fivesome, through comedy and song, show life and it’s many changes and challenges, especially as it pertained to the middle 60’s in the U.S. All have wonderful singing voices and a keen knack for the humorous characterizations necessary in this show. It is an enjoyable show to be sure, highlighted by an array of fine physical comedy by Ms. Pappas, and some wonderfully timed reactions by Mr. Curry.

It what appears to be a very franchised brand – not only are the show’s direction and choreography supplied by Troupe America, the entity that seemingly owns the show – the accompanying costumes and musical soundtrack are also included in this production. It all works marvelously well, but is a bit different than most B&B offerings.

This Is Most Certainly True

From left – Signe (Lindsay Sutton), Vivian Snustad (Licia Watson), Karin (Dawn Trautman), and Mavis Gilmerson (Karen Pappas) use kitchen items for instruments as they sing “This is Most Certainly True” in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of “Church Basement Ladies”.

Included in the evening was Chef Odell Ward’s full buffet, this time featuring Barbeque Country Ribs and a wonderful lineup of side dishes. And of course we were also treated to great service by the ever observant and doting B&B staff.

Bottomline: A nice summertime alternative of good fun and good food is on tap at “the Beef”.

Church Basement Ladies continues at B&B through August 21st. Dates and times for performances can be found by calling 317.872.9664 or by visiting http://www.beefandboards.com

  • – Photos by Julie Curry

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