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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Calder, the Musical, which opened as a full-length musical production last night (after wowing IndyFringe crowds last summer in a one hour version), is a grand testament to the talents and ingenuity of two local artists – Tom Alvarez, who wrote the book and the lyrics, and Dustin Klein, who wrote the music. Having fallen upon the story of mobile originator Alexander Calder in a children’s book about 2 years ago, the friends decided to work together and write an original story and score. The fruition of their endeavor, as witnessed in the packed house world premiere, is a colorful and well-tuned entertainment.

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“Calder, the Musical” co-creators Dustin Klein and Tom Alvarez on opening night!

This original score is brim-full with emotional and spirited songs and compositions, including three standouts. The inspirational “A Path to Follow” encases Calder’s realization of where to head in his artistic life, while the especially romantic “Prize in the Sky” surrounds Calder and his soon-to-be wife Louisa with a passionate aura. I also thought the wonderful music written for “The Mobile Ballet”, which duplicates the many multi-colored parts of Calder’s early pieces, was delightfully noteworthy. Oh, and I could also add the lively and fun “Dance With Me” to this list. And while I am on the musical aspects of the show, let me just mention what a talented pianist Mr. Klein is proven to be. As the show’s rather small band consists of Klein’s piano, and a drum set (worked by Scottie May), with occasional input by an accordionist (Giselle Trujillo) – it falls to the piano to lead the way, and composer Klein provides a profoundly skillful turn at the keyboard.

Visually impressive, the Calder story features a cast of 14, many playing multiple roles, decked out in a large variety of colorful costumes designed by Cheryl Harmon and Nancy Fansler, in scenes impressively illuminated by Laura Hildreth’s delightful illustrations as rendered in Ben Dobler’s impressive projections.

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A scene in “Calder, the Musical” is illuminated by the talents of Laura Hildreth (Illustrator) and Ben Dobler (Projections).

Christa Runion plays Thalia the Muse, who is our guide and storyteller for the show. Her spunky approach to the part aptly provides much of the humor in the production. Logan Moore handles the title role with authority. His fine baritone voice is a pleasure to hear and his expressiveness in his interpretations both musical and emotional hit the mark. As Louisa, his wife, Katie Schuman varies well between a sweet softness and a frustrated strain. Moore and Ms. Schuman share the “Prize in the Sky” duet which, again, I feel was unquestionably a highlight of the show.

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The spectacular circus scene from “Calder, the Musical” at IndyFringe Theatre. (Costumes by Nancy Fansler)

The busy supporting cast members play their many parts with energy and focus. Danielle Carnagua is lovely as Calder’s artist mother while Jake McDuffee firmly provides the father role, though often in rather a too quiet voice. Among the featured dancers in Mariel Greenlee’s solid choreography, Matt Rohrer leads the way along with Ms. Carnagua. Among the smaller roles, Gabby Niehaus (who happens to be my dear niece) nails the comic facets of her cameo as Zelda Fitzgerald, Tianna Williams is remarkable as expatriate entertainer Josephine Baker, and youngsters Ian Gamble and Piper Murphy are a delight as the young “Sandy” Calder and his sister, Peggy. The stage is often filled with the supporting cast members, to the point where I think a larger staged venue might be the next logical step for any future productions of the show.

Bottom line: There was a magical feeling in the room as we gathered to watch this very original undertaking. It succeeded on most levels and is unquestionably a fine entertainment to put on your calendar. But Calder is a big musical, I think, and I would really love to see it produced at a full staged venue with all the accoutrements therein – room for a fuller orchestra, with miked voices, and expanded choreography and settings. I feel Mssrs. Alvarez and Klein’s big idea deserves big treatment.

Calder, the Musical continues at IndyFringe Theatre through February 12th. For ticket information go to http://www.indyfringe.org/node/106 or call the theatre at 317-522-8099.

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Footnote: Something was missing in the pre-show curtain speech which I know will be managed in the future. Obviously, people need to be reminded to silence or turn off their phones. No less than 6 (and possibly more) ringtones were heard during both acts of this show, just in my area. It was quite disturbing and as the number grew, very perplexing. (At one point an audience member’s phone hit the floor with a clatter as it fell off of their lap!) As we know, the public’s addiction to their so called “smart” phones has reached baffling levels, but these faulty occasions are still considered as more than slight gaffs in the world of theatre. Broadway shows have been stopped for less!

 

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