NCAC’s “Macbeth” at Federal Hill Commons

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reviewed by Daniel Shock

Shakespeare in the Park. When I have been an actor in a Shakespeare production, it is most often outside…in the park. One park in Tulsa, OK and two in Noblesville, IN. It is a wonderful tradition in communities all around the world. A summer evening with ancient stories, wine and bug spray. When the weather and environment co-operate, these evenings can be magical.

This summer, The Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission has produced it’s 27th iteration of Shakespeare in the Park at the Federal Hill Commons in Noblesville and brought us: The Tragedy of Macbeth.

Witches (from left, Amber Shatto, Nikki Lynch and Mellie Sokolski) taunt Macbeth (Matt Anderson) in a scene from NCAC’s production of “Macbeth”

Macbeth begins with three witches (Mellie Sokolski, Nikki Lynch & Amber Shatto). They predict their next meeting will be with Macbeth. Shortly after, the witches do meet with Generals Macbeth (Matt Anderson) and Banquo (Eric Dixon) where they predict Macbeth’s reward for his victories in service to King Duncan (Ken Klingenmeier). These rewards consist of titles and the prediction that eventually Macbeth will be king. Their prophecy also includes General Banquo – that he will be “father of kings”. Both men are skeptical, but when they come before King Duncan and he bestows the title of “Thane of Cawdor” on Macbeth, he is convinced and becomes ambitious. He writes to his wife, Lady Macbeth (Rhonda Tinz-Mize), telling her of his good news. Lady Macbeth also becomes ambitious and convinces her husband to murder King Duncan. Macbeth is doubtful, but is finally convinced when she challenges his manhood. Once the murder is committed, Macbeth and his wife are then wracked with guilt and paranoia. Forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion, he soon becomes a tyrannical ruler. The bloodbath and consequent civil war swiftly take Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into the realms of madness and death.

Rhonda Tinz-Mize takes the stage as Lady Macbeth in a scene from NCAC’s production of “Macbeth”

Macbeth is a bloody story. The action, while thrilling, is presented in such a way that it should not be too disturbing for young people. One of the murders on stage is a young child, but it is not presented in a realistic and grisly manner. The actor’s screams offstage are more unsettling than anything seen onstage. You should use your own judgment, but I would not be too concerned for my own children. We have discussions about pretending and play. Stories are ways for us to understand and frame real life – they are not themselves real life.

This production of Macbeth offers a delightful evening of thrills, scares and laughs. I normally like to start with the positive parts of production before getting to the nitpicks, but I really feel I should start with this point. Before I lay it out – I will admit that this is not a fair nit to pick.

Shakespeare in the Park has a mission. Part of that mission is to spread the love of Shakespeare far and wide. For that reason, it is free and it is brisk. Almost every play they present is cut for time. Hamlet would be over four hours if the entire text was performed. Macbeth is the shortest tragedy, so it wouldn’t be that long, but it would be about an hour longer than the 90 minutes of this production. Okay – so my one complaint: many of my favorite lines were cut. As an actor who covets the role of Macbeth, that kills me. As an audience member, I feel like it made some of the guilt that Macbeth and his wife wrestle with less clear. I feel like this is my personal problem…the audience seemed engaged and loved it. They laughed and thrilled to what was before them. Every single person I talked to after the show had a great time and were happy that they were there. I feel guilty even writing this complaint, but I would feel like I was not being honest if I didn’t.

Macbeth (Matt Anderson) laments his actions in a scene from NCAC’s production of “Macbeth”

Matt Anderson deserves high praise for his portrayal of Macbeth. He portrayed a man who is at once entitled, doubt ridden and vile. (I felt he was really going to injure everyone with his sword he was so zealous with his swing!) His chemistry with Rhonda Tinch-Mize is critical. Ms. Tinch-Mize gives a career highlight performance as Lady Macbeth descends into madness. Without these two performances, the show would not work and these two pull off a difficult job (especially considering the deep cuts to the text).

Other standouts include, Ken Klingenmeier, as King Duncan, who brings his wonderful and royal voice of authority to the role. The witches, played by Mellie Sokolski, Nikki Lynch & Amber Shatto, were at once creepy and alluring. Glenn Dobbs as MacDuff was effective in his grief. Eric Dixon and Matt Hartzburg each distinguished themselves as Banquo and Malcom respectively. Paul Haskin, whom I have never seen on stage before, was an utter delight as the Porter. He brought some much-needed humor to the evening. He was outstanding. Finally, another surprise from someone unknown to me was Morgan Morton as Lady McDuff. She was excellent in her short time on stage. Her heartbreak and terror were portrayed with great skill.

Paul Haskin brings the Porter to life in a scene from NCAC’s production of “Macbeth”

Directors Rob Heighway and Mark Tumey did a fantastic job casting the show – a great mix of familiar actors and new faces that I will look forward to seeing again. The set by Rob Heighway was simple and effective. Sound Design by Geoff Lynch was well done. Sound effects were great. In general dialog was clear and easy to understand. There were moments (very few)where microphones cut out as actors were talking. Lighting by Eric Matters was luminous and fun when it needed to be. Costumer Linda Grow did a wonderful job of getting everyone in period apparel – especially the women. The witch’s costumes looked especially great. Finally, the fight choreography by Scott Russell was high energy, believable and fun to watch.

McDuff (Glenn Dobbs) battles Macbeth (Matt Anderson) in a scene from NCAC’s production of “Macbeth”

Despite my issues with the cutting of the text, this is a wonderful Shakespeare in the Park experience. Please, if you are available, make the effort to grab a blanket or a lawn chair and go to Federal Hill Commons to see this Macbeth!

Macbeth will be presented by the Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission on July 26th & 27th and August 1st, 2nd, & 3rd at 8:30 pm at Federal Hill Commons in Noblesville, IN (175 Logan St, Noblesville, IN 46060, USA). Admission is free.

The cast and crew of NCAC’s 2019 Shakespeare in the Park production of “Macbeth”
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Summer Stock Stage’s “Into the Woods” at Marian University

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

This week, while Ken is defending Scotland up in Noblesville, I had the good fortune of attending the final production of the 2019 Season of Summer Stock Stage (SSS). While improvements are being made to the company’s usual home at Park Tudor, SSS has spent this summer at various locations. The season closer, performed at Marian University, is a beautiful production of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant deconstruction of the Brothers Grimm, Into The Woods.

Summer Stock Stage is a program dedicated to the talents of Central Indiana’s teenage performers. Students from over a dozen high schools around central Indiana have been gathered to perform an intricate and demanding musical that takes numerous familiar storybook characters and forces them to face what happens after Happily Ever After.

The cast of Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Into the Woods”

Director Constance Macy has gotten terrific performances from her student cast. Into the Woods may be concerned with famous characters from children’s literature, but the script and music are NOT child’s play. Broadway casts have included the likes of Bernadette Peters and Vanessa Williams, and every role is quite demanding. SSS has succeeded in meeting the rigorous challenges posed by this modern classic of musical theater.

Cora Lucas (center) as Cinderella in Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Into the Woods”

The large cast adroitly lays out the stories of a Baker and his Wife, Jack and his Mother, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and their respective Princes, and the attendant people in their lives (and stories). While all seems to end “happily ever after” at the close of Act One, Act Two delves into consequences, doing so with some dark twists. Johnny Miller and Abby Anderson are the Baker and his wife. Julia Murphy and Mallory McKeeman are the Witch and her charge, Rapunzel. Michael Krauter plays cow loving Jack, with Elly Burke as his long suffering Mother. Amelia Wray plays Red Ridinghood, with Cora Lucas as Cinderella. All are fantastic. Equally great are the remaining performers, especially the Princes of Jacob Crow, Nate Schlabach. Every single cast member gets a chance to shine, and as a whole, they are more than up to the task presented by this vocally complex piece of theater.

Amelia Wray (right) plays Red Ridnghood in Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Into the Woods”

Scenic Designer Kyle Ragsdale’s set and Quentin James’ lighting are both breathtaking. Music Director Jeanne Bowling’s orchestra is first rate, as are the costumes by Jason Gill. Local geniuses Zach Rosing (sound design) and Mariel Greenlee (choreography) complete the top notch production team.

As I mentioned, Act Two ponders the consequences of wishes coming true. Director Macy and her creative team have made some especially bold choices in this Act. The result is a unique and powerful take on the show’s message about choices, wishes and children. SSS Artistic Director Emily Ristine Holloway should be very proud!

A scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Into the Woods” featuring Kyle Ragsdale’s set design and Quentin James’ lighting design.-

Into The Woods only runs this weekend. It closes Sunday the 28th. Are you seeing my point? GET THOSE TICKETS! I expect all remaining performances to sell-out! Into The Woods displays the marvelous talents of dozens of this area’s most talented young performers. Don’t let this weekend pass you by without experiencing it!

Summer Stock Stage is performing on Marian University’s Mainstage, located on the campus on Cold Spring Road. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at summerstockstage.com Tickets are only $20.00, and revenues support high caliber arts education in Central Indiana.  

  • photos by Michael Camp

“The Laramie Project” at Center Stage Community Theatre

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reviewed by Larry Adams

Laramie sparkles, doesn’t it?”

  • Matthew Shepard (1976-1998)

On the evening of October 6th, 1998, Matthew Shepard, an openly gay university student, was kidnapped, robbed, bound to a fence, beaten, tortured and left for dead in a cold, remote area near Laramie, Wyoming. Discovered comatose and barely clinging to life eighteen hours later, he was rushed to Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie, then transferred to the more advanced trauma unit of Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he died 6 days later, never regaining consciousness. Within 24 hours local police had apprehended the perpetrators, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, but the citizens of Laramie found themselves quickly and reluctantly in the international spotlight, their heads spinning and their beloved town decried worldwide as a symbol of hate and intolerance.

Less than four weeks after the brutal attack, playwright Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project traveled from New York to Laramie, conducting hundreds of interviews with the townspeople. Those interviews, along with news reports, journal entries and court documents, were then fashioned by Kaufman and others into The Laramie Project, first performed in 2000 in Denver. Last night I attended the opening night of its latest incarnation, this time in Lebanon, Indiana.

Center Stage Community Theatre in Lebanon has taken on a weighty and perhaps even risky challenge in bringing The Laramie Project to a local community theater stage. It is not a drama, at least in the colloquial sense of the word. It is not a mystery or a thriller. It is certainly not a crowd-pleasing comedy, though there are several surprisingly humorous moments. It is, in fact, not really a traditional “play” at all. Termed “verbatim theater,” it consists of eight actors portraying over fifty characters in a series of short scenes taken directly from the interviews and other transcripts, mostly presented as monologues delivered directly to the audience. The subject matter is, of course, controversial, heart-rending, and at times utterly uncomfortable to watch.

But it works.

To the credit of the script, the director and the actors, the citizens of Laramie are presented as three dimensional- not, for the most part, simple stereotypes (conservative Christian preachers, predictably, take some hits as the closest to cartoon villain portrayals, but surprisingly not so much as one might expect from modern theater). The play resists descending into the lazy and utterly tiresome demonization that characterizes most of current public discourse on controversial subjects; instead, we see a town full of people much like ourselves and our neighbors: complicated amalgams of prejudice, tolerance, guilt, pride, ambition, joy, pain, and fear- and yes, both good and evil. And we uneasily come to realize over the course of the evening that Laramie is us. That what happened there was not some anomalous horror which could only happen to “them.” That we all have the potential to be these people, perhaps even to be a Matthew- or even, if we dare admit it, an Aaron or a Russel.

Director Matt Trgovac has assembled and shaped a fine cast who, to a person, give heartfelt performances in bringing this tragedy to life in all its shades and permutations. From a strictly technical viewpoint, the talent level on stage is at times uneven (as one must quite frankly expect in any large community theater cast), but this never rises to a level as to be distracting, and in any case is more than offset by the sincere portrayals of the performers. The cast, I suspect at least in part due to the talent and passion of its director, has fully bought into the message of this play, to a degree I seldom see in community theater, and the audience can therefore not help but buy into it as well. The tears shed on stage, I’m quite sure, are genuine, and often matched by those of the audience.

Standout performances are given by Becky Larsen and, somewhat surprisingly, by stage newcomer Tristan Wolf, who displays the widest most developed range of characterizations of all the cast as well as a delivery style so seemingly effortless and natural that I must admit it made me, as a sometime actor, more than a bit jealous. All, however, are more than worthy of the bows which they as a cast have, quite appropriately given the tone of the play, declined to take at the curtain.

My only significant quibbles with the production are directed at the script, and though they are perhaps more a reflection on my limited attention span and lack of theatrical sophistication than the piece itself, they deserve mention. First, an easy fifteen to twenty minutes could be cut from the two-and-a-half-hour runtime with absolutely no loss to the narrative. It takes far too long to slog into a story with which every audience member is surely already familiar, and a number of the brief interview excerpts are wedged in for no discernable reason- vignettes that not only fail to advance the story and emotion, but in fact sap the momentum. Similarly, the documentary style of the piece feels better suited to, well, a documentary than to a stage production. The dearth of character interaction and development would seem to waste one of the major strengths of live theater. Nevertheless, The Laramie Project is a powerful piece that leaves its audience both drained and moved as the curtain figuratively falls at the end of the show.

And one final comment, a heartfelt word of praise for that ending. I’m not sure who to credit for this, but the final tableau presented on stage, after the actors have exited, the applause has died, and the lights have dimmed, is simultaneously chilling and sad and beautiful and horrible- and, I’m afraid, will both haunt me and impress me for years to come. Whoever you are: well done.

I’ve often remarked that, although community and professional theaters clearly must cater to the popular and “put butts in the seats” to remain solvent, they should each reserve at least one slot in their respective seasons for a piece that will challenge themselves as well as their audiences. It will rarely sell as well, but its impact will be more lasting. This is what elevates theater beyond mere entertainment. The Laramie Project does just that, and I commend Trgovac, his cast, and Center Stage Community Theatre for taking the risk and raising the bar for community theater in central Indiana.

The Laramie Project continues through July 28th,  Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm at Center Stage’s theatre in Lebanon. You may call 765.894.5587 for reservations and information. Their website is http://www.centerstagetheatre.org .

Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

T.C. Howe High School served as the venue for Agape Performing Arts Company’s latest production – Disney’s Newsies – which opened last evening.

The show portrays the 1899 newsboys’ strike in New York City. A conflict arose when publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, among others, raised the price of the newspapers they sold to the boys and girls who peddled them on the streets. The “newsies” refused to pay the increase, subsequently joining together against the publishers and striking.

This story was the basis for the eponymous 1992 film and that effort was adapted into the 2012 Broadway musical from which the Agape production derives.

The cast of Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

To start, large kudos must be offered to the show’s director, Kathy Phipps, who somehow manages to regularly transform the raw talents of what must be 50 or so middle school, high school and college thespians into an entertaining undertaking. She shared the effort here with assistant director Ann Lewis. Also, the company’s choreographer, Joel Flynn, deserves high recognition for putting all these young performers through their paces in more than a few rather complicated large production numbers! From what I saw, I’m betting they did not disappoint him. The hard work paid off.

There is so much to love about this show – let me start there:

The Newsies take off in a scene from Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

I loved the energy and strength of purpose that lived in every single member of this cast – from the leads to the chorus/ensemble. To wit: choreographer Flynn introduced the cast to some fierce and powerful dance combinations, illuminating their resolve to do their jobs right, or to fight against the injustices they faced, or to celebrate their victories. Each performer gave their all to every note and dance step. And, they all showed us that they were having the time of their lives – which I know they were.

I loved the big production numbers – the vitality of the choreography was matched with fine vocal work, especially when that aspect took on a chorale quality. The blending of these strong, young voices – many compliments to music director April Barnes for this – was most often flawless. I count the Act 2 opener, a tap dance extravaganza, as a full cast highlight of the production – very impressive.

at center, Katherine (Audrey Scrogham) makes a point to Jack Kelly (Jacob Brant) in a scene from Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

I loved the quality of acting in the young leads – (I saw the Queens cast in action, one of two crews) – Jacob Brant played a confident Jack Kelly, Alex Bast was vulnerable as Crutchie, Elijan Beasley is a wise, focused Davey, Audrey Scrogham offers up a sweet, smart, and purposeful Katherine, and Claire Scrogham is spunky and cute as little Les. They all work together to good effect.

I loved the versatile set and the plethora of costumes – both the work of Ms. Phipps. The simplicity of the set design was both functional and expedient in moving the story along. And a pat on the back goes to the very busy set crew.

Katherine (Audrey Scrogham) and the Newsies celebrate their success in a scene from Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

I loved collegiate music major Audrey Scrogham’s entire, very professional performance. As Katherine, her solo “Watch What Happens” was knocked out of the park and was a definite highlight of the show. Ms. Scrogham’s later duet with Jacob Brant, the tender “Something to Believe In”, was also a high point. She shined in her acting scenes, as well.

Likewise, I loved the solo by Alex Bast as Crutchie – a moody piece which showed off his well-trained vocal talents.

Now – given all the notable highlights of the show – there are still some areas for improvement, I believe. Many words in songs and/or dialogue are lost – not understandable. Whether it is a function of the Howe High School auditorium acoustics, equipment usage, or the expertise of the performers – sound quality and balance are an issue in this production. It is some of each, I am supposing, and these problems are largely correctable.

Several performances were untouched by the dilemma. Audrey Scrogham’s first solo can through loud and clear. Alex Bast’s solo was another example of an understandable effort. There are some performers whose enunciation could be much better – there are some who choose at times to speak at an unprojected level and those words are entirely lost. The mikes certainly are an aid to communication, but they are not the only tool that needs to be employed. Diction, projection, intonation – all could be improved by most of the company. In my mind, the primary purpose of being onstage, in a cast, telling a story, is to make that telling clear and understandable to the audience, especially when you have such a wonderful story to tell! Okay, nuff said…

Locked out Newsies in a scene from Agape Performing Arts Company’s “Newsies”

Bottomline: The wonderful stage activities these young people are experiencing are far and beyond what many may have an opportunity to relish with other endeavors in their youth. The pure joy of accomplishment, the endearing friendships and exposures which are such a large part of the undertaking, plus the thrill of performance – all these things will guide these cast members toward confidence, culture and capabilities. I applaud Dr. Phipps and her entire company for what they give the Central Indiana community.

Newsies continues at the T.C. Howe High School auditorium through July 21st. For tickets and information go to https://agapeshows.org. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

“La Casa Azul – The Musical” at Phoenix Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s evocative production of La Casa Azul – The Musical opened last evening at The Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre in downtown Indianapolis. As the third incarnation of Gregory Glade’s masterwork, the ambitious restaging features energetic dance, soaring vocals, and searing drama as it reveals the story of the life of noted Mexican visual artist, Frida Kahlo. This new edition may feature a refined resizing of cast and content, but it does not lose the show’s epic strengths of story and mood.

Abilgail Lessaris portrays La Muerte in Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s production of “La Casa Azul” (photo by Scott Kinzie)

As choreographer and composer, Mr. Glade, with the valuable assistance of lyricist Kate Ayres and stage director Georgina Escobar, has created a theatre-piece of extraordinary beauty and perception. This very effective telling of a life story filled with much pain and suffering requires a deep understanding of dramatic structure and theatrical practice and Glade and his partners have succeeded here in grand fashion. Themes of love, loss, mortality and persistence come through perceptively.

Visually, the entire piece is unfathomably vivid. The splendid Mexican themed costumes (designed by Mr. Glade) are set to play off one another as dancers sweep and swirl across the stage. These colorful arrangements add much to the feel of the event whether showing festival or fervor. Conversely, other costume themes of muted colors or pure white effectively augment the storytelling.

Orchestrally, the music is near perfection. Its thorough attentions to mood, setting and emotion are a strong feature of the work. Though at times a bit lengthy, the songs are nonetheless properly expressive and meaningful.

Frida Kahlo (Valerie Nuccio, back center) surrounded by La Muerte (Abigail Lessaris, front center) and her minions in Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s production of “La Casa Azul” (photo by Julie Curry)

The cast, which includes a purposefully Latinx component, is beyond impressive. Valerie Nuccio is absolutely stunning as Frida Kahlo. Her highly trained vocal skills are an immense pleasure to experience as she provides a superb performance of what must be a dozen or so songs. Her acting conveys the artist’s emotional life-arc with honest and clear features of desire and despair.

Wherever Kahlo is, death – La Muerte – seems most always to be nearby, and dancer Abigail Lessaris does excellent work in that role. Using dance exclusively, she expressively portrays death’s pull and gentle presence with aplomb.

Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera is presented by veteran performer, JL Rey. His performance matches Ms. Nuccio’s in tone and skill. Rey’s operatic voice is strong and pliant, and his acting prowess is noteworthy.

La Muerte (Abigail Lessaris) stands by as Alejandro (Johnathon Contreras, center) tends to Frida (Valerie Nuccio) after “The Accident” in Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s production of “La Casa Azul” (photo by Scott Kinzie)

The supporting cast is highly skillful, as well. Alyssa Lopez, as Frida’s sister Cristina, has a wonderfully expressive solo – her “Forgive Me”; Johnathon Contreras is effective as Kahlo’s first love, Alejandro; Bill Book brings his numerous stage skills to bear as Kahlo’s father, Guillermo; Jessica Crum Hawkins (who originated the Kahlo role in the 2015 production of the show) masterfully handles Natalia Trotsky’s lamenting solo, “I Look in the Mirror”; and Rachel Hughey poignantly dances and sings the role of Young Frida. Other noteworthy performances are offered by Tessa Gibbons, Onis Dean, Dick Davis, Ann Martin and Pearl Scott. The entire dance corp deserves notice as well, as they perform a full catalog of variously styled numbers – Hannah Brown, Chloe Holzman, Camden Kruse, Zoe Maish, Erica Steward, and Anna Williamson all provided well-crafted turns.

Technical aspects were well covered by an array of familiar practitioners: Jay Ganz designed the set while Laura E. Glover designed the lights; sound design was done by Zach Rosing, vocal direction by Tammy Anderson, and wigs were the work of Tim Hunt. The aforementioned orchestrations were accomplished by Nicholas Cline.

La Muerte (Abigail Lessaris, right) conveys her vision while Frida (Valerie Nuccio) joins the dance corps in a scene from Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s production of “La Casa Azul”(photo by Julie Curry)

Finally, Mrs K and I were extremely moved and pleased with the performance we saw – but there is one area which I feel may need attention. That would be (IMHO) the intensity of the orchestra coming over the speakers. Very often, though not always, the orchestral volume from the speakers was at such a strong level that I could not make out the words of the songs. I will grant that this might have been due to my positioning in the auditorium, but I really feel such magnificent songs and performances should be understood by everyone no matter where they are seated, otherwise – what is the use?

Bottomline: Gregory Glade and his crew have put together a remarkable work. It is full of emotions and beauty, it is moving and forceful, it succeeds in its themes and its depictions and its production values. I hope this work can continue to grow and that its successes are boundless.

La Casa Azul – The Musical continues at The Phoenix Theatre through July 28th. You can find ticket and schedule information by calling 317.635.7529 or by logging on at phoenixtheatre.org.

“Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s tuneful summertime treat for 2019. The jukebox musical was first presented in 1989 in London’s West End where it played for 12 and a half years. With a storyline written by Alan James and music by the inimitable Buddy Holly, the show provides a touchstone history of the rock n roll artist’s rise, and his fateful demise. We first find Holly and his band – The Crickets – in Lubbock Texas as he pushes against the predominant country style music with a self-possessed passion for rock. After failures in Lubbock and Nashville, the band finds their way to Clovis New Mexico where, in the recording studio of Norman Petty, they are finally able to record their signature sound with a long series of cuts. Eventually, it’s on to Harlem’s Apollo Theatre and further stardom.

Cricket drummer Jerry Allison (Josh McLemore), frontman Buddy Holly (Kyle Jurassic) and bassist Joe Maudlin (James Daley) perform at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem in Beef and Boards’ production of “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story”.

Although the narrative of the plot follows Holly’s climb to success in a thinly threaded storyline, it is the music that is the show. Studio sessions, an elongated Apollo Theatre show, one privately romantic song for Holly’s wife, and a grand, full blown final concert scene form the true impact of this musician’s journey. And what an outstanding display of talent and energy is offered here by every cast member!

Kyle Jurassic as Buddy Holly in Beef and Boards’ production of “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story”.

Directed by Jeff Stockberger, Buddy features a full roster of talented musicians and vocalists. Kyle Jurassic takes the title role, in his third opportunity to do so – having played the part at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in Lancaster PA and at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City. Jurassic shows a tremendous understanding of the man – whose quiet nature in private is coupled with a fierce drive for self-expression and a charismatic stage aura. Jurassic knows how to rock the house, and does so in song after song with an energetic force in both his Holly-mimicking vocals and his fine guitar work. I think we are very fortunate to be the benefactors of his previous encounters with this character. Buddy Holly truly comes alive in Jurassic’s performance on the B&B stage.

The Big Bopper (Chuck Caruso), Buddy Holly (Kyle Jurassic) and Ritchie Valens (Edward LaCardo) rock the house in Beef and Boards’ production of “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story”.

The supporting cast is rife with accomplished players and singers. Edward LaCardo does an impressive high octane rendering of “La Bamba” as Ritchie Valens. Chuck Caruso is superb as The Big Bopper (J.P.Richardson), offering an authentically slick version of the Bopper’s hit, “Chantilly Lace”. In the Apollo Theatre scene, Tarra Conner Jones blows the roof off as Mama Pearl in her rendition of “Shout”, with a tremendous and lively accompaniment by Joshua L.K. Patterson. James Daley on bass and Josh McLemore on drums form Holly’s band – The Crickets, along with guitarist Christopher Tucker. This trio crushes the Buddy Holly catalog with absolutely dynamic presentations.

Buddy Holly (Kyle Jurassic) reassures his wife Maria Elena (Kelly Powers-Figueroa) in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story”.

Other highlights include B&B favorite John Vessels as Lubbock C&W DJ, Hipockets Duncan; Justine Figueroa as Holly’s New Mexico producer, Norman Petty; Kelly Powers-Figueroa as Holly’s wife, Maria Elena; and Sarah Hund, showing her extraordinary fiddle chops as a featured musician in several scenes.

The undeniable high point of the show is the second act finale, where the entire cast portrays the final fateful Holly/Valens/Bopper appearances at Cedar Lake Iowa. Consisting of 10 musical numbers, we are entertained with a concert-like event, in which we get to see and feel the unbound talents these noted performers gave to their audience. It’s crazy-good!

On the more technical side, Kristy Templet provided the exceptional musical direction, Michael Layton devised a clever scenic design, Ryan Koharchik’s lighting ideas were perfect, and Jill Kelly Howe once again knocked it out of the park with her costume designs. Chef Odell Ward’s inviting menu featured honey-mustard chicken and cajun cod, along with a good variety of veggies and other dishes.

Bottomline: Even with its rather thin storyline, this show is a rousing portrait of one of the great rock n roll pioneers. The standing ovation for these performers was well-deserved – I daresay, everyone in attendance had a memorable time.

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through August 18th. Find show times and reservations at http://www.beefandboards.com or you may call the box office at 317-872-9664.

  • – photos by Julie Curry

Summer Stock Stage’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

It’s Summer Stock Stage season again and this summer’s first endeavor is Thoroughly Modern Millie, presented on Indiana Repertory Theatre’s main stage. This company of talented teens from around central Indiana, led by their gifted director – Emily Ristine Holloway, impresses once again with a high caliber production, full of sparkle and sass.

Set in 1920s New York City, the show tells the story of Millie Dillmount, who escapes to NYC from her Kansas hometown, fully intending to go “modern” and lift her status by marrying her boss – whoever he might be. Needing a place to stay, she is directed by a man she bumps into on the street, Jimmy Smith, to a hotel for actresses, where she meets Miss Dorothy Brown, a hopeful from California. Millie lands a job with The Sincere Trust Company and works on “landing” her boss, Trevor Grayden. But alas, Jimmy loves Millie, Grayden and Ms. Brown find each other irresistible and Millie winds up looking for love and being counseled by famous singer Muzzy Van Hossmere to never give up love for money. Throw in the secondary plot line that the hotel owner, Mrs. Meers is kidnapping any of her hotel guests who become orphans and sending them to Hong Kong in a white slavery scheme, and you have a complicated tale full of twists and turns with a good number of large roles – just the right choice to showcase this cast of 35.

Millie (Cynthia Kauffman) leads the cast in the “Thoroughly Modern Millie” number.

Cynthia Kauffman positively glistens as a vibrant Millie. She is more than up to the task in this demanding role. Her full-ranged vocal skills are just one aspect of her talents, and she makes the most of every one of her character’s songs – from the peppy title tune, to the complicated “Jimmy”, and the show-stopping “Forget About the Boy”, which she shares with the Stenogs ensemble. Also in the spotlight, as Jimmy Smith, is SSS veteran Jack Ducat. His smooth delivery in songs is a pleasure to experience and his acting skills have grown since we last saw him as Mr. Cladwell in last year’s hit, Urinetown. Together in numerous scenes, he and Ms. Kauffman light up the stage with their acting, singing and dancing abilities. Their quiet rendition of “I Turned the Corner” provides a very special moment in the program.

from left: Millie (Cythia Kauffman), Trevor Gayden (Nate Schlabach) and Jimmy Smith (Jack Ducat) in a scene from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Others who dazzle include Abby Anderson, whose work as veteran performer Muzzy Van Hossmere is totally up to the level of her character’s professional status; Samantha Grace Shelton gracefully covers the Dorothy Brown role, excelling in both the musical and comedic sides of the part; Nate Schlabach does an excellent turn as Millie’s boss, Trevor Grayden – he too shows a lot of comedy skills in his supporting role; Julia Murphy is terrific as office manager Miss Flannery; and Eva Scherrer mixes evil with humor as hotel matron (and white slaver) Mrs. Meers. Christian Barda and Faye Coy, as Mrs. Meers’ henchmen Ching Ho and Bun Foo, respectively, turn in terrific performances.

Millie (Cynthia Kauffman, center) and the Stenogs in a scene from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

The company ensemble takes on a full list of smaller roles, plus an incredible array of music and dance numbers. Beautifully blended voices (the work of musical director Michael Berg Raunick) and precise dance combinations (from the minds of choreographers Cherri Jaffee and Lily Wessel) provide one show-stopper after another in this dazzling production.

Mrs Meers (Eva Scherer, center) with her hotel guests in a scene from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

A plethora of costumes by Jeanne Bowling and her staff, fills the stage with color and mood. The orchestra, led by the aforementioned Mr. Raunick is sharp and/or smooth, as needed. Sets and lighting by designers Geoffrey Ehrendriech and Michael Moffatt are consistently on the mark.

The only ‘problem’ I had with any of the proceedings was a tendency for the sound quality – in speaking sections – to be a bit muddy. The majority of actors are miked and the levels used away from their songs made it hard for me (and Mrs. K) to understand many spoken lines. There seemed to be zero problem with the sound during songs. I hope this can be looked into and taken into account for the remainder of shows.

The entire cast of “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Bottomline: this is just a terrific show produced by a terrific theatre company – spectacular from the top on down. Director Holloway has a special set of talents for leading these kids – albeit, very talented individuals – through the process of putting on high level productions. The young peoples’ abilities are used in a most adroit way and in my opinion, the results are a highlight of Indy’s theatre season.

To see this amazing show, you’ll need to move fast. It runs only until June 30th. Find ticket info and make reservations at the company’s website – http://www.summerstockstage.com and click on “Buy Tickets” in the upper right corner. It’s well worth your time and energy to see these gifted performers.

  • photos by Michael Camp

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