“The Dealer Smiles” – the movie

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Today, I am very excited to write about a new film adaptation of a popular play by a local actor/playwright.

It was the summer of 2012 when a good friend of mine, Larry Adams, sent me a DVD of a performance of a play he had written – The Dealer Smiles. When I got around to watching it, it immediately had a surprising impact on me. Later the same day, I asked Mrs K to watch it with me, and she too was duly impressed. The story is about one Matt Pierson, a recently divorced man who is having trouble facing a spiral of regret and bitterness until he meets Josh, a very special man with some powerful insights. It spoke to us in a rather unique and clear way.

What my friend had written, and performed, was an uncommon excursion into some high-level questions which have been posed forever. I wrote about it at the time thusly: “What develops in the arc of the play, is an entertaining, yet deep conversation about life, God, faith, enduring one’s problems and making more of what we are given in this world. There are so many enriching “ah-ha” moments, mixed in with a lot of clever, funny and even ridiculous humor. The subject matter deals with questions we have all asked ourselves. Where is God? Is there a God? – How does He allow such evil to be in our midst?… (but) let me be clear – this is not a religious play – it is more a philosophical discourse. While it does not give any definitive answers – it allows our own interpretations. We do not get conclusions – and yet, we somehow are left with a new understanding – of ourselves among other things. It is a powerful, intelligent, non-judgmental examination of the questions of the ages.”

The play succeeded on many levels – as an entertainment, as a thought-provoking experience – and it spoke to people in a way that was unusually direct and understandable. Larry and his fellow cast member Jaime Johnson began a journey with the play that went through a reworking for Westfield Playhouse, and onto an IndyFringe stage in August of 2013. Again, their efforts drew positive attention. One further readaptation took place at the Westfield venue in 2016.

Laurence Adams as Matt Pierce (right) and Jaime Johnson as Josh – from The Dealer Smiles

Now, Larry has gone to another level with his creation and, with the guidance of film-maker Nathan Crowder (of SILO Cinemaworks), he has produced a movie version of the story. When asked about taking this next step, Larry told me this:

“The impact I’m hoping for is the same as for the play: I’m hoping to stimulate conversation and, I suppose, contemplation of ideas of faith. A great many people have drifted away from faith (whatever the religion) because the very questions this show asks are not only never answered in their churches, synagogues or mosques, they’re not even allowed to be asked. Many people, faced with this dilemma, have simply thrown it all out and walked away, and I believe this leaves a huge hole in the lives of many people, a whole facet of existence left unexplored. I wanted people to know that these questions are legitimate, it’s ok to ask them, and that the journey toward answering them can be a fulfilling and life-altering one.”

After viewing the film, I am very impressed with the Crowder/Adams results. They have melded all the original enriching, entertaining, thought-provoking facets of the play, into a solidly paced, visually attractive piece. The story has been expanded in the film with added scenes – of Matt’s youth, of his dismay during his father’s passing, even scenes of the Dealer himself. Plus the cutting action of video-storytelling adds appeal to the story arc.

Larry Adams and his acting partner, Jaime Johnson are impressive in their roles. Transferring the elements of a play – timing, characterization, emotion – from stage-acting to an on-the-screen performance is tricky stuff, but the duo keeps all the components in fine working order and are top-notch in their portrayals.

Bottomline: Taken all together, this video production richly hits the mark with an inspirational, humorous, sharply dialogued tale we ALL can relate to and learn from.

You can gather more info about the DVD and about the production at The Dealer Smiles (thedealersmilesmovie.com) . The disk is available for purchase for $10 plus mailing.

Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “This Wonderful Life”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

With Indiana Repertory Theatre’s revered, traditional holiday fare A Christmas Carol set aside this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the venerable theatre company has moved on to a virtual entertainment with playwright Steve Murray’s This Wonderful Life, an adaptation of the screenplay for Frank Capra’s iconic holiday film, It’s A Wonderful Life. Directed by Benjamin Hanna and starring IRT regular Rob Johansen, this re-imagining of the beloved story is full of both familiar moments and surprises.

Mr. Johansen is in top-notch form in the role of The Storyteller, springing through characterizations, story points and side bars. Energetically playing every single citizen of Bedford Falls, his creative powers are as elastic as his facial expressions and body movements. His rendition of our hero George Bailey is offered with a deft nod to Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal, while Mr. Potter holds a sharp likeness to Lionel Barrymore’s efforts. Mary Bailey comes through as a gentle spirit, the children are all sweet and endearing, Uncle Billy is as outrageous as we remember him to be, and Angel 2nd Class Clarence Odbody is lovable and charming. Taken all together, Johansen has constructed the Masterwork of his career and hopefully, preserved in video form, we will revisit it for many years to come.

Rob Johansen is chameleon-like is his array of portrayals in IRT’s “This Wonderful Life”

Adding to the grand experience is the thoughtful set design by Rob Koharchik, the skillful costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, lighting by Xavier Pierce, and sound designs by Todd Mack Reischman. WFYI television provided the video production, which was coordinated by Nathan Garrison.

Bottomline: Everything comes together for a truly remarkable and commendable undertaking resulting in an immensely pleasurable holiday special. Johansen’s moving, humorous and skillful performance is a triumph. What we lost due to the cancellation of A Christmas Carol, we gained ten-fold with this new IRT classic.

Virtual tickets can be purchased at irtlive.com or by calling the IRT Ticket Office at 317.635.5252 Tuesday – Thursday from 11 am – 5 pm. 

  • – photos by Zach Rosing
  • – artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

2020 Most Impressive Theatre Awards – Community Theatre

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It’s time for the 10th annual Mitty Awards!

As I wrote in the previous awards post: 2020 has been a year like none other. Most theatres suffered extended shutdowns, lost revenue, trashed schedules and uncertainty for the future. In mid-March, when most production companies halted their output, we had attended a surprising number of productions to start the year off, only to be left off at that point save for two brave shows we gained invitations to. Furthermore, we completely missed celebrating our 10th anniversary online.

I know the entire Indianapolis theatre community, both professional and avocational, long for a full restart to our amazing theatre scene. I truly hope that 2021 will prove to be a banner year of great new shows and renewed attendance.

So it is from a very limited sample of only 5 community theatre offerings that we present 2020’s Most Impressive Theatre winners: (Please note, some categories have, out of necessity, been left off the list this year.)

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Community Theatre Division: Ryan Koharchik’s striking set for Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing was this year’s standout design, featuring a lavish two story exterior and garden.

In the category – Most Impressive Costume Design – Community Theatre Division: Likewise, Adrienne Conces’ costume designs for Civic’s Much Ado About Nothing extended the lavishness of the show’s theme.

In the category – Most Impressive Newcomer – Community Theatre Division: I still consider fifth grader Sadie Cohen a newcomer, although I have seen her perform on local stages in the past. This young lady impressed me yet again, this time as Small Alison in Footlite Musical’s Fun Home. From the review: “Ms. Cohen shows a lot of stage presence through her acting scenes and knocks her solo, “Ring of Keys’, out of the park.”

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Supporting Role – Community Theatre Division: Tim Spradlin gives a noteworthy performance as the father, Bruce, in Footlite Musical’s Fun Home. “Spradlin takes on an immensely emotional role – with multiple levels of anxieties, improprieties, sorrows and joys. This is a complicated man, and Spradlin’s gifts are heightened throughout in his portrayal, resulting in a winning performance.”

In the category – Most Impressive Ensemble in a Play – Community Theatre Division: This small group of supporting actors worked hard to advance the story of two unsure people on a First Date. Footlite Musical’s production featured Austin Stodghill as Casey’s BFF, Reggie; Darrin Gowan as The Waiter; Ben Fraley as Aaron’s dating adviser, Gabe; DonaMarie Kelley as Aaron’s ex, Allison; and Hannah Janowicz, who doubles as Casey’s sister, Lauren, and as Aaron’s mother.

In the category – Most Impressive Duo in Lead Roles – Community Theatre Division: In Carmel Community Players’ The Last Five Years, Nina Stilabower as Cathy and Daniel Draves as Jaime impressively work through this unusual musical show. “Both are veteran performers who possess wonderful vocal talents and acting abilities – and both come through with amazing portrayals. Ms. Stilabower is near perfect as the struggling actress Cathy. Her remarkable voice, coupled with a winning sense of mood and emotion, makes her performance memorable…Mr. Draves…(as) the successful novelist Jaime, pulls together a sensitive and well-thought out characterization, with powerful song interpretations…”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role – Community Theatre Division: Kristen Cutler does a masterful job in her role for Footlite Musicals’ Fun Home. “Kristin Cutler takes the central role of Alison. Part narrator, part scene-influencer, she takes us back through various stages of her life and her blossoming as a lesbian…Ms. Cutler has a perfect, steadily-calm countenance for her duties, as well as a terrific singing voice…”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction – Community Theatre Division: For Footlite Musicals’ Fun Home, “Director Maria Matters has gathered an outstanding community theatre level cast to tell the story and has managed to deftly propel them with just the right levels of tragic and humorous choices. Ms. Matters’ sense of the themes at work here is invariably on-the-mark. The result is a highly emotional odyssey for her audience, who gave it a much deserved standing ovation.”

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Play – Community Theatre Division: Civic Theatre wins with their wonderfully concise production of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. “The play is well-directed, most of the action being readily understood (hey, this IS Shakespeare), with apt portrayals by (Director) Tzucker’s crew of players… this is a nicely compact Shakespearean experience – a pleasure to look at, entertaining to take in. Civic Theatre should perhaps do more of the Bard’s offerings – with their amazing capabilities for stagecraft and production, there are many from his folios which they could provide for their followers in an impressive manner.”

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Musical – Community Theatre Division: Footlite Musicals’ Fun Home was presented just before the shut down and it left a sharp impression. Here’s what I wrote in the review: “Footlite Musicals’ Fun Home is an exceptional piece of community theatre. It is a moving, informative, and important theatrical undertaking. Full of amazing performances, you’ll be well-rewarded by the company’s efforts when you attend.”

That’s it for another year. Congrats to all those who were included. I know this has been an impossible year for all theatre lovers and practioners, and I join everyone in the hope that we will be able to get back to some normalcy soon.

2020 Most Impressive Theatre Awards – Professional Theatre

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It’s time for the 10th annual Mitty Awards!

2020 has been a year like none other. Most theatres suffered extended shutdowns, lost revenue, trashed schedules and uncertainty for the future. In mid-March, when most production companies halted their output, we had attended a surprising number of productions to start the year off, only to be left off at that point save for two brave shows we gained invitations to. Furthermore, we completely missed celebrating our 10th anniversary online.

I know the entire Indianapolis theatre community, both professional and avocational, long for a full restart to our amazing theatre scene. I truly hope that 2021 will prove to be a banner year of great new shows and renewed attendance.

So it is from a very limited sample of 9 professional offerings that we present 2020’s Most Impressive Theatre winners: (Please note, some categories have, out of necessity, been left off the list this year.)

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Professional Theatre Division: IRT’s production of Murder on the Orient Express was, among other things, a wonder for the eyes. The set by Robert M. Koharchik was truly astonishing in it’s polish and proficiency. From the review: “Pivoting on a large 3 sectioned turntable, the design allows for: 1) a general area used for the opening Istanbul hotel scenes as well as subsequent less-specific onboard areas, 2) a set of three train compartments where much of the action is featured, and 3) a dining room style area with tables and chairs where many scenes of Poirot’s investigative interviews take place. These diverse areas are all fashioned with luxurious details: richly crafted wood paneling and shiny brass appointments – fine points of the opulence that was a special quality of the Orient Express. Finally a set of “windows” rises at the rear, indicating the scene’s whereabouts, whether it be in Istanbul, on the moving Express, or stuck in the snows of a mountain pass.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical –Professional Theatre Division: Kyra Leeds wins this category for her heartfelt portrayal of Tony’s “wanna-be” girlfriend, Annette in Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Saturday Night Fever. Her rendition of “If I Can’t Have You” was a winner: “Soulfully offered by (Ms.) Leeds, the slower form resonates more fully as a sorrowful reaction than the original disco beat version would and is one of the highlights of the show.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical –Professional Theatre Division: Mario Almonte III lit up the stage as Adolpho Pirelli in ATI’s lavish Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The precision of his characterization was a delight to behold, as he took over the stage in his scenes.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play – Professional Theatre Division: From Beef and Boards’ production of Steel Magnolias, Deb Wims gave a sparkling performance as beauty shop operator Truvy. “(Ms.) Wims proves she is more than purely a musical performer with a terrific turn… Ms. Wims delves into the lady’s fun-loving nature with a genuine touch of lowdown southern spunk.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Actors Theatre of Indiana’s spectacular offering of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street featured the most dynamic performance of the year. “Don Farrell leads the proceedings in the title role with a Broadway level performance. His talents are undeniable as he ranges through the Barber’s many levels and emotions, never failing to capture the incessant passion of his vengeful heart.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Beef and Boards’ February production of Saturday Night Fever introduced us to the charms and talents of Amanda Tong. “As Tony’s comely dance partner – Stephanie Mangano, Ms. Tong brings her remarkable talents to the fore and is also quite striking.” 

In the category – Most Impressive Actor and Actress in Lead Roles in a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Phoenix Theatre’s thoughtful The Agitators shows the remarkable friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Lauren Briggeman plays Susan B. Anthony and Jerome Beck handles Frederick Douglass. They accomplish near perfection. “Their portrayals extend out from the stage, into our minds (and hearts), with flawless clarity. Both leaders are offered with strong convictions, yet it is details of their frailties that complete the richness of the portrayals.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Director Mikael Burke finds a trove of deep truth for his actors to work through in Phoenix Theatre’s The Agitators by Mat Smart.In the end, it is the connection between these two important Americans that is most abundantly played. There is support, there is understanding, there is love for each other’s cause and personage. The actors’ dynamic turns precisely show these facets of the Douglass/Anthony friendship, which many of us never knew existed.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Faced with restaging ATI’s Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, from his original small stage concept (for ATI’s Studio Theatre) into an expansive setting (the huge Palladium stage in Carmel), director Robert J. Roberts’ inventiveness and his allowance of the audience’s imagination made the changeover a seamless endeavor.

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Phoenix Theatre presented a remarkably effective story with their production of the history laden The Agitators. “Playwright Smart has said that his aim in imagining the discussions engaged in by these two agents-for-change is to resist putting them on a pedestal, as they themselves were fighters for opportunity on a level basis. His research into their lives and personalities has afforded him the confidence to create a piece that relates not only their ideas and conflicts, but also their true personalities, i.e. – Douglass’ charisma and Ms. Anthony’s tenacity.”

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Production – Professional Theatre Division: Two very dissimilar presentations tie in this category both from ATI: their expanded production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and their two man mystery show – Murder for Two. In the former, the impressive cast matched the oversized venue stage in energy and vision. augmented by Janna Hymes’ apt leadership of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra (and the Indianapolis Arts Chorale). The immensely complex Sondheim score came through with flawless precision.

Murder for Two was another matter: “two talented performers, collaborating on stage for 90+ minutes, offering a cleverly silly musical murder mystery – one playing a police detective wannabe, the other portraying a literal room full of people, both playing the piano… Directed by Tony Clements, with musical direction by Stephen Goers, the adept duo (Adam Lasalle, as Officer Marcus Moscowicz and David Corlew, as everyone else in the room) exhibit crisp and precise comedic skills and over-the-top musical talents for the cartoonishly hilarious, madcap paced, endlessly ingenious musical comedy.”

That will do it for this year’s awards. Congrats to all those who were included, and a thank you to all the city’s professional performers. I know this has been an impossible year and I join everyone in the hope that we will be able to get back to some normalcy soon.

Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s “Dances for a New World: Part One” at The Tarkington

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Last evening, Mrs K and I accepted an invitation to attend a preview performance offered by Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre of their latest collection – Dances for a New World: Part One. After passing through appropriate screening at the door, we found seats in the expansive, nearly empty Tarkington Theatre auditorium and, masked and distanced, we were treated to a polished, albeit fairly abstract, program of dances.

Choreographer Hancock spent a few minutes talking to the small gathering, telling about how the pandemic has depressed his artistry, as indeed all performers and artists have been set back. But he eventually came to the decision, he said, to not concentrate on what he could not do, but rather to focus on what he could do. This attitude change propelled him into his current creation – a program he developed regarding how Covid-19 has affected our lives, and our world.

From the eerily portrayed opening piece, “Isolation”, through the triumphant penultimate “A New World”, Hancock and his talented troupe express the loneliness, strife, new discoveries, longings and self-awareness of this period in our history which has altered most everyone’s life. Indeed, the company has found some wonderfully creative fodder in our plight.

Strong work is done by all involved. The eight member dance corps gets high marks for their crafting of the various portrayals here, both as an ensemble and in the eight solo pieces titled “Silenced” which are presented without any musical accompaniment, spotlighting their individual skills.

The various sections have notes of modern dance, mixed with strong reliance on the aforementioned abstract qualities. Balletic forms are also visited, never so aptly as in “A New World”. In all cases, an overall freeness prevails.

The two male dancers, Thomas Mason and Adrian Dominguez, bring power to their movements, though this aspect is also markedly present in the mostly gentler runs given by the accomplished females. All the ladies impress, however special mention is deserved by the newest and youngest company member, Olivia Payton, who is a recent high school graduate, and whose level of ability and flair clearly matches that of her more experienced fellow cast members.

The show’s technical aspects deserve acknowledgement, as Ryan Koharchik’s dynamic lighting design and costumes by Gregory Hancock add much to the work seen here. Music accompaniments are offered with booming intensity at times. Personally, I would prefer a slightly lighter touch on this part on the production.

My only notion about any lacking is that the 20+ pieces are titled in the program, but in the dark it is impossible to use this labeling in any way to promote what is being conveyed onstage. Perhaps a titled projection somewhere on the proscenium could have helped.

Bottomline: This was an enjoyable evening of dance performance, offered by an adept cadre of dancers and the expressive talents of Gregory Hancock. Unfortunately, it is only offered on a very limited scheduling.

Dances for a New World: Part One will be presented at The Tarkington in The Carmel Center for the Performing Arts October 22 – 24 at 7pm with a matinee performance offered at 2 pm on the 24th. Call for tickets at 317-843-3800 or go online at https://thecenterpresents.org/ .

CCP’s “The Last Five Years” at The Cat

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Since March 9th, ASOTA has been in a sort of Covid-19 limbo along with much of the rest of the world. Last evening marked the end of that hiatus and hopefully what might be the beginning of renewed activity.

It was not without some doubts that Mrs K and I headed to downtown Carmel to attend opening night for Carmel Community Players’ The Last Five Years, a modern musical which premiered in Chicago in 2001 before heading to a very successful and Drama Desk award winning off-Broadway stint in 2002.

The Last Five Years, written by Jason Robert Brown (a Tony Award winner for his work on Parade and The Bridges of Madison County) is the often poignant telling of one couple’s fated romance. Jaime and Cathy meet, merge, marry, and move apart in the course of the 90 minute show’s 15 songs. A unique and clever method of storytelling is employed. Cathy’s story is launched from the ending as she discovers her husband has left her (“Still Hurting”) while Jaime’s arc is chronological as he begins by celebrating having met Cathy (‘Shiksa Goddess”). All scenes are solo save for the wedding where the two stories cross paths. Therefore, in the course of the show we are shown each character’s individual feelings through the steps of their time together.

Nina Stilbower (Cathy) and Daniel Draves (Jaime) from CCP’s production of “The Last Five Years”.

CCP’s production, directed by Bradley Allan Lowe with musical directors Ginger Stoltz and Ainsley Patton, is peopled by two very talented CCP new-comers, Nina Stilabower as Cathy and Daniel Draves as Jaime. Both are veteran performers who possess wonderful vocal talents and acting abilities – and both come through with amazing portrayals. Ms. Stilabower is near perfect as the struggling actress Cathy. Her remarkable voice, coupled with a winning sense of mood and emotion, makes her performance memorable. Her skills are obvious in her emotional opening song, “Still Hurting” and her playful “Summer in Ohio”. Mr. Draves, albeit seemingly a touch older than the character requirements for the successful novelist Jaime, pulls together a sensitive and well-thought out characterization, with powerful song interpretations, especially his “If I Didn’t Believe in You” and “Nobody Needs to Know”.

Director Lowe’s direction puts everything in order, although at times one has to really fix on what stage in Cathy’s reverse path we are witnessing, which is more a fault of the book than of any of Lowe’s choices. The set design by Lowe and Kassie Woodworth is very functional, while the live 6 piece orchestra is superior by most community theatre standards.

Though all the efforts of the CCP production staff, cast, and crew are nothing short of enjoyable and well-done, I do have some critiques of the work by Mr. Brown, the composer, lyricist and book provider. First, the 90 minute show is designed with 85% or so of the action being sung. The songs are beautiful, but they are crushingly lengthy. Many go on for 7 or 8 minutes, many are around 5, the shortest being around 3 and a half. In most cases the needed story is told in the first chorus or so, then refrains are set down to repeat the sadness or the joy. It led, in me (and perhaps me alone), to a certain impatience after the midway point of the show. Secondly, although I think that the innovative style of story arcing from two directions is clever, on further review this trick seems to have masked a rather ordinary tale. If told linearly, this would be a blandly unsurprising story of two people’s encounter – and one which many of us are only too familiar with. That said, the trick did the trick and somehow changed the blandness into an award winning show.

Finally, the matter of how the necessary precautions were handled for this extraordinary time of the pandemic. We were greeted at the door by a lady with a temperature reading device. Passing that, we were quickly checked in and allowed to take programs. Next we were helped to seats. The Cat’s rows of connected seats were available in the front of the space, and additional chairs on risers were set up in the back of the venue. We chose two seats on the aisle (natch) and were separated from patrons down our row. Everyone wore masks, including all the patrons – thank you! Sanitizer was available at the door and outside the restrooms. It was all pretty reassuring. The only mis-step was that two late patrons were seated in the seats directly in front of us, about 18 inches away. Likewise, there were two seats taken in front of them. Not exactly the social distancing guideline we have all been drilled on. For the most part, all was in good order, but I was surprised that separate single and double chairs weren’t used instead of the rows of normal seating.

Bottomline: Congrats to all involved in this endeavor. I asked one of the producers if there was much consternation about doing a show at this time. They replied that there was, but that the thinking 8 or so weeks ago when the project started being assembled was that we would be in a much better circumstance by now. Most of what can be done has been done to assure the audience’s safety. The show itself is a delight and is worthwhile if you are ready to break loose for a bit and enjoy some live theatre.

The Last Five Years continues Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays thru August 2nd. The CAT is located at 254 Veteran’s Way (formerly 254 1st Ave SW) in Carmel. Tickets may be purchased by visiting  http://www.carmelplayers.org or by calling (317) 815-9387.

  • – photos by Carmel Community Players

Beef and Boards Dinner Theater returns with a modified offering of “Beehive”

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by Ken Klingenmeier

Covid-19 has struck us all hard during these past few months. Among the pandemic’s many negative effects is the closings of performing arts companies and locales. Ever so slowly, the complicated process of producing shows for the public (with an eye on health and safety) has started to uncoil itself and a few community theatre companies have either produced a show (i.e. Center Stage Community Theatre in Lebanon IN) or have held (or planned) auditions to do so.

Indianapolis’ Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre leads the way for professional theatre’s return with their production of Beehive, a musical revue style show celebrating songs from the 60’s which is directed and choreographed by Ron Morgan, with musical direction by Terry Woods. Modifications of the normal B&B offering are a part of the popular venue’s reemergence.

From B&B’s press release:

“After developing a comprehensive responsible reopening plan, Beef & Boards has spent several weeks preparing to welcome audiences back. Those audiences will be smaller in size, and spaced farther apart. In lieu of its traditional buffet, Beef & Boards will offer plated meals from servers in protective gear. Guests’ temperatures will be taken as they arrive, and anyone meausring over 100.4 degres Farenheit will not be admitted into the theatre. Guests will be required to wear a mask to enter the theatre, in compliance with Mayor Hogsett’s mandate that requires masks in areas where the public gathers indoors.”

Furthermore, Mayor Hogsett’s latest instruction of July 9th requires that masks be worn at all times except while eating.

Additionally, the Beehive performers, Shelbi Berry, Tiffany Gilliam, Terica Marie, Amy Owens, Samantha Russell, and Christine Zavakos have been outfitted with clear face-covering shields, which offer protection for the audience and the cast during the performance.

Asked about the added protection, cast member Christine Zavakos said this: “I think the face shield’s are necessary given the state of the world. B&B is taking tons of precautions to keep everyone safe. It was an adjustment for sure, but I think everyone is on board to keep theatre alive in Indy. The audience forgets you’re wearing them after a while.”

Christine Zavakos sings “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow ” from “Beehive” at B&B Dinner Theatre

It all seems like a rather elegant solution to a rather unprecedented problem. The photos tell the tale; it really looks as if they are not any big distraction to the audience.

Amy Owens (right) sings “Then He Kissed Me”  from “Beehive” at B&B Dinner Theatre

Beehive continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through August 9th – with their next show, Newsies, opening on August 13 and running through September 27th.

For tickets, call the box office at 317.872.9664 anytime between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays. For complete show schedule, visit beefandboards.com.

  • Photos by Julie Curry

“Fun Home” at Footlite Musicals

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Footlite Musicals’ latest endeavor, Fun Home, is a heart breaking journey into memories – an aching, yet stimulating look at author Alison Bechdel’s passage through her developmental years at home and in college with a troubling father, a lamenting mother, and surroundings unlike anything most of us have experienced.

Director Maria Matters has gathered an outstanding community theatre level cast to tell the story and has managed to deftly propel them with just the right levels of tragic and humorous choices. Ms. Matters’ sense of the themes at work here is invariably on-the-mark. The result is a highly emotional odyssey for her audience, who gave it a much deserved standing ovation.

Alison (Kristin Cutler, right) watches over a scene from her childhood between Small Alison (Sadie Cohen) and her father, Bruce (Tim Spradlin) in Footlite Musical’s production of “Fun Home”

Kristin Cutler takes the central role of Alison. Part narrator, part scene-influencer, she takes us back through various stages of her life and her blossoming as a lesbian – first as a child (Sadie Cohen as Small Alison) and on into her college days (Elly Burke as Medium Allison). Ms. Cutler has a perfect, steadily-calm countenance for her duties, as well as a terrific singing voice which she features in her renditions of “Maps” and “Telephone Wire”. As Small Alison, 5th grader Sadie Cohen is a delightful surprise, with her well-trained vocal qualities and her sharp portrayal. Ms. Cohen shows a lot of stage presence through her acting scenes and knocks her solo, “Ring of Keys’, out of the park. As Medium Allison, Elly Burke connects with her audience with superior vocal talents and a well-crafted characterization. Her “Changing My Major (to Joan)”, offered after Alison’s sexual awakening, is a show-stopper.

from left – Small Alison (Sadie Cohen), Christian (Lincoln Everitt), Helen (Emily Gaddy), John (Evan Cohen) and Bruce (Tim Spradlin) in Footlite Musical’s production of “Fun Home”

As Alison’s parents, Tim Spradlin’s Bruce and Emily Gaddy’s Helen are both high marks in the production. Spradlin takes on an immensely emotional role – with multiple levels of anxieties, improprieties, sorrows and joys. This is a complicated man, and Spradlin’s gifts are heightened throughout in his portrayal, resulting in a winning performance. Likewise Ms. Gaddy’s Helen is full of emotion. Her dire concerns about her husband and her children, as well as for what she has done to her own life, are extremely well-offered. Helen’s lamentful “Days And Days” is one of the most rueful songs issued in the show.

Medium Alison (Emily Gaddy, right) meets Joan (Emma Socey, left) and Alison (Kristin Cutler) looks on in Footlite Musical’s production of “Fun Home”

Emma Socey is the ideal Joan, Alison’s eye-opening, first sexual encounter. Ms. Socey does excellent work in a role that could easily teeter to one side of authenticity or the other, but which she has found a purely balanced middle lane for. In smaller roles, Evan Cohen as Small Alison’s younger brother John, and Lincoln Everitt as older brother Christian, as well as Dustin Branum and Job Willman as an array of characters, all do fine work.

A small 9 member orchestra, led by Ainsley Paton, provides adroit musical accompaniment, while director Matter’s set design (with ML Lich) works very nicely.

Bottomline: Footlite Musicals’ Fun Home is an exceptional piece of community theatre. It is a moving, informative, and important theatrical undertaking. Full of amazing performances, you’ll be well-rewarded by the company’s efforts when you attend.

Fun Home runs two more weekends through March 22nd. Head to http://www.footlite.org for tickets and other pertinent information about the show.

  • Photos by Michael Camp

“Murder on the Orient Express” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

While it is not rare for Indiana Repertory Theatre to produce theatrical gems – every once in a while, we are treated by this august company to absolute perfection. IRT’s current offering of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s mystery masterpiece, Murder on the Orient Express, is one such occasion. Presented on an astonishing set design by Robert M. Koharchik, with grand costumes by Devon Painter, and a perfect light design by Michael Klaers, IRT has drawn together these multiple stagecrafting talents to support the show’s extraordinary cast.

Andrew May (right) as Hercule Poirot, solves the murder mystery aboard the Orient Express in IRT’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express”

In his IRT debut, Andrew May is very impressive as a multi-layered Hercule Poirot. May’s detective is presented with a large measure of comic precision, while mixing the serious business of crime-solving with an acute sense of Poirot’s impatient genius. May’s fellow cast members follow suit with necessarily broad renditions of their creations, filling the stage with a wide assortment of interesting people. Standouts include Ryan Artzberger’s dual roles as American bad-guy Samuel Ratchett and Scotsman Colonel Arbuthnot; Jennifer Joplin as a lightly lascivious Helen Hubbard; Gavin Lawrence as Poirot’s pal Monsieur Bouc; Dale Hodges as the outspoken Russian Princess Dragomiroff; and Callie Johnson as the princess’ Swedish companion Greta Ohlsson. Rob Johansen adds to his long list of comic achievements with his Head Waiter in Istanbul, coupled with his more serious train conductor, Michel. Others in the fine cast include Aaron Kirby as Ratchett’s secretary, Hector MacQueen; Nastacia Guimont as Mary Debenham; and Katie Bradley as Countess Andrenyi. As an ensemble, the players move the complicated story along in a coherent manner, seasoned by their adroit characterizations.

Director Risa Brainin’s clear, steadily paced story-telling is another essential factor in the show’s high grade – she never lets her cast’s focus stray from the sharply tuned presentation of characters, clues, and commotion.

Colonel Arbuthnot (Ryan Artzberger, far right) confronts Detective Poirot (Andrew May) as other passengers watch in IRT’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express”

Notice must be given to Mr. Koharchik’s amazing set. Pivoting on a large 3 sectioned turntable, the design allows for: 1) a general area used for the opening Istanbul hotel scenes as well as subsequent less-specific onboard areas, 2) a set of three train compartments where much of the action is featured, and 3) a dining room style area with tables and chairs where many scenes of Poirot’s investigative interviews take place. These diverse areas are all fashioned with luxurious details: richly crafted wood paneling and shiny brass appointments – fine points of the opulence that was a special quality of the Orient Express. Finally a set of “windows” rises at the rear, indicating the scene’s whereabouts, whether it be in Istanbul, on the moving Express, or stuck in the snows of a mountain pass. Add the fact that the entire set and all its furnishings will be moved to Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park following IRT’s run, and the design’s impressiveness is multiplied.

Detective Hercule Poirot (Andrew May) and Countess Andrenyi (Katie Bradley) examine the murder victim in IRT’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express”

Bottomline: IRT’s Murder on the Orient Express is a remarkably satisfying entertainment, with an outstanding cast, the aforementioned staging details, and a first rate script. To me, it is one of the most completely perfect productions I have seen in Central Indiana in a long time. Go and enjoy it!

Murder on the Orient Express continues on the IRT OneAmerica Mainstage through March 29th. Tickets and information about the show can be found by visiting http://www.irtlive.com or by calling (317) 635-5252.

  • – photos by Zach Rosing
  • – artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

“The Agitators” at Phoenix Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mat Smart’s historical play, The Agitators, opened this weekend at Phoenix Theatre. It depicts the long friendship between two important visionaries – Susan B. Anthony, who led the early fight for women’s rights in 19th century America, and Frederick Douglass, whose tireless campaign for racial equality in the U.S. gained him solid status in American history books. Encompassing a 45 year span, the action takes place at a variety of locales and uncovers the passions and plans of the two cultural icons along with their assorted differences and alliances. Douglass’ quest to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote – but did not extend it to women, drives a wedge between the two, but their common calls to demand equal freedoms never allow them to stay at odds for long.

Playwright Smart has said that his aim in imagining the discussions engaged in by these two agents-for-change is to resist putting them on a pedestal, as they themselves were fighters for opportunity on a level basis. His research into their lives and personalities has afforded him the confidence to create a piece that relates not only their ideas and conflicts, but also their true personalities, i.e. – Douglass’ charisma and Ms. Anthony’s tenacity.

Jerome Beck as Frederick Douglass and Lauren Briggeman as Susan B. Anthony in Phoenix Theatre’s production of “The Agitators”.

Director Mikael Burke has peopled Smart’s endeavor with two incredibly skilled actors: Lauren Briggeman as Susan B. Anthony and Jerome Beck as Frederick Douglass. Their portrayals extend out from the stage, into our minds (and hearts), with flawless clarity. Both leaders are offered with strong convictions, yet it is details of their frailties that complete the richness of the portrayals.

The actors play through the friendship’s many scenes with a sharp understanding of their characters’ needs and feelings. Ms. Briggeman is a straight forward Ms. Anthony – tirelessly indignant about the promises of freedoms that America holds, which women cannot draw from. The suffrage movement is primary to her, and any womanly feelings for love or family are pushed back – resulting in a soft sadness. Mr. Beck’s Douglass is likewise as passionate for the promised freedoms, and is magnanimous in his support for the women’s cause. He is shown to us here with a distinct lack of pride. His gains and losses throughout his life play on his soul and we are privy to these joys and scars in Beck’s potent portrayal.

Lauren Briggeman as Susan B. Anthony meets with Jerome Beck as Frederick Dougalss in Phoenix Theatre’s production of “The Agitators”.

In the end, it is the connection between these two important Americans that is most abundantly played. There is support, there is understanding, there is love for each other’s cause and personage. The actors’ dynamic turns precisely show these facets of the Douglass/Anthony friendship, which many of us never knew existed. It is this conveyance that drives the themes of the play into our hearts and minds for a lasting impression.

On the technical side, director Burke has the good fortune of working with a group of savvy designers. Inseung Park’s set design is at once eclectic and simple. Its features allow for smooth solutions to the play’s many scene/locale changes, especially as embellished by light designer Zac Hunter’s ideas. Guy Clark issues fine costume designs for the period, and Michael Lamirand’s sound design adds much texture to the production.

Lauren Briggeman on Inseung Park’s distinctive set for Phoenix Theatre’s production of “The Agitators”.

Bottomline: The Agitators is a compelling two hour journey, graced by fine performances, as well as formidable direction and technical aspects. It delivers on the play’s ideal – seeking to teach and inform us of how these two greats of another era resolutely strove to make our country fairer and freer. Needless to say, the fight continues.

The Agitators continues at Phoenix Theatre through March 22nd. Find reservation and ticket information at www.PhoenixTheatre.org or by calling (317) 635-7529.

  • photos by Michael Drury

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