“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

ATI’s “Sweeney Todd” with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Arts Chorale

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Last night, Mrs K and I were in attendance (along with many hundreds of others) for a much anticipated theatre event – Actors Theatre of Indiana’s Sweeney ToddThe Demon Barber of Fleet Street – presented at The Palladium in Carmel IN in conjunction with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Arts Chorale. We had previously seen the fine ATI production of the Stephen Sondheim musical in their smaller Studio Theatre venue in 2016. On that occasion the house orchestra consisted of a keyboard, a cello, a violin and percussion. You can imagine the difference in musical power that was conveyed here by the full CSO.

Richard J. Roberts, who had done a remarkable job staging the show on the Studio Theatre stage in 2016, had his hands full staging the show on the Palladium stage. Plenty of inventiveness was in play with some unusual boundaries as the actors shared the immense space with the full orchestra. It affected the story telling a little, what with players meandering around the musicians and even into the choir loft at times.

But this show was about the powerful performances of the uber-talented ATI cast, as well as the musical prowess of the CSO musicians and the Chorale.

Don Farrell (Sweeney Todd) and Judy Fitzgerald (Mrs. Lovett) star in ATI’s “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

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. Farrell is matched by ATI co-founder Judy Fitzgerald as she re-creates Mrs. Lovett, the pie-making co-conspirator. Ms. Fitzgerald brings a lot of fun to her role, a much needed balance for the mayhem due to Farrell’s actions.

These two are joined by a very talented group of supporting players, with standout vocal performances by Mario Almonte III as Adolpho Pirelli; Matthew Conwell as Anthony Hope; Elizabeth Hutson, returning as Sweeney’s daughter, Johanna; David Cunningham as Tobias Ragg; Michael Elliott as The Beadle; and Tim Fullerton as Judge Turpin. Cynthia Collins adds a wonderful performance as Beggar Woman into the mix.

Don Farrell (Sweeney Todd) holds Cynthia Collins (Beggar Woman) in a scene from ATI’s “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Janna Hymes leads the Carmel Symphony Orchestra (and the Indianapolis Arts Chorale) through the immensely complex Sondheim score with flawless precision. Additional creative elements are offered by Erin Meyer’s lighting design, costumes by Katie Cowan Sickmeier, wigs by Andrew Elliott, and the functional set design by Paul Bernard Killian.

Bottomline: if you do not have a ticket for this immense top-grade theatre event, please note that you only have one more chance to see it – tonight February 22nd at 8 pm. A few seats do remain. Don’t let this one get by – you don’t want to miss it and hear later about how great it was.  Call 317-843-3800 for tickets.

For those who wish to read my 2016 review of the show – here it is…

  • – Photos provided by Actors Theatre of Indiana

“Getting Sara Married” at Epilogue Players

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Epilogue Players’ mid-winter offering, Getting Sara Married, is a well-constructed play. It should be – the playwright, Sam Bobrick, was a long-time television writer of some note. His career in television included writing for such shows as Captain Kangaroo, The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, Get Smart, The Tim Conway Show, Saved by the Bell, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. After 1990, he switched over to crafting plays – and one of the results was this one.

I mention all this because Getting Sara Married is very much a TV situation romantic comedy in style. One could easily see Mary Tyler Moore as Sara, Tim Conway as Noogie and Vickie Lawrence as Aunt Martha. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The plot deals with Sara Hastings, a happily unmarried lawyer, whose meddling and slightly bizarre Aunt Martha has decided that Sara is missing out on all the wonderful trappings of married life. Martha therefore hires “jack of all trades” Noogie Malloy to deliver a marriage candidate to Sara’s door. With a bop on the head and his handy delivery dolly, Noogie brings Sara one Brandon Cates – unconscious, of course – and the wacky rom-com begins. Quite a set-up – unlikely, silly, full of potential and one heck of a conflict, especially when Brandon awakes and has no idea where (or who) he is.

from left: Brandon (Vince Pratt) and Sara (Monya Wolf) in a scene from Epilogue Players’ “Getting Sara Married”.

Epilogue newcomer Monya Wolf takes the role of Sara and is well-suited for the part. Both she and Vince Pratt, who plays the sudden marriage candidate, Brandon, have a good understanding, no doubt with the guidance of director Veronique Duprey, of how this type of comedy needs to be played. Straight forward, even tempered, no wacky takes or gawky faces. Say the joke and tend to the laugh, if there is one. The fact that playwright Bobrick is a master of the set-em-up, take-em-down method of comedy certainly helps, but credit goes to the practitioners here. They are both very good at this style.

Molly Kraus handles the role of the eccentric Aunt Martha with a similarly mild countenance, making her almost seem normal – she is not! – which adds interest, to be sure. Noogie Malloy, as offered by Brian Nichols, is a much broader character, and that works too, as the force (in this case, a unique oddity) is strong in this one. Rounding out the small cast, Rachel Kelso does good work as Brandon’s put-upon wife to be – Heather, and Alex Dantin takes on the very quiet role of the Chiropractor.

from left: Brandon (Vince Pratt) and his fiancee Heather (Rachel Kelso) confront Noogie Malloy (Brian Nichols) in a scene from Epilogue Players’ “Getting Sara Married”.

Ms. Duprey has worked toward staging an even, mostly underplayed presentation here and that idea works well through much of the production. I can see that there is a flatness in the piece as a whole, with perhaps a need for a few more “peaks” identified in the action – but for the most part, this is a well-produced, well-thought-out show. Special mention should be given to Ron Roessler for his wonderful set design and decoration.

Bottomline: This is quite a charming play, and although one almost expects that tv commercials should appear during the set changes – Epilogue has a winner here.

Getting Sara Married continues at Epilogue Players through February 23rd. For more information about dates, times and reservation go to http://www.epilogueplayers.com or call 317.926.3139.

  • Photos provided by Epilogue Players

Magic Thread Cabaret’s “Les Chanteuses” at Fonseca Theatre

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reviewed by Daniel Shock

Last night Mrs. Shock and I had the pleasure of seeing in concert some of the greatest female vocalists of the 20th Century: Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Tina Turner, Gloria Gaynor, Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross! What a lineup!   

Les Chanteuses, a Magic Thread Cabaret, presented by Klein & Alvarez productions, presented music made famous and iconic by all of those legendary singers.  Throughout the course of the evening we heard:  “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, “I Will Survive”, “Midnight Train to Georgia”, “La Vie en Rose”, “God Bless the Child”, “Stormy Weather”, “Proud Mary”, “Nessun Dorma”, “I Have Nothing”… and SO MANY more.  

 

from left: Rayanna Bibbs, Pearl Scott and Sarah Daniel perform
in Magic Thread Cabaret’s “Les Chanteuses”. (Photo by Audra Shock)

Performing these songs were Rayanna Bibbs, Pearl Scott and Sarah Daniel.  Three women who meet the challenge of honoring the legends with talent and heart.  Each one shines individually and when their voices join together, they form a mighty force of sound that sweeps you away and forces a smile to your face.  Ms. Bibbs, with her pure childlike smile, was powerful when she was channeling Aretha Franklin.  It was not a surprise to hear “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, but what a treat to also hear “Nissun Dorma”, the opera piece that Ms. Franklin sang in Pavorotti’s place when he could not perform for the Grammy Awards in 1998.  Ms. Scott was a perfect choice for Eartha Kitt’s “C’est Si Bon”, giving it all the sensuality that the former catwoman was famous for.  Sarah Daniel brought a sincere spirituality to her songs.  Her gospel “How I Got Over” was a marvelous tribute to Mahalia Jackson.  

Pearl Scott (center) solos during Magic Thread Cabaret’s “Les Chanteuses”

The women were backed by a three piece band consisting of Dustin Klein (Music Director/Pianist), Galen Morris (Bass), and Matthew Dupree (Percussion).  All were excellent and worked together flawlessly.  Mr. Moris and Mr Dupree projected cool vibes throughout leaving Mr. Klein the job of being flashy with his gold sparkly jacket! 

Choreography by Brandon Comer was fun.  Lighting and sound were also effective – however the person responsible for these things was not listed in the program for me to refer to. Perhaps it was a group effort. 

After the last song, and I won’t tell you what that is….it was fun…and we left wanting more!  We left eager to put together a playlist of all the songs we just heard.  I don’t know what your plans are for the rest of this Valentines weekend, but you could not do better than seeing one of the last two performances of Les Chanteuses

The last two performances of are this weekend.  Saturday, Feb 15 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, Feb 16 at 4:30 pm.  Tickets can be purchased online at https://leschanteuses.bpt.me/ and at the door at the Fonseca Theatre Company Basile Building 2508 W. Michigan St. Indianapolis, IN 46222. 

  • Photos by Audra Shock and Magic Thread Cabaret
     

“Saturday Night Fever” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Anyone who has ever seen the 1977 movie version of Saturday Night Fever likely recalls the amazing dance sequences with John Travolta, someone we barely knew back then, while forgetting the depth of the story the film told.

Travolta’s character, nineteen year old Tony Manero, is a troubled youth stuck in a dead end life in Brooklyn NY – his parents are constantly on his back about his job, his clothes, his hair (and why he isn’t more like his brother , a priest); his gang of friends are not much more than fun-loving thugs who delve into petty crimes and a tribal mentality against other ethnic groups; his “girlfriend” is after him to get married. The one thing which lifts him in his life is his Saturday night forays to the dance club where he is king of the dance floor. Only there is he able to set aside all the conflicts of class, gender and generational family differences.

Candy (Megan Flynn), center, sings “Night Fever” at the 2001 Odyssey Club in “Saturday Night Fever” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre.

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s busy rendering of the 1999 Broadway theatrical production is directed by Jeff Stockberger, with choreography by Ron Morgan, and musical direction by Kristy Templet. All the dramatic aspects of the film are very much a part of this musical version, with plenty of familiar songs, plus new ones, punctuating the action. What is immediately striking to me is how different many of the song stylings and interpretations are from the recorded music in the film. A case in point would be The Bee Gee’s “If I Can’t Have You”, here sung by Annette, Tony’s wanna-be girlfriend, after she finds him with another. Soulfully offered by Kyra 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.

Stephanie (Amanda Tong), left, and Tony (Jeremy Sartin) in a scene from “Saturday Night Fever” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre.

As is usual with B&B’s endeavors, the talent level for Saturday Night Fever is sky-high. Jeremy Sartin stars as Tony Manero and has a strong presence onstage. His skillful dancing and nonpareil vocal talents, wrapped in a swoon-inducing physical mien, is perfect for Tony. (okay, I didn’t swoon, but I heard the ladies at some of the adjoining tables…) As his comely dance partner – Stephanie Mangano, Amanda Tong brings equal talents to the fore and is also quite striking. These two offer up an interesting boy/girl story arc – their love-story aptly played as flirtations blossoming into a fiery coupling, marked by terrific vocal and dance turns.

From left, Stephanie (Amanda Tong), Candy (Megan Flynn), and Annette (Kyra Leeds) sing “Nights on Broadway” in “Saturday Night Fever”, at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre.

The plethora of secondary roles are also well-covered. Standouts include the aforementioned Kyra Leeds as Annette; Megan Flynn, a singing dynamo as club-singer Candy; Peter Scharbrough, also offering pumped up vocals as the bewigged DJ, Monty; Joshua J. Schwartz and Megan Hasse, for their acting skills as Bobby C. and Pauline; as well as Damian Shembel as Tony’s gentle and priestly brother, Frank Jr.

Ron Morgan’s choreography shows his inventive touch and fills the stage with disco and romantic stylings. Kristy Templet has formed her vocal cadre into an exquisite sounding set of soloists and harmonizers. As good as the dancing is, I personally thought that the vocalizing surpassed it in many ways, a rare thing in a dance heavy Morgan-choreographed piece. Ms. Templet’s orchestra covered the upbeat score with ease, and guitarist Christopher Tucker deserves special mention for his work here. Finally, costumes coordinated by Jill Kelly Howe are colorfully era-correct and put the finishing touches on the production.

Tony Manero (Jeremy Sartin), center, dances to ‘You Should Be Dancing’ in “Saturday Night Fever”, at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre.

Bottomline: this surprisingly dark musical (I can only think of Les Misérables as being darker) is nonetheless a pleasing entertainment, full of great performances. Rated PG-13 – for a variety of reasons.

Saturday Night Fever continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through March 29th. Find show times and reservations at http://www.beefandboards.com or call the box office at 317-872-9664.

  • – photos by Julie Curry

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