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

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

“Violet” by Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse program

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reviewed by Daniel Shock

Violet, this year’s production for Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse professional program for young adults, tells the musical story of Violet, a young woman on a quest. With Book and Lyrics by Brian Crawley, based on a short story by Doris Betts, and music by Jeanine Tesori – a wonderful mix of country and gospel, the show was originally produced off Broadway in 1997 and revived on Broadway in 2014.   

The story begins in the south. North Carolina. 1964. 

Violet wants something. She wants to be beautiful. This will ease her pain and make her happy, she thinks. She was injured physically in childhood by an accidental flying axe blade and further injured in spirit by a guilt-ridden father who did not know how to seek forgiveness from her or himself. Now a young woman, Violet aims to erase the facial scar by traveling to Tulsa, OK to visit a miracle working TV preacher. She begins her journey by getting on a bus filled with other folks on their own journeys. Two of these are a pair of soldiers, Monty and Flick – one white, one black. Filled with the anxiety and anticipation of the coming conflict in Vietnam, they find themselves drawn to Violet – curious about her injury and amused by her naïve belief that a preacher can remove her scar. 

I wondered throughout the performance why Violet did not actually have a scar.  There is no theatrical make-up. The actress shows no sign that she has a scar at all. She talks about it. Other characters react to it. There are a few possible explanations. The one that seems most likely is that we are supposed to be convinced of the scar through the performances. A quick internet search seems to confirm that this has been the intention of the show since at least the Broadway production. I’m not sure that this works for me. The absence of a scar led me to ponder the weird possibilities, like the Twilight Zone episode where the beautiful girl awakens in a hospital and is pitied by all the other unseen characters – leaving the audience to wonder what is going on until the end reveal. There is no such twist in Violet. Possibly the intent is to place the audience in the omnipotent position of seeing Violet as she is – the physical reality does not matter.  I wouldn’t like that interpretation. I don’t think the Flick character would agree with that position. I think he recognizes that the scar makes her different.  She has been undervalued by society as he has. The physical does matter to Violet. Her worth as a human being along with her capacity to love and to be loved…THOSE do not depend on her physical appearance.  I write this to assure the reader and potential audience members: don’t waste your attention on this matter as I did. It will consume mental resources you should spend appreciating the fine performances of the cast. 

The cast is filled with young adults giving several standout performances.  Elizabeth Hutson plays Violet with confidence and strength. Her Violet is a strong, if naïve, young woman ready to join the world.  John Collins as Monty walks a fine line and gives us a complex character that you can both be repulsed by and have sympathy for. Mark Maxwell as Flick delivers a warm, sweet performance. His Flick connects with fellow outsider Violet, offering steadfast support and affection. Carlos Medina Maldonado must be recognized for his strong work in multiple roles as the Bus Driver and the Preacher. He offers a magnetic performance that draws your attention whenever he is onstage. Leah Broderick’s offering as Young Violet is heartbreaking. Her scenes with her father, well played by Eric J. Olson, are among the best in the show. Amanda Boldt, Gabriel Herzog, Terrence Lambert and Lilly Wessel all distinguished themselves in multiple roles. Finally, Chase Infiniti gave a jaw dropping vocal performance in the gospel number “Raise Me Up”. 

This production, directed by Emily Ristine Holloway, made for a nice evening. The simple set design by Geoffrey Ehrendreich along with the lighting design by Michael Moffatt was effective in evoking multiple locations in both space and time. Costumes designed by Jeanne Bowling were lovely and also fit the period. The music, directed by Ms. Bowling (pulling double duty both in costumes and music!), was enjoyable throughout. There was not a lot of dancing, but choreographer Cherri Jaffee brought out some great moments, notably the gospel choir in the second act. Sound was generally good and Zach Rosing’s sound design served the production adequately. There were a few instances where I felt I lost what the actors were saying or singing. Sometimes that was simply the orchestra overwhelming them and other instances seemed to be a lack of microphone.  

Violet earns my recommendation for some enjoyable performances from a cast that will surely be entertaining us for years to come. I look forward to seeing them in other shows. 

Violet runs through June 15 at the Phoenix Theatre’s Russel Stage, 705 N. Illinois Street, Indianapolis. Tickets are available on the website by clicking HERE or by calling the Phoenix Theatre Box Office at 317.635.7529 

Summer Stock Stage’s “The Secret Garden” at Park Tudor

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Last night Mrs K and I ventured once again to Park Tudor School’s Ayres Auditorium for the preview night of Summer Stock Stage’s second show of the summer, The Secret Garden. Having seen and been much impressed by their first offering this season, Urinetown – we looked forward to attending this show. And we were not disappointed.

I must say, SSS producer/director Emily Ristine Holloway is masterful at what she does. Gathering many of the most talented area school-aged actors, singers, and dancers, and then coaxing the most superb performances out of her charges is a remarkable feat. The proof is in the production, and The Secret Garden is yet another great example of her prowess.

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Amelia Wray as Mary Lennox, and Cynthia Kauffman as her chambermaid, Martha, in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “The Secret Garden”.

The Secret Garden is the story (set in 1906) of a young girl, Mary Lennox, who after losing both her parents to cholera in India, is sent along to live at the estate of her Uncle Archibald in England. He is beset by melancholy and disturbing dreams, caused by the death of his dear wife, Lily – who happens to haunt the estate, in a friendly way. In fact, ghosts appear everywhere in the rambling home, and Mary is touched by their presence. In his dismay, Archibald has hidden away his son, Colin, and locked off his wife’s once beautiful garden. Mary discovers the boy and the magic of the garden, while facing off Archibald’s opportunist brother, and making friendly alliances with most of the household staff.

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Sally Root as Lily, and Weston LeCrone as Archibald Craven, in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “The Secret Garden”.

Amelia Wray takes the role of Mary Lennox and her star qualities sparkle in her depiction. Blessed with a full voice and a clear understanding of the acting craft, Ms. Wray seems to effortlessly handle the many levels of her character with aplomb. Weston LeCrone plays her Uncle Archibald in a marvelous portrayal, filled with emotion and a plethora of dynamic song performances. He is joined by Sally Root in the role of his deceased love, Lily. She, too, shows immense talents in her vocal and acting skills, providing some of the show’s loveliest moments. This threesome gives a powerful example of what I meant when I wrote that Ms. Holloway is a masterful director. All are very near professional quality in their skills and presentations, and all seem to have the confidence it takes to move forward in theatre endeavors.

There are many other highly-skilled cast members, to be sure. Davon Graham is impressive in his role as Archibald’s brother Neville. He partners grandly in the “Quartet” number with Archibald, Lily and Sydney Meyers as Mary’s mother Rose. Earlier, his and LeCrone’s duet “Lily’s Eyes” is a soaring rendition which stops the show. Cynthia Kauffman shows wonderful vocal and acting skills as the chambermaid, Martha; Keith Smith Jr. is exciting to watch and listen to as Martha’s magical brother, Dickon; and 5th grader Robert Hueni does a terrific job in his Summer Stock Stage debut as the hidden away son, Colin. Indeed, the entire cast of about 50 is to be congratulated on all the hard work they did which built their show into a very crowd-pleasing entertainment.

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Keith Smith Jr. as Dickon and Amelia Wray as Mary Lennox, in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “The Secret Garden”.

Music director Jeanne Bowling deserves much credit for her work here with cast and orchestra members. So does the choreography team of Brandon Comer and Cherri Jaffee, for their array of dances and staging. Aaron Wardwell provides beautiful period costuming, and set designs by Kristopher Steege work very well. Kyle Ragsdale again affords his visual art talents on the set, while Michael Moffatt’s lighting design enhances all other work.

Bottomline: Amazing voices and great direction make this a summer treasure for theatre-goers. The talents of the SSS participants are stunning and the show is a true accomplishment.

Only four chances remain to see this lovely staging of a very special show. It will only run until Sunday July 29th. Go to http://www.summerstockstage.com for all the info you need to catch these very talented young performers.

  • – Photos by Michael Camp

 

 

Summer Stock Stage’s “Urinetown” at Park Tudor

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Urinetown is one of those musicals which I have heard a lot about, but never have seen. Summer Stock Stage’s young performers’ production of the show was a great intro to this quirky, wildly original show. Set in a town suffering a 20 year drought, with water in such short supply that normal bathroom functions are regulated by the government and a huge conglomerate (cleverly named Urine Good Company – UGC), this is a story of a rebellion by the people after the fees to use the company owned facilities are increased. Led by Bobby Strong, the seditious mob breaks through the pay lines for free usage, and causes trouble for the head of UGC, Caldwell B. Cladwell. Meanwhile, Cladwell’s daughter Hope returns from college in time to fall for Bobby (possibly the only musical cliché in the story) right after she begins working for her father. The rebellion sweeps Bobby and Hope into a whirlwind of events that end with a very un-musical-comedy like thud of reality (as one character says in dismay – “What kinda musical IS this?”). It all adds up to be delightfully fresh and excellently produced by the SSS company.

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Chase Infiniti and Cameron Brown (center) in a scene from Summer Stock Stages’ production of “Urinetown”

The cast for this show is absolutely loaded with talented 13-19 year old performers from schools all over central Indiana. From leading roles to featured roles to ensembles, these gifted young artists have all thrown themselves into singing, dancing and acting performances that are both impressive and satisfying. Co-directors Emily Ristine Holloway and Charles Goad, along with musical director Michael Berg Raunick, and choreographers Brandon Comer, Mariel Greenlee and Lily Wessel have the magic formulas needed to lead the 42 member cast in the right direction and attain the professional quality stage-work that was presented to an avidly appreciative audience.

Cameron Brown is extraordinary in his turn as Bobby Strong, and Chase Infiniti simply shines as Hope Caldwell. Both are gifted with fine vocal talents and dancing ability and they play opposite each other like old pros. They are exciting to watch.

Other standouts: Jack Ducat takes magnate Caldwell B. Cladwell to despicable levels with skill, Natalie Shilling is cute and very funny as Little Sally, and Nicholas Dunlap-Loomis is perfectly engaging as the show’s narrator, Officer Lockstock. Chinyelu Mwaafrika is powerful in his “Snuff That Girl” number, and Eva Scherrer shows off her excellent singing talents in a number of scenes as Penelope Pennywise. Michael Krauter makes the hilarious most of his Old Man Strong role. And a “nice to see you onstage again” shout-out to my 2013 B&B Sound of Music cast-mate, Madison Moll, who also does excellent work in her role.

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Natalie Schilling  as Little Sally (center) in a scene from Summer Stock Stages’ production of “Urinetown”

Even with the fine assemblage of key performers working at such a very high level, I really cannot say enough about the ensemble players. There are 2 ensembles – the Rebel Ensemble and the Cladwell Ensemble and both provide some absolute knockout displays of dance and song. The choreographers did not coddle these youngsters; they had to learn some awesome combinations. Then they had to add in some tricky harmonizing for their vocals. They pulled off every challenge they were given with verve, and were a huge part of my enjoyment of the show. Kudos to all these great and talented ensemble kids.

The set design by Kristopher Steege (with artwork by Kyle Ragsdale) and costumes by Jeanne Bowling and Aaron Wardwell completed the wonderful visual aspects of the show.

Bottomline: You won’t find a better example of talented teens, under the direction of remarkable professionals, presenting a totally enjoyable version of a genuinely original show. Don’t miss ’em!

Only two more chances are available to see this energized staging of a truly unique show. Go to http://www.summerstockstage.com for all the info you need to catch these very talented performers.

 

Summer Stock Stage’s “Dogfight” at the IndyFringe Theatre’s Basile Stage

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

Depending on your level of Theater Geek-osity, you may or may not be aware that, in addition to lots of wonderful professional and community theaters, Indianapolis is home to some terrific theatrical educational opportunities. Tarkington Civic Theater, Actor’s Theater of Indiana, Footlite Musicals, and many other area theaters have Youth Programs. One local program for high school aged performers is not tied to a particular theater. Summer Stock Stage operates out of Park Tudor School. It offers 2 different productions every summer and the productions that I have seen have been of a high caliber. Such a program, though, can leave graduates who go off to college without a place to continue their growth once they are home for the summer.

Summer Stock Stage addresses this problem for their alumni with an emerging artist program called Eclipse. This is the second Summer for Eclipse, which produces at The Indy Fringe Theater. This summer’s offering is Dogfight, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and Book by Peter Duchan. A true Theater Geek might recognize the names Pasek and Paul as the authors of the much better known musical Dear Evan Hansen. Before writing that Tony Award winning musical, the pair adapted a film by Bob Comfort about some young soldiers in 1963, who plan one wild night before shipping out of San Francisco. The title refers to a contest: the winner is the soldier who brings the ugliest date to a party arranged for just that purpose. The story follows three friends and their choices on that fateful night, focusing specifically on Eddie and his “date” Rose.

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Rose (Leela Rothenberg) and Eddie (Patrick Dinnsen) in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Dogfight”

The subject matter is a perfect fit for the youthful Summer Stock alums, and this show is as professional as anything you will see in town. Director (and Eclipse founder) Emily Ristine Holloway assembles a remarkably talented cast that tells a sometimes heart breaking story about boys struggling to learn what it means to be men and the girls caught up in their lives. BFAs Patrick Dinnsen and Leela Rothenberg play Eddie and Rose, and both are magnificent. The rest of the exceptional cast is made up of John Collins, Matthew Conwell, Hope Fennig, Aaron Huey, Elizabeth Huston, Courtney Krauter, Terrence Lambert, Joey Mervis , and Isaiah Moore. There is not a false note in the bunch.

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Birdlace (Patrick Dinnsen), Rose (Leela Rothenberg), Marcy (Elizabeth Hutson), and Boland (Joey Mervis) in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Dogfight”

Simon Roberts has designed a simple and effective set, beautifully lit by Michael Moffat. Costumes are by Jeanne Bowling and Aaron Wardwell and are wonderfully effective (especially upon Eddie’s return to the States). The music, directed by Nathan Perry, is as professional as the young actors onstage, and Lily Wessel’s choreography is suitably exuberant.

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Boland (Joey Mervis), Birdlace (Patrick Dinnsen), and Bernstein (John Collins) in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Dogfight”

Dogfight is not a light and breezy summer musical, but it will touch your heart. This is not a show for those too young for high school. But for the rest of us, it is a soulful journey – and one that is well worth taking.

Eclipse’s production of Dogfight is presented through June 17th at The Indy Fringe Theater’s Basile stage, located at 719 East St. Clair Street, Indianapolis. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at http://www.summerstockstage.com or at the door. Sold out performances should be expected.