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

"Much Ado About Nothing" at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s sparkling production of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a true tonic for the eye. Rendered on a striking set by Ryan Koharchik, with amazing costumes by Adrienne Conces, this popular comedy is reset into the post-WW2 era. Director Emily Rogge Tzucker’s vision (and cuts) for this 90 minute version all work well for Civic Theatre’s first main stage production of the Bard in it’s long existence.

Scenic design by Ryan Koharchik and costumes designed by Adrienne Conces are featured in Civic Theatre’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing”

Returning from the fighting, Don Pedro (Joshua Ramsey) and his men visit the household of the hospitable Governor, Leonato (Tom Beeler), whose daughter Hero (Carly Masterson) and niece Beatrice (Sara Castillo Dandurand) get very favorably noticed by some of the men. Claudio (Nicholas Gibbs) is especially taken by Hero and pledges to his friends that he will marry her. Countering that idea, Benedick (John Kern) states he will never be a husband. As a side-issue, there exists a “merry war” of words between Beatrice and Benedick, who both disdain marriage. Shakespeare’s skills for the twisting of plots and relationships form up the rest of the story as there follows an array of romance, concocted plans, villainy, misdirected results and, of course, clowning.

Benedick (John Kern) and Beatrice (Sara Castillo Dandurand) face off in a scene from Civic Theatre’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing”

The play is well-directed, most of the action being readily understood (hey, this IS Shakespeare), with apt portrayals by Ms. Tzucker’s crew of players. Ms. Masterson and Ms. Dandurand are demure and feisty, respectively, as the two main femmes. Gibbs fills the bill as an alternately romantic, betrayed and contrite young Claudio. John Kern impresses with a well-developed Benedick – his monologues, and his scenes with Ms. Dandurand, being highlights of the play.

from left, Leonato (Tom Beeler), his daughter Hero (Carly Masterson) and her ‘intended’ Claudio (Nicholas Gibbs) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing”

The low-brow comedy provided by the Shakespeare’s clowns, constable Dogberry (Kelsey VanVoorst) and her cohorts (Joe Steiner, Bill Buchanan and Jonathan Doram), is more than a bit scenery-chewing at times. Other supporting roles – Beeeler’s Leonato, Ramsey’s Don Pedro, along with Hero’s friends Margaret (Sabrina Duprey) and Ursula (Leah Hodson), plus villians Don John (Darby Kear), Borachio (Max McCreary) and Conrade (Elizabeth Speckman) – are all well-played.

Bottomline: 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.

Much Ado About Nothing continues at the Booth Tarkington Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through February 22nd. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

"The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963" at IRT

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reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

Based on the book by Christopher Paul Curtis and masterfully adapted by African American playwright Cheryl L. West, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 follows the Watson family driving to the Deep South from Flint, Michigan during the 1960s. The story explores the prejudice encountered by black people traveling in Jim Crow America through the eyes of the three children, while also highlighting the power of family and community.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 is the second play in IRT’s INclusion Series, which celebrates diverse storytelling. Directed by Mikael Burke, this relevant and moving family drama runs February 1 – March 1 on the IRT Upper stage with an approximate run time of 1 hour and 10 minutes and no intermission. It is a civil rights era family drama that contains mild onstage violence, strobe, haze, loud noises, images of the Ku Klux Klan, and a dramatization of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

from left, Xavier Adams (Kenny) and Brian Wilson (Byron) in a scene from IRT’s “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963”

A first-person account narrated by 4th grader Kenny Watson, brilliantly played by Xavier Adams, opens the play – showing how traumatized this young man is by the recent 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. His brother Byron, hostile and defiant, disrupts the family nucleus. Brian Wilson grabs the role of the typical rebellious teenager challenging family values. Byron has been skipping school, lighting fires in the bathroom, and bullying his brother. But when he comes home with flat-ironed hair, that’s the last straw. His parents decide it’s time for him to stay with the notoriously strict Grandma Sands, (Milicent Wright) in Birmingham, Alabama. With The Negro Motorist Green Book in hand as their guide, they pack the whole family in the car and head south. Wright is a refreshing site as her character takes control with tough love. Dalila Yoder, as the little sister, Joey, is my standout pick as she portrays a natural sass and cuteness. Bryant Bentley, as Daddy, is tender as he works to maintain peace between mother and children. Mama, portrayed by Tiffany Gilliam, plays the heavy hand. She is the matriarch you don’t want to mess with. I enjoyed Gilliam in this role, but her vocal projection seemed rather unnatural to me. Choosing more variety in tone and volume might make some of her punch lines work better.

from left, Tiffany Gilliam (Mama), Xavier Adams (Kenny) and Bryant Bentley (Daddy) in a scene from IRT’s “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963”

Grayson Molin plays two roles and shows skill in distinguishing the characters of Buphead, Byron’s juvenile delinquent friend from Michigan, and the intimidating redneck southerner the family meets in their travels.

from left, Tiffany Gilliam (Mama) and Milicent Wright (Grandma Sands) in a scene from IRT’s “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963”

Director Mikael Burke’s creativity makes this show a prize winner. Maximizing set pieces and use of the rotating floor serve to capture both the exasperations and the joys of the long family excursion. Using projected images, highlighting the visual scenery, takes the audience to the wide-open road. The scars of those horrific images of the KKK, rioters, and bombings remind us of the ugliness in American history. Scenic & Projection Designer Reuben Lucas, Costume Designer Alexis Carrie, Lighting Designer Tom Horan, Dramaturg Richard J Roberts, also deserve recognitions. I want to thank all for bringing this piece to life.

from left, Dalila Yoder (Joey) and Tiffany Gilliam (Mama) in a scene from IRT’s “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963”

There’s a scene early in the show in which Daddy talks to his sons about fear. There comes a time, he tells Byron and Kenny, when you must “stare fear in the face and see what it has to teach you.” That’s exactly what The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 allows audience members of all ages to see, whether they’re grade schoolers, like Kenny, or battle-tested seniors, like Grandma Sands.

The INclusion Series features work by female playwrights on the Native American, African American, and Chinese American experience. The full series consists of And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of TearsThe Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 and The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin. For tickets 317-635-5252 or visit: IRTLIVE.COM. – Photos

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

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"Murder for Two" at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

ATI’s Murder for Two, which opened last night in Carmel IN, is a surprisingly unique production: 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.

David Corlew (at the piano) and Adam Lasalle combine talents in ATI’s production of “Murder for Two”

Adam Lasalle, as Officer Marcus Moscowicz and David Corlew, as everyone else in the room, offer a tour-de-force rendition of Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair’s awesome creation. Directed by Tony Clements, with musical direction by Stephen Goers, the adept duo exhibit crisp and precise comedic skills and over-the-top musical talents for the cartoonishly hilarious, madcap paced, endlessly ingenious musical comedy.

Officer Moscowicz is first to arrive, with his silent partner Lou, at the site of a murder. Famous novelist Arthur Whitney, upon entering his surprise birthday party, is shot dead. The ensuing investigation has Moscowicz tracking down clues and questioning the party attendees, which include Whitney’s outlandish wife Dahlia; a world-famous dancer, Barrette Lewis; a psychiatrist, Dr. Griff; as well as an overly eager college student, a couple bent on arguing, a fireman, and a 12 member boy’s choir. This cast of characters is employed throughout to allow for maximum zaniness and invention.

The action couldn’t be any more outrageous, as the twosome team of actors do fantastic work – Lasalle as the eager to be promoted officer (with a subplot of never wanting to fall in love again), and Corlew – whose nonstop blur of characterizations is aided by a vest full of props and the concentration abilities of a meditation practitioner.

David Corlew, as world famous dancer Barrette Lewis, entices Adam Lasalle, as Officer Marcus Moscowicz – who never wants to fall in love again, in a scene from ATI’s “Murder for Two”

Bottomline: the satisfying combination of a brilliant script, a driving tempo and pace, plus two outrageously skilled performers who can do comedy, sing with verve, AND are excellent pianists, makes this a must-see entertainment.

Murder for Two continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through February 16th. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging on at http://www.atistage.org .

  • photos provided by Actors Theatre of Indiana

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