“Annie” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre opens its 2017-18 season with a well-crafted production of Annie. This perennial favorite took the Broadway theatre world by storm with its original production in 1977, running for six years. Based on Harold Gray’s depression era comic strip, the musical features music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and a book by Thomas Meehan.

Under direction and choreography by Anne Nicole Beck, and musical direction by Brent Marty, Civic Theatre’s offering in a sometimes spectacular presentation. Though it sports an unevenness in some production areas, the show is dotted with numerous impressive performances and musical numbers.

Warbucks and Annie

Daniel Scharbrough (Daddy Warbucks) and Mary Kate Tanselle (Annie) star in Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie”

On the high side, we are treated to Mary Kate Tanselle’s plucky and energetic Annie. Young Miss Tanselle shows an easy talent in her portrayal and lights up the stage with her fine vocal talents. Already a stage veteran in her eighth grade year, Miss Tanselle never wavers in a poised and professional grade performance.

Another shining light, much “like the top of the Chrysler Building”, is provided by Daniel Scharbrough, whose superior Daddy Warbucks reprisal comes off with a smooth confidence that reflects this fine actor’s many years of stage experience. Scharbrough is joined at this high level by relative newcomer Amanda Boldt, who turns in a successfully full portrayal of Warbucks’ faithful secretary, Grace Farrell.

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“It’s a Hard Knock Life” for the orphans in Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie”

 

Ms. Beck’s cadre of orphans gives solid energies in their various appearances in the show. Anna Wagner (Duffy), Nya Beck (Julie), Emily Chrzanowski (Kate), Abigail Judy (Molly), Emily Carlisle (Pepper), and Claire Kauffman (Tessie) are especially wonderful in “Hard Knock Life” with its robust choreography – one of Ms. Beck’s best efforts in that department.

Speaking of choreography, this is one of the areas which, in my opinion, was somewhat variable. Some numbers, such as “Hard Knock Life” and especially “NYC” and “Easy Street” were simply knockouts with remarkable performances of inventive step patterns. A few others, though somewhat creative, lacked that special something I have grown to expect from this choreographer. I know there are more than a few musical numbers to deal with here, but after the inventive creations I saw from Ms. Beck in Civic’s The Music Man,  I was struck by a downturn with what I saw here. Again, merely my observation and opinion…

Ensemble

One of the many ensemble numbers in Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie”

Civic’s use of set designs based on the work of legendary designer Ming Cho Lee, is certainly among the high points in the show. Soaring skylines, lofty highway bridges, and well-appointed mansion interiors are provided, along with subtly slanted renditions of the orphanage and the oval office. Also high on my list is the wonderful presentation of the score by the Annie orchestra, under the baton of Matthew Konrad Tippel. It is first rate throughout. The costumes by Adrienne Conces also enrich the big-show quality of the production.

Other fine performances are sprinkled throughout: Paige Scott (Miss Hannigan), Jeremy Shivers-Brimm (Rooster Hannigan) and Virginia Vasquez (Lilly St. Regis) have some five star moments in their trio work as well as in their scene work together; Piper Murphy makes the most of her spotlight moment as “Star to Be”; and the rather vast ensemble has moments of spectacular rendition.

Frankly, any disappointment I may have had with this edition of Annie could be the product of several factors. Primarily, I have seen various productions of this piece and that in itself always lends an aspect of familiarity and undeniable comparison. Also, it occurs to me that the show I saw last evening was a second show in the run – which in theatre circles can often mean a letdown in the performers’ energies and efforts after a hellish full week of preparations for the opening night show. I know that feeling well.

Hannigans and Lilly

From left: Paige Scott (Miss Hannigan), Virginia Vasquez (Lilly St. Regis) and Jeremy Shivers-Brimm (Rooster Hannigan) provide the villainry in Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie”

Bottomline: I believe if this is the very first production that you have seen of Annie, you will be blown away and delighted by what is offered here. In that light, it was fun to see all the little girls in attendance with Annie-bows in their hair, some in red dresses, all very excited to see this show. As for an old theatre goer like myself, I genuinely appreciate what has been assembled here, and was impressed by many of the choices and performances.

Annie continues at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts through October 28th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

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“Ghost The Musical” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Ghosts, those various spirits, apparitions and other-worldly beings we are endlessly fascinated by, have long been “seen” in entertainments. From Hamlet’s father’s ghost, to Marley’s ghost, to George and Marion Kirby in the movie/television series “Topper”, to Casper in cartoon form, to “we ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts” in “Ghostbusters” and on and on – the spirits of the dead have provided endless story situations in novels, shows, comic books and movies.

In 1990, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore starred in the film “Ghost” which swept the country as a box-office winner. Ghost The Musical, with book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, followed with a West End opening in London in the summer of 2011. Now, this production has found its way to haunting the Beef and Boards stage.

Three Little Words

Molly Jensen (Andrea Laxton) and Sam Wheat (Eddie Egan) in a scene from B&B’s “Ghost The Musical.”

Directed by Douglas E. Stark, with musical staging by Ron Morgan, B&B’s production is a decidedly modern stage offering. Set on Michael Layton’s slick set design, with dynamic lighting effects from designer Ryan Koharchik, everything has the feel of a new era style of theatre, raising the bar in B&B’s production history.

The show is very well cast. Eddie Egan and Andrea Laxton make their Beef and Boards debuts starring as Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen, young lovers on the verge of taking the next big step in their relationship when a street confrontation turns everything around. Sam dies, but is left in a phantom state where he cannot leave Molly until he has taken care of the many loose ends his demise has brought about. Egan is impressive in his portrayal of the ghostly Sam. He covers all the emotional bases in his arc with sensitivity and, when necessary, good humor. Ms. Laxton skillfully weathers her emotionally charged course as she is left to lament her fate, highlighted by her mournful “With You” and the hopeful “Nothing Stops Another Day”. These two performers’ voices blend extremely well on a number of shared tunes, and Ms. Laxton, especially, has a smooth vocal quality one could listen to all day.

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Carl Bruner (Patrick Michael Joyce), center, and ensemble members in a scene from B&B’s “Ghost The Musical.”

Patrick Michael Joyce takes the part of antagonist Carl Bruner, a friend of the couple who has dug an ever deepening hole for himself at his job. Joyce is a perfect choice for the crooked Carl and is well up to the task for all levels of his role. Likewise, Renée Jackson is ideal as psychic medium Oda Mae Brown, who forms a communication connection with Sam and helps solve the problems he has left behind. Ms. Jackson’s far-fetched Oda Mae is delightful, and exquisitely extreme, adding a comic touch to a most often poignant story.

A superb group of supporting ensemble members completes the cast list. B&B veteran John Vessels is brilliant in his characterizations of both the Hospital Ghost and Lionel Ferguson. Joshua L.K. Patterson creates a fierce and psychotic Subway Ghost with unfettered aplomb. Kelly Teal Goyette has great fun as a duped psychic client of Oda Mae Brown, Logan Moore is deadly and intimidating as gunman Willie Lopez,  and Ayana Bey and Christine Zavaskos deftly pair up in their various secondary roles.  Furthermore, this group is charged with skillfully performing the precision-like Ron Morgan choreography on a number of occasions.

Get out of here - leave me alone

Storefront psychic Oda Mae Brown (Renée Jackson) in a scene from B&B’s “Ghost The Musical.”

Jill Kelly Howe’s rich costume designs and Zach Rosings’ visual effects design (just wait until you see the comeuppances in store for the bad guys) complete the picture. And the entire show is enhanced by Terry Woods’ musical direction and the B&B orchestra which features the tear-inspiring work of violinist Kara Day. (Nice job, Ms. Day!)

Bottomline – a refreshingly modern approach to this boy-girl story makes Ghost The Musical a highly worthwhile production. Strong performances by all involved, both onstage and behind the scenes, are noteworthy.

Ghost The Musical continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through November 18th. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or you may call the box office at  317-872-9664.

  • – Photos by Julie Curry

 

Storefront Theatre’s “INFINITY” at IndyFringe Theatre/Indy Eleven

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reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

I had the privilege of seeing the U.S. premiere production of INFINITY on opening night for Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis, performed at Indy Fringe Theatre/Indy Eleven. INFINITY is the first production of their inaugural season – written by Canadian playwright, Hannah Moscovitch, with original music by Njo Kong Kie, and directed by Storefront founder and Artistic Director, Ronan Marra.

How does a new Theory of Time change everything we know about ourselves?  In this case, it’s the relationship between three brilliant minds. Carmen (Melanie Keller) is a musician, violinist and composer, Elliot (Ryan Ruckman) is a theoretical physicist, and as the result of the laws of chemistry, they fall in love, resulting in an unplanned pregnancy and a neglected marriage. Sarah Jean (Andrea Heiden), a mathematic scholar and the couple’s daughter, addresses the audience about her string of unsatisfying sexual experiences. Thought provoking and emotionally moving, for me the play is about the messiness of life choices and the pursuit of obtaining love and acceptance through passion and perfection. It is the mixture of philosophy, physics, and music. It is a revelation about love, sex, and math.

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Melanie Keller (Carmen) and Ryan Ruckman (Elliot) in a scene from Storefront Theatre’s “INFINITY”.

Visually, set designer Ivana Vukomanovic gives us straight lines for a simple set resembling strings of instruments flowing down from the ceiling like rays of light. From the perspective of the audience, these stringed paths appear to intersect with each other suggesting conflict that the characters themselves may not perceive, but they keep moving forward. Live violinist (Allison Kelley) plays masterfully during scene changes and delivers the characters’ emotions to our senses in an extremely effective way. Well executed – the actors, the direction, and a great script communicate brilliantly what we all struggle with: What is real? Are we attracted to the people who help us confront unresolved issues? Does this mean there’s a fine line between love and hate? This play stimulates nothing if not self-reflection.

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Allison Kepley (Violinist) and Andrea Heiden (Sarah Jean) in a scene from Storefront Theatre’s “INFINITY”.

I especially enjoyed Andrea Heiden in her portrayal of Sarah Jean evolving from the frustrated 8-year-old, having to grow up too fast into the sexually obsessed adult who cannot possibly believe the love she receives is real. A special nod to Ryan Ruckman, who explains scientific theories which roll off his tongue as if he really understood them. And Melanie Keller, who made me scream inside “Yes you can do it alone, girl!”

I think Storefront has found a niche within the Indianapolis theatre community. The production of fine new works by female, minority, and foreign playwrights – in an intimate setting  – is just what this city needs.

INFINITY continues through Oct 15th. For more information, go to the Storefront web site – http://www.storefrontindy.com .

  • – Photos by Tom McGrath

 

 

 

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at IRT

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reviewed by Larry Adams

Does that mean I can do anything?”

  • Christopher, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Shortly before his untimely death some years ago, famed local pediatric neurologist Dr. Brad Hale stopped me in the hall of our office and handed me a thin, red book. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” the title proclaimed, complemented on the cover by a simple silhouette of a dead poodle. The present sat on my desk for some weeks amidst piles of papers and journals, but for some reason refused to go away on its own. I could not imagine why such an odd little book had caught the attention of one of the smartest, funniest men I had ever known, and so, if for no other reason than that, I finally opened the cover and turned to the first chapter:

“2.”

I was hooked from the start, and thus began my long love affair with this strange, first-person account of an unusual adolescent’s quest to “do detecting” and venture into a frightening and confusing world, a book I in turn have recommended to as many as I can. Any attempt to turn it into a play, I felt certain, could not possibly do it justice.

That wasn’t just a play. That was an experience!”

(Overheard from a patron leaving the theater)

The Indiana Repertory Theatre has started its 46th season with an authentic feat of theater: the Tony Award-winning Curious Incident is a star vehicle for the leading man to be sure, yet it is also a true “ensemble” piece- one that stretches the meaning of the word to its limits to include the music, the set, the props and even the choreography of the play, each interacting with the other to enhance the themes and emotions at work. It is indeed “an experience,” and one not to be missed in its four-weekend run in downtown Indy.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time follows the struggle of Christopher Francis Boone, age “15 years and 3 months and 2 days,” as he attempts to solve the murder of a neighborhood dog. The dog, a black poodle named Wellington, is nearly- but not quite- a McGuffin in the story, as the audience slowly learns that there is so much more to this tale- the depths of loss, the limits of relationships, the cruel and arbitrary unfairness of life, and the drive for independence and accomplishment. If all that seems a bit heavy for a weekend entertainment, fear not: the Dog in the Night-Time boasts numerous surprisingly large and refreshing doses of humor to help the audience catch its breath- humor that is, with one notable exception, neither forced nor out of place in this emotionally exhausting show.

Rowe Neal

Christopher (Mickey Rowe) with his father Ed (Robert Neal) in a scene from IRT’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

Leading the cast as Christopher, “a mathematician with behavioral problems” (his condition is purposefully neither named nor fully delineated in either the book or the play) is Seattle-based actor, Mickey Rowe, “the first American actor with autism” to take on the role. I must admit, IRT’s rather blatant and frequent parading of his condition in their promotional pieces initially made this casting seem more a self-congratulatory gimmick than an artistic choice, but Mr. Rowe quickly and easily sweeps such impressions aside. In what could have been an unsympathetic and emotionally one-note role (think Dustin Hoffman in Rainman – and, yes, I know he won an Academy Award, but really now), Rowe’s portrayal of Christopher almost immediately has the audience eating out of his hand, simultaneously rooting for him, put off by him, admiring him and pitying him as he struggles to conquer a world he cannot truly comprehend. Through voice and manner, the 28-year-old Mr. Rowe pulls off a surprisingly convincing 15-year-old on stage (though I must admit that he appeared just as young in a brief conversation I had with him after the show- maybe everybody just looks young to me these days), while his attention to the details of physicality- the lack of eye contact and his frequent finger fidgeting- signal both the character’s discomfort and his disability to the audience. Mr. Rowe’s evident experience in choreography and his nearly acrobatic skills are used heavily here, though with somewhat uneven results. While his graceful contortions contribute greatly to the mood and tone of an extended sequence in which he imagines being weightless as an astronaut, at other times they seem rather pointlessly added into the action, as if during rehearsals the director said, “Hey, this guy can do circus moves! Let’s throw some more in!” This at times has the unfortunate effect of distracting from what is otherwise a mesmerizing and nearly flawless performance.

Parks Rowe Macy

Robert Shears (Eric Parks), Christopher (Mickey Rowe) and Christopher s mother Judy (Constance Macy) in a scene from IRT’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

Other standouts in the ensemble are Christopher’s father and mother, played by Robert Neal and Constance Macy respectively. These two absolutely shine in their portrayal of the pain of broken relationships and unrequited parental love. There is nothing in this play more heartbreaking than watching Neal’s Mr. Booth desperately try to touch fingertips with a son who will not be hugged, and there is no scene more emotionally charged than Macy’s Judy wrenchingly attempting to explain her abandonment to a child who is all the while trying to shield himself from her feelings.

Though the remainder of the cast masterfully weaves a tapestry of interesting and effectual supporting characters, the one somewhat disappointing thread is Elizabeth Ledo’s portrayal of Christopher’s teacher Siobhan. The perhaps somewhat overly dramatic and personable style Ms. Ledo injects into the character of Siobhan admittedly serves as a nice contrast to Christopher during their scenes together, but seems terribly ill-suited for her mystifyingly frequent role as the play’s narrator; her expressive and enthusiastic recitations of Christopher’s writings unfortunately serve only to diminish the sense of his emotional disconnect and isolation, attributes that are among the most important themes of the book.

Rowe Daly

Christopher (Mickey Rowe) confronts Mrs. Alexander (Margaret Daly) in a scene from IRT’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

It seems a cliché anymore to claim “character” status for sets, lighting, visual effects and music in a review, but in this case the approbation is well-deserved. Designers Russell Metheny, Michael Klaers, Todd Mack Reischman and Katherine Freer, along with the original music of Michelle DiBucci, have created a setting in which scenes flow seamlessly from one to the next, as well as an all-encompassing, almost surreal environment which pulls the audience into the story as it attempts to transcend the written word. In what are typically somewhat thankless jobs in any theater production, these talented individuals deserve a bow at curtain call as much as the fine actors gracing the stage.

No production is perfect, however, and, despite my raves, this one does have its flaws. Playwright Simon Stephens admirably follows the book closely until the opening of the second act, when, from out of nowhere, he derails the story with a “play-within-a-play” gimmick for no apparent purpose other than a few, “winking-at-the-audience” laughs. In a production that tries so hard to bring the audience into the reality of the characters’ world, I cannot for the life of me understand why he would chose to dispel that illusion.

Though the staging of Christopher’s odyssey to London is magnificent (whoever envisioned and then executed the masks for the faceless throngs Christopher encounters is a bloody genius), the second act tends to drag at times, primarily from a lack of the first act’s extended emotional set pieces (though an absolutely ponderously long, nonverbal scene in which one character downs four beers in succession while another listens to static on a radio certainly doesn’t help either).

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The ensemble in a scene from IRT’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

If the playwright has accomplished one great thing in steering this book to the stage, though (and, in fact, he has accomplished many), it is in the final moments. In the last three lines of his play, Stephens has tacked on a powerful coda which quite frankly tops the book- by adding a question mark to what has frequently been interpreted (erroneously, I think) as a “happy ending.” Unfortunately, after the curtain, a bizarrely energetic, interactive, slap-happy and fanciful staging of the book’s Appendix (which, in the book, consists merely of Christopher’s characteristically dry answer to a particular math problem, illustrating his continued disconnect from personal relationships), pointlessly blunts the emotional impact of these final lines. But if one can erase from one’s mind this final lapse in theatrical judgment, the message remains clear: Christopher’s story is not over. This will not be his last Curious Incident. Life, unlike this mystery, is not so easily solved.

Despite a marvelous cast, a powerful story and an inspired staging, there is one facet of the book which the play simply cannot match. Written in the first person, the book forces the reader to see the world through Christopher’s eyes, experience the world and relationships as Christopher experiences them. This is a place that, watching Christopher as a third person presence on the stage, the theater goer simply cannot reach. So yes, run to your library or Amazon or your Kindle and read this unique, gem of a book that I have treasured for over a decade. But do not pass up this opportunity to see IRT’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It’s not just a play. It truly is an experience.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through October 14. For specific information on dates, show times, and ticket orders, visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing

 

 

“La Cage aux Folles” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

The 2017-2018 Season kicks off at Actors Theatre of Indiana (ATI) with the brilliant La Cage Aux Folles. This Tony Award winner was written by the great Jerry Herman, (Hello Dolly and Mame) with a book by Harvey Fierstein, and is based on a French farce by Jean Poiret. Many will be most familiar with the story through the American film version, The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Familiarity with the movie is neither required nor a hindrance to enjoying this Farce. ATI’s production transports you to the South of France and tells its story with gusto and sass, and reflects the remarkable artistry of director Larry Raben (a Carmel native) and his accomplished choreographer, Carol Worcel.

Bill Book as Georges, Judy Fitzgerald as Jacqueline and Don Farrell as Albin

From left: Bill Book as Georges, Judy Fitzgerald as Jacqueline, and Don Farrell as Albin in ATI’s “La Cage aux Folles”.

When this story first appeared in film, it felt edgy and subversive. I wondered if it would hold up, given the march of social progress over the past thirty years. No worries! “La Cage” holds up beautifully. In fact, the very traditional structure and conflicts of the story are even more accessible. The age old premise of young love complicated by parental interference is tweaked by a boy with two gay parents and a girl with a politically ambitious father. Jean-Michel (a sweet Sean Haynes) may have two “Dads”, but the rest of the obstacles faced on the way to marry his love (a wonderful Devan Mathias) are easily recognizable.

Michael Humphrey, Greg Grimes, Tim Hunt, Kenny Shepard and Don Farrell - photo credit - Zach Rosing

From left: Michael Humphrey, Greg Grimes, Kenny Shepard, and Tim Hunt are Les Cagelles with Don Farrell as Zaza in ATI’s a Cage aux Folles”

Bill Book and Don Farrell play Georges and Albin, the young groom’s parents. They are, in turns, hilarious and heartbreaking, and both of their performances are terrific. Still, Hermann has made sure that the show belongs to Farrell’s Albin, and he is the Star of this vehicle. Whether he is flirting with the Club’s clientele as Zaza or blubbering as Albin, Farrell is simply perfection. To anyone who saw him play Sweeny Todd or the Baker in Into the Woods, this comes as no surprise. Farrell is a joy to watch.

Sean Haynes as Jean-Michel and Devan Mathias as Anne - photo credit - Zach Rosing

Sean Haynes as Jean-Michel and Devan Mathias as Anne in ATI’s “La Cage aux Folles”

Superb support is provided by the rest of the cast, many of whom play multiple roles, including Ken Klingenmeier and Maryjane Waddell who play café owners and later appear as a self-righteous politician and his less rigid wife. John Vessels is, as always, delightful in a number of roles, and ATI co-founder Judy Fitzgerald is delicious as gal pal Jacqueline. In what is likely to be his last Indiana stage performance for a while, Daniel Klingler is a riot as George and Albin’s butler/maid/sight gag. Klingler moves his career to NYC soon, and his performance gives him a terrific and hilarious send-off. As Les Cagelle’s, Tim Hunt, Kenny Shepard, Greg Grimes and Michael Humphrey bring dazzle to the cabaret at the center of the story. They will leave you wanting more!

Ken Klingenmeier as M. Dindon and MaryJayne Waddell as Mme. Dindon - photo credit - Zach Rosing

Ken Klingenmeier as Deputy Dindon and MaryJayne Waddell as Mme. Dindon in ATI’s “La Cage aux Folles”

On the technical side, Bernie Killian’s set, Zach Rosing’s sound, Aaron Bowersox’s lighting, and Stephen Hollenbeck’s costumes are all first rate. The musical direction of Levi Burke is right on point, and Daniel Klinger’s does double-duty as designer of some beautiful hair and make-up. Finally, as I have come to expect, the ATI orchestra was just perfect.

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Daniel Klingler as Jacob (photo left) and Kenny Shepard (left) as Hanna with John Vessels as Francis in ATI’s “La Cage aux Folles”

La Cage Aux Folles only runs until October 1st, so move quickly to get your tickets. I expect that the sell-out on Opening Night is a harbinger of things to come!

Actors Theatre of Indiana is located in The Studio Theatre at the Center for The Performing Arts in Carmel. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at atistage.org or by calling (317) 843-3800. Shows are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $45.00, with discounts on Wednesdays and for all performances for students and seniors. 

  • – photos by Zach Rosing

 

 

 

“West Side Story” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards’ production of West Side Story, which opened this week, is for me another of those very familiar shows for which I have long held an honest love and appreciation. Brought into the musical theatre world in 1957 with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, the show had so much energetic and romantic appeal that even as a youth, I fell in love with the stylized score, the perfect, heart-rending words and the emotional storyline. It was an undeniable masterpiece and remains so after 60 years.

What director Eddie Curry and choreographer Ron Morgan have brought to B&B’s stage is a faithful yet updated rendition of the classic. This dance rich production pays due homage to Jerome Robbins’ original movements, which were so new to the theatre world in the late 50’s, but here Mr. Morgan opens his own bag of tricks and brings a surprising and imaginative new vision to the work. Mr. Curry innovates with his employment of a reduced cast and a confined setting, still developing engaging relationships and filling the stage with every necessary action, whether it be rumpus or romance.

Somewhere

Maria (Courtney Cheatham) and Tony (Glenn DeVar) imagine a place “Somewhere” where they are free to love in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

All the performances are true. Led by Courtney Cheatham’s Maria and Glenn DeVar as Tony, the talented cast tells this sometimes painful story with impressive abilities. Ms. Cheatham is blessed with an angel’s sweet voice and an innocent countenenace, perfect for the coming of age Maria. DeVar brings a likeable boyishness to his role, finding new range in the part with his fervent approach to Tony’s changing life.

A Young Lady of America

Maria (Courtney Cheatham), left, is excited for the dance she is about to attend with Anita (Marisa Rivera) and her brother Bernardo (Dan Higgins), in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

Marisa Rivera is a sultry Anita, showing strong dance skills and vocal abilities; Dan Higgins is commanding as Maria’s protective brother Bernardo; and Ben Cullen was impressive with his honest performance as Riff, the Jets de facto leader.

Cool

The Jets, led by Riff (Ben Cullen), center, learn to play it “Cool” in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

The dance corps, comprised of Jets, Sharks, and their girls carry out their assignments with aplomb, raising the roof in the many dance numbers and songs they are party to.

Lew Hackleman, Peter Scharbrough and Doug King round out the cast with effective portrayals of Doc, Krupke and Lt. Shranke, respectively.

Doc Im in love

Tony (Glenn DeVar) reassures Doc (Lew Hackleman) that everything will be ok for him and Maria in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

Though much of the show is ensemble in nature, the 5 leads are due ovations for their thoughtful and emotion driven turns onstage. Under director Curry’s deft hand, every familiar song is a joy to experience again, and every well remembered turn of events in the storytelling is offered with truth and depth.

I would be remiss to leave out the contributions of the wonderful orchestra lead by Terry Woods, which delivers the heart of the show through their fine rendering of the complex score. From the first familiar pulses, to the emotive final notes, Mr. Woods and his players give noteworthy performances.

Likewise, Jill Kelly Howe’s costumes give the various characters texture and placement in the world of the street.

Bottomline: I am too often underwhelmed when I attend a show I know so well and love so greatly, but as I sat in the darkness at the end of this production, wiping the moisture from my eyes, I knew this cast had fulfilled my wish for this show to be something special.

West Side Story continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through October 1st. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or you may call the box office at  317-872-9664.

* – Photos by Julie Curry

 

 

“Ring of Fire” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre continues their 2017 season with the Johnny Cash tribute show Ring of Fire. Directed by Curt Wollen, with choreography by Wendy Short-Hays, this highly entertaining and perfectly cast production showcases over 30 of the songs that made The Man in Black one of America’s most beloved performers. Presented as a sectionalized rolling history of Cash, illuminated by music selections from his and others’ catalogues – we become acquainted with his life and times. For want of a term, I would call the show a “biological revue”.

I've Been Everywhere

The entire cast joins in on “I’ve Been Everywhere” during B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

The musical selections move from earnest, to slick, to high-stepping, onto uplifting as we progress through the story of what began as a hard life in Arkansas, moved through the days of hits and kicks, then turned upward to more reverent ideals. Each number is compelling in it’s presentation, whether it be rousing or poignant. This works well to array the varying audience reactions from foot-tapping bliss to choked back emotion.

The wonderfully organized production benefits from the unique cast which has been assembled for it, most of whom make their B&B debuts. The requirements to be in the cast must have been: 1) have recording contract quality vocal talent, 2) be able to play a multitude of stringed instruments, plus a few others, 3) have the exceptional ability to show that you are having so much fun onstage, that we all want you to never stop. This generously talented ensemble of players includes B&B newcomers Melody Allegra Berger, Tim Drake, Allison Kelly, Jeremy Sevelovitz, Travis Smith and Zack Steele. Brian Gunter returns for a third B&B show. Jill Kelly Howe is also a B&B veteran and indeed is also the resident costumer for the theatre.

Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart

Jill Kelly Howe as Minnie Pearl for “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” with Brian Gunter on bass and Jeremy Sevelovitz on ukulele during B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

This ensemble of eight talented singing musicians works amazingly well together, especially when blending their voices in close harmony. In fact, their stage presence and easy delivery throughout may have you thinking that they have all been touring this show together for 10 months or more. But that is not the case – they have somehow acquired a remarkable cohesion, which makes the program ever more enjoyable.

Ring of Fire

Allison Kelly joins Travis Smith for a rendition of the title tune in B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

Some highlights in the show include Ms. Howe’s haunting ballad “Far Side Banks of Jordan” and her comical turn with “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” (a lá Minnie Pearl); Mr. Drake’s stirring rendition of “Ragged Old Flag”; the ensemble’s lively “Daddy Sang Bass”; and flashy piano and guitar work by Mssrs. Smith and Sevelovitz, respectively. Ms. Berger is an extraordinary fiddle player – and she “burns” her instrument on her featured appearance in the Act Two opening number; Ms. Kelly is tremendous in her renditions as June Carter in “Ring of Fire” and “Jackson”, as well as her soulful solo “All Over Again”; Brian Gunter exhibits his rare musical abilities in countless numbers; and Mr. Steele displays a variety of talents throughout, while he is especially noteworthy in the encore piece, “A Boy Named Sue”.

Oh Come Angel Band

The entire cast blends their voices for “Come Angel Band” in B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

Bottomline: It’s hard to be a critic when there is nothing whatsoever to criticize. This show is fresh, lively entertainment (with a PG rating due to some lyrics about drugs and crimes). Honestly, I think it just may be as fine a show, in terms of musical performance, as I have ever seen at this venue.

Ring of Fire continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through August 13. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or call the box office at  317-872-9664.

  • – Photos by Julie Curry

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