Cardinal Stage Company’s “Ordinary Days”

1 Comment

reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs. K and I have just finished watching Cardinal Stage Company’s excellent virtual production of Adam Gwon’s sung-thru musical – Ordinary Days – in the comfort of our living room. A stellar cast works through the show’s 19 song catalog with endlessly fine performances, unerringly portraying the coupled stories of the arc of a modern romance and the discovery of a diverse friendship. Mr. Gwon’s popular creation began it’s journey as an Off-West End production in 2008, followed by an Off-Broadway run the following year, before being produced around the globe in the 2010’s.

Director Kate Galvin takes advantage of our theatre community’s challenging Covid-19 misfortune by choosing to stage the musical in film style using both in-home settings and green-screened backgrounds to put her actors in a variety of locales. Her methods give an increased clarity to the numerous places and environments in the show.

The four member cast shines throughout. Julian Diaz-Granados and Kayla Marie Eilers play the romantic couple, Jason and Claire. Their storyline runs the course of a typical twosome’s tale of getting together, growing apart and resolving what their relationship means. They tell their feelings and thoughts with superior vocal talents in both their duets and their solos. Diaz-Granados is gifted with an amazingly versatile range of stylings, while Ms. Eilers can sing sweetly or when necessary belt with the best. Together they provide an engaging account of their characters’ encounters and growth.

Kayla Marie Eilers and Julian Diaz-Granados portray Claire and Jason in Cardinal Stage Company’s production of “Ordinary Days”

Nina Donville and Henry Miller are Deb and Warren, two dissimilar people who come together for friendship’s sake. When Warren finds Deb’s lost dissertation notebook, they begin a comedy of coupling that is filled with both hilarious and meaningful moments. Ms. Donville melds her impressive character acting prowess with a truly wonderful voice. Miller’s talent for playing charm and unyielding idealism are likewise matched by his vocal skills.

Nina Donville and Henry Miller play Deb and Warren in Cardinal Stage Company’s production of “Ordinary Days”

Music director Ray Fellman, who also plays piano as the single accompaniment for the program, must feel very blessed to have the highly diverse and adept cast he inherits here. The sound design by Robert Hornbostel was top-notch, as was the video design and editing by Co-Op Productions.

Bottomline: It was very interesting to see a theatre company take the action off the stage and delve into what amounted to a film-making endeavor. I applaud the methods, which all worked very well for this particular production. Everything comes together quite nicely and we are provided with a very worthwhile entertainment.

Tickets can be purchased for Ordinary Days at Cardinal Stage Company’s webpage Shows | Cardinal Stage . The show is available for streaming through February 21st.

“Tuesdays with Morrie” from Indiana Repertory Theatre

Leave a comment

reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

It has been many years since I last read Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom’s exceptional account of his days visiting his old professor Morrie Schwartz during the man’s final months of life. The book was highly regarded and resulted in an Emmy award winning TV movie in 1999, as well as the 2002 play by Mr. Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher.

Of course, the play presents the noteworthy outlooks of Albom’s old professor, who is dying of ALS, in a rather more immediate way than the book could. Two of my favorite IRT actors, Ryan Artzberger and Henry Woronicz, take the roles of Albom and Morrie, respectively. Both are excellent in their turns, taking Albom’s memories and transforming them into solidly built portrayals of the men and their meetings.

Artzberger accomplishes Albom’s progression from cynical student to coldly successful journalist and on into humanistic advocate through a series of noteably measured steps. As he becomes dutifully bound to his dying teacher, we note that many of the changes suggested by Morrie’s ideas appear in his personality.

Morrie Schwartz (on left, played by Henry Woronicz) and Mitch Albom (Ryan Artzberger) became friends as professor/student at Brandeis University in the late 70’s.

Woronicz also portrays changes, far more severe. Morrie’s path from highly regarded sociology professor, through diagnosis and surrender to his ACL disease, is well marked and effective. It is often painful to watch the actor portray the demise of the man as he loses function and ability. Through it all, Morrie’s high regard for finishing a meaningful life, and his dedication to teaching “to the last” are the triumphant aspects of his being.

Director Benjamin Hanna organizes the action, with assists from scenic designer Ryan Koharchic, costume designs by Guy Clark, plus Xavier Pierce and Melanie Chen Cole, who provided designs for lighting and sound, respectively. The venture leans toward a simplistic approach and results in a very telegenic production, perfectly captured by a crew from local PBS station – WFYI.

Tuesdays with Morrie explores themes of loving, living and dying in a humanistic way.

Bottomline: It is remarkably meaningful to revisit the ideas and thoughts put forth by the piece, especially as a seasoned septuagenarian, which is my circumstance. Morrie’s uncomplicated ideas about living, loving and, finally, dying are strongly conveyed. IRT’s presentation of this virtual play, with an eye on continuance of their mission to entertain and educate in meaningful ways, is perfectly placed in these times.

Tickets to stream Tuesdays with Morrie are available by going to Indiana Repertory Theatre (irtlive.com) and clicking the BUY NOW button on the opening web page. The show will be available through February 21st.

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

Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “This Wonderful Life”

Leave a comment

reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • – photos by Carmel Community Players

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

1 Comment

by Ken Klingenmeier

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

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

From B&B’s press release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Photos by Julie Curry

“Fun Home” at Footlite Musicals

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Older Entries