“Brighton Beach Memoirs” at The Belfry Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Last night, Mrs K. and I made a trafficked trek north to Hamilton County Theatre Guild’s Belfry Theatre to see a final week offering of Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical family-based play, Brighton Beach Memoirs. I am so very glad we did.

Director James Williams, with the benefit of a versatile and well-suited cast, has put together a tender, yet funny production of one of Mr. Simon’s most poignant and sentimental memory plays. Coupled with an excellent set by Jay Ganz, the great costumes by Norma Floyd, and sound by Dennis Forkel and Debbie Coon, the presentation’s production values are noteworthy.

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(from left) Jackson Lindner as Eugene Jerome, Missy Rump as his mother Kate and Barb Percy Weaver as his Aunt Blanche, in a scene from The Belfry Theatre’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”.

Cathedral High sophomore Jackson Lindner plays the part of Eugene Jerome and absolutely owns the role. He finds all the many levels of his character – a put-upon, blamed for everything, puberty laden, baseball crazy, girl discovering youth – who writes down everything he observes as his family goes through an especially rough period of multiple crises. Lindner’s performance is loaded with energy and emotion, just what is needed as this Simon central character.

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(from left) Jake Hobbs as Stanley Jerome, Russell Lee Watson as his father Jack, and Kimberly Droz as his cousin Laurie Morton in a scene from The Belfry Theatre’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”.

He is joined onstage by a roster of actors and actresses well up to the task. Steve Jerk wanders the stage as the Older Eugene Jerome, providing narratives and explanations with humorous effect. Jake Hobbs is well-cast as Eugene’s older brother Stanley. Hobbs makes his turns on stage count with good understanding of the young man’s tests and turmoils as he discovers adult responsibilities. Missy Rump is perfect as the boys’ mother Kate – the queen of worriers, and Russell Lee Watson is solid and wise as their father, Jack.

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(from left) Sabrina Duprey as Nora Morton and Kimberly Droz as her sister Laurie in a scene from The Belfry Theatre’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”.

The Jeromes share their crowded home with Kate’s widowed sister Blanche Morton and her daughters, Nora and Laurie. Barb Percy Weaver continues her run of impressive performances, as Blanche. Ms. Weaver’s characterization is moving and worthy of empathy as she tries to manage a life she was never prepared for. Sixteen year old daughter Nora struggles with conflicts of what she wants to do with her life versus what everyone else thinks will be best to do, and Sabrina Duprey, makes clear the girl’s emotions and desires with a striking turn, while Kimberly Droz does some fine work as the sickly Laurie. We hope to see both these talented young actresses frequently as they grow into more roles on stage.

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The cast of “Brighton Beach Memoirs, including Steve Jerk (Older Eugene Jerome, standing)

The play is long, nearly 3 hours with the intermission, but it is a deep and rich story with multiple story-lines that all are rectified by the end. With such an accomplished cast, the time element was not a distraction to our enjoyment. I should note there are some “colorful” and cringe-worthy discussions of matters of puberty that perhaps you would rather not have your younger theatre fans be a party to. Funny stuff, to be sure, but…just sayin’…

Bottomline: Unfortunately, my busy schedule kept me from seeing this show earlier in its run. I wish there were more time to invite you to see this extremely well-done show. I recommend that if you can, make plans to attend one of the two final presentations – tonight Saturday night at 8 pm or Sunday afternoon at 2 pm. This is worthwhile entertainment!

Brighton Beach Memoirs continues at The Belfry for two more performances – scheduled for June 16 & 17. The Saturday show is at 8 pm, while Sunday matinees begin at 2 pm. You can find out more about the show and reservations by linking here or by calling 317.773.1085.

  • – Photos by Betsy Reason
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“Is He Dead?” at Carmel Community Players (in Fishers)

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Sometime in 1898, American humorist Mark Twain tried his hand at writing a farce; not his specialty, he likely decided and set the writing aside.  His efforts lay unpublished until 2003 after Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin discovered the script in the author’s papers collected at U.C. Berkeley. By 2007, the play had been adapted by David Ives and had premiered on Broadway.

Mark Tumey, the director who brings Twain’s play to CCP, appeared in Twain’s Is He Dead? in Phoenix AZ recently and thought it fitting for a production here in central Indiana. And we are glad he did. His efforts (with assistant director Brent Wooldridge) have resulted in a delightful show, punctuated by many silly farcical moments and plenty of melodrama, as well.

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The villainous Bastien Andre (left, played by Larry Adams) and the widower Papa Leroux (right, Kevin Shadle) vie for the affections of Jean-Francois Millet’s “sister” (Jaime Johnson) in CCP’s production of “Is He Dead?”

Is He Dead? concerns the fictional plight of French painter Jean-Francois Millet (played with gusto by Jaime Johnson) unable to sell his finest work because, it seems, he is still alive. A group of friends (Matt Hartzburg, Adam Powell, and Kelly Keller) devise a plan whereby Millet will fake his death and reap the monetary rewards of his work as his paintings sell posthumously – albeit while impersonating his “sister”, a widow. The newly rich “lady” attracts an array of suitors, and much mayhem ensues. A far more complex sub-text is at work here – much too complex to convey in a few words. Be assured, the story is engaging – peppered with apt Twainian observations of politics, mankind, and the world of art. I do, however, catch a whiff of Charley’s Aunt in the plot structure, likely owed to how popular and successful that Brandon Thomas play was in the late 19th century.

The talented cast members throw themselves into their characterizations with just the right tone for the farcical/melodramatic nature of the piece. Besides Johnson’s thoroughly charming turn, there is the dastardly villain, Bastien Andre – played with maximum treachery by Larry Adams. Morgan Morton is perfect as Millet’s love interest, Marie Leroux, while Kevin Shadle expands his creativity as her father, Papa. Monya Wolf plays Papa’s other daughter, the jealous Cecile, with a polished portrayal. Lucinda Ryan and Susan Hill fill the roles of Madames Bathilde and Caron quite nicely. And Dave Bollander lights up the stage with a brilliant quintet of varied characters – full of subtle touches and nuance. The band of friends – Mssrs. Hartzburg, Powell and Keller – all feature sharp and energetic performances.

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(from left) Matt Hartzburg, Kelly Keller, Adam Powell, and Dave Bolander in a scene from CCP’s production of “Is He Dead?”

All this amusing action takes place on Mike Mellott’s fine set designs, and Cathie Morgan’s very impressive output of lush period costumes add a spectacular finishing touch.

Bottomline: Twain’s play may not be the masterpiece that many of his other writings were, but it can be said that his attempt at combined farce and melodrama is full of fun and rich commentary. The CCP group has brought the piece out to us in a very shiny version and I recommend it as an easy entertainment.

Is He Dead? continues at CCP’s temporary venue, Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy, 10029 E 126th St. Suite D, in Fishers IN through June 24th. For information about the show and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.carmelplayers.org or call the box office at (317) 815-9387.

I’d also like to mention, regarding CCP’s search for a new home: the group has announced their 2018-19 season and all but one show will be offered at The CAT in Carmel. These shows include Forever Plaid, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Failure to Zig Zag. The Christmas show, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, will be offered at the Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy. I have been told that the hunt for a new permanent address goes on.

“Million Dollar Quartet” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

When Actors Theatre of Indiana opened its 2016-17 season with Million Dollar Quartet in September 2016, it struck gold! It was a huge success – combining rock & roll history with high caliber musical performances. To quote my 2016 review: “…far more than a mere production – Million Dollar Quartet is an accomplishment! To call this show energetic would be a severe understatement – to say it is powerfully lively and spirited again lands short of the mark – only by describing it as a kick-ass, red-blooded, high-powered ball of fire would I be closing in on the fact of the matter.” Once again, those words apply as ATI sees fit to repeat the show just 22 months later. They know how to make their audiences happy!

Director DJ Salisbury returns, with most of the ’16 cast intact, to craft what I think is an even bolder and more succinct depiction of the legendary meeting of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley on December 4, 1956 at Sun Studios in Memphis.

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(from left) Gavin Rohrer, Sean Riley, Adam Tran, Kroy Presley, Brandon Alstott and Betsy Norton hit the finale in ATI’s production of “Million Dollar Quartet”

The show is essentially the story of that remarkable night and the creators, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, were savvy enough to include some drama and comedy to bolster the musical content. (It’s basically a tight drama with a high energy concert attached.) From my perspective, this time there seems to be a bit more attention paid to dramatic events, coupled with an easy handling of comic moments, and of course, the outrageously top level musical aspect. It all works great with stunning performances from the cast and, at least for folks from my generation, stirred up memories of when music took that right turn into rock n’ roll!

Returning company members Brandon Alstott (Cash), Don Farrell (as Sun Studios owner, Sam Phillips), Adam Tran (Presley), Betsy Norton (Presley’s girlfriend, Dyanne), Kroy Presley (as Carl Perkins’ bassist brother, Jay) and Nathan Shew (as drummer Fluke) all expand their understanding and depictions of the characters they portray. Sean Riley and Gavin Rohrer (Perkins and Lewis, respectively) make their ATI debuts, bringing well-honed musical and acting skills to the show.

All this action takes place on designer P. Bernard Killian’s wonderfully detailed Sun Studio set, with dynamic lighting effects by Marciel Irene Greene, and a quality sound design by Jonathan Parke and Zach Rosing. Donna Jacobi’s spot-on costumes complete the picture.

Bottomline: Million Dollar Quartet is, in a word, “fun” – and lots of it! Really, I wish all theatre could be this much fun. If you saw the ’16 event, you are going to want to see it again. If you missed it last time, you will not want to make that mistake twice.

Million Dollar Quartet continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through June 17th. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

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

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Annie” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

I have to admit, I have seen Annie more than a few times. The perennial favorite musical, which opened this week on the Beef and Boards stage, seems to be a regularly scheduled item at theatres and, in its movie form, on television. It is a wonderful show, in itself – always uplifting, with a familiar “sing-along-in-your-head” type score. I like it, but…I’ve seen it, ya know?

So…what a pleasant surprise to see that Eddie Curry has directed this current local version to be a refreshing and sparkling edition of the show, with first class talent in every role, and a fine doggy performer to boot!

Mr. Curry, accompanied by Ron Morgan as choreographer, has let out the stops and coaxed big performances from even the smallest members of the cast. Some performers do approach cartoonish renderings of their characters – but hey, the show is based on a comic strip – so it all works!

Claire Kauffman takes the role of Annie. The experienced young actress (this is her third time performing in Annie, her second time in the title role) has a marvelous stage presence, and her strong, clear voice pays dividends as the orphan girl hoping to find her parents. Her comfort on stage shows as she handles all the comic and musical aspects with aplomb.

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Ty Stover (Daddy Warbucks) and Claire Kauffman (Annie) star in Beef and Boards’ production of “Annie”

Joining Miss Kauffman is local favorite Ty Stover as Daddy Warbucks. This stage veteran is a marvel to watch, and to hear. His confident Warbucks is a reflection of the man himself – and is likely the best I have seen, personally.

Other standouts include Jeff Stockberger as an outrageous Rooster, Deb Wims as his conniving cohort, Lily St. Regis, and Kelly Teal Goyette, hilarious as the troubled Miss Hannigan. John Vessels is delightful as he brings his typical extra something to Warbucks’ butler, Drake; and Bobbi Bates is perfect as Warbucks’ secretary, Grace.

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Kelly Teal Goyette (Miss Hannigan), Jeff Stockberger (Rooster) and Deb Wims (Lily St. Regis) in a scene from Beef and Boards’ production of “Annie”

One of the highlights of any production of Annie  is the group of young girls who play the orphans. Curry’s corp of Bridget Bingham, Sadie Cohen, Macy Franklin, Kynden Luster, Sylvie Templet, Anna Wagner and Aliva Rose Williams fill the stage with wonderfully lively dance and song, and some sharp comedy as well. They open the show with a bang and are a joy to watch every time they have a scene.

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The orphan girls sing “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” in a scene from Beef and Boards’ production of “Annie”

Kristy Templet (who is the proud mama of orphan Sylvie) expertly leads the B&B orchestra through the familiar score, Jill Kelly Howe’s costume designs are a colorful and bright perfection, and Michael Layton’s scenic design makes exacting use of the B&B facilities.

Chef Odell Ward has tipped the buffet menu toward a kid friendly selection for this B&B family production, and as usual, everyone on the B&B staff does all they can to make a visit to Beef and Boards a real pleasure.

Bottomline: This likely is not the last time I will see a production of Annie, but Mrs K and I agree, this will always be among the best. The strong cast carries the day and Curry’s direction makes for a truly fun show for all family members – we brought a 7 year old along and she was enthralled.

Annie continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through July 15th. 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

 

Dance Kaleidoscope presents Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beautiful. Emotional. Fulfilling. Triumphant. Just some of the words that aptly describe the opening night performance of Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring as offered by Dance Kaleidoscope and staged by David Hochoy and Miki Orihara. This classic piece, presented on the IRT Main Stage, was composed by Aaron Copeland for Ms. Graham to choreograph, and premiered in October 1944 –  commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in the Library of Congress. It has grown to be known the world over as a defining element of American dance culture and artistry – projecting not only the innovative American form, but also an American pioneer experience.

The DK dancers are led by Caitlin Negron as The Bride, in her farewell performances with the company after a ten year stint. Ms. Negron is lovely and expressive as the young woman – catching qualities of joy and uncertainty, resolve and anticipation. Her Husbandman is performed by Timothy June, who brings a strong confidence to his role. Together, they skillfully portray a range of emotions that fit the storyline of a new couple in the Spring of their lives, striking out together, facing all the joys and uncertainties of frontier life and marriage.

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(from left) Mariel Greenlee, Timothy June and Caitlin Negron in a scene from Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring”

Mariel Greenlee adds her finely crafted portrayal of The Pioneering Women – a guiding figure for the bride, solemn and wise; while Stuart Coleman (who alternates with Brandon Comer in the role) gives forth a stirring performance as The Revivalist, a rigid man of God.

Completing the cast are Emily Dyson, Marie Kuhns, Aleksa Lukasiewicz, and Misty Thompson as The Followers – four young ladies whose reverence and enthusiasms are brightly offered by this quartet.

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(from left) Stuart Coleman and Mariel Greenlee in a scene from Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring”

Martha Graham’s choreography is unmatched in its portrayals and understanding of the human course. It is remarkable to witness this authentic recreation, augmented by the original set design of Isamu Noguchi and the costume designs by Ms. Graham. We are fortunate, as audience members, to have Mr. Hochoy’s insights on the piece – gathered as he worked beside the great choreographer in her later years. It gives us a chance to see the work as it was meant to be done – it is an unforgettable event, by any account.

Supporting the Graham piece is a first act of varied modern works. Two solo dances – Ave Maria and Losing My Mind, as choreographed by Mr. Hochoy, are expertly presented by dancers Stuart Coleman and Mariel Greenlee, respectively. These offerings – the first, sublime, and the other edgily tormented, lead the way to choreographer Stephanie Martinez’ Taking Watch, an ultra-modern piece performed as much to sounds as to music. It contains a surprising section without any supporting sound – with Timothy June and Caitlin Negron as the main dancers – that is extremely well done.

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Jillian Godwin performs the opening section of Stephanie Martinez’ “Taking Watch”

Finally, the entire troupe gathers all their energy (and leaves it all on the stage) for a rousing rendition of the famous Benny Goodman number – Sing Sing Sing. With choreography by André Megerdichian, this is as lively a number as the company has ever done, evoking the wild dance style of the Goodman era. It’s no surprise that this energy draining performance comes right before intermission!

Every time I have the privilege of seeing the Dance Kaleidoscope company in performance, I am struck by the immensely talented people involved in this troupe. That includes not only the dancers and choreographers, but the lighting designer (Laura E. Glover) and costumers (Cheryl Sparks and Guy Clark) as well. Indianapolis is so very blessed to have this group in its fold and as they enter their 47th year, I can only hope that more and more people who enjoy dance and the arts will be become involved as DK audience members. If you go once, you will want to return again and again.

Appalachian Spring only runs thru Sunday June 3rd, so you will need to get your tickets rather quickly. You can get performance and ticket information by going to http://dancekal.org/features/concerts/appalachian-spring to or by calling the IRT Ticket Office at 317.635.5252.

  • – Photos by Crowe’s Eye Photography

“Hairspray” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre has a hit for the entire family!

Hairspray, an original American musical, opened on Broadway in 2002. The stage production by Marc Shaiman, Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan, and Scott Wittman was based on the 1988 film by John Walters. Hairspray is set in 1962 Baltimore (“Good Morning Baltimore”) where 60’s dance music is the rage and segregation is firmly embedded in the culture.

The unlikely heroine is Tracy, a quirky and pleasantly plump teen who yearns to dance on the local teenage hit television program. Tracy’s dream comes true when she wins a spot on “The Corny Collins Show.” With her overwhelming positivity and a strong sense of self, she becomes an overnight success and attracts the eye of the most popular guy on the show, Link Larkin. The antagonist and mother-daughter duo, teen queen Amber and the show’s racist producer Velma Von Tussle will not be dethroned. Tracy joins with her friends to fight institutional racism on the small screen and advocates for the show to be fully integrated.

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Nina Stilabower (center) as Tracy Turnblad in a scene from Civic Theatre’s production of “Hairspray”.

All ages can appreciate and enjoy this colorful musical with plenty of laughter and love, while learning to embrace who we are. Tracy Turnblad, played by Nina Stilabower, pulls off the big hair and big dreams with a voice to match. Nina is bright and energetic as she teaches us all to look past the color of one’s skin, and fight for equal rights. Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad is authentically played by Evan Wallace with sensitivity and sass. Edna, herself held back by her own self-doubt, is comforted by husband Wilbur, (J. Stuart Mill), (“Timeless to Me”) winning everyone’s heart. Justin Klein appears as Corny Collins, TV Emcee of the teen dance show, crooning beautifully in his array of colorful suits. Link Larkin, (Zachary Hoover), the heart throb of the show learns that authenticity triumphs over the limelight.

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From left: the Turnblad family – Nina Stilabower as Tracy, J. Stuart Mill as her father, Wilbur, and Evan Wallace as her mother, Edna, in Civic Theatre’s production of “Hairspray”

I must give 4 stars to Jenny Reber who plays Penny Pingleton. Not only did she steal some scenes with her portrayal of the nerdy, clumsy side kick to Tracy, but she didn’t overdo it, finding just the right balance. Velma Von Tussle played by Mikayla Koharchik, who proves once again she can sing anything, and Amber Von Tussle (Emily Hollowell), with comedic selfishness, are the villains you love to hate. Both these ladies give strong performances. Joyce Licorish gives us Motormouth Maybelle, mother of Seaweed and Little Inez, and the host of Negro Day who takes us to church with (“I Know Where I’ve Been”) — Amazing! Micheal Hassell as Seaweed J. Stubbs is adorable and charms us with his dance routines. Little Inez played by Renee Carter is equally talented. High points go to B.J. Bovin playing four different parts particularly well and Jennifer Sutton as the Gym Teacher and Matron.

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Evan Wallace as Edna Turnblad takes center stage in a scene from Civic Theatre’s production of “Hairspray”.

This lively and talented cast of characters, directed by Michael J. Lasley, keeps this story rolling and musically rocking from the beginning to the finale. Anne Beck’s choreography, visually exciting and fast paced, takes us straight back to the sixties. The musical direction by Brent E. Marty keeps our toes tapping. The bright and colorful costumes, fitting with the era, are designed by Adrienne Conces. Anyone who remembers big hair, upsweeps, bouffant and beehives, will love these, designed by Hair & Make-up Designer, Andrew Elliot. The set pieces by Scenic Designer, David Rockwell, are innovative and creative and keep the pace of the show moving. Lighting Designer, Ryan Koharchik, sets the mood and matches the excitement.

Presented at the Center for the Performing Arts  in the Tarkington in Carmel, Civic Theatre’s production of “Hairspray” runs now through May 12. For tickets call 317-843-3800 or visit civictheatre.org. Tickets can also be purchased at thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.

* – Photos by Zach Rosing

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