“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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bannerreviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs. K and I kicked off our big theatre weekend with Actors Theatre of Indiana’s opening night presentation of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The original 2005 Broadway production was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two – including Best Book. It’s a very successful musical – with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin – which has spread to theatres all over the USA and indeed around the world.

Director Michael Blatt has found an uber-skilled cast of players for his staging and, with the help of musical director Brent E. Marty and choreographer Carol Worcel, his efforts provide a sparkling program of wonderful musical and comic performances. While the show’s thin premise of a middle-school spelling bee is stretched to the max, the resulting array of characters and many hilarious one-lined jokes, make the show highly entertaining, and full of pleasant surprises. Clever arrangements of songs abound, as well.


The cast of spellers in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”: clockwise from front left, Arianne Villareal as Marcy, Emily Crowley as Olive, Brett Mutter as Barfée, Adee David as Logainne, Keith Potts as Chip, and Danny Kingston as Leaf.

The show’s cast, led by ATI newcomers Brett Mutter as word-nerd supreme William Morris Barfée and Emily Crowley as his rival/new friend Olive Ostrovsky, is a treasury of talent. Mutter’s fine turn as the rather touchy (and mono-nostriled) Barfée is an undeniable highlight of the show. His spot-on characterization, full of many little details and nuances, is further augmented by his wonderful singing talent. Ms. Crowley is perfect as the diminutive Olive, also making the most of her impressive musical abilities. Her rendition in “The I Love You Song” (along with wayward “parents” Judy Fitzgerald and Johnnie Taylor) is one of the most beautiful numbers in the song-filled show.

Keith Potts illuminates Chip Tolentino, the pubescent reigning spelling champ, with a witty performance, including the unique “Chip’s Lament”; Adee David brings the desperately libbed-out Logainne Swartzandgrubenierre to life with an energetic accounting; Danny Kingston is marvelously vulnerable as the challenged youth, Leaf Coneybear; and Arianne Villereal is perfect as the exceptional Marcy Park, who is especially winning in her matter of fact rendition of “I Speak Six Languages”.


Brett Mutter stars as William Morris Barfée in ATI’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”.

Judy Fitzgerald, Doug Trapp, and Johnnie Taylor add plenty of additional texture with strong offerings as past champion Rona Lisa Peretti, spelling bee moderator Vice Principal Douglas Panch, and official Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney, respectively. Four additional spelling bee “cast members” are selected from the audience pre-show and opening night was graced with a more-than-able grouping for this assignment.

Technically, P. Bernard Killian’s “gymnatorium” set design is perfectly rendered. The four piece orchestra, led by Mr. Marty, provides a flawless accompaniment to the proceedings. Costumes by Donna Jacobi add much to the characterizations.

Bottomline: This lively show has all the ingredients: great songs, some very funny lines and bits, a few surprises, and a great cast (creating a memorable set of characters) which is supported by the wonderful talents of director Blatt, choreographer Ms. Worcel, and musical director Marty. And I have a feeling that my friend Kevin Casey’s contribution as Production Stage Manager has a lot to do with the great precision of the show.  I recommend you go see this one – you’ll spend a happy two hours at the bee.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through February 18th. You can find complete information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – photos by Jason Gaskins



“A Grand Night for Singing” at ATI

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Actors Theatre of Indiana continues their 2017-18 season with A Grand Night for Singing, a musical revue celebrating the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue of songs from their wide range of Broadway shows. Conceived by Walter Bobbie, with musical arrangements by Fred Wells, Michael Gibson, and Jonathan Tunick, the production opened on Broadway in November of 1993 and was a modest success with 52 performances.

My research shows that the collection is most often presented in a cabaret style, featuring well-dressed cast members moving song to song with minimal connection. Director/choreographer Carol Worcel has crafted a colorful carnival setting and arranged with designer Stephen Hollenbeck to have her charges in a nifty array of  bright, mid-20th century costumes that more realistically covey the characters that Rodgers and Hammerstein were writing their songs for. It works tremendously well. A narrow story line of love and loss, happiness and dismay, and solos mixed with duets and ensemble work fills the show with a variety of interpretations. Ms. Worcel’s task of choreographing and/or staging 30+ musical numbers is well met with expert level results.


From left: Don Farrell, Annalee Traeger, Cynthia Collins, Ian Black, and Nathalie Cruz provide the onstage performances for ATI’s “A Grand Night for Singing”.

All this is performed by ATI’s usual lineup of wonderfully talented performers. Don Farrell, hot off his amazing performances in La Cage aux Folles, supplies his customary magic on stage, in both song and dance. Joining him is his co-ATI founder, Cynthia Collins, who provides many of the comic moments in the production as well as a full range of soft and spunky song renditions.

Three ATI newcomers fill out the cast. Ian Black takes the other male role in the show. His strong baritone voice and remarkable dancing abilities makes him a valuable addition in this production and hopefully many others at ATI. Nathalie Cruz is a familiar face for those of us who have noted her many roles around Indy. Her musical talents are obvious here and Ms. Cruz provides her usual striking performance to the proceedings, especially with her sensitive “Do I Love You” in the first act.

Annalee Traeger is a bit of a breakthrough story, I believe. Theatre goers have seen her quite a lot at our local dinner theatre. She has been a member of more than a few dance corps there, with occasion small supporting roles. It is so good to see her front and center in this production. Ms. Traeger’s dancing abilities are no surprise. What we didn’t realize is that she possesses a beautiful solo voice. Her highlights include touching renditions of “If I Loved You” and “It Might as Well Be Spring”.

ATI Grand Night2

From left: Nathalie Cruz, Annalee Traeger, and Ian Black all make their ATI debuts in “A Grand Night for Singing”.

The cast’s polished vocal performances show the hand of musical director Levi Burke, as does the impeccable work by his four piece orchestra. A delightfully vibrant set design by P. Bernard Killian, lights designed by Theresa Bagan and sound by Zach Rosing round off the technical contributions to this ATI offering.

Bottomline: This is a wonderfully relaxing and mild entertainment. The show is full of many interesting arrangements of familiar songs. The performances are strong throughout, and it is great to see the ATI debuts of three talented performers as well as portrayals by the more familiar Ms. Collins and Mr. Farrell.

A Grand Night for Singing continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through November 19th. 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


“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.

ATI Cage1

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




“Beyond the Rainbow” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

ATI finishes its 2016-17 season batting 1.000 as it closes with William Randall Beard’s Beyond the Rainbow, the song-filled tale of Judy Garland’s life as an entertainer and icon. Centering on the 1961 Carnegie Hall concert given by the then 38 year old singer/actress/star, the unique show structure displays both the concert experience and a running storyline of the triumphs and troubles of first Girl Judy, then of Judy, the rising star.

Director Don Farrell has created a masterwork of staging and performance with his cast of six, featuring a trio of terrific Judys aided by three particularly strong turns by his supporting actors.


(From left) Annie Yokom, Katy Gentry and Anjali Rooney star as Judy, Garland and Girl Judy in ATI’s production of “Beyond the Rainbow”.

“Garland”, the concert performer in the piece, is presented in an astonishingly accurate depiction by Katy Gentry. Ms. Gentry rolls through the Garland concert catalogue not merely expertly sounding as Ms. Garland did – her rendering of the singer is enhanced with all the stage mannerisms and indeed even the “look” of the celebrated star. Ms. Gentry’s undeniable vocal talents are a significant piece of the portrayal, but her acting abilities carry us into the presence of Judy Garland.

Likewise, Annie Yokom, who provides a struggling “Judy”, the post-Andy Hardy Garland in the story, has her character’s voice and style mastered. Touching on the many conflicts and influential factors in Garland’s adult life, Ms. Yokom’s performance is intense and evocative, imparting the often rougher side of her character’s career as a star. Her outstanding singing talent is on display in several numbers and again, the spot-on replication of Garland is uncanny.

Garland’s earlier years are shown through Anjali Rooney’s spirited offering, “Girl Judy”. This young actress has an easy manner on stage and she handles her role with polished professionalism as well as a delightful singing voice.

supporting cast

Seen with Annie Yokom (seated) as Judy, supporting cast members (from left) Roger Ortman, Grace Sell and Dave Ruark appear in a scene from ATI’s production of “Beyond the Rainbow”.

The supporting roles in this show demand a wide array of characters from each of Mr. Farrell’s charges. Grace Sell, Dave Ruark, and Roger Ortman fill the bill, providing a series of fully realized characters in Ms. Garland’s life. Ms. Sell is terrific as Judy’s pushy mother, Ethel, and brings a varied disposition to the powerful columnist, Hedda Hopper. Among Dave Ruark’s long list of characters is Garland’s supportive father – Frank Gumm, her first husband – director Vincente Minnelli, and a boyish Mickey Rooney, all done with an adroit touch. Roger Ortman shines in his diverse roles including the harsh MGM studio head, Louis Mayer and, in an absolutely explosive performance, Garland’s second husband – Sid Luft.

Musical support for this song-rich program is provided by Musical Director John Bronston at the piano – with Greg Gegogeine playing bass, Steve Stickler on multiple woodwinds and Greg Wolff handling percussion. This small group provides big music and is a vital part of the show. P. Bernard Killian’s smart and simple set design allows for seamless storytelling, while costumes by Stephen Hollenbeck and wigs/makeup by Daniel Klingler put finishing touches on the magic. Erin Meyer’s lighting adds dramatic effect.

Bottom line: The layers of combined songs and stories are crafted to play off each other, realizing the quote by Garland that “The story of my life is in my songs.” Indeed, this assembly of words and lyrics act as an emotional memoir of the legendary Miss Judy Garland. And ATI has yet another exciting and unique offering.

Beyond the Rainbow continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through May 14. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – Photo provided by ATI

“It Shoulda Been You” at ATI

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Actors Theatre of Indiana’s latest offering, It Shoulda Been You, was totally unknown to me before the theatre scheduled it for it’s 2016-17 season. Let’s just say this fantastic show really kinda sneaks up on you – in a good way. Filled with amazing songs, a tremendously funny plot-line, and a jaw-dropping surprise twist, the show – which was tightly directed by Bill Jenkins and musical director Brent Marty, with choreography by Carol Worcel – again proclaims ATI’s penchant for incredible hits.

The awesome cast is flawless in their presentation – I mean it, they’re simply impeccable. They are led by ATI founders, Cynthia Collins, spot-on as the snobbish mother of the groom, and Judy Fitzgerald, splendid in the role of the (shall we say) acutely stereotypical Jewish mother of the bride. The true starring role is performed by Karaline Feller – who plays the sister of the bride to be. Ms. Feller uses her beautiful, and powerful, vocal talents on a wide array of songs – comic, gritty, soulful and tender – and does so with impressive acuity.


From left – Matthew Reeder (as Murray Steinberg), Judy Fitzgerald (Judy Steinberg), Nic Eastlund (Marty Kaufman), Holly Stults (Aunt Sheila) and Paul Collier Hansen (Uncle Morty) in a scene from ATI’s “It Shoulda Been You”.

Everyone in the cast, from the bridal couple, Michael Ferraro and Laura Sportiello (who played the young lovers in ATI’s recent The Fantastics); the wedding planner, a genuinely delightful character offered by John Vessels; the ex-boyfriend, a nifty surprise by Nic Eastlund; through the best friends, the fathers and the hotel staff – all have magnificent voices, which place the vocal blendings and the solos on a par with any you would hear in a new Broadway production. As I said – and repeat – they are impeccable!


From left – Teneh B.C. Karimu (as Annie Sheps), Jeff Pierpoint (Greg Madison), Michael Ferraro (Brian Howard) and LFaura Sportiello (Rebecca Steinberg) in a scene from ATI’s “It Shoulda Been You”.

Technical aspects shine as well, beginning with P. Bernard Killian’s very functional set, plus wigs and makeup by Daniel Klingler, an awesome set of costumes by Katie Cowan Sickmeier, lights by Marciel Irene Greene and sound by Jonathan Parker.  Brent Marty’s first-rate four piece orchestra rounds out the supporting factors.

Now, do not go to see It Shoulda Been You, merely for the entertaining music – go for the uniquely original and modern story, as well. The book and lyrics are the work of Brian Hargrove, with music and concept by Barbara Anselmi – and I think this is a show which could be presented all over the country before very long  – it is just so fresh and inventive. (By the way, I have heard that this Indiana premier constitutes only the third “outside” production of the piece.)


From left – Karaline Feller (as Jenny Steinberg), Holly Stults (Aunt Sheila) and Judy Fitzgerald (Judy Steinberg) in a scene from ATI’s “It Shoulda Been You”.

Bottom line: Good theatre at ATI is never really a surprise, but this fine production is near the very top of the list of those I have seen there. With great performers, a compelling story that simply has everything – humor, situation, tenderness, and an excellent resolution – and wonderful songs you’ve never heard before, you might want to do yourself a favor and go see it – I guarantee that you will enjoy it!

It Shoulda Been You continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel only through February 12. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – Photos by Kip Shawger
  • – Banner photo by Zach Rosing



“Cabaret” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Once again, Actors Theatre of Indiana proves that it is a master of the black box musical – this time with their absolutely stunning production of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Cabaret. The musical delivers what is a multi- faceted piece with equal parts as allegory, as entertainment and as statement – indeed, perhaps even as a didactic warning.

Director Billy Kimmel has built his show using plenty of originality in concept and interpretation. His vision – supported by a knock-out cast, musical direction by John D. Phillips, and slick choreography by Carol Worcel, with visual touches in place through P. Bernard Killian’s set design, costumes by Stephen Hollenbeck, lights by Marciel Irener Greene and makeup design by Daniel Klingler – propels the audience back to 1931, to the opening throes of the Nazi regime, with the echoes of the 1920s’ opulence still in evidence.


Ben Asaykwee (center) performs as the Emcee with the Kit Kat Klub dancers in ATI’s production of “Cabaret”.

As an allegory, Cabaret deftly presents the factions in place at that time, as the world tumbled down into the pit of the 30’s and early 40’s. It starts with the Emcee, our thematic narrator, who gives open warnings about the chaos which is at the brink, before being caught in the ominous web himself. Then there is Sally Bowles – the English chanteuse who, with her self indulgent and protective short-sightedness, makes a rather harsh decision in an attempt to prolong the good times she is accustomed to, reflecting what her native country did when failing in an early faceoff with the Third Reich. American novelist Cliff Bradshaw finds isolationism to be more to his liking when confronted with knowledge of the pain the Reich will bring. There is also Fräulein Schneider, the tolerant German, turning her back on happiness  and accepting her fate because, well “What Would You Do?” and Herr Schultz, a Jew who believes the oncoming cloud of Nazism cannot be so bad, because after all, he is a German. Finally, Ernst Ludwig is the true believer, the citizen taken in by the many promises that are made.

It does not seem to me that the message of potential doom in today’s world is much below the surface in this updated version of the 1966 Broadway musical. Director Kimmel subtlety advises us of the possibilities in musical numbers that ring up familiar and timely themes.

As a pure entertainment, the show is hugely successful. Ben Asaykwee leads the way as the Emcee. He has created a strikingly original version of the scandalously brazen creature – at some times nuanced and frisky, yet fearsome and threatening at others. Asaykwee does a masterful job projecting his cautionary admonitions, which seem to be this character’s purview, and he does so in a playfully effective way. His movements and attitude are such, one cannot take their eyes off him.


Cynthia Collins as Sally Bowles sings “Maybe This Time” in ATI’s production of “Cabaret”.

Cynthia Collins absolutely seizes the starring role of Sally Bowles and flies with it. Totally convincing as the lively, party-loving, and impetuous young singer, Ms. Collins shows a fine understanding of her character’s hopes and fears – while lifting the show with her freshly innovative and dramatic renditions of “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret”.  Eric J. Olson brings a refined honesty to his portrayal of Cliff Bradshaw. Caught between the love of an exciting woman and an oppressive time in history – Olson shows the difficulty of the decisions he must make and the unsureness of whether they are best.


From left: Eric J. Olson (Cliff Bradshaw), Cynthia Collins (Sally Bowles) and Patrick Vaughn (Ernst Ludwig) in a scene from ATI’s production of “Cabaret”.

Judy Fitzgerald blithely brings Fräulein Kost to life and Patrick Vaughn is a harsh and dedicated Ernst Ludwig, while Debra Babich and Darrin Murrell partner up as Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, the star-crossed elderly couple. Ms. Babich’s and Murrell’s performances are quite poignant and provide a counterpoint of sorts from the Kit-Kat Klub and it’s seedy proceedings. The Kit Kat girls (and guys) are presented in a flashy and fleshy projection by Nicole Bridgens (Helga), Jeneé Michelle (Rosie), Ashley Saunders (Lulu), Carol Worcel (Texas), Nicholas Roman (Bobby) and Kenny Shepard (Victor). They whirl through the plethora of musical scenes at the Klub with less than subtle skills. And in the opening scene, I could not help but notice Don Farrell’s spot-on cameo appearance as the Führer.


Debra Babich (Fraulein Schneider) and Darrin Murrell (Herr Schultz) in a scene from ATI’s production of “Cabaret”.

The wonderfully familiar score of the show gets a high grade rendition by this very talented group of performers. Without any lapses or gaps, it was a treat through-out. The costumed orchestra, led by Levi Burke, also deserves high marks as they provide an unfailing accompaniment.

Bottom-line: ATI scores yet another “must see”, with a high energy, well-produced edition of this innovative American musical. (Please note, this show has adult themes and situations.)

Cabaret continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through November 20, 2016. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – Photos by Kip Shawger

“Million Dollar Quartet” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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Reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Let me get right to the point:

What ATI presents for their 2016-17 season opener is 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.

Director DJ Salibury has taken his crew of extremely talented actor/musicians and has lit the fire in their bellies to assembly a juke box musical that has the audience on their feet and, for my generation at least, joyously rolls out the memorable music of our youth.


A photo taken at the historic gathering of the four rock talents; (from left, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash)

If you don’t know the premise – Sam Phillips was the founder of Sun Records, the company that first recorded such 50’s pop stars as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Phillips was lucky enough on December 4, 1956 to have that foursome gather at his Memphis studio for an occasion that turned into a jam session which was recorded and eventually released years later in 1981 as “The Million Dollar Quartet” with 17 tracks. It was an unprecedented meeting of rock and roll royalty and it serves as the background for the work written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott. The show opened in 2006 at the Seaside Music Theatre in Florida before making it’s way to Chicago in 2008 and Broadway in 2010.

We are shown this historical summit in dramatic terms as the four music giants are all in their early careers and must make decisions about their futures. Don Ferrell imbues Sam Phillips with a wide personality – eager to succeed, direct in his assessment of these talents, masterful in his technique to find the hidden values in the music and in the performers. Ferrell has the most dramatic role and his sharply tuned rendering places it at just the right level, so as to not take any shine off the many fine performances surrounding him.


The entire cast in performance – from left, foreground: Jeremy Sevelovitz as Carl Perkins, Brandon Alstott as Johnny Cash, Taylor Gray as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Tron as Elvis Presley, Betsy Norton as Dyanne, back – on bass: Roy Presley as Jay; on drums: Nathan Shew as Fluke; and in the booth: Don Farrell as Sam Phillips.

Jeremy Sevelovitz takes the role of Carl Perkins, who started his Sun Records run with “Blue Suede Shoes”. Sevelovitz’ outstanding guitar work is a highlight of the show and his portrayal of the slightly edgy performer works well. Brandon Alstott gives his Johnny Cash a deep voiced sincerity that rings true. Playing such a well-known personage is not easy but Alstott skillfully makes the most of Cash’s style in his performances of “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line”.

Taylor Gray (who also was Music Director) is top-of-the-line wild and crazy as the energized Jerry Lee Lewis, also managing the man’s youthful naiveté with a fine touch. Gray seems to have mastered Lewis’s mad piano style, slapping the keys with tuneful precision and decorating his performances with an array of gymnastic moves to go along with the signature unfettered vocal style. Adam Tran may have the hardest task of all in these proceedings – impersonating the most iconic figure in rock and roll history, Elvis Presley. Tran does an amazingly adept job – finding Elvis’ confident performing style, as well as his shy aw-shucks mannerisms. His vocals hit the a King-like mark in such recognizable numbers as “That’s All Right” and “Hound Dog”. What I saw here was an actor who transcended impersonation and, impressively, built a portrayal of depth and nuance that had a very truthful quality.

Enhancing these quality performances is Betsy Norton as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne. Ms. Norton contributes two flashy numbers – a hot “Fever” and a spirited “I Hear You Knockin'” – as well as many strong background vocal stints. Kroy Presley adds his musical craftsmanship on the standup bass as Perkin’s brother Jay, while Nathan Shew is the vigorous studio drummer, Fluke. The entire cast of singers provides a constant stream of striking vocal talents in both solos and in close harmonies.

Bottom-line: You may have a hard time finding a more completely satisfying production to attend than ATI’s Million Dollar Quartet. As Mrs. K said as we were exiting the venue – “They really couldn’t have done a better job.” She is correct! Be aware, tickets for this one will go fast – opening weekend is virtually sold out.

Million Dollar Quartet continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through October 2nd, 2016. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

ADDENDUM: Acting on the principle that it is never too late to heap praise, I felt that in my zeal for the work of the performers and my attempt to meet my personal deadline I had neglected noting a very vital part of this incredible production.

I am referring to the fantastic effects of the set design, lighting, sound and costumes that did not just happen, but were the work of some behind the scenes visionaries who did as noteworthy a job as anyone who appeared on stage. P. Bernard Killian’s set design takes one to the scene of the historic meeting. The angled setting, as well as the complete recording booth, certainly act as a solid and realistic basis for telling this story. Likewise, Donna Jacobi’s costumes are period perfect. Jonathan Parke adds factors to the singers’ voices that enhance and are very close to what we heard on the original platters back then. And Marciel Irene Greene’s dynamic lighting effects add to the pulse and power of the music and the storytelling. Without these designers’ contributions, I dare say this show would have lacked many of it’s intensities.

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