CTC’s “Side by Side by Sondheim” at The Cat

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Carmel Theatre Company is back! Guided by the able hands of John Clair and June McCarty Clair, the recently homeless theatre company, displaced by the demise of its Studio 15 digs on 1st Ave NE, has found a new home on 1st Ave SW in Will Woods’ new venue – The Cat, formerly known as The Warehouse. Last night, Mrs. K and I had the pleasure of attending the kick-off show for this new alliance – Side by Side by Sondheim.

This celebration of premier Broadway lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim has been in the works since last December and was originally slated to be produced at a local church. But fate and some luck lead the production, directed by Ellen Kingston, to this comfortable setting in downtown Carmel, just across the street from the Indiana Design Center, where one may park to attend.

With fine keyboard accompaniment by David Duncan and Dede Mantock, the show features local singing talents – Thom Brown, Carolyn Lynch, Gail Payne, Matthew Vire and director Ms. Kingston – performing the 30 or so songs in the revue-style program.

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Every cast member has a chance to shine – Ellen Kingston leads the way with her emotional “Send in the Clowns”, Thom Brown presents a slightly quirky “Could I Leave You?”, Gail Payne offers a wistful “I Think About You”, Matthew Vire has great fun with the neurotic “Buddy Blues”, and Carolyn Lynch is perfect in the part of Maria (from West Side Story) as she shares the “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” duet with Ms. Payne.

The ensemble is best when performing scenes from the musicals Sondheim wrote. Mr. Vire and Ms. Lynch share in the humorous “Barcelona”, the three ladies end the first act with a rousing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”, and Ms. Kingston and Mr. Brown join forces for “You Must Meet My Wife”. Mr. Vire, Ms. Lynch and Ms. Kingston share in the remarkable “Getting Married Today”.

There are a plethora of costumes to suit the many moods and scenes in the show. Ellen Kingston was at work on these as well, with notable assistance by Patricia Dorwin. Dresser Debbie Coon was no doubt a busy lady backstage.

All told, the show is a very entertaining 2 hours of memorable Sondheim tunes with added anecdotes and info from Ms. Kingston’s narration. The only marks against the proceedings might be what I saw as an unevenness in the energy set forth in some of the singing performances. I couldn’t tell if this was an attempt at subtlety or a genuine lack of spark after a long rehearsal week. Regardless, it didn’t detract from all that gleamed in the show – nor in the enjoyment the opening night audience obviously felt and showed at the curtain call.

CTC’s Side by Side by Sondheim continues at The Cat (254 1st Ave SW in Carmel) weekends through May 13 with one Sunday matinee on May 7 at 2:30 PM. Evening shows are at 7 PM. For reservations go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2912415 or call CTC at 317-688-8876.

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“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” at Carmel Theatre Company

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

This year’s cavalcade of Christmas shows continues for Mrs. K and I, this time on a community theatre stage, with Dylan Thomas’ charming remembrance – A Child’s Christmas in Wales. In what will sadly be CTC’s final show at the Studio 15, this sentimental picture of another era’s celebration is filled with songs and stories and mischief. Director John C. Clair works with a large cast of 24 performers, nearly half of them children and young adults, to bring Thomas’ wonderful use of language to the fore.

Rick Sharp plays the narrator, the mature Dylan, as he looks back to days long ago when, as a boy, he spent Christmas Day with aunts, uncles, cousins, townspeople and his parents. Sharp’s delivery of Thomas’ poetical prose is sensitive and on the mark, projecting a rich nostalgia. Playing the younger Thomas, Dalyn Stewart repeats his role from 2 years ago. Young Mr. Stewart has an easy feel for stage work and is very appealing as he imparts a lively imagination and a thrill for the holiday.

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Dalyn Stewart plays young Dylan Thomas, while Rick Sharp portrays Dylan Thomas the elder. (This picture is from the 2014 presentation of the show.)

The various other roles are played out with energetic enthusiasm by a talented corps of actors and actresses. Highlights for me were Anthony Johnson, effusive as Dylan’s father -D.J.; Smith David, engaging as Dylan’s best friend Tom; Valery DeLong, alternately harried and in charge as the Thomas mother; LeRoy Delph as a very lively Uncle Gwyn – full of song, dance, and stories; Nan Macy as larger than life Aunt Nellie; Thom Johnson, who gives his all in multiple comic roles; and Rachelle Woolston, whose amazing voice is a show-stopper, as her Aunt Eleri sings the traditional Welsh song Calon Lân with a beautiful interpretation.

The musical accompaniment by Musical Director Carol Keddington on clavinova and percussionist Dick Leap adds to the texture of the show and the six members of The Swansea Singers regale us with ageless carols before each act.

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Bottom line: This is unusual Christmas fare. Tunefully adapted for the stage by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell – it takes a little while to settle into the Thomas prose, but we are thus led into a holiday from another time. The simplicity and joy conveyed here cannot help but put one into a fine holiday spirit.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales runs at Carmel’s Studio 15 through December 17th, with Thursday through Saturday evening shows at 7 pm and one Sunday show on December 11th at 2:30 pm. For ticket reservations and information go online to http://www.carmeltheatrecompany.com or call the reservation line at 317.688.8876.

A short note of remembrance: It truly is sad to me that the central Indiana theatre community will be losing Carmel’s Studio 15. (It is being razed to become valuable Arts District parking spaces.) The squat building has been utilized as a unique venue for both actors and audience members since I directed the first show there in 2002. CCP’s production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams starred Jean Adams and Joshua French and was played in 3/4 round – before the 2 inch high stage was built at the north end of the building for the next show. A lot of improvements were made over the years – many by Larry, Susan and Ron Creviston, many by John and June Clair – but the old city office building always provided a singularly intimate theatre experience. As my friend Larry Adams once wrote here, “As an actor, I’ve always loved that feeling of being in the audience’s face- practically in their collective lap – connecting with them, drawing them into the experience. Now, as an audience member, I can tell you that feeling is just as much fun, and something you simply won’t experience at a bigger theater.”

Here’s hoping that CTC finds a suitable replacement as they move away and into the future!

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“Art” at Carmel Theatre Company

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Well, it is guest reviewer time again. Here below, Adam Crowe does what I cannot do myself – review a show which I have directed. I told Adam, no holds barred. Let’s see what he wrote:

Thanks to Ken, I am once again given the opportunity to review for A Seat on the Aisle. This time, I have the potentially dicey task of reviewing a production that Ken has directed. It is one thing to review a show which includes Ken as one actor among many. But this assignment strikes me as much more perilous – since the Director has so much control over (and responsibility for) an entire Production. The good news is that Yasmina Reza’s Art, now playing at Carmel Theatre Company’s space on First Ave NE in Carmel, is a superior evening of thoughtful theater, with the bonus that it contains some wonderful laughs as well. Ken and his cast should be proud!

The winner of the 1998 Tony Award for Best New Play, Art quickly struck me as a bit of sleight of hand, since it was not quite what I expected. Unlike last year’s Red at IRT, Reza’s play is NOT an examination of the nature of “art”. Instead, the playwright is more interested in the nature of friendship and how we define our friends, and how that ultimately can define ourselves. The playwright introduces us to Marc (Larry Adams), Serge (Daniel Shock) and Yvan (Clay Mabbitt) – three friends about whom we are given very little background. What we do learn at the outset is that Serge has purchased a painting that will soon become an object of some contention.

Prior to seeing the play, I was expecting that the playwright would explore questions about what does or does not constitute “art”. Instead, Reza quickly makes it clear that she is more interested in human matters. Will these three men destroy their friendship over what appear to be “artistic” differences? What was the underlying basis of these friendships to begin with? Most importantly, the playwright asks the audience to consider questions about the very nature of these relationships that we call friendships. Do we make friends because of who THEY are or is it more about how WE feel? I don’t want to spoil anything by saying more, but I found myself leaving the theater with a lot to think about – undoubtedly more than if the play had merely been about the “nature of art”.

Marc (Larry Adams), Yvan (Clay Mabbitt) and Serge (Daniel Shock) discuss matters in CTC's production of "Art"

Marc (Larry Adams), Yvan (Clay Mabbitt) and Serge (Daniel Shock) discuss matters in CTC’s production of “Art”

Actors Adams, Shock and Mabbitt all acquitted themselves quite well. None had an easy task, since each of the three characters is at least somewhat unlikeable for a portion of the play’s 90 minutes. I found that each created a fully living character. I will note that the playwright (or her translator) gave Yvan the sometimes showier role. Mabbitt handled it beautifully.

Refreshments are served for Marc (Larry Adams), Yvan (Clay Mabbitt) and Serge (Daniel Shock) during CTC's production of "Art".

Refreshments are served for Marc (Larry Adams), Yvan (Clay Mabbitt) and Serge (Daniel Shock) during CTC’s production of “Art”.

The direction is subtle and succinct. The set, costumes and lighting are all just right. The three men (and the painting) are the show, and the Director makes sure your focus is on them. I will include one quibble – just so Ken doesn’t think I am shirking. The musical underscoring at the end of the show was unnecessary. I prefer that kind of touch be left to the movies.

The director notes in the Program that he and two of his actors have mounted this show before. If you missed it – here is your chance to catch an engaging production. If you saw & liked it before, a return visit is in order. Art continues its run through March 15th. You can find out more about the schedule online at http://www.carmeltheatrecompany.com and you may reserve tickets by calling the Carmel Theatre Company Box Office at (317) 688-8876.

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” at CTC

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It’s the Christmas season – a time when many of us go through remembrances of our childhood Christmases. My memories always include family, singing in school productions, and the sweet anticipation of Christmas morning. A Child’s Christmas in Wales is just that type of memory play. Based on a story by Dylan Thomas, adapted for the stage by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell, the show is a loving remembrance of Thomas’ family when he was a boy in Swansea, Wales and Christmas was the most important day of the year for his parents, his friends and the extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins.

Carmel Theatre Company has put together a warm and entertaining production, filled with familiar Christmas songs, sweet and funny storylines and an evenly talented cast of adults and children. Directed with attention to detail by Pamela Kingsley, with Music Direction by Carol Keddington, the show is a delight from start to finish.

Dalyn Stewart plays young Dylan Thomas, while Rick Sharp portrays Dylan Thomas the elder

Dalyn Stewart plays young Dylan Thomas, while Rick Sharp portrays Dylan Thomas the elder


A pre-show concert of traditional holiday songs, precisely performed by The Swansea Girl’s Choir consisting of Mackenzie Edwards, Anna Ji, Cadence Leffel and Katherine Sabens, sets the festive mood. Playing the narrator part of Dylan Thomas as a grown man is veteran actor Rick Sharp – while young actor Dalyn Stewart takes the part of the youthful Dylan. Both do an admirable job with sometimes difficult language by writer Thomas, who loved inventing poetical adjectives and adverbs. Sharp displays his lengthy stage experience in his role, while the young Mr. Stewart has a surprisingly pleasing talent for his onstage character’s lively imagination and loving family life.
A portion of the cast - kneeling: Dalyn Stewart; seated: Will Doss, David Ballard, June Clair; standing: Kurt Pantzer, Bella Doss, Ellen Gardner

A portion of the cast – kneeling: Dalyn Stewart; seated: Will Doss, David Ballard, June Clair; standing: Kurt Pantzer, Bella Doss, Ellen Gardner


The supporting cast members all provide animated portrayals of Thomas family and friends. Young Dylan’s childhood friends and cousins are very nicely offered by gifted young actors and actresses Charlie Steiner, Smith David, Delaney Hendricks, Bella Doss and Ellen Gardner. All do excellent work providing believable characters. Meanwhile, the adult actors and actresses all have fun with the various, sometimes quirky, Thomas parents, aunts, uncles and townspeople. Standout performances include those by Thom Johnson (offering expansive characterizations of a postman and Smoky, the town park attendant as well as a grouchy Uncle Tudyr) and Will Pullins (in a cameo as a save-the-day fire chief). Lori Moore’s extraordinary singing voice on the traditional Welsh song Canon Lan is another highlight of the program, as is the innovative musical support for the show offered by Ms. Keddington on the clavinova, accompanied by Bill Musick on guitar (and assorted other music makers) with Dick Leap on percussion.

All in all, A Child’s Christmas in Wales is a wonderful holiday treat with stories, songs and characters that will please every member of the family. Unfortunately this is a very limited offering by CTC. If you wish to share in the merriment, it would be worth the effort needed to make plans very soon as the show runs only through December 14, with Thursday through Saturday evening shows at 7 pm and Sunday shows at 2:30 pm. For ticket reservations and information go online to http://www.carmeltheatrecompany.com or call the reservation line at 317.688.8876.

“The Dining Room” at Carmel Theatre Company

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New to A Seat on the Aisle: guest reviewer Larry Adams, well-known central Indiana actor, reviews our production of The Dining Room which opened recently at Carmel Theatre Company.
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After a long week in the office, at the tail end (we hope) of the World’s Longest Winter, it was truly a treat for me to head out for an opening weekend performance of Carmel Theatre Company’s production of The Dining Room. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to feel this way, as, after a bit of a hike from my geographically-challenged parking space, I found the cozy room at 15 1st Ave NE already filling with eager patrons half an hour before the curtain. Director Ken Klingenmeier kindly directed me to what he called “the ejection seat,” and, after politely declining his request that I write a guest review for his blog, “A Seat On the Aisle” (you can see how much good that did), I settled in for a relaxing evening of central Indiana community theater.

If you’re looking for deep and complex character development and a more traditional single-story narrative, A. R. Gurney’s play, first produced in 1982, is definitely not your ticket. The Dining Room presents a series of eighteen often overlapping vignettes, with six actors portraying over fifty upper-middle class characters in the course of two hours- at first glance, kind of a Greater Tuna: The WASP Edition. But there is, in fact, one constant, one character that never changes, the glue that holds all these seemingly unrelated scenes together: the Dining Room. This more formal, vaguely pretentious and vanishing relic of 20th Century WASPish households acts here as a metaphor for the vanishing upper-middle class culture itself, the culture for which Gurney writes this theatrical epitaph. Here we see the history, the values, the fears, and the challenges of a dying breed in a changing world.

Not that The Dining Room should be mistaken for some relentlessly ponderous, Arthur Millerian piece of theater- as the cast at the Carmel Theatre Company makes clear right from the outset, serving the audience a steady diet of laughs set off by just the right amount of palate-cleansing poignancy. And it’s the cast here that truly is the main course for the evening. Community theater can understandably fall victim on occasion to uneven levels of talent, but these six actors are- to a person- outstanding and well-matched in their skill on the stage. Mark Tumey, whom I’ve had the good fortune to see in several previous productions around town, particularly impressed me with his wide range- completely convincing in both drama and comedy, whether as an eager child or a curmudgeony, old grandfather. Daniel Shock, one of my perennial favorites on stage, was a stitch as both a little boy and the patriarch of a family of nerds (or is it geeks? I never can remember)- a scene that generated the biggest laughs of the evening. His timing, inflections and facial expressions are gifts I can only envy as a sometime actor myself. Barb Weaver was especially memorable for her turn as Aunt Harriet, in a scene designed to spell out more directly the theme of the show (for those- like myself- who are a little more paint-by-numbers on this kind of literary, subtle-meaning stuff than the average bear). Tonya Fenimore consistently hit the mark, whether playing a teen seeking to establish her autonomy or an uptight mother, while the mysterious “Ryan Shelton” (Sorry, no bio in the program, folks- but, hey, it’s community theater, you probably know him anyway) was masterful in balancing both the humor and the pathos of a father who really would rather not deal with the carnage of his daughter’s broken relationships. The most heart-rending moment of the night, however, belonged to Sonja Distefano, whose softly sweet portrayal of a mother suffering from dementia will no doubt bring a tear to the eye of anyone who has experienced the ravages of this disease in their family or circle of friends.

from top left: Mark Tumey, Sonja Distefano, Barb Weaver, Daniel Shock, Tonya Fenimore, Ryan Shelton

from top left: Mark Tumey, Sonja Distefano, Barb Weaver, Daniel Shock, Tonya Fenimore, Ryan Shelton


From a technical standpoint, the show is simply a marvel. Having stumbled through a stint as director of a show myself this past year, a show with a fairly traditional form and only two characters, I could only imagine how much of a nightmare (or perhaps, more delicately, “a challenge”) this show would be to helm, with its unconnected yet overlapping scenes and dizzying quick-change entrances and exits. Not surprisingly, however, Ken Klingenmeier- aided by the versatility of his talented cast and crew- has managed to fit together these interlocking parts nearly seamlessly. The pacing was neither rushed nor slow, and the flow was seemingly effortless- always a testament to just how much effort really is involved behind the scenes. I could also only imagine the back stage flow chart required to keep things straight- that is, I could only imagine it until Ken emailed me a copy later: a color-coded, heavily notated, bar graph that looks like something off a viewscreen on the Starship Enterprise (and not The Original Series, either- I’m talking Next Generation, at least!).

And finally, a few words about the venue itself. It had been roughly six years since I had last set foot in the building, at that time as part of the cast of a Carmel Community Players production. The seats have been replaced (Can we have a round of applause, for that, ladies and gentlemen?), but the intimate atmosphere thankfully remains the same. As an actor, I’ve always loved that feeling of being in the audience’s face- practically in their collective lap- connecting with them, drawing them into the experience. Now, as an audience member, I can tell you that feeling is just as much fun, and something you simply won’t experience at a bigger theater. The cast and crew of Carmel Theatre Company’s current production have taken full advantage of that feeling to produce an excellent offering for the local community theater audience. The table is set. Come to The Dining Room.

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Carmel Theatre Company’s The Dining Room continues at CTC Theatre Fri Sat and Sun March 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 & 16. Evening shows start at 8 pm, while Sunday matinees begin at 2:30 pm. CTC Theatre is located at 15 1st Ave NE in the Arts and Design District in downtown Carmel. Parking for the show is available at the PNC Bank parking lot at the corner of Rangeline Rd. and Main St.- one block west of the theatre. Reservations can be made by calling 317-688-8876. Further information about the cast of The Dining Room can be found at http://tdratctc.wordpress.com/

“The Nutcracker” at Carmel Theatre Company

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Nutcracker

Another December Saturday night, another holiday show to attend in central Indiana; this time, Mrs K and I (joined by granddaughter Hanna) headed up to Carmel’s newest theatre, CTC, to catch their first holiday offering: The Nutcracker. Although the show is based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and uses music from the famous ballet by the same name, scored by Tchaikovsky, and annually presented by scores of ballet companies the world over, it was presented as a theatrical play.

The story is told in dialogue and songs, many of which are sung to the familiar Tchaikovsky themes. All but one song is delivered by the children and they do a fair job with the task. The choreography is designed for the kids to follow, and much of the time they do. It is when they don’t that we feel the most charmed by the ensemble. Watching the soldiers, the dolls, the angels and the mice go through their paces, cued and miscued, brought a lot of smiles, chuckles and applause from the sold out audience, most of whom were indeed related to one or more of the participants.

Part community theatre production, part school play and part musical theatre recital, the show featured a cast of 35, 4 adults and 31 children of all ages. What director Glenda Pilcher has put together is a wholly unpolished, but thoroughly enjoyable, showcase for children. Some had a great deal of talent; many were onstage for the first time it seemed, exploring just what it was like to perform and either enjoying it a great deal or feeling overwhelmed by the experience.

The adults all did solid acting jobs. The lead children – Payton Wallace as daughter Marie, and those in a group that accompany her to The Land of Toys: Mitchell Seifer as the Nutcracker, Nikki Vasil as the rat Rudi, Ellen Gardner as doll Mistress Clara, Karis Pilcher as kitty Feline Legation, and Terri Osuntokun as doll Ballerina – all showed very good stage talents. In supporting roles: Jack Sandifer as Marie’s brother Fritz, Mallory Young as Toyland Princess Piripat, Eve Swanson as Sweet Tooth, and Abby Meredith as the Mouse Queen all gave wonderfully energetic performances. Special mention must be given to Guest Ballerina, Brynna Webb, who brought her immense talent to the CTC stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy. She gave a flawless performance.

It makes me very happy that CTC has delivered thusly on their promise to teach as well as to entertain. By producing a show like this – holiday themed with a large cast of eager and delightful child performers – they no doubt have opened the door to a world of artistic expression and enjoyment for at least some of these youngsters for many years to come. I predict we will be seeing more than a few of these kids on our community theatre stages in the future.

Carmel Theatre Company’s production of The Nutcracker continues with matinee performances at 2pm on Sunday Dec. 8 and 15 and with evening performances at 7pm Thurs/Fri/Sat Dec. 12, 13 and 14.