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Everybody Gets Footloose At Wagon Wheel PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 17 June 2017 18:29

The dancing feet of the talented 2017 Wagon Wheel Theatre company are again in the spotlight in its current production of “Footloose,” which opened Wednesday evening in the Warsaw theater center.

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INThe driving rhythms of the title tune open and close the high-energy musical, based on the 1984 film which brought everyone more than six degrees closer to star Kevin Bacon.

From first to last, the mix of pop and country styles offers something for everyone, underscoring the tale of rebellious youth and allowing all the happy endings expected for most musicals. If there are few surprises, the fun really is in getting there.

The score by Tom Snow and lyricist Dean Pitchford (plus a number of others) includes a number of tunes that became chart-topping hits, especially the title song by Pitchford and Kenny Loggins.

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INFamiliar or not, there is no way to sit still — or keep your toes from tapping — as the eventually-rebellious teens of Bomont, Utah persuade their elders that singing and dancing do not equate with sinful.

Leading the charge is the traditional “outsider,” Ren McCormack (Matthew Copley). Recently relocated with his mother Ethel (Jennifer Dow) from a major city to the small town home of her brother, where dancing is against the law, he finds it difficult to stay within that law

Ren becomes friends with Willard Hewitt (Blake Bowejski) who reveals the origin of the no-dancing law.

Of course, Ren is immediately attracted to Ariel Moore (McKenzie Kurtz), daughter of the minister, Shaw Moore (Brett Frazier), who proposed the law after the death of his son. His bitter grief has resulted in shutting out his wife, Vi (Kira Lace Hawkins), and his daughter. She rebels via a relationship with the town bad boy Chuck Cranston (Britton Hollingsworth) and hurls her frustrations to the winds under a nearby railroad trestle.

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INLed by Ren, the town’s teens gradually gather the courage to face their parents — and the town council — to demand a prom.

No surprise. Eventually, everybody winds up dancing!

Getting there in the WW production is more than a lot of fun. Solid voices and incredibly flexible bodies throw themselves energetically into director/choreographer Scott Michaels’ dances, leaving the opening night audience literally cheering their efforts.

The plotline is painfully obvious but, in “Footloose,” it really doesn’t matter. The good people (Vi Moore, Ethcl McCormack) are very good and even better when they decide to stand up for their children. One of the loveliest moments in the show dials down the decibel level considerably and allows Hawkins, Dow and Kurtz to reflect on the difficulties of “Learning To Be Silent.”

Footloose  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INAs Ren, Copley never seems to run out of steam, forging ahead to win not only the girl but her stony father and, with him, the entire town. Frazier delivers a deeply wounded parent who has shut down completely and, finally, struggles to listen (“Heaven Help Me.’”) Hawkins adds warmth as the wife and mother torn between husband and daughter.

As Willard, Bowejski’s aw shucks persona offers his friend some homespun advice in “Mama Says” and slowly and hilariously comes out of his shell.

Rusty (Leanne Antonio) has her eye on Willard and, with her girls (Bailee Enderbrock, Sarah Ariel Brown and Kurtz), leads the show-stopping “Let’s Hear It For the Boys.”

The WW orchestra is a six piece band here, delivering excellent support under the direction of guest conductor/keyboardist Alyssa Kay Thompson.

Mike Higgins’ ingeniously rustic set design translates rapidly from church to home to soda shop and more. Applause (silent) to cast and crew members who deliver the non-stop, quiet and difficult scene changes in the dark. It’s all part of the WW professionalism.

Stephen Hollenbeck’s costume designs are appropriately country, with plenty of required wiggle-room!”

“FOOTLOOSE” plays through June 24 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre in the WW Center for the Arts, 2517 E. Center St in Warsaw. For performance dates and times call (574) 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheelcentef.org.

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 June 2017 18:48
 
Dark Disney Opens The Barn Season PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 14 June 2017 17:30

When the name of Walt Disney is a part of a musical production’s title, one can understandably assume that this will be a family affair, audience-wise.

That assumption would be questionable when referring to the Disney musical which opened the 71st season of summer stock at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI Tuesday evening.

Hunchback of Notre Dame The Barn Theatre Augusta MIIt is “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” based on the 1831 novel by French author Victor Hugo and the 1996 film from American animator Walt Disney.

There have been literally countless films, silent and otherwise, plus TV and radio productions and theatrical creations of the story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and his love for Emeralda, the gypsy dancing girl.

Being in the public domain, the Hugo novel has been twisted and turned without having to stick strictly to its cast and plot. The same is true of the musical, with music by Disney regular Alan Mencken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Peter Farnell.

Hunchback of Notre Dame The Barn Theatre Augusta MIDo not look here for the young lovers to go off together into the Parisian sunset or the much-maligned bell ringer to find a happy melody.

This “Hunchback” is the consistently darkest of any Disney-named production. All Disney films have at least one deadly dark moment: The wicked queen in “Snow White,” the death of Bambi’s mother, the cruel stepmother in “Cinderella” and a multitude of villains in “Pinocchio,” to name just a few.

Most villains, however, receive their just rewards while the downtrodden hero/heroine rides off with his/her companion of choice.

Do not look for that to happen here. Just note that there is no joy in Mudville for this much-told tale which is unfortunate as, given every aspect of the production, it is one of the best complete packages on The Barn stage in several seasons.

A very solid cast is headed by one of the company’s favorite recurring guest star, Robert Newman, in the definitely dark role of Dom Claude Frollo, a churchman who cannot resist the charms of Esmeralda (Samantha Rickard) and literally abandons everything sacred in his attempt to possess her, including framing her for a criminal offense.

Esmeralda’s kind gestures have earned her the silent love of Quasimodo (Jonnie Carpathios) and the not-so-silent cavalier affection of Captain Phoebus de Martin (Jamey Grisham), an officer in the cathedral guard.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame The Barn Theatre August MIAdd to this Frollo’s declared hatred for the gypsies, led by Clopin Trouillefou (Eric Parker). He swears to eliminate them all after the Feast of Fools, the one day they are allowed in the city. (That did kind of sound familiar.)

Adding to the downward path is Frollo’s care for Quasimodo who, in this scenario, is his unwanted nephew. Checking back it became apparent that these characters are mixed and matched and dispatched or not depending upon which scenario you read or see or hear.

Never mind. Enough to say that any humor from the Disney film has been eliminated. The Three Stooges-like gargoyles are now as somber as the saints’ statues, all of which talk with Quasimodo.

The score is sung-through, with only a few dialogue segments, allowing all the principals to display excellent voices. Newman especially is a happy surprise. He has a majority of heavy solo assignments and delivers them with just the right touch of tortured soul-searching to almost make his character sympathetic — almost!

The trio of unhappy lovers also do justice to Menken’s music but at least one up-beat tune would have been appreciated.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIParker, the gargoyles, statues and people of Paris are not only characters but deliver the narrative, sometimes in solo and sometimes in ensemble form. For the most part, with the exception of the jumbled finale when I could not figure out what was going on, the story line is clear if not completely familiar

Director Hans Friedrichs does a fine job of steering the many characters through a frequently tortuous plotline.

Conductor Matt Shabala leads an orchestra that is positive and supportive. Scenic designer Samantha Snow delivers a sturdy set that meets major location and physical requirements.

The major plus here is this: If you want to see “Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame” this may be your only opportunity. Just know it is well-done without a traditional happy ending.

”DISNEY’S HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME” plays through June 25 in the theater on M-96 in Augusta, MI For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 June 2017 18:01
 
'Outside Mullingar' A Winner For SBCT PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 11 June 2017 16:55

Every time we sit down in a theater we hope for the best and expect … well, possibly something a little less.

Rarely do we get the best of everything.

Outside Mullingar  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreSuch a rarity is live and on the stage of South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Studio Theatre where its production of “Outside Mullingar” opened to a full house Friday evening.

The multi-layered romantic comedy by John Patrick Shanley, author of award-winners “Doubt: A Parable” and “Moonstruck,” is set in the midlands of northern Ireland on adjoining farms just outside the nearest town, Mullingar. The lives of the farm residents, the number of which is dwindling rapidly, are the focus of Shanley’s touching scenario.

The action (which is primarily emotional rather than physical) begins with the Muldoons — Aoife (Mary Ann Moran) and daughter Rosemary (Dana Vagg-Batusic) — and the Reillys — Tony (Gary Oesch) and son Anthony (Ted Maniefr) — coming to the Reilly home from the funeral of Aoife’s husband.

The two seniors discuss the shortened amount of earthly time left to each and the future of their respective farms, specifically as it affects a possible relationship between their children. Rosemary has been in love with Tony since the age of 6. He is not one to let his feelings be known.

Outside Mullinger  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreTony’s decision to sell to an American nephew, surprises Aoife, hurts and angers Anthony, especially on hearing his father’s reason, and brings Rosemary to a fierce defense because, as she declares, he (Anthony) is “a bit of a lump” and “won’t push back for himself.”

To sell or not to sell hinges on a small strip of land which holds the right of way to the Reilly farm. At a time when Tony needed money, he sold it to Chris Muldoon. Now, it seems, the Muldoons are not agreeable to selling it back , a deal-breaker for the nephew.

Some years later, problems of the land and the feelings of the two remaining farm owners struggle to resolve themselves. Their final confrontation provides exactly the right answer.

In the hands of a lesser cast and crew, “Outside Mullingar” might be just another Irish fantasy. Not so here.

Director Kevin Dreyer has gathered a cast from the SBCT veteran A-list, each of whom is in exactly the right role. There is not one false note in any characterization. This extends to all the Irish accents.

Outside Mullingar  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreUnder Dreyer’s sure hand, each develops a solidly real personality, in spite of their secrets which often seem more fantasy than reality.

And their relationships could not be more empathetic.

Even when disagreements are decades long and appear to be far from resolution, the underlying friendships are never lost. Actions and reactions eventually mesh and what seemed absurd becomes the link that puts it all together.

The humor is low key but unmistakable, especially when discussions turn to death and dying, with the seniors particularly stating their opinions in a less-than-portentous manner.

“You’ll be dead within a year,” Tony tells Aoife. “Me? I’ll be dead within two months.”

Anthony and Rosemary share their individual bouts with depression, thoughts of suicide and struggles to stop smoking as well as ideas on the layers of the universe and dealings with the outside world.

“People don’t appeal to me that much,” he admits. “That’s normal,” she agrees. “Who likes people? Nobody.”

Is there any doubt that these two will, sooner rather than later, find each other?

The surrounding darkness of the Warner black box theater provides the perfect backing for set designer David Chudzynski’s earthy, bare bones set pieces which move the action easily from farm to field to farm.

“OUTSIDE MULLINGAR” will be played Wednesday through Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For show times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org. Additional performances already have been added.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 June 2017 17:23
 
High-Stepping 'Newsies" WW Season Opener PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 04 June 2017 19:56

Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre literally burst into its 63rd summer season Wednesday evening with a super-charged production of Disney’s “Newsies.”

Newsies Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INIn addition to being the WW opener, it is the regional premier of this award-winning musical.

Based on an 1899 New York City newsboys strike, the cast of necessity is filled to capacity with talented, energetic, high-stepping (and kicking and leaping and flipping) young dancers — plus quite a few still in middle school and one scene-stealer age 9.

In spite of a Tony Award-winning score by Disney favorite Alan Menken and Jack Feldman and a score of powerfully-voiced principals led by Britton Hollingsworth and Elaine Cotter, it is the continuously amazing choreography that is the real star of this production.

“Newsies” is directed and choreographed by WW artistic director/choreographer Scott Michaels, who continues to incite the question “How does he do that?”

Not only “he,” of course, but the gifted young company (and crew) assembled annually which, in spite of changes and season requirements, is always the very best.

“Newsies” is probably one of the most demanding Disney shows, dance-wise. The young “salesmen” (who include several “saleswomen”) never stop.

Newsies  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INIt is the tale of orphan Jack Kelly (Hollingsworth), leader of the group of youngsters who sell the New York World, and the protest he instigated when World publisher Joseph Pulitzer (a wonderful curmudgeonly Mike Yocum) raises the price to his street salesmen from 50 cents to 60 cents per hundred.

Kelly, a young artist with dreams of going to “Santa Fe,” and Crutchie (Blake Bojewski), who looks on his crippled leg as a way to sell more papers, are best friends, both determined to stay out of The Refuge detention center.

They are joined by Davey (Evan Kinnane) and his young brother Les (Oliver Pettit) who are not orphaned nor homeless but have become newsies since a work accident found their father jobless.

Newsies  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INChampioning their cause is Katherine Plumber (Cotter), a struggling female reporter on the New York Sun, who brings their story to her front page. A romance begins between Jack and Katherine but, as in all musicals, the course of young love never runs smoothly.

Before the newsies find a larger-than–life champion (Chris Mahan) for their cause and Jack realizes that New York has more to offer than Santa Fe, a whole lot of singing and dancing takes place on set designer Mike Higgins sturdy urban skeleton.

The production is, as always, solidly supported by conductor/keyboardist Thomas M. Stirling and his nine outstanding instrumentalists.

Newsies  Wagon Wheeel Theatre  Warsaw INThe costume scheme here is primarily drab (street urchins tend to favor brown and gray and industry leaders, black) but designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck gets his glitz on with the girls backing vaudeville singer Medda Larkin (Leanne Antonio) and the less-somber outfits for Katherine.

In addition, all must be super danceable and able to withstand the stress and strain put on them by the athletic requirements of Michaels’ non-stop choreography.

“Newsies,” based on the 1992 Disney musical movie, ran for two years on Broadway. Doubtless it will pop up on stages all over the country after this but the choreography, which will vary from production to production, will never be better — or more joyfully presented — than that which is center stage at the Wagon Wheel Theatre.

“DISNEY’S NEWSIES” will be presented through June 10 at the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2517 E. Centre St., Warsaw, IN. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheelcenter.org

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 June 2017 19:03
 
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