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Classic Drama Alive Today at Wagon Wheel PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 29 July 2017 20:34

  Midway in the annual summer theatrical season of music and dance and a lot of happy endings, the Wagon Wheel Theatre offers a change of pace with a classic American drama/tragedy that should be at the top of everyone’s “must-see” list.
  The Cfrucible  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Watsaw INIn making Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” a part of its regular 2017 lineup, artistic director Scott Michaels was aware that it was a risk, but risk-taking has never deterred the award-winning director or the team of actor/directors Ben Dicke and Andy Robinson, whose annual behind-the-scenes effort is usually a comedy.
  Their determination has paid off in more ways than one.
  Not only is this production theater at its best and, in a dark way, incredibly entertaining, but it offers some of the best of this year’s company challenging roles, challenges to which they rise with naturalistic ease — even those with the most villainous assignments

The Crucible  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INFor those who may not know, “The Crucible” combines historical fact and artistic license in telling the horrendous story of the 17th century Salem (Mass.) witch trials.   Playwright Miller admitted his Tony Award-winning play was an allegory for McCarthyism, but — listen. It is chilling how close 1953 was to 1692-93 and to the present day.
  It begins with Betty Parris (Cordelia Grandon) 8-year-old daughter of the Salem pastor, the Rev. Samuel Parris (Ben Ahlers) in a faint from which she rises only to scream. Parris demands to know what she was doing in the woods at night with a group of other young girls.

The answer is dancing, which Parris interprets as witchcraft. It results in the girls hiding their late-night outing by naming many others as witches.
Led by Abigail Williams (McKenzie Kurtz) the accusations spread and result is the arrest, “questioning” and eventual hanging of many of the good people of Salem and surrounding villages.

Abigail eventually accuses Elizabeth Proctor (Kira Lace Hawkins), wife of John Proctor (Riley McFarland), with whom Abigail had an affair. Elizabeth is questioned in her home by Reverend John Hale (Blake R. Bojewski), a reported expert on witchcraft.

As the list of accused lengthens, Deputy Governor Danforth (Mike Yocum) arrives to serve as judge. Slowly even the initial accusers become aware of the false charges but, once Danforth is on the bench, innocence is irrelevant and guilt is proven by the flimsiest proof and events attributed to “unnatural forces” and the fact that the accusers are “inno ent children.”

The Crucible  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INThe final blackout offers some hope that the mass hysteria will subside and, finally, disappear. It eventually did, but its shadows remain and, even today, unhappily return in force.
Wagon Wheel season ticket holders may be those most aware of the excellent 2017 cast, having seen each in an extremely wide variety of roles. Even first-timers in the audience, however, will be unable to miss the richness of the performances.
Must first credit the primary players — Ahlers, Bojewski, Hawkins, Kurtz, McFarland, Yocum and Allsun O’Malley. The last was Mary Warren, the Proctors’ maid, who agreed to tell the truth then fell back under the spell of Abigail Williams.
The danger of even the slightest accusation was made obvious by Giles Corey (Michael Bradley) whose questions about books his wife was reading led eventually to her going to the gallows.
The directors’ decision to use hymns, sung acapella by the gathering ensemble, works beautifully throughout to smoothly underscore the fatal role religion played in the outcome of the witch trials.
The spare set, a raked platform seemingly constructed of wooden planks, was designed by technical director Jacki Anderson. It sets the mood immediately as do Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s earth-toned costumes. The excellent lighting design by Fritz Weaver makes one always aware of the dangers hidden in the shadows.
THE CRUCIBLE plays through Aug. 5 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.
Last Updated on Saturday, 29 July 2017 21:50
 
TV Stars In Royal Roles At The Barn PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 19:40

One thing to remember while watching the royal machinations of the early Plantagenets currently unfolding on stage at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI is that, while they could have happened, they most likely did not, especially in the format so entertainingly played out by stars Kim Zimmer and Robert Newman.

The Lion In Winter The Barn Theatre Augusta MILike most historical sagas, the James Goldman drama has a basis in fact, well, semi-fact at least, and it also contains a good deal of humor, albeit 12th century humor, which makes it highly entertaining on a modern level.

Fact: King Henry II (Newman) and wife Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Zimmer) had one of history’s most storied love affairs, the result of which was eight children, five boys and three girls. The three living boys (times were hard in the 1100s)— Richard, Geoffrey and John — are the subjects of discussion during the Christmas celebration at Henry’s castle in Chinon, France.

The Lion In Winter  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe debate, at time extremely heated, circles around just who will wear the crown once Henry is no more. The king favors John (William Dunn), the youngest; Eleanor’s favorite is Richard (Jamey Gresham), the oldest; and Geoffrey (Jabri Johnson), in the middle, attachés himself to whichever brother seems to be winning — and it fluctuates rapidly and often.

Caught in the middle is Alais (Audrey Morton), half-sister of King Phillip II of France (Quinn Moran), who has been at court since her betrothal to Richard at age 8. That was 7 years ago and she has since become Henry’s mistress,

So you can see there are a lot of problems to be addressed and, hopefully, sorted out before the final candle is extinguished.

Under the direction of Brendan Ragotzy, and following the always-dynamic leading players, the flickering lights illuminate rivalries, passions and not-so-hidden secrets.

Played out on one of Samantha Snow’s best set designs (which puts the “Les Miz” turntable to excellent use), the shifting shadows of Mike McShane’s lighting plan are beautifully soft or sharp as the mood demands.

There was no doubt on Tuesday (opening night) that the audience had come to see the stars. Newman and Zimmer were paired for decades on the former CBS daytime drama ”Guiding Light” but if the aim was to see Josh and Reva “together again,” the fans were at least somewhat disappointed.

The Lion In Winter  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIWhat they got instead were two detailed performances by two experienced actors who. In very short time, became — believably — the multi-layered monarchs of a kingdom in flux.

And if, in theater, familiarity breeds … whatever … it is a real pleasure to watch them work. Feinting, parrying, slashing and stabbing, they provided verbal action to a script that allowed them little chance for physicality.

Both characters admitting they had little love for their offspring, there was no doubt that the fire that brought them together was still at least smoldering, fanned by the determination to be the winner in the intricate maneuverings that would eventually result in a crown.

Henry’s bellowing and blustering is stymied at every turn by Eleanor’s muted machinations. The “boys” prove that, even then, the apples didn’t fall far from the parental trees. Gresham was stoically planted while Dunn shifted with every encounter. Johnson fought a losing battle but was difficult to hear. The same is true of Moran, the slippery sovereign who hoped to win no matter who wore the crown.

As Alais, Morton is the most sympathetic figure and drew a moving portrait of the princess who would be the loser no matter who “wins.”.

It has always been a mystery here that Henry would choose John, a whimpering, whining, cowardly teen, as his successor. Also, if Eleanor was imprisoned for 10 years for her part in the attempted overthrow of Henry in 1173, why not the same for the boys who revolted with her?

Whatever the answer, “The Lion in Winter” at The Barn offers a good chance to see a very entertaining play (historically factual or not) presented by a solid company lead by two of the area’s favorite actors.

THE LION IN WINTER plays through Aug. 6 in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 July 2017 19:56
 
Wish Granted Means Big Trouble PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 18 July 2017 18:34

It seems obvious.
The message of “big,” the musical that opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House, is clear: Don’t ask for what you want — you might get it.

big  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThat’s what happens to Josh Baskin, an almost 13-year-old, played in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production by Schmucker Middle School student Eddie Bell.

The 1996 musical, featuring a score by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr and a book by John Weidman, is based on the hit 1988 film starring Tom Hanks

The premise is one to which every youngster — and every parent — can relate.

big  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INJosh and his best buddy Billy Kopecki (Wyatt Katzenberger) are indulging in every kid’s favorite pastime, complaining — about chores, homework, parents,  girls and life in general — and wishing to eliminate all problems by being “big,”

Josh especially is unable to talk to Cynthia Benson (Maddie Hershberger) the girl on whom he has a crush. Frustrated and humiliated, he finds himself facing a carnival machine, Zoltar Speaks. Instructed to “Make A Wish,” he blurts out “I wish I was big.”

When he wakes up the next morning to find that his wish has been granted, he begins a hazardous — and hilarious — journey into the adult world.

big  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INThe suspension of disbelief is helpful for any play, but here it is almost a necessity. As “adult” Josh, Matthew Manley makes believing a no-brainer. Scared and awkward and shy, he gradually blooms in the world of “grown ups,” and his transformation to self-assured executive is delightful and connects with audience members of all ages.

Of course, what allows Josh to transition from teen to 30-something is — what else? — toys!  Sharing a jumping-jack duet on a giant keyboard (the most famous scene from stage and film) with MacMillan (Tony Venable) the head of a floundering toy company, John finds himself in his dream job, testing toys!

As he become increasingly integrated into adulthood, the voice of pre-teen reason is supplied by Billy.  Katzenberger provides a wonderfully no-nonsense best friend who keeps his eye on the prize — finding the new location for Zoltar Speaks and reversing the wish — and tries to provide reality checks for his aging buddy. He is the friend every kid (and adult) should have and delivers a humorously solid characterization.

big  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INThe scenes between Billy and Josh (young and old) are highlights.

Chrissy Herrick is Susan Lawrence, company marketing vice president, who is attracted to Josh and introduces him to some adult games. She has the difficult task of making the attraction believable and does it well.

As Josh’s mom, Karen Payton has one of the show’s loveliest and most touching ballads, “Stop, Time,” which goes straight to the heart of every parent. It is just one in the excellent Maltby and Shire score which contains a goodly number of tunes-that-stick-in-your-head, not the least of which are “Fun!” in which the entire company goes wild in F.A.O. Schwartz; “Stars,” a melody for Josh and Susan’s “sleepover,” and “Cross The Line,” a salute to coming of age no matter what that age may be.

The entire company does well by Jackiejo Brewers’ choreography and soloists and ensemble numbers are solid under the direction of Sandy Hill.

Director John Shoup, who also designed the flexible set which features giant piano keys and appropriate digital backdrops by Jeffrey Barrick, delivers a fast-paced, as-slick-as-possible production, assisted by Leann Reas-Sullivan.

Special note to properties head Susan South for the excellent accumulation of toys!

The bottom line of “big,” which finds Josh finally ready to be a teen again, is the inclusion of something for everyone in its music and script.

It may not be smart to wish for what you want, but that will never stop anyone from asking.

BIG plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, SR120 in downtown Bristol. For information and reservations, call 848-4116

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 July 2017 15:59
 
Fun, Fantasy Fill The Road to Oz PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 17 July 2017 22:42

It’s one of the best-known movies in the world and it’s iconic theme song is rated No. 1 on the prestigious AFI listing of top 100 movie songs — ever!

The Wizard of Oz  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreIf you have to think more than one second to come up with a title, you’ve been out of touch for at least the last 61 years. That’s when it’s TV debut thrust MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz’ back into the public eye, where it has lived comfortably ever since.

So, you may ask, if it is that familiar, why would anyone want to see a local “live action” version when the DVD is close at hand.

I have no conclusive answer but one of the 300+ audience members who obviously enjoyed the South Bend Civic Theatre production which opened Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium might have his/her own answer.

Undoubtedly among them would be the chance to see friends, neighbors, family members, etc. on stage as some pretty wild characters (and in some pretty wild costumes!).

Or maybe the opportunity to see if monkeys do fly or if a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion can really sing and dance.

Well, the SBCT show allows plenty of chances for the former and some for the latter, but whether or not curiosity is satisfied, there’s no doubt that what’s going on provides a great deal of fun for everyone, even those with no actual “Oz” connection. (I guarantee the ending never changes.)

The ability to suspend disbelief in any show, especially a familiar fantasy, depends on the commitment of the performers. Safe to say that the ages of the cast members posed no difficulty in them becoming the required residents of that Emerald City.

Everybody went green with a vengeance!

Excepting, of course, Dorothy, played with wonderfully wide-eyed honesty by Anastasia Spalding, and her companions on the Yellow Brick Road (which, incidentally, was the only thing missing — nary a brick of any color).

The Wizard of Oz  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs her earliest road trip friend, the Scarecrow, Graham Sparks gave new meaning to taking one for the team. Slipping, and falling at the drop of … anything, he literally threw himself into the role of Dorothy’s over-stuffed, empathetic companion Tormenting the straw man are three raucous crows who jeer at his decision to ask the wizard for a brain.

Next up is the immobilized Tinman (Lincoln Weight), whose metal extremities, replacements for his human parts, have rusted in place. With his joints lubricated, he joins the trek to Oz in search of a heart. Wielding his trusty axe, creaking elbows and knees, Wright was appropriately, totteringly robotic.

The Wizard ofz  South Bend (IN) Civic Theatre Last but certainly not least is the roaring Cowardly Lion, portrayed with blustery bravado (and a definite hint of Bert Lahr) by SBCT veteran Nicholas Hidde-Halsey. Shadow boxing with not-yet-faced opponents and roaring at every moving leaf, he is the poster beast for good intention. He could have used more padding and a longer tail but his mane is a curly vision, Of course, his Ozian request is for courage.

Haunting their footsteps is — right! The Wicked Witch of the West, complete with peaked hat and dangerous broomstick. There is no doubt that Dawn Hagerty goes from grouchy Miss Gulch to gleefully evil queen with obvious relish, a cackling laugh that shakes the walls of Oz and an army of Winkies and flying monkeys to carry out her dastardly commands. She is, of course, an audience favorite!

The Wizrd of Oz  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs her opposite, Glinda the Good Witch of the North, Natalie MacRae-Waggoner doesn’t exactly float on in a bubble but there are plenty of sparkles around her at all times. She exudes calm in the Munchkin storm center and (spoiler!) is the holder of the happy ending key.

(She also is the owner of Toto, played by Copper MacRae-Waggoner, who is absolutely adorable and one of the best-behaved stage dogs ever.)

Another SBCT veteran, Cecil Eastman, segues slickly from Professor Marvel to that man behind the curtain without missing a beat — or a hot air balloon!

The stage version returns a number cut from the film, “The Jitterbug,” which is a highlight of Callie Anne Lorenz’ choreography.

The production is directed by David Case with musical direction by Roy Bronkema, with many of the cast members playing two and three roles.

And for those who really don’t know, THE song, of course, is “Over the Rainbow” which has survived in tact and on top since written by Harold Arlen and lyricist E.Y “Yip“ Harburg almost 80 years ago.

Listen to it again. It says what it takes Dorothy 2 ½ hours to realize: There really is no place like home.

THE WIZARD OF OZ plays through July 30 in the Wilson Auditorium, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call(574)234-1112.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 July 2017 23:10
 
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