July 9, 2014

A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement

Our church basement ladies are back in a brand new installment. The lovely ladies of the Lutheran church won Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre audiences’ hearts when they first appeared in 2010. This is the fourth show in the series and the crowd favorites are sure to fill seats again. The clean, quirky humor is entertaining to anyone who has grown to love them over the past few years. It’s now 1960 and the girls are cooking, singing and swapping advice about life in their small Midwestern town.

This installment feels a bit more forced than the others. Most people who attend the show will already know if they love the Church Basement Ladies series or not. This one doesn’t deviate from what we’ve come to expect, but it also doesn’t offer quite as much depth.
Mavis, played by Karen Pappas, remains the stand out character. Her earnest nature and brash sense of humor are both endearing and hilarious. Licia Watson also returns as Vivian, the group's matriarch, and has a great scene in the Catholic church basement. 
The rest of the cast includes Hillary Smith and Eddie Curry reprising their roles as Beverly and Pastor Gunderson respectively. Katherine Proctor was noticeably absent as Karin. She was replaced by Carrie SaLoutos, fresh off the national tour, but SaLoutos lacked Proctor’s heartwarming sincerity and Karin felt more like a caricature in her hands. 
The Church Basement Ladies series might not offer any startlingly new revelations about life, but it provides comfortable entertainment. Anyone who was raised in the church in the 1950s and ‘60s, no matter what denomination, will be able to recognize pieces of the show from their own past.

Up next on the Beef & Boards stage is Oklahoma. The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic will open August 21st and run until October 5th.

Don't Miss the Show

: The show runs until Aug. 17. Doors open for evening performances at 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The buffet is served from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. For Wednesday matinees doors open at 11:30 a.m. and the buffet is served from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The show begins at 1 p.m. For Sunday matinees doors open at 12 p.m. and the buffet is served from 12:15 to 1 p.m. The show begins at 1:30 p.m.

: To purchase tickets call (317) 872-9664 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Prices range from $38.50 to $63.50 and include the show, tax, coffee, tea and the buffet. This production offers discounts, call the box office for more details.

Photos Courtesy of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

June 20, 2014

The Book of Mormon

A lot has been said about The Book of Mormon in the last few years, so I knew going into it that I should expect a hilarious show. What I wasn't expecting was the level of excellence across the board. The catchy songs, the choreography and the actual performances by the actors were all wonderful. Yes, it's a show written by the creators of "South Park," but it's also a Broadway musical and includes everything that you would expect from something of that genre. 

We're introduced to two Mormon missionaries who are traveling to Uganda. The odd couple have the classic characteristics of any opposites buddy comedy. Christopher John O'Neill is particularly entertaining in the quirky sidekick role of Elder Cunningham. Mark Evans plays his counterpart, the earnest Elder Price with unfettered enthusiasm. The two naive missionaries find themselves in the midst of a tiny village which is being attacked by everything from AIDS to militants armed with machine guns.

The Book of Mormon has gotten a reputation for offending traditional Broadway lovers. This is an incredibly easy situation to avoid. The show has quite a few plot points and uses language that some people are going to find inappropriate. If bad language in any format offends you, don't go see this show. There were patrons who left at the intermission, something that probably happens at every performance. Don't buy tickets if you're worried about the content offending you, just wait for the next musical that comes through town. 

If, on the other hand, you know what to expect and it sounds like it's right up your alley,  you're only going to be impressed by what you fine.  The songs are great, the plot moves quickly, social commentary and sarcasm are woven into every scene, and the overall production is well done. The show dances within the normal Broadway bounds, while putting its own unique spin on the traditions. For example, they'll use a tap number, like "Turn It Off" but make it their own and it works beautifully.

This was absolutely one of the highlights of the Broadway across America season and I don't doubt they will have no trouble selling out at each show. If you're interested in seeing it check immediately for any available tickets. This isn't going to be a show with a lot of open seats in the final day.

Don't Miss the Show
The show runs until Sunday, June 22 at the Old National Centre (Murat Theatre) so hurry to get tickets. Tickets can be purchased at Clowes Memorial Hall, The Murat Theatre, by calling (800)-982-2787 or online here. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Photos courtesy of Broadway Across America

June 17, 2014

The Wars of the Roses Review

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
So imagine you’re an actor and a director approaches you with a proposition. “How would you like to play a dozen different roles, male and female, young and old, in eight different shows? By the way, you’ll be performing these shows on the same day.” You’d question their sanity, right? Thankfully eight Indiana performers decided to embrace the challenge instead of calling the men in the white coats. The fact that this idea, born more than a year ago, became a reality is incredible. 
The eight plays, listed below, have each been condensed into a single hour, a huge feat accomplished by Maria Souza. The result is a whirlwind of action; the fat is trimmed away and audience members are left with the core of each plot in a relatively easy to follow format. Catherine Cardwell, Polly Heinkel, and Thomas Cardwell each tackle the direction of a couple shows. Their styles work well together and there’s no drastic shift between the plays.   

The cast is made up of Zachariah Steonrock, Frankie Bolda, Matt Anderson, Sarah Froehlke, Jeremy Grimmer, and Zack Neiditch. It’s worth mentioning every single name because all eight actors perform in each play and each one has at least one show in which they truly have a chance to shine. They slip in and out of each character’s mannerisms without missing a beat. They juggle a crazy number of switches and huge number of lines (some in French!) with ease, rarely stumbling over a line or two.

The versatile set is another triumph. Designing something that will work for eight different shows is a challenge and the solution was a combination throne room, balcony and tavern table. The actors have multiple entrances and exits to keep the flow moving smoothly. The shows are not specific to a time period. Each of the actors has a base costume that is changed a dozen times throughout the festival with the addition of a scarf, vest, hat, colored ribbon or coat. The system works well and the decision not to focus on period costumes was a smart one. Leaving guns out of the equation is the only adjustment I would have made. They weren’t used consistently and so their occasional appearance seemed odd.  

The Plays

Richard II: The first king of the series loses his thrown quickly, setting the stage for the fight for power. His successor never wanted Richard II to die and so the victory is bittersweet. 

Henry IV Part I: The king’s son, Hal, is a major player in this show. He and his infamous friend Falstaff don’t seem to take anything seriously, despite the situation around them. Henry IV struggles to adjust to his new found power while worrying that his son won’t be able to handle the crown when it becomes his.

Henry IV Part II: The fallout from the battle at the end of the last play is dealt with in this show. A transition is power is approaching, but it won’t be an easy one. Hal is beginning to understand the seriousness of the task of ruling.  

Henry V: This play is perhaps the best known of the histories because of its famous lines and battle scenes. I was happy to see the sweet scene between Henry V and his French bride-to-be play out so beautifully.

Henry VI Part I: Joan of Arc makes an appearance in Shakespeare, who knew? This play also includes the famous scene that gave the festival its name. Each side must pick a white or red rose to show where their allegiance lies.

Henry VI Part II: Don’t mess with necromancy. Gloucester's wife makes this mistake and sets up a whole world of trouble for the court as certain Lords use Gloucester's disgrace as a weapon against him. Queen Margaret is wonderful in this play, manipulating her young husband in ways that would make Lady Macbeth proud.

Henry VI Part III: Queen Margaret is forced to take things into her own hands when her husband, the title character, gives into political pressure. She is described in one scene in this way, “O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide.” Allegiances shift incredibly fast in this show as Henry VI’s lack of strength becomes obvious to everyone around him.

Richard III: This twisted title character is the ultimate in back-stabbing manipulations. He’s completely detached from reality and has only one goal in his world, become the King of England. Anyone who gets in the way of that is in trouble.

There are shows in the festival that are stronger than others, but it’s the experience of seeing the shows back-to-back in chronological order that makes this such a remarkable production. Each one informs the next, setting up major plot points that are hard to understand if you miss the context provided by the previous show. If EclecticPond ever tackles something like this again I hope they’ll include a family tree in the program, because that would be so helpful in following the every changing sides of the war.

I’d be shocked if you could find a better pairing of the gorgeous language of Shakespeare and the sharp political sparing that has become increasingly popular in shows like “House of Cards” and Game of Thrones.” You have two weekends left to make it to The Wars of the Roses. Go for one show or go for all eight, just go! You’ll be able to get a concentrated dose of Shakespeare and learn a bit of world history while you’re at it.

“Virtue is choked with foul ambition.”

Don’t miss your chance to see the War of the Roses for yourself. Performances run from June 6 to June 28. Tickets are only $10 per show or $40 for a festival pass, which allows you to see all eight shows. Each performance will be held at the Irvington Lodge, 5515 E. Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN, 46219. For more information, a complete schedule of the shows or to purchase tickets, visit ETC’s site here.
Photos Courtesy of the EclecticPond Theatre Company

May 27, 2014

The Wars of the Roses

In a city that rarely sees a production of Shakespeare without an easily recognizable name, the EclecticPond Theatre Company (ETC) has become a welcome respite. The group, which was founded in 2010, has embraced some of the Bard’s lesser-known works, with productions like “The Comedy of Errors” and “Shakespeare Wrote What? and “10x10.” Now, about to close its third season, ETC decided to tackle something big.
Their latest endeavor is the most ambitious to date, “The War of the Roses” covers eight of Shakespeare’s histories using on eight actors. The shows will be spaced over the course of four weekends with different batches shown on different days. Audience members will have the opportunity to see the shows all in one day, two at a time or four at a time. This unique experience, which has been in the works for more than a year, begins in June. The cast and crew are excited to see how this new challenge unfolds. There are three directors sharing the responsibility for the eight shows and each actor is taking on multiple characters, learning hours and hours of lines. 
“I have absolute and total faith in the cast we’ve assembled,” said Artistic Director Thomas Cardwell. “We had to make some tough decisions when we were casting, but we’ve got a great group.” 
Each play has been condensed into a single hour, allowing ETC to fit multiple shows in each night. The eight actors will start with a base costume and as they shift from character to character they add specific props and colored elements which will make them easy to identify. The goal of the festival is not to appeal only to aficionados of the Bard; it’s to make the work accessible to anyone and everyone who is curious about it. The extensive cast of characters and warring nations should appeal to fans of “Game of Thrones” and “Lord of the Rings” as much as Shakespeare lovers. 
“Audiences like to be challenged, they just don’t like to know they’re being challenged,” said Thomas Cardwell. “They need to be actively engaged.” 
The goal of the shows, in addition to providing some incredible entertainment, is to give people a chance to experience these plays the way they were meant to be seen. Seeing Shakespeare performed instead of reading it breathes life into each play. Seeing them back-to-back, whether it’s over the course of a few weekends or all in one day, is a chance to see the history unfold in the order it happened.
“We’re still living these stories today,” said Kate Homan, one of the eight actors in War of the Roses. “There’s politics and war in the world and these shows teach you a lot about yourself and how you respond to those things.” 
EclecticPond’s original mission was to breathe new life into classics. Founded by Polly Heinkel, Thomas and Catherine Cardwell, the organization came from a mutual love of Shakespeare the trio discovered while living in England. Catherine Cardwell and Heinkel were Midwesterners studying abroad and Thomas Cardwell was a Brit, acting in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Thomas and Catherine later married and moved back to her home in Indiana, where EclecticPond became a reality. The group focuses on education in addition to revamping the classics. They believe being able to perform Shakespeare for students in the midst of learning about him for the first time is crucial to igniting a lifelong love of his work. 
"Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers of western civilization,” Catherine Cardwell said. “You can see his work performed in so many different ways and it still feels fresh.”  
In the future the members of ETC would love to become more of a repertory theatre, with a full cast of actors on staff, but for now they are happy to be embarking upon some incredible new projects. They will continue to bring Hoosiers excellent productions of shows that have fallen by the wayside and The War of the Roses is sure to be a highlight for theatre-goers this summer.
“Live theatre is incredible because it forces people to use their imaginations,” Thomas Cardwell said. “Anytime you can spark people’s imagination you are encouraging their creativity as well!”
Don’t miss your chance to see the War of the Roses for yourself. Performances run from June 6 to June 28. Tickets are only $10 per show or $40 for a festival pass, which allows you to see all eight shows. Each performance will be held at the Irvington Lodge, 5515 E. Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN, 46219. For more information, a complete schedule of the shows or to purchase tickets, visit ETC’s site here.
Photos courtesy of ETC

May 14, 2014

The Addams Family

Everyone’s favorite dark family is parading its macabre members across the Clowes Memorial Hall stage in a national tour of The Addams Family musical. The instantly recognizable characters are all there; from Lurch’s slow gait to Uncle Fester’s giggle.  
In this latest rendition of the group, young Wednesday has fallen in love and is struggling to understand her new “sunny” disposition. Jennifer Fogarty’s plays the tempestuous girl and her powerful voice brings songs like “Pulled” to life. When her “normal” boyfriend is introduced it’s clear that everyone is embarrassed by their parents, no matter who they are.

The patriarch of the family, Gomez, is played by Jesse Sharp. Despite the family’s ghoulish tendencies, Gomez is a loyal husband and devoted dad. His biggest problem is when one of those roles conflicts with the other and he has to keep a secret from his seductive wife, Morticia (KeLeen Snowgren.) The two always seem able to tango their way through the issues with aplomb though.
There are certainly some filler numbers, like Uncle Fester’s silly love song “The Moon and Me” but the show never takes itself too seriously. There are continuous jokes about the fact that you’re watching a musical, which is a playful reminder to the audience to have fun with it. Don’t look for too much depth or a life-altering message. Instead embrace the goofiness and *snap snap* right along with the rest of the crowd.

Don't Miss the Show

The show runs until Sunday, May 18 at Clowes Memorial Hall so hurry to get tickets. Tickets can be purchased at Clowes Memorial Hall, Old National Centre (Murat Theatre), by calling (800)-982-2787 or online here. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Photos courtesy of Broadway Across America