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Showing posts from 2010


There was trouble in Oz long before Dorothy and Toto showed up. “Wicked,” on stage now at the Murat Theatre, tells the story of how Glinda and Elphaba, aka the wicked witch of the west, first meet. Though complete opposites, the two characters form an unlikely bond. The musical, based on the novel of the same name, weaves elements of the famous children’s book into a new, darker tale, which reveals that things are not always as simple as they seem.

You’d be hard-pressed to find more beautiful and elaborate sets anywhere in Indianapolis. From simple cornfields to the sparkling Emerald City, no detail is neglected and it’s easy to forget that this is a mobile production. The fantastical costumes provide an eyeful in every scene as well.

During the performance I attended Vicki Noon starred as Elphaba and Glinda was played by the understudy, Rachel Potter. Potter hit her stride in the number “Popular,” using both physical comedy and hilarious energy to embody the perky character. Noon naile…

A Christmas Carol

Despite the heavy snowfall and treacherous roads, the Indiana Repertory Theatre welcomed a full house with sweet caroling this past weekend. Nothing could keep the crowds away from the IRT’s A Christmas Carol.

Even though the story is the same, the production is full of new elements. There is a new director, Richard J. Roberts, a new Scrooge, IRT favorite Ryan Artzberger, a new Marley, Robert Neal and a new Bob Cratchit, Jerry Richardson. Other roles featured seasoned performers who audiences have grown to love over the years.

Artzberger, who replaced the established Charles Goad as Scrooge, had some big shoes to fill. He’s a bit young to play the aged miser, but his joyful enthusiasm at the end of the show is wonderfully believable. I look forward to watching him settle into the role in future years.

As always the set, props, costumes and music are excellent. A Christmas Carol long ago found its groove and yet it manages to remain fresh each year. The supporting cast fle…

The Santaland Diaries

I first read David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries a few years back. I remember laughing until my stomach hurt, but seeing a live version of his hilarious tale is somehow even funnier. The production, currently on stage at the IndyFringe Theatre, explores Sedaris’ personal experiences working as an elf at Macy’s. This Christmas show is definitely for adults only, which of course means you know it’s going to be funny.

Scot Greenwell plays Crumpet the elf with equal parts impish glee and cynical sass. He makes acidic jokes about controlling parents, delusional Santas and his fellow elves all while learning something about the true meaning of Christmas.

Decked out in candy cane tights and a jingle bell hat, Crumpet attempts to hang on to his sanity (and dignity) in the middle of Macy’s hectic Santaland. The intentionally atrocious costume is just one small aspect of the department store’s over-the-top Christmas extravaganza. Oversized candy and fake snow crowd together to help create th…

Beef & Boards Christmas

A Beef & Boards Christmas is back for its 18th year in a row. The variety show includes dozens of Christmas songs, gorgeous costumes and even a flying reindeer. Though this production has been around for almost two decades, this year director Doug Stark has revamped the stale elements and introduced some new ones.

For the first time, Eddie Curry acts as the show’s emcee, announcing performers and telling bad jokes. His easy banter provides the perfect does of sass to balance out the holiday saccharine. He holds the show together and keeps things moving along nicely.

The lead quartet features Christine Mild, who made a splash in this year’s “Always… Patsy Cline.” She’s a great fit for the show and adding her beautiful voice to the mix works well. John Vessels, who has quickly become one of my favorite performers at Beef & Boards, is another new addition. He’s shown that he is wonderful in comedic roles, like “Smoke on the Mountain,” but this role proves he has the v…

My Name is Asher Lev

The Phoenix Theatre’s Frank & Katrina Basile stage is current home to “My Name is Asher Lev.” The play, based on the Chaim Potok’s novel of the same name, explores the meaning of religion and art in a Hasidic Brooklyn community in the ‘50s.
Asher Lev is raised by his troubled mother, who was scarred by the unexpected death of her sibling, and his temperamental father. At a young age Asher shows a natural proclivity for painting and wants to become an artist. His parents are at a loss for how to respond to their son’s gift. His father is particularly baffled by his son’s desire to draw the world around him and is ashamed that he can’t let go of his “hobby.”

John Michael Goodson plays Asher from age 6 to adulthood with a giddy childishness at moments and an emotionally raw vulnerability at others. He’s tortured and confused by his compulsion to draw. First he questions the world with a child’s innocence, later he remains baffled by the same questions that haunted his youth. Bill Simmo…

Mary's Wedding

Mary’s Wedding, on stage now at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, is a quiet play about falling in love, the horrors of war and the place where those two elements sometimes meet. Set in the Canadian frontier at the start of WWI we meet Mary on the eve of her wedding as she dreams of her first love, Charlie. The two cross paths by chance when a thunderstorm forces them to seek shelter in a nearby barn. Soon their sweet courtship is interrupted by the harsh realities of trench warfare.

As always, director James Still brought his own unique charm to the show. He decided to add a live cellist on stage throughout the performance. The talented musician is tucked away in an alcove ten-feet above the stage, but his presence is known every time he gently slides his bow across his strings. The sweet notes heighten each moment of exhilaration or pain and they add a palpable elegance to the production.

Wearing a simple white shift Gwendolyn Whiteside plays Mary with unbridled enthusiasm. In some scene…

The Belle of Amherst

Creating a play about the life of a recluse is no doubt a difficult undertaking, but “The Belle of Amherst,” on stage now at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre, manages it beautifully. Using facts about the life of poet Emily Dickinson’s, along with her letters and poems, playwright William Luce created the one-woman show celebrating Dickinson’s life.

The two-act production is set in Emily’s bedroom and living room and the stage in richly decorated as a 19th century New England home. Luce seamlessly wove many of the author’s own words into a candid conversation with the audience. This format allows people to connect with the poet on a personal level, while at the same time having a chance to appreciate her lyrical prose. Her poems are sprinkled throughout the show. At times she reads them aloud, at others she is simple making observations of the world in the only way she knows how.
Carrie Schlatter plays the poet with a childlike wonder of the world. She brings and impish glee to the role,…


It goes without saying that anyone who manages to snag a lead in the national tour of “Dreamgirls” obviously has the pipes to fill the role. The musical, currently on stage at the Murat Theatre, is a celebration of soul and ‘60s R&B as it chronicles the rise of the Dreamettes, a trio of female singers.

Each member of the cast brings a unique flavor to the production. Curtis is the picture of blind ambition. The pompadoured Jimmy blows the audience away with his over-the-top charisma. Deena transforms from an innocent girl to a strong woman. Supporting players, like C.C. White and Lorrell, provide just the right balance of enthusiasm and earnestness. They leave the main stage open for the big personalities, but provide a much-needed grounding element.

Effie, played by Indianapolis native Moya Angela, is a boiling pot of sass and attitude. Even when she is silent she smolders with an anger that radiates throughout the theater. She is shameless in her opinions, often to her detriment, …

White Christmas

The holidays have come really early at Beef & Boards this year. In addition to its traditional Christmas show, the dinner theatre is currently putting on a production of “White Christmas.”

The production’s songs include of mix of hits from the original perennial favorite film, like “Sisters” and “White Christmas” and other well-known standards, like “I Love A Piano.” Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye left some big shoes to fill, but Curt Dale Clark and Timothy Ford take the reigns with gusto. Clark is particularly good in a jazzy version of “Blue Skies.”

Christine Mild returns to B&B’s stage after her outstanding performance in the title role of “Always Patsy Cline” earlier this year. She plays Betty Haynes and once again belts out some beautiful show-stoppers, particularly “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”

John Vessels, who became a B&B staple after the Smoke on the Mountain shows, pops up in a great form to provide some laugh-out-loud moments. His perfect comedic timing is a great…

AMERICAN PLAYERS THEATRE: All's Well That Ends Well, Waiting for Godot and The Syringa Tree

When you arrive first arrive at the American Players Theatre in Wisconsin you feel as though you've stumbled upon Nick Bottom's acting troupe practicing in the woods in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's secluded and everything seems tinged with magic. As you wind up a small path, farther and farther into the forest, you find the Up-the-Hill Theatre.

The wide open amphitheater provides stadium seating around an intimate stage. Young and old alike gather there to see productions put on by the professional theater. Even caught in a slight rain, audience members sit enthralled as the stage lights up. This is how Shakespeare's plays were meant to be absorbed, in the open-air, under the stars, performed with passion and humor, not just read from dusty pages.

All's Well That Ends Well

This Shakespearean "comedy" tells the story of the sweet Helena, the daughter of a poor physician. She falls for Bertram, the son of the countess who helped raise her and cleverly…


The Indiana Repertory Theater opened its 39th season with “Holes.” Originally a young adult book by Louis Sacher, the story was turned into a movie in 2003. Now brought to life on IRT’s stage, audiences can see in the story of Stanley Yelnats unfold in person.

A teenage boy is wrongfully convicted of a crime and shipped off to a correctional camp in the middle of the Texas desert. There he meets an odd collection of misfits who spend each day digging holes in the desert.

The set is an impressive feat. It takes a particular talent to turn an intimate stage into an expansive desert filled with deep holes. It also has to accommodate a pick-up truck, couch and boat moving on and off during various scenes. Scenic Designer Robert M. Koharchik managed to design something that worked beautifully, giving the feeling of limitless space despite the restrictions.

Ben Tebbe and Jennifer Johansen, both regular IRT players, are wonderful as Stanley’s doting parents and in the many other roles they took…

Mary Poppins

Broadway Across America has opened its season with Mary Poppins at the Murat. The classic show brings the children's story to life in a musical extravaganza.

Bert, a cheerful jack-of-all-trades, acts as the show's all-seeing narrator. He is at times a painter and at others a chimney sweep, but he's always around. Nicolas Dromard plays the role with a wonderful warmth and a cocky accent is as thick as the London fog. He also wows the crowd with his gravity-defying antics and particularly shines in the show's best number, "Step In Time," an elaborate tap routine with elements of STOMP.

The show manages to capture many of the elements that made the original movie so magical, including Mary's bottomless carpet bag and rooms that help clean themselves. These tricks are difficult to pull off on a stage in front of an audience, but the production manages it smoothly.

The audience will recognize many of songs from the Disney musical, but there are are few new ones. …


Vivian Bearing is a 17th century poetry professor who specializes in the sonnets of John Donne. After decades of choosing work over a personal life, she's been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Margaret Edson's play is a brutally honest look at one woman's fight against cancer and coming to terms with the world she's made for herself. This intelligent play speaks to the loneliness our society can breed when we wrap ourselves up in our work and alienate ourselves from others.

Even in this most dire time in her life Vivian can't help condescending to those she considers less intelligent than her, even those who show her affection. Her defensive nature has been built up to the point where she doesn't know how to ask for help or show weakness. She values intellect over kindness, even though it has left her alone.

Vivian is ironically facing the cold professionalism of doctors in the hospital in the same way her students have had to deal with her. Both she and her doct…


History's most famous love triangle, between King Arthur, his wife Guenevere and his best knight, Lancelet, is on stage now at Beef & boards Dinner Theatre in the celebrated musical "Camelot."

Beef & Board's owner Douglas Stark plays Arthur, the king of Camelot. Lerner and Loewe created the character to be a bit like Winnie-the-Pooh. Thinking may vex him, but his heart is sincere and he strives to bring peace to his lands. Stark captures the king's playful, yet troubled air masterfully. Jeff Stockberger adds a comedic boost as a quintessential Brit, peppering his conversations with "what whats" and sputtering indignation.

Krista Severeid stars as Guenevere, playing opposite her real-life husband Tony Lawson, as Lancelot, in their first Beef & Boards show since their wedding last fall. Severeid's voice is lovely and perfectly suited for Guenevere's duets and solos. Lawson, who played a similar role as Gaston in Beauty and the…

Church Basement Ladies

Over the past three years Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre's audiences have enjoyed the antics of the Smoke in the Mountains clan every summer. This year "Church Basement Ladies" fills the big shoes vacated by the Sanders clan. Though the "Smoke" shows are a tough act to follow, the cooking ladies of a Minnesota Lutheran church rise to the challenge.

The show is set in the 1960s in the church basement's kitchen as four women prepare meals for a fundraiser, funeral and a wedding. Dressed in sensible shoes and aprons, the women cook up heaping Norwegian dishes. In one musical number they celebrate the joys of cooking with butter and doing the "Pale Food Polka."

The cast works wonderfully together. The oldest of the group struggles to accept changes in the church, while the youngest tries to square her parent's beliefs with her own. Karen Pappas portrayal of Mavis is especially fun. She brings an impressive energy to her role, which provides …

Reasons To Be Pretty

"Show me a beautiful woman and I'll show you a guy that's tired of F***ing her."

As crude as that line is, it perfectly sums up the character of Kent, who says it during "Reasons to be Pretty," on stage now at the Phoenix Theatre.

The show premiered off-Broadway in 2008 and is the final play in Neil LaBute's trilogy about society's perception of beauty. The Shape of Things, the first play, was turned into a film starring Paul Rudd. The second, Fat Pig, was part of the Phoenix Theatre's 2007 season.

"Reasons to be Pretty" is about a couple, Stephanie and Greg, who fall out after she find out he called her face "regular" compared to a pretty co-worker's face. On the surface it's simple enough, but it delves much deeper into other issues in their relationship and in Greg's relationship with his self-centered friend Kent.

Angela Plank, who also co-starred in Fat Pig, plays Stephanie. She does an excellent job exuding…


The Theater Within has once again chosen a play that tackles a complicated subject. "Proof," the 2001 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, deals with the thin line between genius and madness and the strain it can place on a family.

The story begins with Catherine on the eve of her 25th birthday. After years of caring for her mentally unstable father, a famed mathematician, she now has to cope with his death. She put her life on hold to care for him and the years have made her caustic and distrustful.

The cast finds its footing in the second half, moving past stereotypes into the meat of the roles. Glenn Dobbs plays the struggling mathematician and he shines in his scenes with Catherine (Danna Sheridan). His convincing paternal nature makes the audience understand her devotion to him. Jeremy Kinnett is fittingly awkward but sincere as Hal, Robert's social-stunted former student.

Kristin Katsu excellent as Claire, Catherine's older sister. With her A-type personali…

High School Musical

For this year's annual Family show, Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre chose Disney High School Musical. The plot deals with high school cliques, pressure to succeed and balancing of diverse interests. But this is certainly not a serious drama. Perky songs and choreographed dance numbers keep things moving quickly and over-the-top drama queens provide comic relief.

The show features only two adult roles, which means decades of experience is not in the cards for most of the cast. Productions that depend so heavily on young actors can be tricky, but B&B manages it with ease. The cast brings a freshness and energy to the show that's infectious.

Gabriella, played by Jessica Ann Murphy, has both a beautiful voice and a natural ease, which makes her performance believable. She and her co-star, Tim Barsten (Troy), work well together. They have great stage chemistry.

Scenic designer Michael Layton turns a movie, that moves throughout an entire high school, into a single …

Jersey Boys

Long before we met the delinquents of Jersey Shore, there was "Jersey Boys," the musical that took Broadway by storm in 2005. It tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the group that wrote and sang dozens of hits that sold a million records, like "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and "Walk Like a Man."

The Broadway Across America show, currently on stage at the Murat Theatre, has it all. It's the story of an American Dream that came true for a few blue-collar boys. Four guys from Jersey created a brand new sound that allowed them to rocket up the charts in the 1960s. The boys' unexpected success was, as it always is, both a blessing and a curse.

(Joseph Leo Bwarie as Frankie Valli)

Joseph Leo Bwarie plays Frankie Valli, the talented lead singer. Bwarie's unbelievable range mimics Valli own unique pitches. We meet Valli when he's an innocent 16-year-old and watch his journey to stardom.

The three other leads, Nick, Tomm…