January 24, 2011

The Diary of Anne Frank

Despite a massive leak back stage at the Indiana Repertory Theatre on Friday night, the show went on. The Diary of Anne Frank is the infamous true story of a teenage Jewish girl who is forced to go into hiding with her family in Amsterdam during World War II.

The stress builds as the eight people share a tiny living space and limited food supply for more than a year. In hiding they were oddly protected from the horrors that where unfolding in the city around them, but they had their own struggles. To live every moment of your life, especially during your adolescence, under the scrutiny of others, is its own special kind of hell. Under those circumstances, I think anyone would be pushed to the breaking point.

The cast includes many newcomers who, along with IRT regulars like Constance Macy, create a powerful picture of life in the secret annex. The play depends heavily on the chemistry of the cast, so any weak link would have hindered the production. Instead, each actor brings their best to the roles and together they create a tight-knit group bonded by their awful circumstances. From Craig Wroe’s kind-hearted and steadfast Mr. Frank to Paul Kiernan’s desperate Mr. van Daan, each player was in synch.

Rebecca Buller embodies the over-the-top emotions of a teenager as the flirtatious and dramatic Anne Frank. Her flamboyant ways seem trying at first, as I’m sure they did for the real people she lived with, but as the seriousness of the situation increases, her bravado provides a welcome respite from the tense atmosphere.

Rob Johansen is perfect as Mr. Dussel, the single dentist who joins the Franks and van Daans in hiding. He demonstrates the man’s restrained inner turmoil with deft expertise. With the simplest awkward joke or even the inability to say anything at all, Johansen makes the audience feel his pain.

The production’s score, provided by Andrew Hopson was almost a character in and of itself. Each striking piece set the mood and carried the show along beautifully. The period costumes and set both enhance the show as well. The stage becomes an old building, divided into small rooms portrays the strange mixed feelings of claustrophobia at times and coziness at others.

One of the most touching scenes in the show is the group’s simple dinner on the first night of Hanukkah. It was a wonderful reminder to find joy in the simplest things. But just when you forget, for a second, how dire their lives have become, something reminds you that war never takes a holiday.

Don't Miss the Show

The Indiana Repertory Theatre is located at 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, one-half block west of the Circle Center Mall between northbound Illinois St. and southbound Capitol Ave. "
The Diary of Anne Frank" runs until Thursday, Feb. 24 on IRT's Main Stage. Times for performances can be found at www.irtlive.com or by calling the IRT box office at (317) 635-5252. To purchase tickets call (317) 635-5252 or order online at www.irtlive.com

Photos Courtesy of the Indiana Repertory Theatre

January 12, 2011

9 to 5: The Musical

Doralee, Violet, and Judy are three very different women. Their lives intersect while working in an office in the 1970s in the musical 9 to 5 on stage now at Broadway Across America. Many will remember the 1980 movie, on which the show is based. The trio has been exploited in various ways by their chauvinist boss, Mr. Hart, for too long. They decide to kidnap him and run the office themselves.

The show is undeniably dated, women no longer put up with what was considered "normal" in 1970s offices. At the same time, the more important theme, friendship, is still relevant. Diana DeGarmo is Doralee Rhodes (originally played by Dolly Parton), a busty, country blonde too often judged by her looks. DeGarmo is the spitting image and sound of Parton herself. Dee Hoty plays Violet with a flustered, but competent sincerity. She shines in fast-paced numbers like "Around Here."

Judy (Mamie Parrisas) is newly single and trying to find her footing and self-worth after being left by her husband. She transitions from timid to tough throughout the show. The beginning and end of the show are narrated, via video, by Dolly Parton herself and no one can quite compare to Parton's own presence.

The playful show is the equivalent to a popcorn flick, lots of laughs. Don't look for a life-altering moral, but it's certainly entertaining.

Don't Miss the Show

The show runs until Sunday, Jan. 16 at Clowes Memorial Hall so hurry to get tickets to the show. Tickets can be purchased at Clowes Memorial Hall, The Murat Theatre, by calling (800)-982-2787 or online at www.broadwayacrossamerica.com. 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

January 4, 2011

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre opened its 2011 season with the Tony-award-winning musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The title is a mouthful and so are many of the words the actors must spell, but the mood is playful.

The story follows a handful of middle school students who have made it to the county spelling bee. All of the “students” are played by adults which adds an extra layer of absurd humor. The premise is reminiscent of the movie Best in Show, but instead of poking gentle fun at dog shows, spelling bees are the target. Like the film, Spelling Bee is incredibly funny, but contains some adult humor.

(Leaf Coneybear)

The six main spellers include the politically correct Logainne Schwarzandgrubenierre, timid Olive Ostrovsky, perfectionist Marcy Park, obnoxious William Barfee, boyscout Chip Tolentino and free-spirited Leaf Coneybear. Four volunteer audience members are also chosen at each show to become part of the competition.

Seth A. Tucker provided my favorite performance of the night as Leaf, a gentle hippie with a great imagination. He’s convinced he’s not very smart, but remains perfectly content to share the stage with his ambitious competitors.
Tiana Checchia was also a sweet delight as Olive, a soft-spoken girl who considers the dictionary to be among her best friends. Her shy, earnest nature encourages the confident Barfee to question the importance of always coming out on top.

I was thrilled to see Paul Hansen as Vice Principal Panch. This is his first performance at Beef & Boards, but I loved seeing him in a few recent Indianapolis Civic Theatre productions, including “Bus Stop.” He delivered his lines with the perfect comedic timing, especially when providing the spellers with sentence examples for each of their words.

(Olive and her parents)

I enjoyed seeing a few B&B’s regulars, like Jayson Elliott, Sarah Hund, Dominic Sheahan-Stahl and Licia Watson in very different roles. Each one embraces their character, quirks and all, providing hilariously awkward moments for the audience’s delight (poor Chip!). The show’s success lies in the strength and chemistry of its many characters. Even the role of “comfort counselor” becomes noteworthy in the hands of the gruff, but loveable DaRon Lamar Williams. The audience finds itself laughing with, not at, these preteens in the midst of all the horrors and insecurities of puberty. We are rooting for them and it’s easy to forget they’re not really kids.

Don't Miss the Show

Performances: The show runs until Jan. 30. 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. 

Tickets: To purchase tickets call (317) 872-9664 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Prices range from $35 to $58 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