Five Theatre Reviews for Next Weekend

I have had such a good time seeing live theatre shows lately!

However, whenever someone asks me, “Hope, what’s good?  What should I see this weekend?” I hesitate to answer.  I am a professional librarian, so I’ve been trained to never just hand someone a book but to instead ask a few nonjudgmental questions in return so I can understand more clearly what the person is looking for when they come to the Readers Advisory desk.  “A good book” means different things to different people.  It even means different things to one person in different moods or at different points in his or her life.

The same goes for shows.

Answering is made even trickier by the fact that unlike books or movies, live theatre productions are available for a very limited time.  You really have to “seize the day” with live theatre.

So what should you seize, I mean, see next weekend?  I have no idea without talking with you directly. 

And even then, whatever I suggest, you’d still be taking a risk.  Thank goodness!  The risk is part of the fun of having a live theatre habit.

Below are some thoughts about five shows that I enjoyed recently and which will still be on next weekend.  The shows are (in alphabetical order by title):

“9 to 5: the Musical” – Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. Presented by Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis.

One of the many reasons I love going to Beef and Boards is that if you go with a friend or family member that you haven’t seen in a while, there is plenty of time in which to catch up and enjoy each other’s company as well as enjoy the show. 

My good friend Dawn and I went to see “9 to 5” and had a great time noticing the ’70s references. (Remember typing with carbon paper? Remember when a female CEO was truly unthinkable as opposed to merely unusual?) We also talked about how the musical compares to the movie.  They added a love interest to the show, for example.  And, of course, they added songs – including one about not being afraid of change.

We also talked about the B&B production itself.  I especially admired the deft use of the small stage.  Dawn especially admired the dancing.  We both laughed out loud at the humor, which includes some risqué-for-B&B bits.

We didn’t talk about the fact that this is a show about friendship as well as a show about inequalities in the workplace but as I write about it now, I realize that that probably added to our enjoyment, too.  The three actors that play the three main characters not only sing beautifully, they have wonderful friendship-chemistry together on stage.  (Annie Edgerton plays feisty single mother Violet Newstead.  Sarah Hund plays timid divorcee’ Judy Bernly.  Crystal Mosser plays “Backwoods Barbie” Doralee Rhodes.)

The basic story is that three women who initially mistrust each other in a toxic work environment get a chance to join forces and improve it.  Unfortunately, they get that chance because they sort of accidentally kidnap their boss, Franklin Hart (portrayed with overt, era-appropriate sliminess by Andrew Lebon.)  It doesn’t matter that he is a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”  If they don’t figure out a way to prove he was at fault before he is missed by his would-be love slave, Roz Keith (portrayed by Joanna Krupnick as a hilarious Harriet-the-Spy gone sour), they will be in big trouble.

Other Credits:

  • Director – Eddie Curry
  • Musical director – Kristy Templet
  • Lighting design – Ryan Koharchik
  • Choreographer – Ron Morgan
  • Set design – Michael Layton
  • Costume design – Jill Kelly
  • Doug King plays both Judy’s playboy ex-husband Dick and the company’s affable owner, Mr. Tinsworthy.  Kevin Scott plays the tender young accountant that wants Violet to overlook the difference in their ages and “Let Love Grow.” The ensemble of singer/dancers includes Julia Bonnett, Danny Kingston, Sarah Ledtke, DJ Petrosino, Jeremy Sartin, Peter Scharbrough, Sally Scharbrough, Karen Webb, and Deb Wims.
  • Photo above is by Julie Curry.

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“Cinderella Unscripted” – an improv show conceived by the players at ComedySportz in downtown Indianapolis.

Unlike for ComedySportz’ regular shows, for this Friday 10pm show you must be 17 years old or older. 

The basic plot is the traditional story of the downtrodden girl that only gets to go to the ball with the help of her fairy godmother, and who drops her shoe after falling in mutual love with the prince but before telling him her name.

However, everything else – from Cinderella’s new name to the quality of the Prince’s relationship with his parents to the vehicle that he rides to look for his true love – is created out of input from the audience on the spot.  You can buy beer (and hot pretzels! yum!) during this show, so sometimes the audience gets drunk and unimaginative, but I’ve seen at least half a dozen performances of ComedySportz’ “Unscripted” shows, with different members of the ComedySportz team every time, and every time the performers have taken whatever they got from the audience and made it work to tell a story.

The show also includes improv songs and sound effects improvised by the narrator up in the sound booth.    The whole experience is a lot of fun.

Instead of credits I will refer you to the ComedySportz ensemble webpage.  The cast for “Cinderella Unscripted” could include any of the players shown there.

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 “The Musical of Musicals: the Musical!” – By Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart.  Presented by Actors Theatre of Indiana at the Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. 

I was wrung out from laughing after this one, and I’m sure I didn’t catch even half of the jokes!  It doesn’t matter if you are an expert on musical theatre or if this is your first time at the theatre, this is an entertaining show. 

It features five talented performers:  Cynthia Collins, Don Farrell, Judy Fitzgerald, Dave Ruark, and musical director Brent E. Marty as narrator from the on-stage piano.  They act/sing/dance/accompany the familiar “I can’t pay the rent” story five times.  Each time is in the style of a different musical theatre genius or pair of geniuses:  Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Oklahoma,” etc.), Stephen Sondheim (“A Little Night Music,” etc.), Jerry Herman (“Hello, Dolly!” etc.), Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” etc.), and Kander and Ebb (“Chicago,” etc.)

You can follow along by looking at technical director Bernie Killian’s colorful set design, which features theatre marquees of the five spoofs with the real names of the writer/composers.  The spoofs are irreverent but never mean-spirited.  You laugh in affectionate recognition and/or mystified delight rather than with guilt, if that makes sense. 

There are funny theatre references in everything from the words to the music to the acting to the dancing to the costumes to the lighting and sound designs.  Richard J. Roberts directed this and you can bet he incorporated every delicious reference possible.  He is the resident dramaturg for the Indiana Repertory Theatre and the kind of knowledgeable theatre junkie I aspire to be.  I wish I could have gone to his talk-back session this past Sunday and heard more about the layers of theatre lore embedded in this show.

But even without that, I left the Studio Theatre last week feeling as if I had received both a musical theatre education and an entertainment treat.

Other credits:

  • Choreographer – Michael Worcel
  • Lighting designer – Erin Meyer
  • Costume designer – Margaret Ozemet
  • Props Artisan – Sandra Belles
  • Production Stage Manager – James W. Carringer
  • Master Electrician – David Lapham
  • Production Assistant – Beth Knight-Crum
  • Production Assistant – Jeremy Cales
  • Run Crew – Judy Smith
  • Run Crew – Doris Schwandt
  • Photo above is by Adriana de Aguiar.

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“Naked Boys Singing” – conceived by Robert Schrock; written by Stephen Bates, Marie Cain, Perry Hart, Shelly Markham, Jim Morgan, David Pevsner, Rayme Sciaroni, Mark Savage, Ben Schaechter, Robert Schrock, Trane Thompson, Bruce Vilanch and Mark Winkler.  Presented at Theatre on the Square (TOTS) in downtown Indianapolis.

I went with three friends to see our friend Asia LaBouche (Doug Mellinger in everyday life) emcee a special late-night performance of this show to benefit the Damien Center.  Asia is one of the resident drag artists at Talbott Street nightclub.  I love her unique blend of larger-than-life glamour, wicked humor, and merciless-when-merited-yet compassionate-when-merited rapport with her audience.

If you go to “Naked Boys Singing” another night, you won’t get to see Asia, but this piece (heh) is now on my “see any chance I get” list for a number of other reasons.

For one thing, there was so much variety among the private parts of the eight attractive young men in TOTS’ production (and yes, they all sing and dance most of the show without wearing any clothes at all) that for a while I was curious about all other men.  One premise of the show is that everyone is curious so, during this show at least, “it’s okay to look.”  I wonder how many different productions of this show it would take to satisfy my curiosity. 

Actually…no offense to male private parts, but this one production is probably enough for me.  Speaking of curiosity, though, I am sorry I didn’t happen to be in Houston or New York City when dreamboat Paul Nicely was performing in this show.  And I am still curious about how he approached directing the show for TOTS after starring in it twice.  I imagine he brought several insights with him on how to make actors feel comfortable.

I laughed a lot – and yes, blushed a lot – at the explicitly sexual references in this show (no one actually has sex or even kisses on stage but this is not a “family-friendly” show), but I also liked that this show is not just about physical nakedness but also about emotional nakedness and other kinds of vulnerability and courage.  There is no story arc to the show as a whole, but each song tells a kind of story.  Many resonate beyond the (admittedly complex enough) world of gay men.  

For example, there is a serious song in which a man tells his former lover that he has moved on to another relationship but still misses him, and hopes his former lover misses him, too.  Who among us – gay, straight, bi, transgender, etc. – can not relate to that? 

In another song, a man who makes his living as an entertainer sings about how it is more challenging than it looks to an outsider.  I bet that’s true of almost every job.   

My favorite song is a tie.  “The Naked Maid” made me want one for myself (or really just anyone to clean my house, naked or otherwise) and I liked that it was not just a funny song about a fetish but also a song about a man owning up to his love of being looked at.  On the other hand, I was most attracted to the actor (Shannon Wise) that sings “Robert Mitchum” (that deep, rich voice! those rich, warm eyes! and yes, that cuddly-strong body!) and I love that the song is about liking what you like, “imperfections” and all, whether it fits the trendy definition of attractiveness or not.

I also like this show because – well, I don’t know what I expected but I was pleasantly surprised by the attention that had been paid in the TOTS production to all aspects of the show as a theatre piece.  I admired the choreography (by Christopher Noffke), lighting design (by Brian Noffke), and costumes (by Therese Burns, Rachel Godollei-Johnson, and Zach McGuire.)  Mind you, the costumes are mostly there because it’s arousing to watch the men take them off as they sing, but the costumes still do a good job of embellishing the show.  The live piano accompaniment by A. Paul Johnson is lovely, too.

Some of the men are more skilled and/or more experienced singers than others, but they are all good actors and dancers, and they all sing with an appealing, heartfelt conviction.  I think the vocal director, John Phillips, must be responsible for that, and I applaud him for it.

Most of all I like this odd show because after a while the usually private body parts become just part of the whole, but without shame.  And that’s huge.

Other credits:

  • Stage manager: Andrew Tillman
  • Costume/Properties: Therese Burns
  • Set/Costumes: Rachel Godollei-Johnson, Zach McGuire
  • The cast:  Ryan Dunne, Drew Eberhard, Ramon Hutchins, Doug Messinger, Evan Reed, Matt Winings, Shannon Wise, Jessiah Yoder. 

(Okay, I thought I could write maturely (whatever that means) about this show and leave it at that but I find I have to indulge in a tiny “Eeek!” after all:  I know cast member Doug Messinger from seeing him in several other shows around town.  During this show he chose me to banter with!  He took my hand under the spotlight and asked, “Are you feeling uncomfortable being dressed while I’m naked?” and I had to admit, “Yes!”  I’m laughing again, remembering.  I didn’t recognize Evan Reed during the show, but he stopped me in the lobby afterwards to thank me for giving him his first review.  He said it was for when he appeared in the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of “Macbeth” five years ago under the name Evan McCullough!  Both of my interactions with these boyish men made me feel sort of motherly and protective, and then – because I am not their mother and yet I had seen them naked (“eek!”) – I felt sort of off-kilter.  I feel even more so now, telling you that “my boys” Doug and Evan did a good job as “Naked Boys Singing.”  But they did.)

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“Next to Normal” – I wrote in detail about why I loved this intense and controversial musical about mental health in another post.  I’ll just remind you that this final weekend at the Phoenix Theatre in downtown Indianapolis includes a 7pm Wednesday performance as well as the usual Thursday-Sunday.

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Mostly I write this blog for myself and for people that are already pretty adventurous about experiencing live theatre, but I also hope that sharing my thoughts about what I’ve seen will help others to give theatre-going a try. If there is a show that calls to you but I don’t happen to have written about it, I hope you will go see it anyway.  See it and form your own opinion of it, your own relationship to it.  There are MANY choices for performance art in the Indianapolis area, with intriguing new shows opening almost every weekend.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.

©2013 Hope Baugh

One thought on “Five Theatre Reviews for Next Weekend”

  1. I liked this. My wife was a page and summer reading program coordinator at IMCPL and was pretty close to the children’s librarian at her branch. They often talked fiction and recommendations. I’m going to send her this link.

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