Pop goes the weekend

Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama on the 2004-09 version of
Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama on the 2004-09 version of “Battlestar Galactica.” Meme from some joker on the internet, photo from NBC/Universal

All the geeky aspects of pop culture go on display at Indy PopCon, Friday through Sunday at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis. This critical mass of gaming, internet culture, comics, costumes, TV, movies, anime, fantasy and sci-fi features celebrity guests including Edward James Olmos (“Battlestar Galactica”), Sam Jones (“Flash Gordon”), John DeLancie (“Star Trek”), Malcolm Goodwin (“iZombie”), Sophie Henderson (“Doctor Who”), “Face Off” winner Rashaad Santiago and former WWE star Chris Masters.

This is neither the only big thing downtown nor the only convention in town. A few blocks away, at Military Park, just north of the Eiteljorg Museum, is the Eiteljorg’s annual Indian Market and Festival, celebrating Native American art and culture 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There is also a more expensive pre-party on Friday, see website for details.

As for the other con, out at the Wyndham Indianapolis West, horror extravaganza Days of the Dead returns with appearances by Tobin Bell of the “Saw” movie series, wrestling legend Rick Flair, “Phantasm” star Angus Scrimm, “Tales From the Crypt”s John Kassir, the now-grown-up twins from “The Shining,” and legendary hosts Joe Bob Briggs and Indy’s own Sammy Terry – as well as numerous other slasher and suspense stars, makeup effects artists and more.

As for fresh theatre, there is a lot of buzz around the premiere of Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre‘s “La Caza Azul,” based on the life of artist Frida Kahlo. It will be on stage just this weekend, Friday through Sunday at the Tarkington theater in The Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel.

Looking ahead, we must note that, in addition to next week featuring the Fourth of July (and the arrival of the Rolling Stones at IMS – are the Brits upstaging our holiday?) there will also be another home-grown sci-fi convention, the 35th InConJunction July 3-5 at the Indianapolis Marriott East – where John&Wendy are among the convention volunteers.

– Go have some fun!

Review: Casey Ross Productions’ “Stoops” conquers

Cast of Casey Ross Productions' "She Stoops to Conquer," Friday, June 19, 2015 -- photo by John Belden
Cast of Casey Ross Productions’ “She Stoops to Conquer,” Friday, June 19, 2015 — photo by John Belden

By John Lyle Belden and Wendy Carson

It’s too easy to call the Grove Haus, the funky former church building in Indy’s Fountain Square district where Casey Ross puts on her plays, the “Groove House” – because Miss “Uncanny Casey” is so, well, groovy.

And speaking of mildly-outdated but still appropriate words, Ross takes the 1700s Oliver Goldsmith comedy “She Stoops to Conquer” and gives it a groovalicious update.

Like the 18th century, the 1980s were a time of big hair, regretful fashion and wacky music. In the meantime, Florida has become synonymous with rednecks, stupidity and all manner of bizarre behavior. Add these two elements to the script of the classic and slightly bawdy play and you have CRP’s latest entertaining diversion. The tale of arranged marriages (including one between two cousins), mistaken identities, besotted or scheming individuals, and overall confusion meshes well with the chosen setting.

Dick and Dorothy Hardcastle (David Malloy and Ross) own both a home and a motel, sufficiently tacky that one can’t tell one from the other. Dick wants charming daughter Kate (Ann Marie Elloitt) to check out his old friend’s son Marlow (Max Jones), whom they haven’t met, as a potential husband; while Dorothy wants her drunken slacker son Tony (Taylor Cox) to marry his cousin (and Kate’s bestie) Constance (Veronica Orech) to better secure their property, especially the precious jewels that Constance inherited and Dorothy is holding onto as dowry.

Marlow arrives with best friend Hastings (Tyler Gordon), who has cultivated a romance with Constance. From here on, the plot gets twisty, as Tony pranks Marlow into thinking the Hardcastle home is the motel, so the young suitor treats Dick like the hired help and pines for Kate, thinking she is a just a maid and not the lady he was supposed to meet – the girl, in turn, plays along for comic situations that would do the Bard proud. Meanwhile, Hastings and Constance conspire to run away to marry, enlisting Tony’s help in getting the valuable jewels. Everything goes wrong, and, this being a comedy, everything goes right in the end.

The play not only makes use of the small stage at the head of the house, but also the central floor area, with actors occasionally sitting with and talking directly to the audience. This intimate staging not only helps us connect with the action, but also precludes the need for sticking microphones to the actors. This is a refreshing change from most Indy-area community theatre. However, in this environment, enunciation and vocal projection are more critical, and any failings are more noticeable. Opening night only had a few unclear lines, which no doubt have been worked on during this intervening week, and the story was easy to follow.

The stage set is appropriately tacky, with a couple of in-joke posters, and Ross’s sound design includes a lot of snippets of ’80s hits, keeping the mood light and fun.

Under the direction of partner “Fedora Dave” Matthews, Ross makes a welcome return to the boards, exuding gleeful maternal malevolence under a burgundy wig. Elliott is 100 percent pure-cane sweetness; Cox does slackerdom proud; Gordon is suave and valiant; Orech is comically sharp; and Molloy is fun as the blustering patriarch. Also notable is John Garlick, who comes in late in the play as Marlow’s father. Jones does great at his complex character, having to come off as naive, shy and buffoonish, but then win us over as the romantic hero at the end (Elliott-as-Kate’s kind, forgiving nature helps).

The setting doesn’t translate 100 percent, but is close enough when one considers Southern society can be at least as idiosyncratic as Olde England. One reference to pounds instead of dollars sounds out of place, but can be forgiven.

The show has one more weekend, Friday through Sunday at 1001 Hosbrook St. Tickets are $15. Get info at facebook.com/caseyrossproductions and go get your groove on.

“Idiot Anthems” – We should have more shows like this

“Ja-ja-ja-jaded…” Carly Kincannon shows the softer side of Aerosmith during an informal cabaret show June 17 at Theatre on the Square. — photo by John Belden

By Wendy Carson

Wednesday night, select members of the “American Idiot” cast got together at Theatre on the Square for an “Idiot Cabaret” concert. Even though most notice of the show was by Facebook invite or other theater insider word-of-mouth, the crowd was decently large and up for anything.

Taking the stage dressed in what would best be called “casual black” were Lydia Burke, Lisa Ermel, Olivia Huntley and Carly Kincannon, with castmates Spencer Curnutt and Matthew Lee. (“American Idiot” continues through July 5 at the Phoenix Theatre.)

The theme for the evening was “Songs of Angst,” with the first half of the set being popular songs that were meaningful to each performer during their school years and the second half being favorite songs of angst from Broadway.

While the radio hits were familiar, each singer chose their own arrangement, and while most were in stark contrast to the original, all of them were equally beautiful. Who would have thought that “Jaded” by Aerosmith would work perfectly as a torch song?

The whole show was spectacular, with each singer bringing their all — even the few technical glitches between the songs were entertaining. Everyone who missed this event really missed out on a unique and fantastic show.

For anyone out there who didn’t know about the cabaret show, John and I are doing our best to find out about these events as soon as possible and will be posting that information here, as well as the Facebook page, so you won’t miss another one.

Personally, I would really like to see more of these cabaret events happening. Hopefully, someone will step up and organize them into a monthly occurrence. Besides replacing the “Glee” withdrawal most of us are feeling, the opportunity to showcase many of our talented local actors in a more relaxed light would be very welcome. Especially our teen and young adult performers would get a chance to test their range and gain more experience. There is so much potential for some amazing shows, plus, the one-night-only scheduling should help to make the audiences more diverse yet still very supportive.

“Stoops” and suds this weekend

Gettin' Stoop-id: The cast of Casey Ross Productions'
Gettin’ Stoop-id: The cast of Casey Ross Productions’ “She Stoops to Conquer” — CRP photo

John just got finished updating the Stage Calendar to add the very full season just announced at Theatre on the Square, as well as a few shows presented by Wisdom Tooth. The TOTS season includes “Batboy: The Musical,” Sondheim’s “Passion,” Tony nominee “Skylight,” the return of “Miss Gulch Returns” and “8 Reindeer Monologues” – the latter of which runs at the same time as the stage version of “A Christmas Story” – the intriguing “Porn Stars at Home,” and wraps up next summer with a production of the musical “Rent.”

As for fresh theatre this week, local playwright Casey Ross adapts and stars in the 1700s comedy “She Stoops to Conquer,” opening Friday at Grove Haus, 1001 Hosbrook St., near Fountain Square. Since it’s too hot for powdered wigs, the play is reset in 1980s Florida. Given the level of insanity the state is known for, this should be good.

The city’s oldest beer fest, Brew-Ha-Ha, returns Saturday to the street in front of the Phoenix Theatre (700 block of N. Park Ave.), for which the event is a fundraiser. The price is $30 in advance, $35 on site, but you get as many samples as you can handle from 29 local and area breweries. Hours are 3 to 7 p.m., but if you get the advance VIP ticket for 50 bucks, you can start at 2 p.m. Rather than drink and drive, you could consider sobering up at the Phoenix’s “American Idiot” at 8 (costs its own ticket, get a reservation in case it sells out again).

Thursday night we are checking out the 10@10 Comedy Open Mic at ComedySportz, 721 Mass Ave. Looks like it’s a weekly event until CSz gets tired of it. Aside from its regular all-ages improv comedy “games,” ComedySportz also has mature-audiences long-form improv late on Friday nights – lately they have been skewering the “Wizard of Oz.”

– See you in the audience!

Have the time of your life

From memecrunch.com
From memecrunch.com

No big openings in local theatre companies this weekend – feel free to see continuing productions at Phoenix, TOTS, Beef & Boards and IndyFringe, as well as what Bobdirex and Eclectic Pond are up to.

Actually, there is one “new” show in town. The touring production of the stage musical version of “Dirty Dancing” is under way through Sunday at Clowes Memorial Hall. Sounds like fun, if you loved the movie, and who doesn’t love that movie?!

For us, this is one of our favorite weekends of the year. Aside from the bigger-than-ever Pride festival, there is the Independent Music and Arts Festival at the Harrison Center for the Arts at the corner of 16th and Delaware streets downtown. The IMAF is all free, and you get to see some great local art, shop among area artisans and crafters, and see and hear several great musical acts.

Meanwhile, just a block away from IMAF is the Talbot Street Art Fair, celebrating its 60th year Saturday and Sunday. Entry is free, with dozens and dozens of booths to check out. Many people complement Wendy on her tie-dye dresses; she gets them at the Talbot Street fair, from Kiss of Color. Please check them out.

Away from downtown, there is also the Indianapolis mayor’s office-hosted Veterans picnic from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Garfield Park (free food for those who served and their families), and Holy Rosary’s annual Italian Fest Friday and Saturday with lots of generously-portioned food. On Sunday, the 4th Annual Irvington Folk Festival (through June 20) gets started just a few miles east of downtown.

So there you are: Go have some fun!

Review: An imperfect “10”

Sean Baker (right) rehearses with Dan Flahive, who is also in the cast of Baker's
Sean Baker (right) rehearses with Dan Flahive, who is also in the cast of Baker’s “Perfect ’10′”, holding its world premiere at Theatre on the Square in downtown Indianapolis. — TOTS photo

By Wendy Carson

Theater on the Square is currently presenting the world premiere of a new play, “The Perfect ’10’,” by local musical talent, Sean Baker. Baker has a long musical history in the Circle City, comprising of being part of several bands, The Leisure Kings being the most well known. He is also the house pianist for Chef Joseph’s at the Connoisseur room, the current and more upscale incarnation of Agio.

Being an autobiographical piece, the story is a new artistic offering for Baker. However, it does fall short of its goal. It plays more as a play being workshopped than a finished product.

This is not to say that it is entirely unwatchable and does not show some promise. The story development in the second act is quite compelling and does prove that, with some polish and rewrites, that this play will work.

There are quite a few good laughs to be had, especially Sean’s encounter with “Beaux Derek.” Maybe with the trimming of unneeded characters, Justine and Allyson in particular, it would flow better. The interactions with Sean’s therapist might be better reflected with her in voice-over, save for a late-night phone call which plays perfectly. Also, while the bartender’s actions are quite funny, he does tend to upstage and draw attention from some of the more vital dialogue. A reining in of his antics is needed. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to add a few more songs and eventually turn the show into a full-fledged musical.

I would advise you to either watch or re-watch the movie, “10” (1979, directed by Blake Edwards, starring Dudley Moore and Bo Derek) prior to the show as there are quite a few inside jokes and nods to it in the play. Still, if you’d like to catch a rising talent at beginning of his writing career, go and check out “The Perfect ’10’” at TOTS, 627 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis. Call 317-685-8687.

Review: Bobdirex’s “Jesus Christ Superstar”

From left, Patrick Clements, Joe Doyel and Julia Perillo as Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene in Bobdirex's production of
From left, Patrick Clements, Joe Doyel and Julia Perillo as Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene in Bobdirex’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” — Photo by Zach Rosing

By John Lyle Belden

Producer and director Bob Harbin, a/k/a Bobdirex, is notable for bringing shows that are new and/or rarely-seen in Indy, and always thought-provoking. So, as he now presents the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice standard “Jesus Christ Superstar” – which has featured rocker Sebastian Bach, cinema-version star Ted Neeley and others over the last decade or two – I had to ask, as I prepared what I would write here: What new thing(s) does Bob feel he is showing us with his “Superstar”?

So I asked him directly, and he generously responded:

“I’ve seen a couple of those local productions, and always felt like little attention had been paid to casting people who could really sing the leads – I felt like I was being yelled at when I think the folks were simply trying to hit the notes. I’ve wanted to investigate this show, but promised myself I’d never do it without the voices.
“I also wanted to do something that didn’t feel like it had to move to another time zone to make it relevant, and cast it with the best folk with a blind eye to gender, color, size, etc., which is something that’s important to me every time.
“I really believe in the abilities of our local talent – we just have to pay attention to where we put them, and sometimes wait until the right ones are available. I love that the performance you’ve just seen and that you’ve just enjoyed was done by someone who could be your next-door neighbor.”

Well, he nailed it on the voices. In “Superstar,” playing Thursday through Sunday and June 19-21 at the former Civic Theatre stage at Marian University, Joe Doyel sings with all the necessary power needed for the lead role, Judas Iscariot.

(For those unfamiliar with the plot of Webber and Rice’s musical Passion Play, much of the story is told from the point of view of Judas. His frustration at, and arguably misunderstanding of, Jesus’ actions at the end of his ministry lends a thought-provoking perspective without compromising the sacred aspects of the Gospels. We also see Jesus’ frustration at followers who don’t seem to grasp his purpose, Mary Magdalene’s responses to her master’s fading morale, and the Jewish leaders – driven by politics as much as faith – conspiring against what they see as a “dangerous” man.)

For the other male lead, Patrick Clements embodies the full range of feelings – gentle, irritated, consoling, angry, despairing and humbled – necessary to portray Jesus. He never overdoes it, which would bring too much attention to the actor rather than the Christ he represents, but you still sense the authority he brought to his red-letter biblical utterances.

But this play’s biggest revelation is 17-year-old Julia Perillo as Mary. Her sweet, strong voice is tested but doesn’t break, providing the necessary feminine counterpoint to Judas’ proud bluster. When she sings of her beloved Christ, “he scares me so,” we shudder with her.

In another vocal coup, Harbin has brought Michael Lasley – usually encountered as the “voice of God” who tells us to silence our cell phones at the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre – onto the stage as Caiaphas to rumble with astounding clarity all of those low notes.

Ty Stover is excellently cast as Pontius Pilate. We’re used to seeing him in lighter roles, but it’s easy to see how he can still do such an iconic dramatic role in his sleep (which he doesn’t – he was totally awake, I’m sure).

The role of King Herod, the closest Webber and Rice come to comedy relief, is played flamboyantly by Danny Kingston. Though the performance verges on “Queen Herod,” he still makes it work.

Overall, Harbin’s direction brings us the familiar story and songs in a highly competent manner that holds our attention, aided by Kenny Shepard’s choreography and a simple set with laddered structures that take advantage of the roomy stage. He also makes the decision to not soften the ending: What happens beyond the cross is left to the viewers and their faith.

Whether you’ve never seen this classic musical or sat through it a hundred times, this production is worth attending. Find the stage at 3200 Cold Spring Road, Indianapolis. Get tickets at 317-280-025 or bobdirex.com.

Review: “American Idiot” at Phoenix Theatre

By Wendy Carson

From left, Matthew Lee, Spencer Curnett and Lincoln Slentz star as three best friends in
From left, Matthew Lee, Spencer Curnutt and Lincoln Slentz star as three best friends in “American Idiot,” through July 5 at Indy’s Phoenix Theatre. — Phoenix Theatre photo by Zach Rosing

In 2004, punk band Green Day released their celebrated concept album, “American Idiot.” The album’s lineup formed a story of teen angst in the new millennium. Upon hearing the record myself, I could see the threads of the story woven together in a complex narrative that seemed to lend perfectly to a full-fledged musical. Luckily for us all, Michael Mayer felt the same and Billie Jo Armstrong, the band’s lead singer, agreed. While many of the overall themes of the show hearken back to Mayer’s previous show, “Spring Awakening,” the story’s present-day setting makes it more accessible to the target Millennial audience. With Indiana’s current increase in heroin usage and the resulting HIV crisis, the show could not be more relevant and meaningful. Naturally, The Phoenix Theatre proudly brings this story to the Indy stage almost a year to the day after its Broadway run’s end.

The show’s story follows just under a year in the life of three slacker buddies (Johnny, Will, and Tunny). Their disillusionment with life in their suburban home town leads them to decide to take a bus to the big city and go experience all that life can provide. Sadly, Will is waylaid before he can even leave by his girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy so he is forced to remain behind and long for the adventures relayed by Johnny’s occasional postcards.

In the big city, Tunny is plagued by intense depression and is called to join the army in order to find himself. He eventually ends up a troubled, broken veteran who only survives with the love and devotion of an Extraordinary Girl.

Meanwhile, Johnny’s search for meaning leads him to the seductive world of drugs, courtesy of the charismatic St. Jimmy. During this time he meets the girl of his dreams and they share a fiery affair until she tries to wake Johnny from his drug-fueled haze. Things escalate quite quickly with him choosing the allure of St. Jimmy to the love of Whatsername.

Eventually, all three characters reunite in their little hometown to face the choices they’ve made and how they’ve changed as a result of them.

Directors Bryan Fonseca and Emily Ristine have rounded up an exceptional cast to bring this story to life, many of whom are veterans of the Phoenix’s 2011 production of “Spring Awakening.” Spencer Curnutt expertly brings all of Johnny’s angst and desperation to his performance. Lisa Ermel once again shows her amazing range in the ethereal role of Whatsername. Lydia Burke brings a poetic grace to her Extraordinary Girl. Matthew Lee and Carly Kincannon’s portrayal of Will and Heather expertly show the harsh reality of teenage parenthood. Eric J. Olson shows the dangerously enticing St. Jimmy and his world of drug-fueled oblivion as an easy answer to life’s stresses, yet never lets us forget its cost. Lincoln Slentz’s vulnerability as Tunny was only marred by his struggle to stay in tune on some of the songs. While the remaining five cast members are only listed as “Ensemble”, their ability to believably breathe life into the myriad of roles they are called on to assume makes each one stand out as a major talent.

While the harsh, grittiness of this show might make some apprehensive, the show’s message resounds so much with today’s youth that it should be a must-see for anyone over 15 if only to show them some of the harsh realities of the world and drug addiction in a format they will better respond to. I would best describe the show as this generation’s version of “Hair” (sans nudity but with mature language and a scene of simulated sex). See the show Thursdays through Sundays through July 5 at the Phoenix Theater, 749 N. Park Ave. (corner of Park and St. Clair near Mass. Ave.), Indianapolis, but you should get your tickets soon, because they are selling quickly and you really don’t what to be an American Idiot by missing out.

June is bustin’ out all over

…but, ironically, not with a production of “Carousel.”

Among the many stage shows opening this weekend, “American Idiot,” the rock opera by punk-pop band Green Day, opens Thursday at the Phoenix Theatre. We saw the band on the “Idiot” tour a few years ago, and have the hit album as well as its similarly-themed follow-up, so are very interested in seeing this. The Broadway and touring productions had mixed reviews, but punk has always been a not-for-everyone genre.

Wisdom Tooth, a thought-provoking new company in residence at IndyFringe, opens “Jason and (Medea).” Note this is not “Madea” and has no relation to Tyler Perry. So, it should be very good.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” opens at Buck Creek Players. I won’t be able to make it, but I do encourage everyone to go see this. (And not just because I like the folks at BCP.) This show is a LOT of fun, and a couple of brave souls from the audience get to take part as spellers (but not against your will, relax!).

“The Cherry Orchard” by Eclectic Pond opens at the Opera Center. One of the great Chekhov plays presented by an excellent Shakespeare company, here’s another one I can recommend without seeing.

Director Bob Harbin, a/k/a Bobdirex, has his big summer production, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” opening this weekend on the former Civic Theatre stage at Marian University.

The world premiere of “The Perfect 10” opens at Theatre on the Square. Hopefully we’ll be there Sunday. And we’ll be staying for “Going Going Gone” (the auction-based improv show in which audience members bid on and get to keep the props) and the free Tony Award watch party.

There is also a cabaret of the hits of the 70s and 80s this weekend only at Carmel Community Players.

Meanwhile, “Peter Pan” continues at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. While this is not a new show for B&B, it does feature the wonderful antics of Jeff Stockberger as Cpt. Hook, and, making her B&B debut, the incredibly talented Phebe Taylor (a frequent flier at the Phoenix) as Pan. And the food there is good, so it’s a good deal.

So, here we are, starting out the bloggy part of this site. This time it’s a list (maybe I should have titled this “Nine shows you should see this weekend even though seeing them all in the next few days would be physically impossible” or “Start a theatre blog with this one weird trick” to be more Internetty) but we reserve the right to make future posts even more interesting.

– See you in the audience!