Altogether ‘Ooky’ fun

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

You know it’s going to be fun when the orchestra starts the theme and the audience joins in on the “snap-snap”s.

In “The Addams Family: A New Musical” at Footlite Musicals in Indianapolis, the familiar “mysterious and spooky” characters from the Charles Addams comics and popular TV show and movies are brought to the stage with all the macabre oddities fans have come to expect.

However, in this story daughter Wednesday is now a young woman, and in love. It seems her beau and his family are “normal,” but that facade wears thin during a wacky meet-the-parents dinner.

Excellent performances all around by Ivy Bott (Wednesday), Michael Davis (Gomez), Kathleen Clarke Horrigan (Morticia), Bryan D. Padgett (Uncle Fester), Marie Beason (Grandma), Xavier Wilson (Pugsley), Trenton Baker (Lurch), Joseph Massingale as boyfriend Lucas and Darrin Gowan and Carrie Neal as his parents. There is also an entertaining chorus of ghostly Ancestors – once an Addams, always an Addams.

Davis pulls off the patriarch role with proper panache, and it’s good to see Horrigan stepping down from her usual post at the Footlite director’s chair to inhabit “Tish”s slinky dress. They command every scene they’re in – her more than him, of course.

Bott can go from flat deadpan to dark-edged emotion and back, all in character, in no time flat. Massingale plays the most mellow character in the cast (aside from Lurch), but when he gets to the love song “Crazier Than You,” we believe it. Neal’s emotional powderkeg performance is award-worthy.

There are lots of ghoulish touches that add to the fun, including appearances by Thing and Cousin Itt, making this a perfect pre-Halloween treat.

Find the Addams Mansion on the Footlite stage at 1847 N. Alabama, downtown Indy, through Oct. 9. Info and tickets at footlite.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

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How an orphan became a legend

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

The Phoenix Theatre in downtown Indy starts its season with the local premiere of Tony-winning play “Peter and the Starcatcher” – based on the book by humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson – a prequel to the popular adventures of Peter Pan. The production is not a musical, though a few strains of song figure into the plot, and while maintaining panto-esque silliness, is not a roll-in-the-aisles comedy. Consider it a fantasy that refuses to “grow up.”

Fortunately, the Phoenix has a couple of regulars seemingly blessed with eternal youth: Nathan Robbins as the Boy without a name – at first – and Phebe Taylor as Molly, the girl who turns out to be the other half of the play’s title. They are easily the most complex characters, with the Boy’s justifiable distrust of adults and whimsical wish to always remain a child, and Molly’s intellect, desire for adventure and devotion to her noble eccentric father, Lord Aster, played by Paul Nicely. They also stand out as all other characters are mostly caricatures.

Being broadly drawn is just fine for our villain Black Stache (known by a more familiar name eventually), played with grinning gusto by Eric J. Olson. Other notable performances include Dan Scharbrough’s faithful and scene-stealing Smee; John Vessels Jr. as the “beautiful” Mrs. Bumbrake; Michael Hosp as simple and smitten Alf; Tyler Ostrander as Prentiss, the young “leader” no one follows; and Ian Cruz in multiple roles, including an unusual island native chieftan.

It felt to me at times the show tried too hard to be funny, especially with modern references sprinkled in which felt dissonant with the 19th-century setting, but overall the show is sure-fire entertainment, sure to make your heart and imagination soar.

The play runs through Oct. 23 at 749 N. Park Ave. For info and tickets, call 317-635-7529 or see phoenixtheatre.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

Thanks a ‘Million’

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

On a December day in 1956, something extraordinary happened.

And the fact that it did happen, and occur largely spontaneously, is practically unbelievable – but then, there’s the sound recordings, and that famous photo. On that day, in the little studio of Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn., four legends – Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis – held an impromptu gospel/country/rockabilly jam session that a local newspaper would declare the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

The Broadway musical of that same title, commemorating that day, is presented locally by Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel through Oct. 2.

In the play’s dramatization, Perkins (Jeremy Sevelovitz) and his brothers are in a recording session, trying to come up with his next hit, when Sun’s owner and producer Sam Phillips (Don Farrell) surprises him with the label’s latest signee – a hyper Louisiana boy, Lewis (Taylor Gray), who is days away from his own first hit. Phillips wants to add boogie-woogie piano to enrich Perkins’ rockabilly sound – which the guitar legend resists, at first.

Meanwhile, Cash (Brandon Alstott) is expected to stop by; Phillips has a surprise contract extension for him, but Cash has a surprise of his own. Then, Presley (Adam Tran), who started with Sun but sings for RCA, stops by with his latest girlfriend (Betsy Norton), and can’t resist picking up a guitar and joining in. All four singers, and even the young woman, sing solos and harmonies of familiar songs from the era, including the stars’ biggest hits.

Of course, there’s also a little drama as Cash and Phillips need to resolve conflicting plans, Jerry Lee gets a little too brash, and Phillips seriously considers the future of his struggling operation. We also get flashbacks to show what the Sun boss first saw in each of these eventual legends. But overall, the music is what drives the show.

And what a wonderful show it is. Gray was understudy for Lewis on the musical’s national tour, but is overjoyed to be the number one Killer for ATI, as are we who see him expertly capture the energy and raw talent of Jerry Lee. Sevelovitz, also no stranger to his role, plays the heck out of his guitar as Perkins, recreating the look, sound and attitude of the original man in Blue Suede Shoes. The local actors: Alstott seems right at home as the Man in Black, Tran radiates The King’s charisma, and Norton is as charming as ever as beautiful Dyanne (based on Elvis’s actual companion; her name was changed to avoid confusion with another personality of the era). ATI co-founder Farrell ties it all together as the man in charge. The talents of Kroy Presley as Brother Jay on stand-up bass and Nathan Shew as Fluke on drums ably round out the cast. Direction is by the nationally-renowned stage and TV director DJ Salisbury.

The action takes place in one movie-length act, ends with a rousing encore for the curtain call, and is satisfying throughout. The content is family-friendly (aside from period-appropriate stage cigarettes) and even includes a couple of sacred songs.

Performances are Sept. 23-25 and Sept. 30-Oct. 2; call 317-843-3800 or visit atistage.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

It’s ‘only’ a hit

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

Rarely has a play dared me so strongly to write a bad review of it.

“It’s Only a Play,” by legendary playwright and librettist Terrance McNally, is on the main stage at Theatre on the Square through Oct. 1, opening the 2016-17 season. In this comedy, a nervous playwright, Peter Austin (played by Dave Ruark) nervously awaits the reviews after opening night of his Broadway play.

All action takes place in a guest room at the home of the play’s rich producer Julia Budder (Afton Shepard), where Austin’s best friend, TV star James Wicker (Adam O. Crowe) tries to relax, glad that he turned down the lead role in the play – though he won’t tell Austin; scandal-plagued lead actress Virginia Noyes (Kathy Pataluch) and acclaimed “genius” director Frank Finger (Thomas Cardwell) each go to get away from the party crowd downstairs; reviled theatre critic Ira Drew (Jeff Maess) seeks someone to take on the play he secretly wrote; and coat-check boy and aspiring actor Gus (Jacob Swain) comes in to deposit coats and accoutrements worn by various celebrities.

The play is loaded with Broadway references and swipes at critics, and teases us with a cliffhanger at intermission. At the end, things get almost groaningly meta. Need I mention that the first version of this play closed during previews (according to Wikipedia)?

Yet, here, it all works.

Yes, even critics can take a joke – and I and another scribe in attendance could even think of someone who the play’s zingers better fit. The discussion of stage legends like Patty Lupone is mixed with more-recognizable celebrities like Lady Gaga, so references to the party downstairs never go flat. “Hamilton” even gets name-checked (and coat-checked).

And the mixture of dysfunctional characters we are presented with – Budder keeps butchering popular quotes, Noyes wears a court-ordered ankle bracelet, and Finger’s insecurity over his incredible success manifests as compulsive kleptomania – are very funny and well-presented by actors far more talented than the poor hacks they portray.

So, who cares if McNally didn’t get a(nother) Tony for this – for TOTS, this romp is “only” a winner.

Find the stage at 627 Massachusetts Ave. in downtown Indianapolis. Call 317-685-8687 or see www.tots.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

The Farce is strong with this one

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

Today’s political climate has much that is ripe for ridicule, especially Indiana’s present chief executive, who could become America’s Number Two. And if the thought of Gov. Pence as “number two” has you giggling, have I got a theatrical experience for you.

Khaos Company Theatre presents its second play in the “Pence Wars” series, “Mike Pence Strikes Back,” a Star Wars-themed parody in which Indiana Emperor Pence finds himself losing the election for governor of the Hoosier Planet – every ultraconservative ploy to gain favor with the masses seems to backfire. But an unexpected shot at being Vice President of the Galaxy changes everything.

You don’t have to have seen the first play, August’s “Attack of the Homos,” to get into the flow of this one. The story is presented as a play by director Kaylee Spivey Good, with additional scenes by Robert Broemel and Ed Ramthun, and interludes of poetry by Cher Guevara (a/k/a Eagle contributor Walter Beck).

David Malloy is entertaining as Pence, giving the state’s Dark Lord a dastardly cartoon villain voice and posture. Guevara is impressive as Donald Trump – especially as the actor looks nothing like him – but with big hair, big suit and big, boorish attitude, he pulls it off. The supporting cast of Michael Maloney, Lauren McDaniel, Bridget Isakson (who plays Tolkein’s elf Arwen, because, why not?), Heather Bartram, Chloe Farhar, and even Good for a scene, all make multiple contributions to this farce.

The trick to enjoying the show is to keep your expectations as low as your opinion of Trump and Pence, and just go with whatever is happening. Pence Wars has the style and humor of SNL or MadTV with the special effects of a kid’s birthday party. Yet while situations get a tad immature, the content is not for children.

While the scenes are played for laughs, the recited verse is serious and thought-provoking, reminding us that this is the future of our state and country we’re joking about here.

There are just two more dates for this chapter, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday – note that Friday is pay-what-you-can admission – and the trilogy’s conclusion, “Election 2016, A New Hope,” is scheduled for Oct. 7,8, 14 and 15. For information and tickets, see www.kctindy.com.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.