At Civic, ‘tale old as time’ feels fresh

By John Lyle Belden

The Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre captures Disney magic with its production of the Broadway version of “Beauty and the Beast,” running through New Years Day at The Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel.

Virginia Vasquez makes a wonderful Belle, strong in voice and character, while Will Carlson’s Gaston is excellently villainous, selfishly devious without being either too buffoonish or too scary for the many youngsters in the audience. Alex Smith as Gaston’s toady Lefou gets a little over-the-top, but still manages to charm. Will Tople blusters his way through as the Beast, winning our hearts while singing out his.

The enchanted artifacts of the castle show a lot of personality as well. As Cogsworth, Tom Beeler is in his element (acting-wise, at least; I don’t know if he likes wearing clock-cases), and David Brock lights up the room as Lumiere. Ragen Sanner as Mrs. Potts and Aiden Alexander Shurr as Mrs. Potts and Chip are heartwarming. Lauren Leigh cleans up as Babette, and Susan Bollek Smith as Mme. De La Grande Bouche has her stuff together.

It’s been years since I saw a stage production of “Beauty and the Beast,” and even longer since seeing the Oscar-nominated animated film. This was a nice reminder of the additional songs and bits added for the musical. In fact, the whole show had the feeling of something fresh, and while familiar, worth revisiting.

And if you have a young person you want to get hooked on the magic of live theatre, by all means, bring him or her to this show. I noticed at the matinee I attended that many had done just that, including a few Belle-gowned little princesses in the audience. After the performance, the actors came out in character (Tople in re-transformed Prince mode) to greet the fans.

So be their guest: Call 317-843-3800 or visit www.civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor of The Eagle (Indianapolis-based LGBTQ newspaper), where a brief version of this review is also published.

Advertisements

Chaotic Khaos Christmas

By John Lyle Belden

The “Epic Christmas Battle of History,” written and presented by Khaos Company Theatre, is a show I wanted so badly to be better than it is.  I mean, I really like these guys and this little neighborhood theatre, and the company really gives it all a great effort.

It’s not “Epic,” but is Christmassy and there is a battle. When the Star of Bethlehem suddenly implodes, are the holidays (and planet Earth, for that matter) cancelled? No! It’s only an alien using the collapsed wormhole to visit our planet and a family about to enjoy the winter holidays. They teach him about Christmas traditions, and he repays the favor by – um – teaching them about Christmas traditions.

Then there’s some time travel, and an alternate Earth. Then we return to find not all aliens are friendly, leading – naturally – to a rap battle.

This is a one-act, just 90 minutes out of your busy day, so why not?

Friday is “Pay What You Want,” so give what you feel comfortable with to support local artists, lower your expectations, and have fun with it. (Note: The stagehand wielding the Silly String has iffy aim; watch out!)

Final regular-ticketed performance is Saturday, Dec. 17, then KCT turns their attention to more serious fare in the new year. This will be the last show at 3125 E. 10th St., Indianapolis, before moving to new digs on Sherman Drive in 2017. Get info and tickets at www.kctindy.com.

Getting through the holidays with TOTS

By John Lyle Belden

While most people are familiar with the “Nice” offering by Theatre on the Square, a live stage version of “A Christmas Story,” the show on the smaller second stage, “A Christmas Survival Guide” – tagged “Naughty” – is a little more obscure. So that’s what we’ll discuss here.

As for the naughtiness, it’s mainly for some language and Grinchy-Scroogey attitude as a jaded quintet – Gabby Niehaus, Shauna Smith, Anna Lee, Josiah McCruistion and Eric Brockett – their piano accompanist, Levi Burke, and stage manager, Nikki Sayer (her actual position, not just a role) deal with going through yet another holly-jolly season, whether they like it or not.

Still, a show is a show, and when the spotlight is on one of this ensemble, he or she shines, whether it’s Niehaus cooing “Santa Baby,” Smith crooning the “New Years Eve Blues,” Lee abducting “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Burke tickling the ivories in a solo, or McCruistion frankly singing anything.

It helps that the cast are given copies of the book, “A Christmas Survival Guide,” from which we hear excerpts in the recorded voice of TOTS staffer and local uber-talent Claire Wilcher.

The best bit in this revue of songs and comedy features Lee as a lonely woman dealing with two rather needy and misunderstood roommates, portrayed hilariously by Brockett and McCruistion.

One note to shy audience members: Sitting down front could get you pulled onstage when the gang find themselves a reindeer short.

For something a little different (for teens and older) with a ring of the familiar, in a cozy intimate setting, this show makes a nice change of pace from your typical holiday fare. Performances of this and “Christmas Story” run through Dec. 23 at TOTS, 627 Massachusetts Ave.; call 317-685-8687 or see www.tots.org.

Down with BHC? Hey, you know me!

By John Lyle Belden

Do you have a favorite BHC?

That stands for Beloved Holiday Classic book, movie or television special; nearly everyone has at least one they love to revisit this time of year. And nearly all get at least a shout-out in “Every Christmas Story Ever Told …and then some!” on stage through Dec. 18 at Buck Creek Players.

Steven Linville apparently loves Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” and is eager to get its performance under way – “Marley was dead…” etc. – but Jessica Bartley and Stacia Ann Hulen revolt, and insist that other holiday classics get their due. Thus the trio address the plots of various BHCs, from Charlie Brown to Dr. Seuss to Dylan Thomas, and throw in facts about Christmas celebrations in other countries around the world.

In Act Two, Linville finally gets to lead a production of Christmas Carol – but wait! One of the more popular BHCs was almost forgotten, and its story ends up in a wild mash-up with Scrooge’s.

Bartley, Hulen and Linville charm and bring plenty of festive comic energy to the show, but they can’t do it alone – the audience and select members occasionally get called on to help things along. If this doesn’t bother you, you’re bound to have a fun time at this holiday treat.

And I must praise set designer Aaron B. Bailey for the wonderful stage set, with our players standing among a library of giant holiday-themed books.

Director D. Scott Robinson said he wasn’t sure he wanted to helm a Christmas show, until he saw this script. He especially enjoyed mixing the music for the show’s “Nutcracker” interlude, which sounds a little different from how Tchaikovsky wrote it.

P.S. Bring cash for the annual cookie sale fundraiser.

Find the Buck Creek Playhouse at 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road exit off I-74); call 317-862-2270 or visit www.buckcreekplayers.com.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor for The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based LGBTQ news source, where he also places his reviews. He’d like to think of “Die Hard” and “Trading Places” as BHCs, and has a great fondness for “Year Without a Santa Claus.”

Toymaker tinkers with oft-told tale

By John Lyle Belden

In the hands of No Exit Performance’s Ryan Mullins and Georgeanna Smith Wade, Mullins’ portrayal of the toymaker Drosselmeyer has expanded to something far beyond the necessary supporting character for the “Nutcracker” ballet, emerging as a signature personality for the No Exit troupe.

His painted, sharp-dressed hunchback looks odd, yet exudes a confident charisma that makes him funny while kind of dangerous (and sexy, he’d insist I add sexy). From the moment he takes the stage, he is in charge, completely. The dancing, giggling players around him obey; the audience, under his firm gaze, are taken by his unusual charm. He can be challenged (and occasionally is) but never defeated – or can he?

I attended a production of No Exit’s “Nutcracker” a couple of years ago. With Drosselmeyer as the emcee, we were treated to a strange but entertaining variation of the story (with dance breaks, but none of the traditional ballet). This year our toymaker has invented something new, yet familiar.

“Drosselmeyer Presents: Another Twisted Classic” is the title of this year’s show, staged in a large downstairs garage area of the Tube Factory, the Big Car artspace located at 1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis (just off south Shelby near Garfield Park).

Our host promises the audience he will stage another edition of the Nutcracker, but first a little nap… Clues like this, and when we see Callie Burke-Hartz as a kid on a crutch, tell us what often-told Christmas tale this band is going to twist. You feel like you know what’s going to happen next – it sorta does, but it totally doesn’t, at least not like you’d expect.

Other notable characters (at this point Drosselmeyer insists you stop reading because it’s not about him; just see his show!) include Lukas Schooler as the magnificent mulleted Mustache Man, the toymaker’s rival for our attention; Michael Burke as the beautiful Ginger; Aaron Beasley as grifter handyman Mr. Scratchit; and the return of Drosselmeyer’s – um, friend? partner? servant? – darling Sparkle (Wade), who in the silent clown tradition, speaks volumes with a gesture. She just wants everyone to be happy, but is there any joy left for her?

Funny, inventive – as much an experience as a play – I highly recommend this show to anyone up for something a little unusual. There are a few mature moments, so this is best for teens and up. The stage location is down a steep staircase, but accommodations can be made for those who have difficulty with this.

Performances resume today (Dec. 7) and run through Saturday, with two more on Dec. 16-17. Get info and tickets at www.noexitperformance.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor for The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based LGBTQ news source, where he also places his reviews.

Sharing a sweet treat with family

NOTE: Usually we do reviews of plays we’ve seen and games we’ve played, but everyone’s gotta eat — and when an award-winning Indiana confectioner appealed to our sweet tooth, we had to bite. Enjoy:

By Wendy Carson

Last month, 240 Sweet of Columbus, Ind., sent me a special treat box of marshmallows & hot chocolate to try out and review. I took it along with me down to our Thanksgiving visit to the family so that they could help us try it out and here is the result:

First of all, the hot chocolate mix is aptly named “Decadent Drinking Chocolate” and we all agreed that this was undoubtedly the most delicious hot chocolate any of us had ever tasted. It was rich and had a perfect balance of flavors which made it an excellent conductor for the marshmallows. Since the mix is blended with real milk and heated on the stovetop, that is likely part of the reason it is so delicious.

Now, on to the marshmallows. We were given two different flavors to try: Sugar Cookie and Bourbon Brown Sugar. Each flavor was tasted on its own and in the hot chocolate.

The Bourbon Brown Sugar was yummy but had a distinctive bourbon flavor, so it was only enjoyed by the adults in the group. Those that were non-drinkers of alcoholic beverages were not keen on them due to the bourbon flavor. However, the rest of us thought they were delicious. They blended with the cocoa very well and were amazing when lightly toasted to bring out the full caramelized flavor of the sugar & alcohol. The verdict: A must for anyone who is known to imbibe, but a definite pass for those who abstain.

The Sugar Cookie flavor was tried by everyone and almost unanimously enjoyed. The children loved the taste and were pleasantly surprised yet delighted by the crunch of the cookie bits in each one. One adult, however, felt the crunchy bits gave the marshmallow a gritty texture. These marshmallows were a perfect addition to the hot chocolate. The flavors blended together to enrich each other without either overpowering. Since everyone tried these, we weren’t able to save any back for toasting – but I have sampled one before so I do know it has a very good taste, and again, the cookie bits are an unexpected delight.

We also need to note that one of our tasters doesn’t like marshmallows or sugar cookies and his opinion was that they were “very interesting.” He was surprised that he actually liked them and felt he would be open to having them again.

Our one complaint was that the marshmallow bags were not reseal-able. Since it is unlikely that all of the marshmallows will be consumed in one sitting, some sort of closure to ensure freshness would be recommended.

Overall, we were greatly delighted by the treat box and feel that it would be a worthy splurge (it lists for $35) for the holiday season.  You can purchase this item (or one like it) from their website www.240sweet.com; or at one of the many handicraft and arts fairs around the Indy area, like Yelp’s Totally Bazaar (6:30 p.m. this Thursday at the Indianapolis Central Library, see here for details).

Phoenix provides much-needed Xmas relief

By Wendy Carson

2016 has been one of the most trying years for many people. Between political intrigues, celebrity deaths, the economy, family, and various other issues, we really need something to bring us out of this funk — and The Phoenix Theatre’s holiday show, “A Very Phoenix Xmas 11: I’m Dreaming of an Intersectionally Thoughtful, Multicultural Winter Holiday,” is just that. In the show’s 11th incarnation, we are provided with some escapism, harsh truths, many laughs, and thoughts to help us refocus on the positive still left in the world.

I was struck initially by the desolate stage presented. Garbage cans, steel beams, old tire, and fencing are among the mishmash of items that create most of the set pieces for the various vignettes.

The theme of the show seems to be Holiday Traditions throughout the world. Your host shares tales of some, and then some are presented for you to enjoy. Just remember, this is The Phoenix, and not everything here is as sweet as a candy cane.

The skits include a traditional song about a missing rabbit and a memorable Christmas dinner; an anxious traveler possibly encountering an angel of sorts; a surprising look behind the scenes at a popular Disney attraction; a variety of puppetry styles; winter solstice at Stonehenge; and a ’40s swinger version of a holiday classic, just to name a few.

The most stand-out piece of the show, though, was the immensely touching, “Homs for the Holidays” which shows you that peace, love, and the Christmas spirit can be found in the most surprising places, no matter where or with whom you are celebrating.

This year’s offering has no real audience participation but you are invited to sing along a time or two and yell out a few “Mad Libs” style suggestions. The show is also a lot more family-friendly this year (still not for all ages, but not risqué or as bawdy as past ones).

I really felt uplifted and filled with the holiday spirit afterwards. So, round up family and friends and head out for a nutty yet spicy take on this time of the year, playing through  Dec. 23 at 749 N. Park Ave. (corner of Park and St. Clair just off Mass Ave.), Indianapolis. Call 317-635-7529 or go to phoenixtheatre.org.