Kids make a splash in KidsPlay’s ‘Mermaid in Miami’

By John Lyle Belden

Being a former writer and “Arts Editor” at the Daily Reporter in Greenfield, I have long followed and been a booster of KidsPlay Inc., the local children’s theatre featuring kids in grades 3-8 from all over the area. Under the direction of Christine Schaefer, the company puts on a high-quality show, and has helped to develop a lot of talent – a number of central Indiana performers are former KidsPlayers, and now there are alumni with their own children in the program.

Of course, I bring this up because this week is the KidsPlay Inc. fall production, the quirky comedy “Mermaid in Miami” by Wade Bradford. Directed by Schaefer with Alexandra Kern, choreography by Frances Hull and Amy Studebaker, this take on “The Little Mermaid” has a contemporary setting, yet is in a surprising way true to the Hans Christian Andersen story.

An old fisherman, Ernie (Joseph Shininger), happens to come across a young mermaid, Breeze (Olivia Greer), on the run from her tyrannical father Emperor Tropico (Matthew Hentz). As she had escaped with her mother, now missing, the angry monarch asks Ernie if he has seen two mermaids, so he honestly answers “no,” helping Breeze to escape. Grateful, she stays in the safety of the lagoon the fisherman calls home, located just a beach away from Miami, Florida.

Meanwhile, on that beach, hot Latin dancer Rico (Jaxon Brittsan) is ready for the local dance contest, he just needs a partner. The Lambada sisters (Zora Coe and Ashley Pipkin) are injured, and best friend Grace (Ella Miesse) he only sees as his tailor. But hearing of the opportunity, Breeze makes a deal with the Swamp Hag (Bella Turner) for legs so he can join Rico in the dance.

Naturally, those legs come at a cost.

The large cast also includes Anthony Stunda and Josie Joyner as dolphins Ebb and Flo, who provide a lot of the punchlines; Brodie Stout-England as Prince Dorkus, the Emperor’s goofy hand-picked fiance for Breeze; Jordan Kuker as the mysterious Spirit of the Air; Hank Lee and Ava Peters as local reporters; Abbagail Gantt and Cooper Schmitt as vendors with well-timed wares; and Jack Joyner, Grace McCaw, and Lucy Reed, as an entertaining trio of crabs.

This show has excellent performances throughout. Greer shows off some great physical comedy, as she nimbly portrays a wobbly girl who just got her legs minutes ago, right through the obligatory dance montage where she learns to move with rhythm.

Turner is appropriately menacing, and manages to keep a Caribbean accent without it slipping into caricature. Hentz is naturally haughty, while Shininger plays a good go-with-the-flow guy. Miesse stitches together a role with surprising range. Stout-England is too much of a doofus to dislike, despite his role in Tropico’s plot.

Brittsan not only manages to stay likable even while being a bit cheesey, but also he, Coe and Pipkin show off some genuine dance flair, including leading the traditional opening dance number before the play.

As usual, this show is a lot of fun, but there is some substance with the silly, especially in the way this story ends. Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8-10, at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40) in downtown Greenfield. Tickets are just $5 at the door.

‘Mamma Mia!’ gets the local treatment

By John Lyle Belden

It’s hard to imagine a more fun musical than “Mamma Mia,” with its high-energy blend of a sunny exotic setting, Shakespeare-worthy rom-com plot, and the familiar 70s-80s hits of international supergroup ABBA. At long last, the rights are available to community theatres, and CrazyLake Acting Company of Greenfield has taken it on in marvelous fashion. 

Set on a Greek island resort around the year 2000, young Sophie (Jamie McDowell) prepares for her wedding to boyfriend Sky (her real-world fiance, Austin Fisher) but first, she wants to invite her father, who could be one of three different men. So, she invites them all — and they all show up! This only adds to the stress for Sophie’s mother, Donna (Shari Jacobs), who fortunately has her “Dynamos” — Tanya (Noelle Russell) and Rosie (Amy Studabaker) — to literally back her up. 

The three men, Sam (Patrick McCartney), Bill (Coy Hutcherson), and Harry (Matt Little), don’t know what’s going on — at first. This will not be a typical wedding!

Throw in more than 20 others to play various roles and the chorus, and the whole production is infused with infectious fun — making it hard not to sing along.

The whole cast seems to enjoy it, too, with moments like the frog-dance of “Lay All Your Love On Me;” the three “dads” each offering to give the bride away, inspiring a wild nightmare as McDowell sings “Under Attack;” Russell going full-cougar with “Does Your Mama Know,” and even in more emotional scenes like Jacobs belting “The Winner Takes it All.”

Direction is by Studabaker and Christine Schaefer — no strangers to fun and funny goings-on, with choreography by Studabaker and Elizabeth Orr.

For much less than the last touring production’s ticket, you can experience all this with familiar (and just as talented) performers, Friday through Sunday at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40) in downtown Greenfield. Info and tickets at www.CrazyLakeActing.com.

Comfortably crazy clan at CrazyLake

By John Lyle Belden and Wendy Carson

Given the chaotic nature of world events and the pressures we face in our individual lives, it is a perfect time for the old-fashioned eccentric wisdom of the classic stage comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” presented by CrazyLake Acting Company in Greenfield.

Every family has its peculiar quirks but the Sycamores seem to be overachievers. Mom Penny used to paint, but now writes never-finished plays, primarily because a typewriter was delivered to their house by mistake. Daughter Essie dances around the house and makes candy even though she has talent for only one of these; she’s married to Ed, an avid printmaker and xylophonist who came for dinner eight years ago and just stayed. Dad Paul makes fireworks in the basement with the help of Mr. DePinna (the iceman who also just stayed). Grandpa, Martin Vanderhof, oversees this crazy bunch (as well as a few other colorful characters) making sure that everyone is happy.

Penny and Paul’s other daughter, Alice, an executive secretary at a high-powered Wall Street firm, is in love with the boss’s son, Tony Kirby Jr., who finds everyone charming. But his overly straight-laced parents are a different story.

Add to this some harassment from the IRS over unpaid income taxes, as well as corn flakes, snakes, explosions, a revealing party game, Russian aristocracy and live kittens on stage (yes, really!) and you get the spectacle that earned a Pulitzer Prize and inspired a Best Picture film in the 1930s, and has had audiences laughing since.

To get everyone in the mood, CrazyLake has a trio of “Andrews Sisters” serenade you at the Ricks Centre doors. On stage we get excellent performances all around, including Chris VeHorn as charming Penny, looking like the template for all sitcom moms that followed; Trever Brown as unflappable Mr. Vanderhof, whose only standard for life is to do what makes one happy; Amy Studebaker showing comic grace in a physically challenging role; Caitlyn Mabbitt and Evan Myers as our lovebirds Alice and Tony; Frances Hull as unfazed cook and maid Rheba; and Brent Oliver as appropriately uptight Mr. Kirby.

If the plot looks familiar, a form of it resurfaced in the recent “Addams Family” stage show (and perhaps echoes in the drama “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”), but this is the original. And director Chris Shaefer, who is used to working with silly shows (as boss of KidsPlay Inc.) gets the most out of this high-energy local volunteer cast.

It’s not that far a drive, and Greenfield has a nice downtown for those who show up early. Remaining performances of “You Can’t Take It With You” are this Friday through Sunday, June 29-July 1, at the H. J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (U.S. 40). Tickets are $10 each online at www.crazylake.org, on site before the show, or in advance at Hometown Comics and Games, 1506 N. State St. (SR 9), also in Greenfield.