Review: Fun but unusual “Family” show

Gomez Addams (Eddie Curry, center) is caught between honoring the wishes of his daughter Wednesday (Samantha Russell, left) and wife Morticia (Erin Cohenour) in a scene from
Gomez Addams (Eddie Curry, center) is caught between honoring the wishes of his daughter Wednesday (Samantha Russell, left) and wife Morticia (Erin Cohenour) in a scene from “The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy,” playing at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre through Nov. 22. — B&B photo

By John Lyle Belden

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis, hosts “The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy,” through Nov. 22.

High schooler Samantha Russell more than holds her own in her excellent portrayal of Wednesday Addams next to seasoned pros including Erin Cohenour (Morticia), Eddie Curry (Gomez), Amanda Butterbaugh (Grandma), Jeff Stockberger (Lurch) and Shaun Rice as Uncle Fester, the role he played on national tour.

The story — with Wednesday falling in love with a “normal” boy and trust issues developing between her parents — shows a family that, despite their oddities, are good-natured people we can somewhat identify with. The songs are fun and the comic hijinks entertaining. Though the subplot of Fester’s love affair with the Moon (yes, the actual heavenly body) is a little distracting, it still fits into the odd family culture the Addamses have been famous for, for generations.

The cast also includes Simon Barnes as Pugsley Addams, Blake Spallacy as Wednesday’s beau, and John Vessels and Sarah Hund as his parents. Thing is uncredited, which is unfair as he is quite “hand”some. (No Cousin Itt in this production — maybe in a sequel? — which I’m guessing was a relief to the costume crew.) Also, Jennifer Ladner, Samuel McKanney, Amy Owens, Peter Scharbrough, Kenny Shepard and Christine Zavakos appear as ghostly ancestors — trapped by Fester on this side of the grave until they help Wednesday fulfill her destiny — to help give the show more of an old-time big-dance-number musical feel.

Full disclosure: Your family will enjoy spending time with this family. Get info and tickets at 317-82-9664 or beefandboards.com.

Review: Where there’s “Smoke,” there’s a mighty fine show

The cast of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre's
The cast of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s “Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming,” running through Aug. 16. — Beef & Boards photo

By John Lyle Belden

For regular patrons of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre in northwest Indianapolis, just saying, “There’s a ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ show!” is enough to get many scrambling to contact the box office.

The popular original off-Broadway show centers on a gospel-singing family putting on a “sing” at a rural North Carolina church in the 1930s. Aside from seeing the interpersonal drama among the Sanders clan and sharing a few laughs, the audience is treated to a series of old-time hymns and gospel tunes, with the cast playing an array of instruments.

The sequel, “Sanders Family Christmas,” has the family returning to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church for a holiday sing in 1941, the last show before the Sanders’ son goes off to war.

The present production, “Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming,” takes place in late 1945, with the war over and young Dennis (Will Boyajian) back with the family, following through on his service as a chaplain and a lifelong call to take the pulpit as the Mount Pleasant minister.

The departing pastor, the Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe (John Vessels), responded to a request to open a church in Texas and will leave the next day, taking his very pregnant wife, June (Sarah Hund), the Sanderses’ elder daughter. Burl and Vera Sanders (Bob Payne and Pam Pendleton) still have daughter Denise (Christina Rose Rahn), Dennis’ fraternal twin, now married with twins of her own, as well as Burl’s troubled brother, Stanley Sanders (Brian Gunter).

They are hosting one more sing before the Oglethorpes depart, but it becomes apparent that there are still a few issues to work out.

It helps that most of the cast is the same as past B&B “Smoke on the Mountain” productions, especially Vessels as the emotional and hyperactive Brother Mervin and Hund at her comic best as simple June, who provides the family band’s percussion, sometimes in hilariously inventive ways, and signs rather than sings — though some of her gestures might confuse any deaf audience members who happen by the church.

Boyajian and Rahn make their B&B debuts but manage to fit right in as though they had always played the Sanders twins, especially when circumstances force them to re-enact a song from when Dennis and Denise were very young.

It’s not all comedy; be prepared for some very serious moments of testimony and a lot of talk about Jesus. But this is what comes naturally in a musical with a song list that looks like one from a small-town Sunday school.

In fact, especially when Dennis or Stanley recall their darkest hours, it’s easy to forget that these are fictional characters. But the spirit (or Spirit, if you believe that way) of the play stays true to the memories of those of us who ever attended a little church in the backwoods -– or a hometown congregation anywhere.

One hopes that playwright Connie Ray would eventually see fit to have the Sanderses go see June and Mervin for a Texas-sized gospel sing, but for now we can enjoy witnessing the “Homecoming” daily except Mondays through Aug. 16 at 9301 N. Michigan Road, near the Pyramids. Call 317-872-9664 or see beefandboards.com.

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Review also appears in the July 23 edition of the Greenfield Daily Reporter.

Review: Say yes to the dresses

The Cast of Theatre on the Square's "Love, Loss and What I Wore" by Nora and Delia Ephron, playing on the TOTS Second Stage through Aug. 1 -- TOTS photo by Abdul-Shaheed
The Cast of Theatre on the Square’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore” by Nora and Delia Ephron, playing on the TOTS Second Stage through Aug. 1 — TOTS photo by Abdul-Shaheed

By John Lyle Belden

A local production of “Love, Loss and What I Wore” by Nora and Delia Ephron returns to Indianapolis, now playing at Theatre on the Square (the first production was a couple of years back at the Phoenix) and is, again, a funny and heartwarming little show about how our wardrobe links to our memories.

The play is mostly a set of monologues performed by five women. In the center is Adrienne Reiswerg as Gingy, the central recurring character who has lived a full life and, to remember it, has made drawings of the various dresses and outfits she has worn along the way. As stage manager Stacy Ricks hangs the drawings up behind her, Gingy relates the story behind each garment.

In addition, Rhoda Ludy, Miki Mathiodakis, Lucinda Phillips and Bridget Schlebecker portray numerous characters – mothers, daughters, sisters, fiances – who remember boldy and fondly a certain dress, or bra, or shoes, or even finding a unique purse.

The delivery brings out a lot of laughs – “You’re not wearing that, are you?” – as well as a few tender moments. It will no doubt also stir up some memories of your own favorite item.

You don’t have to be female or fashion-obsessed to love this show. The well-crafted script is in very able hands on the TOTS Second Stage. But if clothes are your thing, you simply have to see it.

This production runs through Aug. 1 at 627 Massachusetts Ave.; call 317-685-8687.