KidsPlay has a story to tell

By John Lyle Belden

One of the nice things about working at the Daily Reporter in Greenfield (until 2015) was getting to know Christine Schaefer and her work with KidsPlay Inc., her children’s theatre company for youth in grades 3-8, in and around Hancock County. It casts as many young auditioners as possible and gives them a good start as they progress toward high school plays, or to taking whatever stage life brings.

The players put on two shows a year, comedies, because they are a fun challenge and always entertaining. They learn skills such as thinking on your feet – once you’re off-book, you’re off-book – and deliver their lines without microphones. The parents get involved as well, as KidsPlay is 100 percent volunteer run, with family members helping backstage with props, costumes, sets, etc.

I tell you that to tell you this: KidPlay presents its latest show, “Sahara Nights,” this weekend.

The play, a twist on the “Arabian Nights” legend, is silly fun. A spoiled Sultan (Luke McCartney) isn’t entertained enough by putting people in his dungeon for petty offenses and demands a better diversion. Sahara (Brynn Elliott), hoping to free her friend Aladdin (Wesley Olin) from being jailed for late library books, becomes the royal storyteller. But when the Sultan whines “I’ve heard that one before!” she modifies the story – Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves becomes “Ali Baba and the 49ers.” As the stories come alive on the stage before them, traditional tales mix with appearances by the Star Trek crew, Elvis (Corbin Elliott) and the Beatles.

McCartney and Brynn Elliott, the company’s eighth-graders, are great leads, and other young thespians get to show a lot of their potential, especially Heaven Keesling as the smart and dutiful royal advisor, Olivia Greer as puppeteer of impulsive and irascible Mr. Moo-Cow, and Ashley Pipkin as a magically charming Genie.

Football, sci-fi, flying carpets, “Nowhere Man” jokes, mimes, and even appearances by the fabulous Tom Jones (Corbin, again) – this show has it all.

Curtain is 7:30 Friday and Saturday, 2:30 Sunday, at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, the beautifully renovated theater in downtown Greenfield (on US 40/Main St., just west of Ind. 9/State St.). Tickets are just $5 at the door — that’s right, for less than a movie ticket, you can see some of the next generation of local actors (several KidsPlay alums have been active on stages all around Indy).

For info, and to show your support, follow “KidsPlay Inc children’s theatre” on Facebook.

Review: Footlite’s ‘Gypsy’ a triumph

By John Lyle Belden

It’s regarded as the story of the ultimate “stage mom,” a helicopter parent from before those birds were invented. “Gypsy,” based on the life of Gypsy Rose Lee and her relationship with her Mama Rose, is at Footlite Musicals through May 22.

We meet Rose and young daughters Baby June and Louise as the girls sing and dance for a Seattle talent show. But Mama’s ambitions run much higher, getting an act centered on June – with lesser-talented Louise blended in with backup boys – on the vaudeville circuits all the way to Broadway. But as the girls grow up and vaudeville fades (weakened by the “talkies” and Depression before its eventual demise at the feet of TV), Rose keeps pushing despite the odds, famously declaring “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

The word “awesome” is so overused in this era, but is the most appropriate adjective for Susan Boilek Smith as Rose. She inhabits this tiger mom with claws out all the way, making us feel for her and root for her, even when her ways seem too overbearing or her fast-talk borders on grift. Fortunately, Rich Baker is well able to keep up as Rose’s longsuffering companion, Herbie.

A quick salute to Rogue Salyers as Baby June and Brynn Elliott as little Louise, a good start to hopefully long careers or avocation on stage. After a strobe-lit time transition, Stacia Ann Hulen excellently slips in as Dainty June.

Elise Annette Delap plays teen/adult Louise, barely able to keep her immense talent under the facade of her “untalented” character. (Playing a skilled seamstress who eventually found international fame on the burlesque stage, perhaps she wasn’t so lacking after all.) Her strong portrayal matches well with Smith as a force of nature, revealing that this is the story of two women, each strong and wonderful in her own way.

As for the supporting cast, it’s a pity that Noah Nordman as chorus-boy Tulsa only gets one song.

As those familiar with the musical know, the title “Gypsy” refers to the life Rose, Herbie and the kids live in their pursuit of fame, as well as the blossoming Gypsy Rose that Louise becomes. We meet strippers in the “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” scene, and Delap as Lee does a little “teasing,” but there’s no real nudity, keeping this largely an all-ages show.

Footlite Musicals is in the Hedback Theater, 1847 N. Alabama St., just north of downtown Indy. Call 317-926-6630 or see footlite.org.

(Review also posted at The Word)