Play based on Hank Williams’ final ‘tour’

By John Lyle Belden

Playwright and retired journalist Garret Matthews incorporates aspects of people he has known and interviewed into his plays. In his latest, “Opening Hank,” he includes the story of someone more familiar to most of us.

On New Years Day 1953, country music legend Hank Williams Sr. rode his Cadillac into eternity. In a body weakened by a hard life that included alcohol and painkillers (mainly to deal with chronic back pain), his heart gave out on the way to a Jan. 1 concert in Ohio, discovered dead in the backseat in Oak Hill, West Virginia. This necessitated another ride, in a hearse from there back home to Montgomery, Alabama.

On that route, in Mathews’ play, is the town of Bluefield, where you can get gas, car repairs, and “a free Coky-Cola with a fill-up” at the West Main Esso. Willie T. McClanahan (Taylor Cox), a savant with car engines but largely seen as a kind but simple soul otherwise, barely notices the news on WHIS radio as he challenges himself at checkers, but his second-shift manager Steve Tatum (Zachariah Stonerock) has heard and is not taking it well. Williams’ music and songs inspired him to take up writing for the first time since his horrific experiences in World War II a decade earlier.

A nicely dressed gentleman, Hiram Ledbetter (David Mosedale, who also directs) enters what he declares to be the “gasoline emporium” not seeking fuel but rest, and offering a proposition. He pilots Williams’ transport, and while he finds a meal and a nap elsewhere in town, he says, he would leave the coffin at the service station for safekeeping and in exchange for a fee, Steve could then charge the townspeople to get their last look at the hillbilly music superstar.

Having a dread fear of the trappings of death, Willie is sent away, leaving Steve, who takes up the undertaker’s offer, but for his own reasons.

While fictional, this story contains characters, events and anecdotes based on actual stories Mathews reported, and we get an excellent refresher on Hank Williams’ life, struggles and music, with several songs featured before and during the play. There is much heart and humor, with moments of dire drama. We get a feel for the brotherly relationship between Willie and Steve long before we learn their connection, as well as how they are essential to each other’s wellbeing. Cox and Stonerock have a natural chemistry, borne of talent as well as working together before. Mosedale cuts an interesting character himself, with hints of the Devil-in-a-suit archetype but with Southern charm and a grudging bit of good conscience. Ol’ Hank is a bit stiff in that box, but does sound good on the old radio.

In a post-show talk, Mathews and the cast give hearty thanks to stage manager Aaron Henze for his contributions, so we will as well.

Remaining performances are today and tomorrow (Nov. 19-20) as I post this, at the Cat, 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel. Get info and tickets at thecat.biz.

Journey with ‘Violet’ at ATI

By Wendy Carson

 One quick note before I dive into the review: This is the third production of the musical “Violet” we have seen over the years, the first time based on the 1997 Off-Broadway production, before it was taken to Broadway in 2014. Each local performance has not only been different, but also better than the one before. Therefore, if you have seen the show prior to this, I still strongly suggest you see it, the latest edition, at Actors Theatre of Indiana. It’s a superb production, and I adored it (and not just because my hometown is part of the show).

Written by acclaimed composer Jeanine Tesori with Brian Crawley, based on a Doris Betts short story, the plot has remained consistent: At the age of thirteen, Violet was hit in the face by a flying axe head, leaving her horribly scarred. Years later, in the 1960s, she is on her own and has finally saved up enough money for the bus fare to take her from North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the TV Preacher whom she knows will be able to restore her beauty. Along the way, she befriends a couple of soldiers. The three of them quickly become close, with the men reluctant to let her take the final leg of her journey as they are sure she will be sorrowfully disappointed in her Preacher’s abilities. They are both waiting for her when she returns, healed, but not as she had expected.

Sydney Howard expertly brings out the adult Violet’s hopefulness and sorrow over her predicament while Quincy Carmen as young Vi (in frequent flashbacks) shows the innocence and fortitude that made her the woman she became.

Luke Weber as Monty, the Army Private First Class fresh from Special Forces school, shows the naivete of a soldier looking forward to going to war. Maurice-Aime Green as Flick, the more seasoned Sergeant, reflects the harsh reality of the differences the mere color of his skin brings to his military career and everyday life.

Matt Branic, as Violet’s father, brings out the devotion, stoicism and love of a single parent trying to do the best for his little girl, despite that one horrific moment.

Eric Olson is sheer perfection as the Preacher who may or may not actually have the power to heal, but certainly has the ability to motivate.

While it is easy to present both the Father and the Preacher in a negative light, Branic and Olson each maintain their characters’ humanity as they play their parts in Violet’s life. This is not a story of “good” or “bad” people, but of a journey, and the life lessons learned along the way.

As the rest of the cast play many interchangeable characters throughout the show, one pair does stand out with their true diva roles: Tiffany Gilliam brings down the house as the Music Hall Singer the trio goes out to see while overnighting in Memphis. It is obvious that were she around during that era, she would indeed have been a star on that stage.

Tiffanie Bridges seems to channel the voice of the angels as her turn as Lula, the lead singer in our Preacher’s choir. While her character reminds him that she is singing not for the “show,” but for the Lord, her talent shows this to be true.

ATI co-founder Judy Fitzgerald’s roles include a friendly fellow passenger; other characters, including bus drivers, are provided by Richard Campea and Cody Stiglich.

Director Richard J. Roberts has taken eleven talented singers and actors, a phenomenal script, and a band that can bring such vivid emotion to their music, and given us a beautifully moving show. Pianist Nathan Perry is music director, with musicians Greg Gegogeine, Charles Platz, Kathy Schilling and Greg Wolf. The versatile stage by P. Bernard Killian features a map of the bus route painted across the floor, which includes Fort Smith, Arkansas (where I was born).

Performances of “Violet” run through Nov. 13 in The Studio Theatre at The Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. For tickets and information, visit atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org.

Cat ‘CAT’ show is so very ‘Addams’

By John Lyle Belden

The Cat, a nice little stage in downtown Carmel, includes in its programs the Carmel Apprentice Theatre, in which local stage veterans work with new and less-experienced performers to bring forth a wonderful experience for actors and audiences alike. Appropriately opening on Halloween weekend, CAT presents “The Addams Family: A New Musical,” by Andrew Lippa with Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

Based on the famous Charles Addams characters, which went from New Yorker cartoons in the 1940s and ‘50s to television and movies (and even a Hanna-Barbera “Scooby-Doo”-style cartoon in the 1970s, as we see during the pre-show entertainment), the 2010 Broadway musical showcases the family’s unconventional and gently macabre lifestyle while engaging with a wacky comedy premise: Now-adult daughter Wednesday wants to marry a young man from a “normal” Ohio family.  

First-time director Elaine Miller managed to get the best out of this cast of varied experience, including former apprentice turned stage regular JB Scoble as Gomez Addams, writer and dancer (who gets to show off her tango) Audrey Larkin as Morticia, Carmel High senior Jayda Glynn as a picture-perfect Wednesday, Ball State grad Elaine Endris as mischievous masochist brother Pugsley, crew-turned-cast member Jake Williams as charming Uncle Fester, Jeff Hamilton as feisty Grandmama, and classically-trained Evan Wang as the butler, Lurch. (Thing was played by “R.C.”, and Cousin Itt was absent, likely at a hair appointment.) The more conventional Beinecke family are played by Tim West as lovestruck Lucas, Chelsie Christian as his mom and compulsive poet Alice, and Greg Gibbs as buttoned-down dad Mal.

When one is an Addams, you’re in the family forever, so the ghostly Ancestors are on hand as well. They are portrayed by Erin Coffman, Ashley Mash, Diana Pratt, Vivian Schnelker, Mark Gasper, and the stage debut of Sarah Gasper, a natural charmer who after attending dozens of performances of “Addams Family” finally gets to live her dream.

What this show might lack in professional polish is more than made up for in the fun everyone has in bringing this story to life. Given the gusto with which the titular family treat any endeavor, any rough edges actually add to the overall experience. Scoble’s performance stands toe-to-toe (sword-to-sword?) with the likes of John Astin or Raul Julia, and Larkin is dead(ly) sexy. Everyone has standout moments, especially Christian in her “full disclosure” outburst.

While oddness is the rule in this world, one aspect of the musical that, to me, seemed distracting was Fester’s wooing of the Moon (yes, that big rock in the sky). Williams manages to pull off the illogical longing, further aided by Mash portraying the heavenly body, dancing in shimmering gray with matching mask. Miller’s choice in this, rather than using a light or glowing ball, sweetens the scene and makes it more relatable – we see the lover that Fester sees.

Performances of this spooky, “ooky,” fun and funny show run Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 13 at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, next to Carmel’s Main Street arts and cultural district. For information and tickets, go to thecat.biz.

Civic opens season with ‘Rent’

By John Lyle Belden

“Rent” is very much of its own time – the struggles of Generation X to make their mark as the AIDS epidemic wreaks havoc on creative and marginalized communities – yet our recent encounter with an incurable plague makes the lyric, “one song before the virus takes hold,” feel all too familiar.

In this context, the Jonathan Larson masterpiece musical takes the stage of the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, directed by Michael J. Lasley. We meet filmmaker Mark (Austin Stodghill) and songwriter Roger (Joseph Massingale), living what they thought was rent-free in a building now managed by ex-roommate Benny (Kerrington Shorter). There are also friends Tom Collins (Austin Hookfin) and Angel (Kendrell Stiff), free-spirit Mimi (Jaelynn Keating), and activist Maureen (Olivia Broadwater) who left Mark for attorney Joanne (Miata McMichel), as well as a full cast representing the hoi polloi of New York City, including Julia Ammons, who is a stunning soloist in the signature song, “Seasons of Love.”

Act One centers on a particular Christmas Eve in the 1990s, giving us the lives of our characters in that pivotal day; Act Two carries through the next year, with its changes and loss.

If you are familiar with the show, picture the perfect Maureen: Broadwater solidly fits the bill. Stodghill portrays Mark well, and Massingale – master of unconventional manly roles (like in “Bonnie and Clyde”) – is well within his element here. We feel the chemistry between the couples: Roger and Mimi, Maureen and Joanne, and especially Tom and Angel. Civic newcomer Stiff has big high-heels to fill in their iconic role, and does not disappoint.

Circumstances had Wendy elsewhere, so I brought my friend, Mary, as my plus-one. Her impressions: “’Rent’ was fantastic. Thought Roger and Mimi had great chemistry. Angel was absolutely gorgeous. And even though I have watched [the 2005 film] countless times on DVD, I didn’t expect to get emotional during [the] death scene. Watching it live just hit me differently.”

This is why you should experience this musical, and bring a friend, as well as Kleenex (you’ll need it for the curtain call).

Performances run through Oct. 22 at the Tarkington in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get info and tickets at civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org.

Bard Fest: Women give men a (very) hard time in ‘Lysistrata’

This is part of Indy Bard Fest 2022, the annual Indianapolis area Shakespeare Festival. For information and tickets, visit indybardfest.com.

By Wendy Carson

With the Indy Bard Fest production of “Lysistrata,” Holly Hathaway-Thompson has done an amazing job of updating Aristophanes’ story of women’s empowerment. She not only made the storyline more accessible to a modern audience, but also shows the true meaning behind its purpose: Women have the power to change everything if they just stand together in their resolve.

The story begins in the not-too-distant future with a young girl (Missy Waaland) approaching her grandmother (Miki Mathioudakis) for more information about the election of 2022. Grandmother is horrified to learn that only a sentence or two about this time exists online and one of those is on bleach vaccines. She then begins the story, “There was this woman …”

We are transported to an alternate reality of Greece in which Lysistrata (Carrie Reiberg) has called together all of the women of the various tribes to set about her plans for P-E-A-C-E (the spelling of this word is vital throughout). Though many of the representatives have disputes among themselves, they all agree that they are sick and tired of their men being away at war all the time. Lysistrata puts forth her simple plan: They will all withhold any romantic or sexual favors until the men agree to give them a Peace.

Surprisingly for some, this is almost as difficult for the women to uphold as it is for the men to endure. Therefore, the women take over the capital for themselves alone until their demands have been met. The men do not take kindly to this tactic and try everything to persuade the women from their resolve. However, even the most bull-headed of them men finally give in to their basest needs and agree that they will meet the demands of peace, healthcare, education, living wages, etc. This brings about the blissfully benevolent future of our Grandmother and Grandchild – a future where men do not control women’s bodies or destinies.

With the source material being a comedy, Hathaway-Thompson has given the cast some truly hilarious lines throughout. Her amazing cast manage to squeeze every possible drop of laughter from each one.

Reiburg brings a slyness to Lysistrata you don’t always see in this role. This was a woman who literally brought a nation to peace with a very simple plan. Mathioudakis is brilliant in her dual roles as Grandmother and Colonice (Lysistrata’s closest ally), bringing the wisdom and experience of both characters. Waaland’s turn as the Grandchild and Ismenia allows us to see the counterpoint naivete of her youth.

Tracy Nakigozi portrays Andromeda as a wary but proud woman who puts aside personal conflicts for the good of the whole. Lucy Fields as Lampito is a comic delight as she bemoans the travails of this lack of intimacy upon herself as well as the men. Scott Fleshood (Xander), shows another side of this longing as the lone representative of those who also love men even though being born with a Y chromosome. Samantha Kelly (Medora) and Nikki Lynch (Cassandra) both do a great job of helping to keep the men in their place.

Jessica Crum Hawkins (Myrrhine) plays one half of a married couple that, despite their love and desire for each other, are still at odds on the matter. Matthew Socey (her  husband, Cinesias) brings comic timing to a new level as he is continually and painfully denied the fulfillment of his desires.

Also at loggerheads are the Leader of the Women (MaryAnne Mathews), Leader of the Men (Robert Webster), and the Magistrate (Eric Bryant) each of them chewing up the scenery as if it were their final meal.

Speaking of the men, being that the story surrounds the baseness of themselves, they are mainly comic relief. However, each brilliantly shows their ability to handle these barbs – especially Jurrell Spencer as the Herald who has apparently “cut a hole in the box.”

I was saddened to discover that most of the audience had never head of the story, but proud of their reception to it afterwards. I do adore this play. It has an important message and it needs to be heard throughout our country and the world.

You have your chance this Friday through Sunday, Oct. 14-16, at The Cat theatre, 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel.

ATI back in the habit

By John Lyle Belden

“Nunsense” is habit forming – the clever slogan, and title of one of the show’s songs, is quite apt. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser since opening Off-Broadway nearly thirty-seven years ago, this musical by Dan Goggin has had thousands of productions worldwide, and the show’s official website has at least eight sequels and spin-offs if you want to see the Little Sisters of Hoboken doing something different. The more than 25,000 actors who have donned the habit could petition the Pope to be named their own order.

This is all to say that the classic “Nunsense,” done afresh this month by Actors Theatre of Indiana, may be a bit familiar to y’all reading this. If you haven’t seen the show, or at least not in a while, by all means, go! Goggins’ humor, with just a touch of absurdity, doesn’t get too sacred and is never profane. You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate this, but if you are, be warned that Reverend Mother has her clicker!

The Little Sisters are in a bind, needing to raise funds quickly to bury deceased nuns (inadvertently poisoned by the convent cook), put on a show displaying their own varied talents. That’s all you need to know going in, as well as the fact that there will be a pop quiz – with prizes – at one point.

Suzanne Stark is our Rev. Mother, Sister Mary Regina. A veteran of nun roles in “Sound of Music” and “Sister Act,” she is right at home as the boss of this little sisterhood. Asserting her authority without coming off as stiff or mean, she guides this show with a steady hand – except when she doesn’t, in a hilarious encounter with a mysterious little bottle.

Illeana Kirven is Sister Mary Hubert, the second-ranking nun. She tackles this project with unflagging joyous energy, suppressing as best she can her feelings about Rev. Mother using part of their last windfall to buy a giant TV.

Katelyn Lauria is street-tough Sister Robert Ann, who drives (and repairs) the convent vehicle. Her gregarious style and frequent funny bouts of scene-stealing are nicely countered by the moment she describes her spiritual path, revealing genuine devotion.

Rachel Weinfeld is Sister Mary Leo, the novice who feels there’s room in her vows for also becoming a celebrated ballerina. Her dancing is sweet, her manner charming.

Stephanie Wahl is the ever-popular Sister Mary Amnesia, who can’t remember who she is, and is otherwise a few beads short of a rosary. Wahl, who is also dance captain, handles this special character well, keeping us laughing with her more than at her. She also does an excellent job wielding the puppet Sister Mary Annette.

Directed by Karen Sheridan with choreography by Anne Beck, this production also features the all-priest onstage band of Greg Wolf, Greg Gegogeine, and music director Jay Schwandt, as well as production assistant Gillian Norris lending a helping hand as a student from Mount St. Helens School.

See the Sisters sing and dance their way to their miracle in ATI’s season opener, through Sept 25 at the Studio Theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get information and tickets at atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org.

CCP brings unbelievable adventure to Cat stage

By John Lyle Belden

“Truth is stranger than fiction
But De Rougemont is stranger than both”

 – The Wide World Magazine, June 1899 (quoted in Wikipedia)

*

Louis De Rougemont was an actual 19th-century personality; Pulitzer-winning playwright Donald Margulies did not make him up. Whether Mr. De Rougemont invented his “amazing adventures,” though, is another question.

See and judge for yourself at “Shipwrecked: An Entertainment! The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (as Told by Himself),” presented by Carmel Community Players at The Cat, directed by Lori Raffel.

Embodied by local actor Earl Campbell, De Rougemont relates his fantastic story with an ensemble of Vickie Cornelius Phipps, Joe Aiello, Margot Everitt, Jayda Glynn, Hannah Janowicz, and Tom Smith. He tells of being a sickly boy, raised on stories of adventure read to him by his mother (Phipps). As a teen, he meets a sea captain (Phipps again) and leaves home to find adventure aboard the good ship Wonderworld, searching for pearls off the coast of Australia. As the title hints, he finds himself wrecked and marooned with the ship’s dog, faithful Bruno (Aiello). His journey back to London will take decades, during which he befriends local Aborigines, marrying one (Phipps yet again). He becomes the toast of Britain when he publishes his adventures, but not everyone believes him.

The basic stage set takes us back to a bare-bones turn-of-the-20th-century hall, appropriately giving free rein to our imaginations as the tale is presented with simple, improvised props. Campbell takes on our hero’s charm and charisma with unwavering boldness. Phipps is sweet and versatile, her talent allowing us not to dwell on the Freudian overtones of her casting. Bruno, a literal scene-chewing role, is taken to with endearing gusto by Aiello, who also gets non-barking characters such as the editor of Wide World Magazine, and Queen Victoria.

Other ensemble members get their moments to shine – Smith as the Aboriginal elder and a Royal Geographic Society skeptic, Janowicz showing mime skills reminiscent of her turn in “The Fantasticks,” Glynn as a Paperboy and the card-turner, and Everitt as an able utility player, as well as the gentle nudge needed when the story goes awry.

When all is said and done, we have the highs and lows of our hero’s journey, as well as a counter-narrative. But wherein is the “truth,” and does it matter? To an audience accustomed to watching “Ancient Aliens” and “inspired by true events” on a screen, the bigger questions feel familiar – even current – despite over a century passing since Wide World published the original story.

So, saddle up your sea turtle and indulge in this entertaining “Entertainment,” opening tonight (Aug. 12) and running through Aug. 21 at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel. Get information and tickets at carmelplayers.org.

Death stalks doctors in ‘Ambush’

By John Lyle Belden

Both a parent’s and a physician’s worst nightmare: A young person is dying, and it seems no one can stop it. This is at the heart of the medical mystery thriller “The Ambush,” on stage at The Cat in Carmel. The play is by Dr. L. Jan Eira, a local cardiologist whose work as a playwright has been seen from IndyFringe to Off-Off-Broadway, and directed by Aaron Henze.

It seemed odd, but not too suspicious at first. The Zionsville (Ind.) High School soccer team is invited to a pre-season exhibition at Danville, Ill. Zionsville Police Detective Ben Sinclair (T.J. O’Neil) and his wife, research scientist Dr. Amy Sinclair (Stephanie Riley), accompany their son, a member of the team. At the game, the boy suddenly collapses, and at the hospital his parents learn the awful truth – it was deliberate poisoning with a neurotoxin, and if an antidote isn’t found or created, he will soon die.

The couple discover other coincidences: There is a research facility at the hospital, much like the one where Amy works, headed by Dr. Miranda Phillips (Tanya Rave), daughter of Amy’s past colleague and friend, Dr. Terri Phillips (Wendy Brown), who recently retired. Miranda is assisted by wheelchair-bound Dr. Jack Stevenson (Adam K Allen). In addition, Danville Police Lieutenant Lela Rose (Jessica Hawkins) and Detective Rubin (Josh Rooks) inform them there have been a series of brutal murders, all involving the use of neurotoxin. As ICU Dr. Jenner (Miranda Lila Jean Nickerson) informs them that the boy’s condition is worsening fast, all understand they are in a race against time to find both a cure and a killer!

Eira combines his medical knowledge with love of a mystery to create a plot similar to the many action-mystery dramas we see on television. My impression was that this was like a blend of “House M.D.” and CBS’s “FBI” series, with a hefty dose of melodrama as the tension ramps up.

O’Neill gives us a furious combination of angry father and impatient cop that would be right at home in a “Lethal Weapon” film, but his maverick ways get results – and a lot of (to be honest, appropriate) pushback from Hawkins’ Lt. Rose, who plays it cool and professional throughout. Riley has a lot to work with in her role, feeling desperate at possibly losing her son and guilty at the possibility this is someone’s way of getting back at her for a perceived past slight. When the killer is revealed, we get some scenes of “boo-hiss”-worthy evil before our heroes prevail.

There is also a theme of faith and its power to salve or solve, as well as personal sacrifice.

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday, July 8-10, at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, Carmel. Get info and tickets at themdwriter.com.

Rising Stars ‘slay’ in CCP production

By John Lyle Belden

Wendy and I have been at this for some time now, and we can point to several stage veterans who we first saw as shining stars as far back as sixth grade. So, consider the Carmel Community Players Rising Star Production of “A Medley of Murders” an opportunity to see kids on a path towards a lifetime of great roles – on stage, or elsewhere as they take confidence into their careers.

Murder seems a dire subject for middle- and high-schoolers, but this set of three one-acts are all comedy, and while death and destruction are at hand, we’ll leave it a surprise as to how many felonious slayings occur.

The hilarity gets under way in “Death of a Dead Guy” as Charlie Haas plays a cheesy noir-inspired Private Eye bumbling the case and dealing with a daring dame (Ava Button), a droll butler (Owen Yeater), the posh lady of the house (Isabella Bardos), the maid dropping all the china (Camren Davis) and a subtly brilliant turn by Mason Yeater as a surprisingly lively “victim.”

In “Cheating Death,” the Reaper (Lilliana Rondinella) comes to collect a soul during a group session in a mental hospital. Needless to say, things get a bit dysfunctional, as Death finds she, too, could benefit from some therapy. The patients, neurotic but clever and good-hearted, are nicely portrayed by Quinn Yeater, Kaavya Jethava, Veronica Rondinella, Camren Davis, Mason Yeater, and especially Kathryn Kirschner.

“Murder at the Art Show” involves nearly the whole company in a fairly complex plot, as Charlie Haas plays an art-hating jerk taking over the gallery from its curator (Jayda Glynn) and resident artist (Joey Brandenburg), so he can tear it down. The make-or-break exhibition features artists of varying renown (Emerson Bobenmoyer, Mason Yeater, Ava Button, Isabella Bardos), a bitter critic (Owen Yeater) and a “discovered” Monet painting. After a chaotic opening that seems to shock Rising Star director Tanya Haas as she tries to stage-manage the mess, an investigator (Quinn Yeater) declares there is evidence of foul play. This story brings out lots of promising performances, including by Morgan Rusbasan, a seventh-grader in her first major role as the keeper of the alleged masterpiece; and Kaavya Jethava, showing great stage presence for a sixth-grader as a competent but mysterious personal assistant.

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday, June 17-19, at Carmel Friends Church, 651 W. Main St. You don’t have to be a relative or friend of these youths to enjoy this bit of silly fun. They’ll appreciate your support, and we wouldn’t be surprised if, before long, you see some of them on stage again.

Info and tickets at carmelplayers.org.

Civic’s ‘Matilda’ a fun and inspiring adventure

By John Lyle Belden

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda, The Musical” not only features Dahl’s brilliant dark satire but also the sharp wit of songs by Tim Minchin, with book by Dennis Kelly. Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre presents this “miracle” on its stage at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through May 14, directed by Suzanne Fleenor.

In a generation of British children convinced they are wonderful and special, there is Matilda Wormwood (Alexis Vahrenkamp), whose parents take a different approach.  Her mother (Mikayla Koharchik) resents that the birth kept her from a ballroom & salsa dance contest; her father (John Walls) can’t get over the fact that she is not a boy, like her dull-witted brother, Michael (Matthew Wessler); and they both can’t stand she insists on always reading books full of stories. Why can’t she just watch telly like a normal kid? 

Mr. Wormwood is working on the deal of a lifetime, not letting pesky stuff like ethics get in the way. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wormwood works on her dance steps with slinky partner Rudolpho (Michael Humphrey). To their delight, Matilda, who has been “a little bit naughty,” will go away to school, where she’ll be sorted out by sadistically cruel Headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Evan Wallace).

Fortunately, our heroine has some allies. She befriends local librarian Mrs. Phelps (Kendra Randle) and thrills her with stories she spins about an Escapologist (Matthew Sumpter) and an Acrobat (Isa Armstrong). Her sweet but mousey teacher Miss Honey (Julia Bonnett) sees the girl as gifted and pledges to help her reach her potential. On the schoolyard, precocious Lavender (Nye Beck) declares that she and Matilda are Best Friends.

While the title character is the show’s focus, its events also involve her classmates. The plight of brave Bruce (Cole Weesner), betrayed by his sweet tooth, helps bring the children to the realization that “the Trunchbull” must be defeated. But it’s Matilda’s most special “gifts” that will turn the tide.

This fun musical is a great showcase of young talent, and an entertaining inspiration for the kids of all ages watching. The adults aren’t bad either – actually the ones who act badly, Koharchik, Walls, and especially Wallace, are the best.

So, put aside the Telly and enjoy the antics of some truly “revolting” children. For information and tickets see civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org.