Civic: Here we go again!

By John Lyle Belden

It’s hard to imagine anyone not knowing about the musical “Mamma Mia!” Between the popular film (which recently launched a sequel) and the various touring productions through the years since it premiered on Broadway in 2001, practically everyone with an interest in this show has seen it. And it stands as one of those theatre experiences people eagerly go to again and again, perhaps bringing along children or hold-outs unfamiliar with its goings-on.

Since rights recently became available for local productions, it is naturally popping up — now “Mamma Mia!” is at the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel, through Oct. 19.

Directed and choreographed by Anne Beck, this edition of the musical — featuring an engaging romantic comedy plot, and twenty-two hits by 70s-80s superstars ABBA — takes advantage of its large stage and generously-sized volunteer cast to really go big on the singing and dancing, while simultaneously embracing the show’s use of simple sets, employing a couple of small set pieces and a rotating center stage that is put to effective use. 

Thanks to Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan’s efforts on the big screen, the karaoke nature of the musical doesn’t require perfect singers, still Civic didn’t skimp on the talent. Becky Larson stars as Sophie Sheridan, a girl who invites three men to her wedding, knowing only that one of them is her father. Her mother, Donna, is portrayed wonderfully by Kara Snyder, while her best friends and “Dynamos” are fun roles for Civic favorites Laura Lockwood as cougarish Tanya and Marni Lemmons as free-spirit Rosie. Our three possible papas are sharply played by Clay Mabbitt as Sam the architect, Ethan Mathias as “Headbanger” Harry the banker, and Parrish Williams as Bill the travel writer. Joseph David Massingale is more than a handsome face as the prospective groom, Sky.

Also great are Cameron Hicks and Nate Schlabach as Sky’s buds, Pepper and Eddie; Jessica Linxwiler and Julia Ammons as maids-of-honor Ali and Lisa; and supporting ensemble Matthew Altman, Tanner Brunson, Sydney Chaney, Tyler Hartman Derry, David Johnson, Jonathan Katter, Emily Lantz, Dani Morey, Miles Morey, Kipp Morgan, Jacquelyn Rae, Emily Schaab, Caitlin Stacy, and Tiffany Whisner.

Taken as a whole, this show is so much fun. There are moments fraught with possible heartbreak (and sad songs), but it all ends well, of course. We all have our favorite scenes — such as the frog-dance of “Lay All Your Love on Me,” or Tanya strutting her stuff in “Does Your Mother Know” — and there’s always the “Megamix” at the end with the outrageous costume reveal and bonus track (“Waterloo”). 

Civic is “having the time of their lives;” it would be a shame to miss the party. Get tickets and information at 317-843-3800, civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org.

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The King turns Queen in Phoenix’s ‘Georgia McBride’

By John Lyle Belden

Phoenix Theatre opens its 2019-20 season with the fabulous Off-Broadway comedy, “The Legend of Georgia McBride” by Matthew Lopez.

Set in the Florida Panhandle, just as Casey (Sam C. Jones), a budding Elvis impersonator with a bit of high school musical experience, is finally getting his act to work, Cleo’s Bar on Panama City Beach decides to change its entertainment. Desperate for a bigger (or any) audience, bar manager Eddie (Ty Stover) takes a chance on his cousin, drag queen Miss Tracy Mills (John Vessels).

Casey is in a bind, as his wife Jo (Bridgette Ludlow) is pregnant, so he stays on as bartender. Then, when Miss Tracy’s fellow entertainer, Anna-Rexia Nervosa (Jonathan Studdard), can’t go on, Casey is pressed into service in dress, wig and makeup, and Georgia McBride is born!

Once our hopelessly hetero hero accepts his new persona, “her” popularity rises on the beach-bar scene, but Casey can’t bring himself to tell Jo what he’s been doing. It’s easy to see that a reckoning is coming for Florida’s newest Queen.

This play is loaded with both humor – in side-splitting comic moments – and heart. In Jones and Ludlow’s performance, you can tell Casey and Jo truly love each other, though he tests her patience with his immaturity, and she his with her bouts of pessimism.

Vessels is amazing, whether playing the confident woman backstage or the hilarious performer in the spotlight. Studdard is excellent in double-duty as Rexy, who informs Casey that the drag life is more than just a lip-synching gig; and as Casey and Jo’s landlord and friend, Jason – his double-take when he find’s out about Casey doing drag is priceless. Stover as Eddie is in his element, as he plays a thin-tempered but lovable Falstaff with bills to pay.

The drag scenes are played to the Phoenix audience as the bar’s audience, so cast members informed us after opening night that people sitting up front could tip them like in a regular drag show. Those scenes include clever musical mash-ups, and wonderful costumes by Stephen Hollenbeck. Suzanne Fleenor directs.

The “Legend” continues through Oct. 6 at the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois in downtown Indianapolis. Information and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.

Would be a crime to miss ATI’s ‘Scoundrels’

By John Lyle Belden

The criminal culture on the French Riviera of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is an easy-going atmosphere where there is truly honor among thieves, the setting for the raucous comedy of the 1988 film (starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin) and the more recent Broadway musical, now presented by Actors Theatre of Indiana.

Polished and posh local con man Lawrence Jameson (played by TJ Lancaster) has perfected his act of posing as an exiled prince, extracting funds for his “revolution” from willing rich women, including Muriel (Judy Fitzgerald), an American all too eager to spend her ex-husband’s fortune. Lawrence’s accomplice, Andre (Don Farrell), is also the city Chief of Police, so they pretty much have it made.

But shortly after hearing that a notorious swindler, The Jackal, is in the area, Lawrence meets Freddy (Tony Carter) a crude but effective fast-talker who wants the more mature con artist to teach him his methods. They gain a grudging respect for each other, but get on each others nerves to the point that they make a wager – first to fleece their next mark for $50 thousand gets to stay; the other must leave. Enter the Soap Queen of Cincinnati, Christine Colgate (Deborah Mae Hill). The con is on!

The result is hilarious and thoroughly entertaining. Fortunately, the musical’s book by Jeffrey Lane (songs by David Yazbek) doesn’t force our leads to be copies of the charismatic Caine or unique Martin, but excellently-rendered characters that Lancaster and Carter have obvious fun embodying. They and the supremely charming Hill make the most of the show’s frequent slapstick moments. Fitzgerald fits among the criminals, stealing scenes — especially with fellow ATI founder Farrell. Supporting and chorus parts are ably filled by Michael Corey Hassel, Tim Hunt, Annalee Traeger, Brynn Tyszka and Sabra Michelle, who shines as an Oklahoma oil heiress set on marrying our faux Prince. Direction is by New Yorker Michael Blatt.

ATI opens their 2019-20 season with this show in the intimate confines of The Studio Theater at the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel, running through Sept. 29. Get info and tickets at atistage.org, or thecenterpresents.org.

IndyFringe: The Madwomen’s Late-Nite Cabaret

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

From the moment that Lizzie Borden (Cody Ricks) dashes across stage to take her seat at the piano, you know that this show is anything but serious.

We then welcome our beloved hostess Ethel Merman (Dave Ruark hamming it up at his best) straight from her triumphant turn as “Annie”.

Throughout the night we are privy to songs revealing aspects of these historical icons who are more misunderstood than evil.

Shawnte Gaston has a quick turn as Medusa but spends most of the show co-hosting as Eve, the embodiment of maternal energy and possibly the most misrepresented of them all. She belts out her sentiments in both “What’s the Matter With Kids Today” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

Julie Lyn Barber embodies women as diverse as Typhoid Mary, Amelia Earhart, and Mary Stuart but she really stands out as Sybil singing “I Am My Own Best Friend”.

Georgeanna Smith Wade gives us a hilarious look into the mindset of Procne (most people know her as Medea) but it is her sultry version of Mata Hari performing “Bang, Bang” that really shines.

Add to this Jaddy Ciucci (although on the performance I saw this role was played by Devan Mathius), portraying not only Joan of Arc, Philomela, and Ann Boleyn, but a “Physical Embodiment of a Controlled Substance” (Mary Jane) and pleadingly insisting “I’d Be Good For You”

Needless to say, these women (and characters) deserve to be seen and heard and who knows when you will get another chance to do so. Presented by Main Street Artists, remaining performances are 9 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 Sunday at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair.

IndyFringe: VolleyBrawl

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

Welcome to the 2019 Championships of the extremely underground sport of VolleyBrawl.

This year’s lineup is sure to be thrilling and we begin with a rousing match between “Sugar and Spike” (a pair of lunch ladies) and “Clark & Nancy” a couple who seem out of their league as well as out of their wits. While the game seems pretty routine at first, we find out soon that this is literally a duel to the death (all players wear collars that deliver a lethal shock upon losing).

We then meet some of our other teams: “Orphan Twin Force” (a goofy pair of orphans with strange supernatural powers fighting in honor of their Sensei); “Aceholes” (two stereotypically cartoonish Russians); “The Cowpokes” (a couple of yokels in Cowboy hats); “Team Tiffany” (think 80’s style pop-tarts); and “Top Gunz” (every 80’s macho movie cliché in one).

Add to this “Zeros 2 Heroes” which is made up of a very douchey guy trying to make time with his partner (who is definitely NOT an undercover cop who has spent the last three years infiltrating the sport in order to avenge her dead husband who was also undercover investigating the game but got to close and was killed).

The whole show overflows with silliness and 80’s references abound. Musical numbers are tight and enjoyable. Even the volleyball gets its own song during the Memorial Montage to athletes lost on the way to the finals.

In the hands of a less skillful cast, this show would be just okay. However, Matt Kramer and Defiance Comedy have recruited a stellar cast and together they make this one of the funniest offerings of the Festival.

Remaining performances are Friday and Sunday evenings at the IndyFringe Theater, 719 E. St. Clair.

IndyFringe: The Day Penny Drowned

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

A successful playwright, Penny should be on the top of the world. She and Brad are on their way to a romantic getaway to celebrate the success of her Broadway show. However, her family proceeds to force their way into her plans, and she is soon overwhelmed by their presence — as well as their drama.

Ed Faunce is delightful as Brad, Penny’s devoted husband. He does an excellent job of showing us that he will do anything to protect his wife, yet still makes mistakes along the way.

Bridget Schlebecker’s portrayal of Judy, Penny’s overbearingly self-centered sister, gives us some of the much-needed comic relief in the piece. Her character is a force of nature, sweeping in and ensconcing everyone in her own personal drama without a care for anyone else’s feelings, leaving a swath of confused exhaustion in her wake.

Jonathan ‘JB’ Scoble gives a subtle performance as Jeremiah, Judy’s slacker son who has absolutely no clue about anything but eating and getting high.

Kate Hillman does an amazing job with the character of Francis, Penny’s neglectful mom who has just been released from the Fishkill Federal Prison. She brings out all of the redneck trashiness of the character while also sprinkling in some very sharp verbal abuse towards her “neglectful” daughter.

Rounding out the cast is Nancy Picket as Penny. She manages to show us the devotion the character has for all those around her to the detriment of her own self. However, she becomes so overwhelmed by it, she jumps into the lake just to get away from it all.

Can she find a balance between all of the forces demanding her time and energy? Will her family just give her a day or two alone to regain herself and sanity? Is she in over her head and if so, will she sink or swim?

Find out for yourself.

A play by local author Elizabeth Young-Collins, Remaining performances are today and Saturday (Aug. 22&24) at the District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: Game of Crows — Winter’s Coming, Father Ned!

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

The wacky gang from Perpendicular island is back again with a new adventure and some new cast members as well. There is also a Bingo card on the back of your program that can win you a prize after the show.

We start with tales of the dreaded Bog Walker and a discovery of treasures possibly left by Leif Erikson. Soon visitors arrive with some exciting news, the field being the Priory has been chosen for filming the dramatic final battle of Winterbeard on the massively popular show, “Game of Crows.”

The zaniness escalates from there as everyone on the island gets into the spirit and the homages emerge faster than the puffin eggs from Father Flannagan (David Whicker) — he was apparently a prime nesting spot during the “Great Puffin Migration”. Pop culture references from all over fly fast and furiously throughout.

David Molloy steps up to the new role of Father Ned Tully wholeheartedly and plays it very well. Blake Mellencamp’s turn as the dim-witted Father Dermott McDermott brings all the silliness necessary to highlight the character. While Kyrsten Lyster and Jim Lucas do an excellent job of portraying the wily grifters, Bridget Robertson & Hugh O’Toole. As is tradition in their shows, local rap artist Nate Burner as Squashy Nate, acts as our guide through this farcical tale.

Kate Duffy Sim is delightful as the dotty housekeeper, Mrs. O’Boyle, who cheerfully serves up the puffin eggs in everything possible. However, it is her version of the smugly condescending version of Olenna Tyrell that is worth the ticket price alone.

So sit back and enjoy some laughs as well as a nice cup of puffin tea with Clerical Error Productions. Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday (Aug. 23-24) at The Oasis (Shriners’ entrance of the Murat, on the north side), 502 N. New Jersey St.