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.

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CrazyLake’s ‘Chaperone’ shines

By John Lyle Belden

CrazyLake Acting Company in Greenfield has tackled musicals and comedies, so naturally, it now stages “The Drowsy Chaperone: A Musical Within a Comedy.” And it is worth the drive out to the heart of Hancock County.

(Full disclosure: John & Wendy are long-time friends and supporters of CrazyLake director Christine Schaefer [who also directs KidsPlay Inc. children’s theatre], and John used to work with one of this show’s stars, Noelle Steele, editor of the Greenfield Daily Reporter. Still – this is a good show!)

A “Man in Chair” (Trever Brown) speaks to us enthusiastically about his love of musical theater, and especially his recording of the mythical 1928 classic, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” As he plays the record, the musical comes to life in his apartment. He picks up the needle from time to time to explain to us the context and what became of the original actors.

The plot of the show within the show deals with a wedding to be hosted at the lavish home of Mrs. Tottendale (Carie McMichael), who is attended by faithful Underling (Ross McMichael). The groom is handsome oil heir Robert Martin (Austin Fisher), accompanied by Best Man, George (Matt Little); the bride is popular “Follies” star Janet Van De Graaff (Elisabeth Orr), whose Chaperone (Steele) gets “drowsy” from the contents of her flask. Show producer Feldzeig (Jake Hobbs) – shadowed by ditzy chorine Kitty (Alexandra Kern) – has to get Janet out of the wedding and back on the stage or gangster enforcers (Corey Yeaman and Jim Vetters), disguised as chefs, will pound him into their next pastry. Also in attendance is famous Latin lover, Adolpho (Luke Agee), to advance the plot. Deus ex machina duty goes to Trix the Aviatrix (Jamie McDowell).

From the start and throughout there is an atmosphere of silly fun, making the story within enjoyable. Brown easily fits the Man’s sweater; he helps us feel his devotion to and obsession with this stage gem, giving even the most odd moments and trite old lyrics weight as we see the musical through one who has studied it intensely.

For their part, the musical’s cast pull off the show excellently. While I note that this is an all-volunteer community theatre, Shaefer’s work sets a high standard – and, with the help of musical director and choreographer Amy Studabaker, they achieve it.

Steele, Orr, Fisher, Little, the McMichaels and Hobbs aquit themselves like pros. Agee goes big without being over-the-top, and if there were awards CrazyLake could qualify for, I’d nominate Kern for Best Supporting in making Kitty’s moments stand out.

For the fun, the laughs, the old-time stage nostalgia, fly on down to Greenfield – at the Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. – and see “The Drowsy Chaperone” in one of its remaining performances, Friday and Saturday (July 21-22). Tickets are $10 each at crazylake.com.

Review: Ohmygod, you guys! CrazyLake has hit with “Legally Blonde”

Amy Studabaker (left) is townie hairdresser Paulette and Peyton Cole is Harvard law student Elle Woods in the CrazyLake Acting Company production of
Amy Studabaker (left) is townie hairdresser Paulette and Payton Cole is Harvard law student Elle Woods in the CrazyLake Acting Company production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical” — CrazyLake photo

By Wendy Carson

CrazyLake’s new show, “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” does a fantastic job of showcasing many of the talented young adults in the Hancock County area. With a mere 15 percent of the enormous cast consisting of adults, it’s really impressive to see these kids ruling the stage. I’m sure most of them will be off to college and out of the area very soon, but those that do stick around should be regulars on the area stages very soon.

Besides the overall level of acting and singing, the true stand-out here is the choreography by Amy Studabaker. The various dances are not only artfully crafted but perfectly executed. This is especially amazing in the numbers with seven or more dancers performing in unison. The finale with the entire cast is particularly breathtaking.

The show’s story is very faithful to the original movie’s script and the elaborate musical numbers do not detract from the story. However, like the film it was based on, it never takes itself too seriously. Hence, the running gag of Elle’s “Greek Chorus” appearing periodically thoughout.

Payton Cole is sheer perfection in her turn as Elle, a ditzy sorority girl who will do anything (including getting in to Harvard Law School) to snag the man she feels she is destined to be with. Harrison Kenn is appropriately pompous and self-involved as the object of Elle’s affections. Patrick Gawrys-Strand’s does a beautifully nuanced job in his role as Emmitt, the financially disadvantaged kid who is Elle’s most faithful supporter. Studebaker is delightful as Paulette, the salon owner with her dreams of Ireland and a better life with a good man who truly supports her.

Still, many of the true stand-outs are in some of the “lesser role,” such as the divine band of ladies playing Elle’s sorority sisters and the Greek Chorus. Trevor Brown’s take on Kyle, the UPS guy, was hilarious and fun to behold. Of course, I cannot leave out the amazing talents of the two most adorable cast members, Banner McDowell-Fisher and Buddy Brown as Bruiser Woods and Rufus — they were consummate professionals through and through.Honestly, I could easily write at least a dozen or so more paragraphs highlighting every single performer and role but I already feel like I’m exhausting my audience’s patience as well as running out of adjectives. So just let me say that every single cast member was sheer perfection, and if anyone out there misses this production, they will truly regret it.

Performances are today through Sunday and July 17-19 at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. in downtown Greenfield (on U.S. 40, just west of the county courthouse). Info and tickets at the CrazyLake Facebook page and CrazyLake.com.