Footlite hosts fresh take on popular fairy-tale musical

By John Lyle Belden

Sometimes, when you need it most, a special person appears, a wise character who makes everything better with their magical touch.

A Fairy Godmother? Sure. But for now. I’m referring to Bob Harbin. Mr. “Bobdirex” has cast his spell on Footlite Musicals in his direction of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” While most often seen as a version of the 1957 television production, he has gone with the 2013 Broadway book of the musical by Douglas Carter Beane. Consider this a more postmodern and “woke” version — as one critic of the New York staging put it, influenced by “Les Mis” and “Spamalot” — while still retaining plenty of the fairy-tale charm and the wonderful R&H songs.

We check off the old story points: A girl is reduced to servitude by her cruel stepmother and spoiled stepsisters, but she keeps a positive attitude “in her own little corner” by the hearth. Meanwhile, the local Prince (who is quite Charming, but he’ll go by one of his several names) needs to find a bride so he holds a Royal Ball, which our evil Steps go to but leave Cinder-Ella behind, to be rescued by a Fairy Godmother, who provides the gown and glass slippers while charming a pumpkin into a carriage and handy animals into its horses, driver and footmen. Spell ends at midnight, so after Cindy and the Prince fall in love-at-first-sight, the clock chimes, and off she goes…

But, wait! Also: Prince ‘Topher (Jacob Hardin) is more than two-dimensional and has his own inner struggle; likewise, stepsisters Charlotte (Kristin Cutler) and especially Gabriella (Tara Cherry) have feelings other than snobby disdain, with the latter secretly in love with peasant rabble-rouser Jean-Michel (Dustin Branum) — oh, and there’s that young student revolutionary added to the cast. Madame Stepmother (Jill O’Malia) is still evil as heck, but we have another villain in minister Sebastian (Markell Pipkins), who maintains the kingdom until the Prince comes of age, enacting all sorts of oppressive measures. And to top it all off, when she runs from the ball, Cinderella (Lauren Russel) takes both shoes! What’s going on here?!

You have until Dec. 15 to see how this all works out to the expected happy ending. With the odd twists and its constant way of mining humor from them, this is an entertaining take on the whole Once-Upon-a-Time schtick, and with tunes like “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” Fol-De-Rol,” “Impossible is Possible,” and “Ten Minutes Ago,” sure to please any who love the original show.

Great performances by all I’ve listed so far — who knew we could find the Stepsisters so fun? — as well as Heather Catlow as Marie, the old woman with something shiny under that frumpy dress; and Chris Jones as Lord Pinkleton, servant to Topher and Sebastian, and master of the sarcastic eye-roll. 

Russel is appropriately beautiful in voice, movement and attitude. Cutler wields both ditsy-ness and sarcasm to hilarious effect. Cherry also plays not-too-bright but makes up for it with chutzpah and surprising depth. Branum plays a boy full of radical fire, but ironically low in confidence, and charming either way. Catlow is appropriately maternal with wry humor. Hardin makes the most of a story that usually just makes him the means to Cinderella’s end, showing some growth from spoiled boy to worthy of his eventual kingdom.

The show also looks great, with costumes by the team of Etta Biloon, Renee Stout, Vickie Tewes, and Darlene Uggen; and wigs by Tim Hunt and Jill Wooster (you’ll never forget Gabrielle’s hairpiece). Sets are by Stephen Matters; choreography is by Linda Rees; music director and orchestra conductor is Kayvon Emtiaz. Note the cast and crew are all volunteers, doing it for the love of the art.

Oh, and there are also puppets. Who doesn’t like puppets?

Thanks, Bob! For a fresh and fun diversion from all the holiday happenings, “Cinderella” graces the Footlite stage at 1847 N. Alabama St., near downtown Indianapolis. Call 317-926-6630 or visit www.footlite.org.

IndyFringe: Fairy Godmother & Associates

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

Things are looking very bleak for Fairy Godmother & Associates. They have no clients, her magic is misbehaving, and the Wolf (Big Bad, her landlord) is literally at her door demanding that if she doesn’t pay him the past due rent by midnight, she’s out on the street. Even her Associate, Sebastian the mouse, doesn’t have any ideas.

Luckily, her past client, Red (as in Riding Hood) brings her into the 21st century by setting up an online ad for her matchmaking services. In no time, a wealthy new client, Prince Charming, hires her. He is desperate to find a beautiful woman who dropped her mirror and needs her to become his bride by midnight or he may lose his crown.

While she tries to get him to understand that the search could take time, he will have none of it. He wants her and he doesn’t have time to wait — he is British, after all.

Red helps her place and ad on Facebook and while she is overwhelmed by the magnitude of responses, she does find the mirror’s owner, Ella. A meeting that evening is arranged and everything is going to work out perfectly.

But before you can say “Bibbity Bobbity Boo-Hoo” everything goes awry. Will the Prince find his bride? Will the Fairy Godmother get her money in time? Will everyone live happily ever after?

You will have to catch the show to find out. Just remember this: “Never screw with the Woman holding the Magic Wand!”

Lisa K. Anderson delights as the ever optimistic Fairy Godmother. Her spunky demeanor keeps the show light as a feather.

Kyle Kellam does an amazing job at bring the big and bad to his over the top portrayal of the wolf as a sleazy manipulator who is always on the hunt to fill either his belly or his bed.

The versatile Matt Anderson gets a chance to over-emote to the extreme as the vapidly self-centered Prince Charming.

Sabrina Duprey shows some range with her varied portrayals of Ella and her Evil Stepsisters.

The cast is rounded out by Carl Cooper who pulls double duty as the imposing voice of Ella’s enchanted mirror and the ever faithful associate, Sebastian the mouse (Squeak, Squeak, Squeak).

A Head Gap Production by Enid Cokinos, find this fairy tale at the Fringe building, 719 E. St. Clair with performances Thursday through Saturday (Aug. 22-24).

 

IndyFringe: The Adventures of Crazy Jane & Red-Haired Annie

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

This show is subtitled “New Fairy Tales for the Playful, Witty, and Wise,” and that aptly represents what this evening will be about.

In “Crazy Jane and the Faerie Queen” we are presented with our titular characters and encounter with the Queen of the Faeries, who is not a force to be trifled with. This tale also lays out the relationship between Jane and Annie as well as showing insight into their daily lives. What starts as a question of whether Fairy wings are more akin to a butterfly or dragonfly, ends with a deadly fight for survival and escape.

The next adventure, “…and the King of the Butterflies” has Crazy Jane and Red-Haired Annie splitting up to retrieve two magical items in order to free the King of the Butterflies children from the grasp of the Evil Winter Witch. Annie searches in vain to find the heart of a Stone Giant, even though such creatures are extinct. Meanwhile Jane must locate a scale from the serpent that encircles the earth. This is also where we are first presented with the origin of her transformation into “Crazy Jane”.

Our final tale, “Crazy Jane Goes Sane” offers insight into the truth of what the most valuable thing in your life truly is. While Annie is off on her own (we all need to get away by ourselves sometimes), Jane plays a game of dice with a stranger and is then transported to a world in which she is a hardened businesswoman living a typical life. Annie shows up with a story of her own to tell, and the friends are again together.

Laura Packer weaves these tales with the skill of a spider. You are instantly transported to your childhood, when just sitting at the feet of a storyteller was the greatest feeling in the world. Packer’s amazing talents are well showcased her and the numerous awards she has won throughout her career are self-evident.

While the program recommends the show for ages 16 and up, I feel that it would be very suitable for any child with the attention span to listen to and enjoy a good story. After all, it is through these shared experiences that our imaginations are honed and our true selves are fed.

Remaining performances are 9 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday at the District Theater, 627 Massachusetts Ave.

It’s no myth: KidsPlay an excellent display of young talent

By John Lyle Belden

KidsPlay Inc. provides an excellent opportunity for aspiring performers, grades 3 to 8, to acquire and hone their skills. And that talent is put to great use in their spring production, “Fairy Tale Confidential.”

The play is presented as an expose of various stories we see or read (or pretend we’ve read, as the narrator points out) as we grow up. Eight scenes tackle Grimm tales, the works of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson, the legends of certain guys in green tights, and even what happens after a boy gets the deed to a famous chocolate factory.

KidsPlay director Christine Schaefer always sets high standards, bringing out the best from her young actors, but this show — with its sharp gags and smooth blend of timeless charm and today’s attitude — is one of their best productions I’ve seen in more of a decade of watching this company work.

One bittersweet aspect of the spring show is that it is the last for eighth-grade members, who can move on to high school productions and beyond (several actors around central Indiana are KidsPlay “graduates”). There are 11 in this production, nearly all with speaking roles: Olivia Alldredge, as a friendly witch with a candy house; Elise Denger, a Wendy on a mission; David Hull, as the King of Everything; Trey Smith, as Dr. Jekyll’s Assistant; Ian Veldes, as “King of Comedy” Dickens; Ethan Stearns, as Stevenson; Ben Thompson, as Peter Pan; Owen Sickels, as narrator Warren Peace; Heaven Keesling, who is in the nifty opening dance number; Wesley Olin, as candymaker “Billy Bonkers;” and Max Everhart, as Hansel.

Other notables in this vast cast include Joseph Shininger as Rumplestiltskin and Bella Turner as the girl who is awful at names; Cialey Michalisko in an impressive debut as the secret to Dickens’ success; Olivia Greer as Sleeping Beauty and Josie Joyner as Cinderella, who could use a nap; Brayden Diehl as newly-minted sweets tycoon Charles and Corbin Elliott a hoot as his Grandpa; Ashley Pipkin as a sassy Gretel; Matthew Hentz as Dr. Jekyll and his hilarious alter ego; Jaxon Brittsan and Madison Raisor as Robin Hood and his sister, Roxie; Zora Coe as temperamental Tinkerbell; and third graders Anthony Stunda and Carter Pipkin off to a good start as Darling brothers John and Michael.

It’s worth the drive out to Greenfield — playing at the Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40), 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (April 12-14) — especially at only $5 a ticket. Advance tickets are available at Hometown Comics, 1040 N. State St. (SR 9), Greenfield.

 

IndyFringe: ‘Autumn Takes a Tumble’

This show is part of the 14th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 16-26, 2018 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Defiance Comedy presents “A F*@#ing Fairytale” — that’s right, with many, many F-words. IT IS NOT FOR CHILDREN. (Though the cast do act quite immature.)

Remember all the nice wonderful characters Betsy Norton has played around Indy? Pfft, “F” that! She’s a total bitch in this one, reveling in her misbehavior as the title character. But a bonk on the head brings her to Fairyland, where she is told she must change her ways or the good fairies there will die.

They are so totally screwed.

There are songs — despite Autumn’s best efforts to stop them — with titles like “Fairy Bangin'” (yes, it’s about what you think it’s about), and a plot involving meeting weird characters and going up a road to a castle that in no way rips off a popular film, I’m sure. If you have a sophomoric sense of humor, like I do, you’ll enjoy this ensemble, who are actually way too talented for sh!t like this, provide one of the most outrageous, hilarious hours of entertainment at the Fringe.

The performance I went to was packed, so expect big crowds at the remaining shows, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the IndyFringe Basile (mainstage) Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair St. (just east of the Mass Ave. and College intersection).

IndyFringe: ‘Cindy/Ella’

This show is part of the 14th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 16-26, 2018 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

This silly satire answers the question: What would happen if the producers of the “Kardashians” and other “E!” network shows made a traditional fairy tale?

Cindy, who chafes at being married to the Prince of Malibu (with his odd shoe fetish), is fed up with royal life and runs away to (gasp!) The Valley, where she meets a Fairy Godmother minding an adult novelties store, and finally disguises herself as a mai- I mean personal assistant to a wick- I mean drunken woman (think stepmom) and her ug- I man vapid (and pretty tbh) twin daughters. See? Just like the Grimms wrote it.

It all works in its own wild way, complete with breaking “Extra!” style news bulletins by Michael Cleaver. And it benefits from the superb-as-usual acting of Abby Gilster as Cindy, and the phenomenon that is Josiah McCruiston as our godmother Dontrell. Kudos also to Amity Aschilman for her deadpan counterpoint as Dontrell’s best friend/coworker/roommate Kendra.

We also get Melissa Cleaver as Cindy’s PA/friend Deidre, Scott Prill as a steadfast detective, Amanda Bell and Ashley Duprey each in dual roles, and Jason Plake as our Prince with far more substance in his Speedos than his brain.

“Cindy/Ella” is presented by playwright Elizabeth Griffin Speckman at the IndyFringe Basile (main) Theatre, 719 St. Clair St., just off Mass Ave.

Once upon a time, at Footlite…

By John Lyle Belden

Off to the blog
To post a review;
The show was great,
You should see it, too…

Footlite Musicals adds to this summer’s entertainment with its young adult production of Stephen Sondhiem’s “Into the Woods.”

As many know, thanks to the recent film, this musical mashes up several popular fairy tales, which all happen in or near a particularly enchanted forest – The Woods. To this mix of Red Riding Hood, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Cinderella and Rapunzel are added the fairytale-adjacent Baker and his Wife. A Witch, the Baker’s neighbor, offers to reverse her curse that made them childless, but it will require items possessed by characters in other stories.

So, it’s “off to the Woods” for lots of wacky interactions as each person’s narrative winds toward its well-known conclusion. But then comes the Second Act, when we find that “happily ever after” is the true myth – and you didn’t think that killing a giant would come without consequences, did you?

This is the part
Where John heaps praise
Upon the folks
Who walked the stage…

Given the production values and level of talent in high school and college theater programs across the state, it’s not a detriment to note this is a “student” production, but rather sets the bar higher given the cast’s young energy and dedication. In fact, I’ve seen some of these faces on stage before, and look forward to seeing many on the boards again.

Notables include: Tara Sorg, whose look and delivery as the Baker’s wife reminded me of Broadway’s Joanna Gleason. Kyle Cherry as the Baker was like the movie’s James Cordon, but more talented. I’d note that Paige Brown – our Witch – reminded me of Lady Gaga at her fiercest, but in the future I might compare stars to her. If this play were just the Red Riding Hood story, it would still be worth the ticket as Hannah Bullock as Red has great stage charisma, and, well, we had to kill the Wolf, Christian Condra (recently seen in “Priscilla”), as he was not only eating people but stealing the show. As for Jack, Noah Fields plays that impulsive little brother you want to smack some sense into, but love anyway.

Erin Elliott and Halle Catlow shine as Cinderella and Rapunzel. Zachary Hoover and Joseph Massingale are charmingly haughty as their Princes – providing great comic moments in their “Agony.” Shout-outs for the maternal madness of Ellen Vander Missen as Jack’s Mother, Alyssa Klingstein as Granny, and Olivia Ash as Cinderella’s stepmom. And then there’s Josh Vander Missen as a leaf-covered Mysterious Man, an interesting character to be sure.

The “older kids” involved are director Kathleen Clarke Horrigan, who has a knack for these summer shows, and her assistant Ed Mobley, who filled in as the musical’s Narrator on opening night.

The young crew, which include some cast members, built an excellent stage set, which even gets graced by live horse (a beautiful Arabian, Inshal Amir).

While I suspect there’s a backstage bet on which of the Witch’s finger-sparks misfire, and – sorry Disney happy-ending fans – the show does get a bit dark, this is overall a fun production and perhaps the best staging of “Into the Woods” I’ve seen. Even my partner Wendy – who doesn’t really like Sondheim’s ode to Grimm stories – admits this is a great show.

The show was good,
This post is done,
Now get a ticket
And join the fun…

Two weekends remain, July 5-8 and July 12-15, at Footlite, 1847 N. Alabama St. near downtown Indy; call 317-926-6630 or visit www.Footlite.org.