Footlite’s sweet ‘Dream’

By John Lyle Belden

Simply put, the Footlite Musicals’ production of “Dreamgirls” is a triumph.

The whole show gives off energy, channeled through the performances of our Dreamettes/Dreams – Deena (Kat Council), Lorrell (Tiffany Gilliam) and especially Effie (Rayanna Bibbs) – along with Effie’s songwriting brother C.C. (Tyler Futrell), ambitious manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Ollice Nickson), faithful Marty (Jalil Stephens) and the electric James “Thunder” Early (Brenton Anderson).

In a story inspired by the struggles of African-American singers, especially girl groups, to make it big in the mainstream music scene in the 1960s, a hopeful trio from Chicago enters the famous Apollo Amateur Night in New York. They don’t win, but get their break as Taylor, then a car salesman, exploits opportunities and arranges for the Dreamettes to back Early under Marty’s management. From there, their arc goes upward, even if it takes cash payola to get their songs on the charts over white imitators. Taylor’s manipulations become more and more brazen, until Marty quits and Effie finds herself replaced (by Michelle [Vanessa Web]) and left crying backstage. Act II finds our characters in the 1970s and the transition from R&B to disco. How has success, or lack thereof, treated our Dreamgirls?

If you know how that turns out – see it for the beauty and power of it in your presence again. If you haven’t, see it, it’s one heck of a show. If you have only seen the movie (excellent in its own way), see the difference with its inventively single set and churning pace. Feel the heat from Early’s performances. Get blasted by Effie’s pipes.

Hats off to director Damon Clevenger, something this good couldn’t happen by accident.

And I am telling you, you should be going – to the Hedback Theatre, 1847 N. Alabama St., weekends through May 21. Call 317-926-6630 or see www.footlite.org.

Footlite show on a ‘Cole’-fired ship

By John Lyle Belden

With so much drama around us, sometimes it’s nice to indulge in a light musical: All aboard, then, for a “De-Lovely” voyage aboard the SS American in Footlite Musicals’ production of “Anything Goes.”

The comic plot involves love, gangsters on the lam, and a lot of silly disguises and misunderstandings. Billy Crocker (Trenton Baker) wants to stop his girl Hope Harcourt’s (Sydney Norwalk) ill-advised marriage to English “gentleman” Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Ryan Straut), and gets aid from “America’s Thirteenth-Most-Wanted” Moonface Martin (Tom Bartley) and song-and-dance sensation Reno Sweeney (Susie Harloff).

While that’s good for some laughs, the show’s main purpose is as a delivery vehicle for the hits of Cole Porter (“You’re the Top,” “De-Lovely,” “Friendship,” “I Get a Kick out of You,” “Blow Gabriel Blow” and more, including the title tune) and at that, this production delivers.

Norwalk makes a shining Footlite debut; Baker provides his triple-threat credentials; and Harloff, with the help of Reno’s Angels (Kristen Tschiniak, Becca DeTar, Tara Roberds and Nicole Bridgens) takes charge of the ship with dynamite song and dance numbers (with much credit due to Trish Roberds’ choreography). Straut’s frantic fop is a hoot, and Bartley’s comic chops are spot on, aided by another brilliant performance by Emily Schaab as Martin’s accomplice, Bonnie. Craig Kemp adds to the laughs with his hard-luck businessman, Elisha Whitney (Crocker’s boss). Also impressive are dancing sailors Kyle Cherry and Noah Fields.

The book is admittedly a little dated – and director Kathleen Clarke Horrigan admits as much in her opening curtain speech – but this old gem still entertains. Performances are weekends through March 19 at 1847 N. Alabama St., near downtown Indianapolis. Call 317-926-6630 or visit www.footlite.org.

John L. Belden is also Associate Editor and A&E editor of The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

Big fun at ‘Little Shop’

By John Lyle Belden

The horror movie-turned-musical “Little Shop of Horrors” has set up at Indy’s Footlite Musicals through the end of the month. And for its many fans, that’s all I need to say.

For the unfamiliar, it is the story of nerdy flower-shop worker Seymour, who discovers an unusual plant that makes the shop prosper and him famous. The one downside: the plant feeds on human blood. Then there’s sweet Audrey, who Seymour is sweet on and even names the plant after, but she has an abusive sadistic boyfriend – as the song goes, “He sure looks like plant food to me!”

Phil Criswell handles the many shades of Seymour, from coward to reluctant hero. Michael Davis is good as well, as shopkeeper Mr. Mushnik. John Kern more than earns his keep by not only playing the sadistic dentist boyfriend, but practically every other supporting character.

Emily Schaab is an excellent Audrey – while she doesn’t have the voice of Ellen Greene (who sang the role on Broadway and in the film) she doesn’t make the mistake of trying to sound like her, making this role her own.

Audrey II is ably handled by puppeteer Theo Vanore with the unmistakable voice of Tristan Ross.

And it’s all backed by a wonderful chorus – both in the doo-wop and Greek sense – of Rayanna Bibbs, Rachel Bibbs, Iloni Cospy, Adrienne Dixon and Bianca Cureton. Hopefully at least one of these women will reappear in Footlite’s production of “Dreamgirls” in May.

While it may be cliché to say this is a fun show, it’s hard to think of a better adjective. The pacing is smooth and the songs dare you to sing along (actually, there is one moment of audience participation). Note that if you have only seen the 1986 Frank Oz film, there are some different songs and a different ending.

Find Footlite at 1847 N. Alabama St.; call 317-926-6630 or visit www.footlite.org.

John L. Belden is also Associate Editor and A&E editor of The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

Footlite has gay time hamming up ‘Spamalot’

By John Lyle Belden

Note: This review also appeared in print in The Eagle (formerly The Word), which has its site issues about worked out. John is Associate Editor there.

As fans know, England in the time of King Arthur and Camelot was “a silly place,” as envisioned by Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the 1970s film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

The silliness has come to the stage of Indy’s Footlite Musicals with its production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” the Broadway hit musical “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture” by one of its creators, Eric Idle, who provides a couple of vocal parts for the locals to use in the show.

The plot (such as it is) involves Arthur gathering knights to join him at the Round Table, then getting the call from God to search for the Holy Grail. The stage play uses this to recreate various silly scenes from the film, modified a little, and add more songs – such as the “not dead yet” peasant now gets to sing and dance about not being deceased – as well as a tune from a different Monty Python movie (which Idle wrote and apparently really likes, so there). As the film starred six men who sometimes wore dresses, a female lead was needed for the musical, so the Lady of the Lake (only mentioned in one scene of the movie) comes to life and, naturally, steals her scenes including one in which she complains about not being on stage for a while.

And good news for LGBTQ fans: While the Pythons frequently winked to the audience on gay topics as much as they could get away with in their era, one of the Knights here completely comes out of the castle closet in a rainbow-and-glitter dance number.

The cast all acquit themselves well. Drew Duvall makes a noble Arthur, properly deadpanning his way through the silliness as a British monarch should do. Vince Accetturo makes the perfect counterpoint as the King’s faithful Patsy. A tip of the helm to our knights: Christian Condra as Lancelot, Christopher Jones as Robin, Clint Buechler as Bedevere, Tony Schaab as Galahad and Jerry Davis as Sir Not Appearing (who nonetheless appears in at least two other scenes).

And Rebecca McConnell is wonderful as the Lady of the Lake. The style of this show and character fits her perfectly, and she plays it for all she’s worth.

Since, unlike the movie in which the Pythons just wore different costumes in different scenes, it works better to just cast more actors, we get great support from the ensemble, including Jonathan Young as Dennis’s mother and the Knight of Ni, Curtis Peters as Tim the Enchanter and Lancelot’s servant Concorde, and Mark Cashwell as the “No singing!” father of Prince Herbert – charmingly played by Cody Wence. Sam Surette is still not dead.

Needless to say – though actually I need to say, as this is a review – “Spamalot” is highly entertaining and a treat for fans of British humour, whether you’ve not seen these skits or have them memorized. As the source material was a shoestring film production, don’t expect too much in the way of special effects – though there is a fog machine. The content is roughly PG-13 (a few naughty words and innuendo).

No fish were harmed in the making of this musical. Ni!

Performances are weekends through Dec. 11 at the Hedback Theater, 1847 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Call 317-926-6630 or see www.footlite.org.

Altogether ‘Ooky’ fun

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

You know it’s going to be fun when the orchestra starts the theme and the audience joins in on the “snap-snap”s.

In “The Addams Family: A New Musical” at Footlite Musicals in Indianapolis, the familiar “mysterious and spooky” characters from the Charles Addams comics and popular TV show and movies are brought to the stage with all the macabre oddities fans have come to expect.

However, in this story daughter Wednesday is now a young woman, and in love. It seems her beau and his family are “normal,” but that facade wears thin during a wacky meet-the-parents dinner.

Excellent performances all around by Ivy Bott (Wednesday), Michael Davis (Gomez), Kathleen Clarke Horrigan (Morticia), Bryan D. Padgett (Uncle Fester), Marie Beason (Grandma), Xavier Wilson (Pugsley), Trenton Baker (Lurch), Joseph Massingale as boyfriend Lucas and Darrin Gowan and Carrie Neal as his parents. There is also an entertaining chorus of ghostly Ancestors – once an Addams, always an Addams.

Davis pulls off the patriarch role with proper panache, and it’s good to see Horrigan stepping down from her usual post at the Footlite director’s chair to inhabit “Tish”s slinky dress. They command every scene they’re in – her more than him, of course.

Bott can go from flat deadpan to dark-edged emotion and back, all in character, in no time flat. Massingale plays the most mellow character in the cast (aside from Lurch), but when he gets to the love song “Crazier Than You,” we believe it. Neal’s emotional powderkeg performance is award-worthy.

There are lots of ghoulish touches that add to the fun, including appearances by Thing and Cousin Itt, making this a perfect pre-Halloween treat.

Find the Addams Mansion on the Footlite stage at 1847 N. Alabama, downtown Indy, through Oct. 9. Info and tickets at footlite.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

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)

Avenue Q: A great place to visit again

By John Lyle Belden

It’s always amazing, while attending a performance of “Avenue Q,” to see the reactions of those who haven’t seen it before when a Muppet-style puppet drops the F-bomb in one of the first songs (“It Sucks to Be Me”). When I see the, “Did I just hear that?” I’m thinking, “You ain’t heard nothing yet.”

After all, this is the musical that brought us, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn.”

Yes, when Fabric-Americans and other diverse people have outgrown Sesame Street, they move uptown, all the way up the alphabet to Avenue Q. This show captures the style of Childrens Television Workshop shows, but is definitely NOT for children. Still, it’s worth it to plug the ears of your Inner Child and go. The show is full of laughs and heart, even with the mature edges, as you get to know and love people just trying to make something of their lives, like all of us.

But what if you have been to this street before? For those who enjoy singing along with “Porn! Porn! Porn!” and look forward to the sight-gag in the hospital scene, you will have a lot of fun with the Footlite Musicals production, running through Sunday at the Hedback Theatre, 1847 N. Alabama St. in downtown Indy.

It’s hard to pick a stand-out performance in this cast, as all are at the top of their game, including Phil Criswell as puppet-seeking-purpose Princeton, Emily Schaab as beautiful Kate Monster, Graham Brinklow and Damon Clevenger as odd couple Nicky and Rod, Chris Meek as struggling comic Brian, Nathalie Cruz as tell-it-like-it-is therapist Christmas Eve, and Ryan England as pervy Trekkie Monster. The biggest pleasant surprise is building super Gary Coleman played by Ervin Gainer, who actually looks like the late child actor. In addition, throw in excellent support from Leigh Alexovich and Dejuan Jackson as boxes, Bears and left hands, as well as Zarah Miller as the legendary Lucy T. Slut.

Another note to newcomers: There is a song about giving to charity, during which the “hat” is passed around the audience – though actors could usually use the money (and cast and crew at Footlite are volunteers), all funds will go towards a genuine charity announced at that point in the show.

Go to www.footlite.org or call 317-926-6630 for ticket reservations.

(This review also posted on The Word.)