Spinning a story with a bit of Broadway

By John Lyle Belden

These are unusual times, so here is an unusual show.

While advising all who feel unwell or uncomfortable to sit this one out, Fat Turtle Theatre is, last we heard, continuing with its production of “This is Us: An Inspirational Steampunk Broadway Cabaret.”

This is a little out of the comfort zone for Fat Turtle, a company that typically does plays, as well as founder Aaron Cleveland, who as the show’s Narrator is called upon to sing. But it does fit within the mission of presenting Indiana works, as the revue of Broadway songs are hung like ornaments on an original story by local playwright Nicole Amsler.

The setting and aesthetic, as noted in the title, are the alternate-history dystopia of Steampunk, with its corsets and clockworks. This helps give the whole production a familiar, yet otherworldly feel. 

Cleveland recites Amsler’s fable about a grieving father who devises “a machine to take all the pain of the world” and how his children strive to save him from it. Honestly, it sounds like the seed from which a great original musical could be grown.

But for now, we get an interesting selection of songs that loosely fit the theme, taken from a wide variety of Broadway shows. While some are easily recognizable, like a tune from “Wicked,” and include current hits like one from “Dear Evan Hansen,” there are also numbers from shows such as “Newsies,” “The Color Purple,” “Kinky Boots,” “Jekyll & Hyde,” “Mean Girls,” and even a beautifully appropriate song from the underappreciated “Pirate Queen.” 

To deliver these song-and-dance bits, we have area talents Tessa Gibbons, Jessica Hawkins, Kaitlin Holden, Jenn Kaufmann, Richelle Lutz, Jennifer Poytner, Brad Root and Jackson Stollings. Direction and choreography are by Andrea Odle, and there is a small band of musicians, led by Linda Parr. 

The result is an entertaining distraction — for a couple of hours — from current events, and the opportunity to enjoy songs even fans of showtunes don’t hear every day. This gang puts their hearts into their performances — as well as a bit of humor, when Hawkins and Stollings take on a fun old standard. Actually, every individual gets a chance to stand center and shine. 

The costumes, by Shannon Rice, include inventive use of blue LED wires to enhance the retro-sci-fi feel and add necessary emphasis when the circuits resemble the human heart. 

There is one scheduled weekend left, March 20-21 at The Switch, 10029 E. 126th St., Suite D, Fishers (in Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy), and as this cabaret is also a company fundraiser, all who are interested, and feel up to it, are encouraged to attend, or at least consider Fat Turtle in your charitable giving.

Details are at FatTurtleTheatre.com.

Mud Creek: Where ‘Almost’ seems exactly right

By Wendy Carson

On the heels of their hilarious Christmas show, (“Inlaws, Outlaws, and Other People Who Should Be Shot”) Mud Creek Players give us another sweet laugh-fest with their latest production, “Almost Maine.”

The title comes from the “not-quite” town in extreme northern Maine, small in population, but overflowing with quirkiness.

There are two people who are either close together or vastly far apart; a woman whose defenses keep her from seeing what’s right in front of her; a misspelling possibly leading to love; the answer to a question asked a very long time ago. Plus, you have two people literally falling in love, the other shoe literally dropping, a couple literally returning their love for each other, a man who literally feels no pain, and an actual broken heart.

All this happens on a cold, wintry Friday night. Those of us of a certain age will feel like we are watching a romantic update of “Northern Exposure,” with all the whimsy on display under the Northern Lights.

This series of scenes is brought to life by Matt Harzburg, Kyrsten Lyster, Lexi Odle, Mason Odle, Jennifer Poynter and Jackson Stollings in multiple roles, directed by Andrea Odle with Amanda Armstrong. They all embrace the charm, wonder and weirdness of the stories, aptly acting as though these odd northwoods happenings occur every day. Thus they make the accompanying feelings seem natural – and somehow relatable to us, watching from a “barn” in the woods near Geist.

While this is a perfect show to bring a date, singles and families will find it just as enchanting. Also, each lady in attendance was given a long-stemmed rose. So brave the cold, and warm up to the sweet charm of “Almost, Maine.”

Performances run through March 2 at 9740 E. 86th St.; call 317290-5343 or visit www.mudcreekplayers.com.

Goofy ‘Goon Show’ showcases young talent

By John Lyle Belden

When it comes to kids on stage, it’s easy to allow for a bit of silliness. Mud Creek Players’ ACT youth program makes full use of that license to hilarious effect with the comedy mystery “Murder at the Goon Show.”

In this farce by Douglas Winters, a very worried producer-emcee, Greg, keeps an old theater alive by hosting “The Goon Show,” a televised odd-talent revue that’s like “The Gong Show,” but without the gong or celebrity judges, and with more suspicious activity. When yet another threatening message appears in a jelly doughnut, he fears he won’t survive the night – but it’s the mentalist who should have seen it coming…

Justin Hoffer’s fun performance as Greg reminded me of Kermit in the old “Muppet Show,” constantly put upon and stressed out to organize a madcap bunch of weirdos, with even the staff not being much help. He gets some reassurance from assistant Sandra (Sarah Semon), assistance from stagehand Pop (Noah Taylor) and attitude from the shady props master Flossie (Jackie Davis). To round up the talent, he relies on agent Alf (Cameron Davis, his slapstick prowess aided by rubbery limbs).

And what talent! (Or should I say, “what talent?”) Actually, it takes a special effort to be good at being “bad,” and these young actors show they have the chutzpah to pull it off. Rylee Odle manages to be ironically awesome in two roles – the awful warm-up comic, and a comically bad dancer. We also get charming Julia Heddon making noises in a birdcage; earnest Ross Gandy trying – just trying – to put his body through a tennis racquet; Jayme Ganz as an actually-good puppeteer, just too mouthy to be a ventriloquist; Alison Quigley as a mime with a lot to say; and the regrettable “talent” of Chris Sullivan as the Amazing Ingesto. Then there’s the confident and mysterious Zorina (Jenna Rigdon), who claims to hypnotize via binoculars.

To lend some sanity to the proceedings, we also get Jackson Stollings as a police detective (y’know, to solve the murder), and Erin Keller as a psychological therapist.

All these and many more crowd the stage, yet young first-time director Carynton Howard manages to make it all flow, with many laugh-out-loud moments including a sly nod to a Broadway favorite.

One more weekend (through Sunday, July 29) for the “Goon Show” at the Mud Creek Barn, 9740 E. 86th St., between the Castleton area and Geist Reservoir. Call 317-290-5343 or visit mudcreekplayers.org.