Time tick, tick, ticking forward

By John Lyle Belden

As I post this, 2022 has recently come to a close. And you might wonder, what were our favorite shows of this last year? Well, I just did a rough count of more than 150 reviews we posted, so – yeah, hard question.

Like an actor who never forgets that line he stumbled on at opening night, I can’t help but think about the reviews we didn’t do. Aside from scheduling and illness having us miss shows outright, there were a couple of performances that we caught at the ends of their run and didn’t get around to the writeup.

And like Jon in “Tick, Tick… Boom!” I feel the march of time.

There were actually two productions of that Jonathan Larson musical in central Indiana this last year – running practically simultaneously. We managed to get a review in of the well-done Phoenix Theatre production, but circumstances had us nearly miss the Carmel Community Players edition, which had its differences and was excellent in its own way.

Wendy and I would like to go on the record as saying we also enjoyed the CCP “TTB,” directed by Kathleen Horrigan, performed at the Switch Theatre in Fishers.

As is easier to do in volunteer community theatre, there was, in addition to Dominic Piedmonte as Jon, Ervin Gainer as his roommate Michael, and Margaret Smith as his girlfriend Susan, an ensemble of B.K. Bady-Kaye, Onis Dean, Abby Morris, and Ryley Trottier to portray other roles. This also helped distinguish the production from the stripped-down Phoenix show.

Piedmonte was great as Larson’s stand-in character, and Gainer is frankly one of those actors I can’t get enough of. Smith also did well as a character that is tricky as you don’t want to find yourself disliking Susan or Jon too much as their relationship falters. Having the full cast helped in letting Trottier play “Superbia” star (and potential “other woman”) Karessa, leading to a brilliant moment with both women singing “Come to Your Senses.”

Wendy found this version of the show really gave the feel of Larson’s dilemma of the world changing around him – not all for the better – as he turned 30 years old. And as he somehow feared and we have come to know, his life would end a few short years later.

A big thanks again to Carmel Community Players (hat tip to Lori Raffel), and all the local stages who let us come in and see what they have to show us. We look forward to another big year of theatre in 2023.

Civic opens season with ‘Rent’

By John Lyle Belden

“Rent” is very much of its own time – the struggles of Generation X to make their mark as the AIDS epidemic wreaks havoc on creative and marginalized communities – yet our recent encounter with an incurable plague makes the lyric, “one song before the virus takes hold,” feel all too familiar.

In this context, the Jonathan Larson masterpiece musical takes the stage of the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, directed by Michael J. Lasley. We meet filmmaker Mark (Austin Stodghill) and songwriter Roger (Joseph Massingale), living what they thought was rent-free in a building now managed by ex-roommate Benny (Kerrington Shorter). There are also friends Tom Collins (Austin Hookfin) and Angel (Kendrell Stiff), free-spirit Mimi (Jaelynn Keating), and activist Maureen (Olivia Broadwater) who left Mark for attorney Joanne (Miata McMichel), as well as a full cast representing the hoi polloi of New York City, including Julia Ammons, who is a stunning soloist in the signature song, “Seasons of Love.”

Act One centers on a particular Christmas Eve in the 1990s, giving us the lives of our characters in that pivotal day; Act Two carries through the next year, with its changes and loss.

If you are familiar with the show, picture the perfect Maureen: Broadwater solidly fits the bill. Stodghill portrays Mark well, and Massingale – master of unconventional manly roles (like in “Bonnie and Clyde”) – is well within his element here. We feel the chemistry between the couples: Roger and Mimi, Maureen and Joanne, and especially Tom and Angel. Civic newcomer Stiff has big high-heels to fill in their iconic role, and does not disappoint.

Circumstances had Wendy elsewhere, so I brought my friend, Mary, as my plus-one. Her impressions: “’Rent’ was fantastic. Thought Roger and Mimi had great chemistry. Angel was absolutely gorgeous. And even though I have watched [the 2005 film] countless times on DVD, I didn’t expect to get emotional during [the] death scene. Watching it live just hit me differently.”

This is why you should experience this musical, and bring a friend, as well as Kleenex (you’ll need it for the curtain call).

Performances run through Oct. 22 at the Tarkington in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get info and tickets at civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org.

Larson’s sense of time running out drives musical

By Wendy Carson

Welcome to 1990 and Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical tale of his struggles to become a successful Broadway composer, “Tick, Tick… Boom!” While it was only a budding one-man show during his lifetime, playwright David Auburn (“Proof”) reworked the script into this beautiful Off-Broadway smash, finding its local premiere at the Phoenix Theatre.

It is the story of three friends Jon (Patrick Dinnsen), his best friend/roommate Michael (Eddie Dean) and his girlfriend Susan (Gabriela Gomez). While each has sought their future on the stage, only Jon is still true to his vision.

Michael has foregone his acting aspirations to pursue a more lucrative career as a marketing executive and is moving out to a luxurious yuppie abode. Susan still dances on occasion, but mostly earns her income trying to teach rich, untalented children ballet. While she and Jon are still in love, she can’t help but want to leave the dreariness of New York.

Meanwhile, Jon approaches his 30th birthday while mounting a workshop of “Superbia,” the musical that he is sure will be the ticket to his dreams. While he could use the support of his friends, they seem to be more focused on their own issues and he seeks solace in the arms of his lead actress.

Things then go from bad to worse, but a spark of hope still glows at the end.

Throughout the show you can see glints of impending plotlines that will end up in Larson’s masterpiece, “Rent.” It is chilling to know that his own demise was on the horizon and though he didn’t actually see it coming, he realized it was a strong possibility.

Gomez gives Susan a loving and sympathetic touch, yet never stops her from being true to herself. She also portrays numerous other characters, including Jon’s agent and the aspiring actress. Each one is endearing, highlighting her range of skills.

Dean shows Michael’s loyalty, with a distance that builds to a poignant resolution. He also fills in the numerous other roles required throughout, giving him more chances to spotlight his humorous side.

Dinnsen is superb as Jonathan, the only static character in the show. He also brings the hopefulness as well as the hopelessness of a man chasing a dream that seems insurmountable.

Under Emily Ristine Holloway’s direction, we get a lively, upbeat look at another side of Larson and what made him actually tick (before the “boom”). The show benefits from a versatile stage design by Zac Hunter that foreshadows the “Rent” set, as well as on-stage band of Ginger Stoltz, Ainsley Paton, Eddie McLaughlin, and Kristin Cutler. Having musicians visible is a nod to the way Larson originally performed this piece, and it should be noted that “Superbia” was an actual musical he worked on – one of its songs is featured in this production.

Performances run through Oct. 30 at the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois St., Indianapolis. Get information and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.