Civic’s ‘Matilda’ a fun and inspiring adventure

By John Lyle Belden

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda, The Musical” not only features Dahl’s brilliant dark satire but also the sharp wit of songs by Tim Minchin, with book by Dennis Kelly. Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre presents this “miracle” on its stage at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through May 14, directed by Suzanne Fleenor.

In a generation of British children convinced they are wonderful and special, there is Matilda Wormwood (Alexis Vahrenkamp), whose parents take a different approach.  Her mother (Mikayla Koharchik) resents that the birth kept her from a ballroom & salsa dance contest; her father (John Walls) can’t get over the fact that she is not a boy, like her dull-witted brother, Michael (Matthew Wessler); and they both can’t stand she insists on always reading books full of stories. Why can’t she just watch telly like a normal kid? 

Mr. Wormwood is working on the deal of a lifetime, not letting pesky stuff like ethics get in the way. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wormwood works on her dance steps with slinky partner Rudolpho (Michael Humphrey). To their delight, Matilda, who has been “a little bit naughty,” will go away to school, where she’ll be sorted out by sadistically cruel Headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Evan Wallace).

Fortunately, our heroine has some allies. She befriends local librarian Mrs. Phelps (Kendra Randle) and thrills her with stories she spins about an Escapologist (Matthew Sumpter) and an Acrobat (Isa Armstrong). Her sweet but mousey teacher Miss Honey (Julia Bonnett) sees the girl as gifted and pledges to help her reach her potential. On the schoolyard, precocious Lavender (Nye Beck) declares that she and Matilda are Best Friends.

While the title character is the show’s focus, its events also involve her classmates. The plight of brave Bruce (Cole Weesner), betrayed by his sweet tooth, helps bring the children to the realization that “the Trunchbull” must be defeated. But it’s Matilda’s most special “gifts” that will turn the tide.

This fun musical is a great showcase of young talent, and an entertaining inspiration for the kids of all ages watching. The adults aren’t bad either – actually the ones who act badly, Koharchik, Walls, and especially Wallace, are the best.

So, put aside the Telly and enjoy the antics of some truly “revolting” children. For information and tickets see civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org.

ATI show truly Works

By Wendy Carson

In the early 1970s, Studs Terkel set out to interview various people about their jobs. The result was the book, “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” In 1977, it was turned into a musical by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, with songs by artists including James Taylor.

Much has changed since then, so in 2012, a revised version was created to include a few newer occupations and songs, with the help of Lin-Manuel Miranda. This updated version of “Working: The Musical” is what Actors Theatre of Indiana presents for us.

The performance consists of six actors playing a number of varied personas. With a supremely talented cast and an ever-changing roster of characters, picking out highlights can be challenging, but here are the moments that echoed with me.

Don Farrell flexes his range by giving us an unapologetic yuppie investor and later, Joe, who is searching for purpose and his memory now that he is retired.

Cynthia Collins is at the top of her game as the sassy waitress who considers her work to be the epitome of quality.

Adam Tran’s turn as Joe’s caretaker in “A Very Good Day” is so sweet and moving it may drive you to tears.

The determination to be more than their job and give their children a better future is shiningly evident in Aviva Pressman’s take on “Millwork,” as well as Lillie Eliza Thomas on being “Just a Housewife” (with Pressman and Collins) and her ode to family history in “Cleaning Women.”

Adam Sledge embodies the blue collar worker throughout most of his songs, including Taylor’s “Brother Trucker,” showing the pride one takes in work we usually never even think about.

Direction is by ATI newcomer Lysa Fox.

The show is perfectly summed up in the closing number, “Something to Point To,” where we are reminded that all any of us really wants is something we can show others that we had a hand in making.

Adjust your personal work schedule to fit in this delightful tribute to the working men and women who built our great land, and you just might catch your own personal story being played out onstage.

“Working” is on the job through May 22 at the Studio Theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get info and tickets at atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org.

NOTE: There was an edit to the original post to correct a singing credit.

Shakespeare fun and foolishness set to music

By John Lyle Belden

It’s hardly a new idea to base a musical on a Shakespeare play (a recent Oscar-winning remake of an Oscar-winning film comes to mind). New York based songwriter Shaina Taub, with Kwame Kwei-Armah, adapted the Bard’s comedy “Twelfth Night” for its musical debut in Central Park in 2018.

Southbank Theatre Company brings that version to the IndyFringe Theatre (outdoors preferably, but on the Basile stage in bad weather) through May 8. 

If the story doesn’t easily spring to mind, note it is where we get the quote, “If music be the food of love, play on.” The play checks many of the boxes for a Shakespeare comedy: disguises, mistaken identities, siblings separated, wild wooing, nobles who will not marry, and ending up with a wedding anyway.

What makes this musical version exciting and interesting is that Taub’s songs do more than just put a tune behind Shakespeare’s words. They illuminate the themes of this old story, making it fresh and relatable. This makes the show the perfect companion to a traditional production of the play.

For instance, our central character Viola (Michelle Wofford), a woman recently arrived in mythical Illyria (vicinity of today’s Albania) finds it safer to disguise herself as a man, opening up surprising opportunities. In the song “Viola’s Soliloquy,” she sings of “the Devil’s blessing” that simply wearing trousers gives her.  

Viola, taking the name Cesario, finds her/himself between Duke Orsinio (Dave Pelsue), his employer, and the Countess Olivia (Natalie Fischer), who keeps spurning Orsinio’s advances, but has found herself smitten with Cesario. However, the Viola within the disguise pines for Orsinio, who only sees in her a dutiful young man.

Still, this wouldn’t be a Shakespeare comedy without the silly subplots. There is much opportunity for merriment in the Countess’s court, with sack-sotted Sir Toby Belch (Mark Cashwell), worst-at-wooing Sir Andrew (Kim Egan), mischievous Maria (Brittney Michelle Davis) and Fabian (Jordan Paul Wolf), who all seek to take pompous Molvolio (Hannah Boswell) down a peg or two.

Then there is the arrival of Viola’s lost-at-sea twin brother Sebastian (Matthew Blandford), accompanied by his rescuer Antonio (Z Cosby), who braves arrest to be by the man he secretly loves. Other roles are played by Brant Hughes, Ron Perkins and Yolanda Valdivia, who is also on hand as Officiant for the inevitable marriages. 

All this is accompanied by a live band, and the wit and wisdom of accordion-wielding jester Feste (Paige Scott).

With all the action of the classic comedy, but condensed down to a manageable hour and a half, this romp is an excellent showcase for the talented cast. Scott is simply amazing, whether giving chiding counsel, a beautiful ballad, or some handy narration to the audience. Speaking of fools, Boswell is a riot in an arc that goes from bombastic to pathetic, but always fun. Cashwell employs his improv skills and comic chops to great effect. Pelsue has long cornered the market on cool-guy-who-can-sing, so is totally in his element. Fischer has the sweet/feisty mix down perfectly. And Wafford is endearing with an inner strength befitting the character. Everyone else? Awesome, awesome, awesome – directed by Max McCreary with musical direction by Ginger Stoltz.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings, and Sunday afternoon, at IndyFringe, 719 E. St. Clair, Indianapolis. Get information at southbanktheatre.org and tickets at indyfringe.org.

CCP with ‘Fantastick’ musical

By John Lyle Belden

It might be late April, wild weather and all, but at The Cat in downtown Carmel, it’s a special kind of September, as Carmel Community Players bids you to follow “The Fantasticks.”

Written by Tom Jones (the American songwriter, not the Welsh singer) and Harvey Schmidt, the musical is noteworthy for its world-record Off-Broadway run (1960-2002, plus later revivals, tours, etc.) as well as its charming contrast of simple staging and story with deep universal themes. It also has a hit song, “Try to Remember,” which gets under way right near the beginning.

This light-hearted fable presents The Boy, Matt (Theodore Curtis) and The Girl, Luisa (Brook-Glen Gober), who grow up neighbors, but with a wall between them. It seems Hucklebee, The Boy’s Father (Kevin Shadle), and Bellomy, The Girl’s Father (Kevin Caraher), are feuding – probably something about gardening – and forbid the youths to meet. So, naturally, they rendezvous in secret and fall in love.

All this is presented and explained by The Narrator (JB Scoble), who also appears as the suave bandit El Gallo. Making the scene complete is The Mute (Hannah Janowicz), who provides and spirits away props and curtains, and embodies the Wall when needed.

But it’s revealed to us that the fathers only pretend to feud! To complete the scenario and ensure the Happy Ending, they arrange for The Girl to be in peril so that The Boy can rescue her, and the two families can rejoice and unite. To achieve the faux abduction, the men hire El Gallo, who gets help from Henry, The Old Actor (Duane Leatherman), and his apprentice, Mortimer, The Man Who Dies (Thom Johnson). Their plan seems to execute perfectly, so everyone is happy now – right?

This was a dream job for director Rich Phipps, who saw “The Fantasticks” during its original New York run. He opts for the less-problematic “abduction” script that avoids the original’s use of the term “rape” in its literary sense to lessen discomfort and confusion. Still the style, with its commedia dell’arte influences, manages to communicate the story’s dark and serious aspects even while peppered with elements of absurdity.

Scoble is in his element as El Gallo. You can tell Kevins Shadle and Caraher are having fun with this show, as are Leatherman as the master who has forgotten more Shakespeare than you’ll ever know, and Johnson, as clever a fool as one could ask for. Curtis is a young artist showing a lot of potential, and Gober is ever charming. Janowicz displays natural mime skills, enhancing the scenes without stealing them.

A fun and entertaining musical with a moral for all ages, performances run through May 8 at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, Carmel. Get information and tickets at CarmelPlayers.org.

Footlite gets truly ‘Wild’

By John Lyle Belden

In 1928, Joseph Moncure March published his narrative poem, “The Wild Party,” a tale of Prohibition Era excess that was shocking at the time, and still quite racy. Taking the notion of living well as the best revenge to its debauched extreme, the story has been made into a film and at least two stage shows. The musical with book, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa premiered in New York in 2000.

Now, “Andrew Lippa’s Wild Party” has taken over the stage of Footlite Musicals, directed by Bradley Allan Lowe. 

Queenie (Nina Stilabower) “was a blonde” with extreme sexual appettes. She would find them sated by fellow vaudeville performer Burrs (Joseph David Massingale). But she gets jaded, and he takes things too far. Thus, hoping for both excitement and a chance to embarrass her lover, Queenie proposes they throw a party. And with a guest list familiar with a wide range of sin, things are bound to get very, very wild.

Among those who show up for a long night of loud phonograph jazz, cocaine, and bathtub gin are Madeline (Miranda Nehrig) the lesbian, Eddie (Daniel Draves) the pugilist, Mae (Karen Hurt) Eddie’s gal, Jackie (Cameron Hicks) the dancer, Brothers D’Armano (Connor Chamberlin and Isaac Becker) the lovers and musical producers, Dolores (Aprille Goodman) the hooker, and Nadine (Lauren Frank) the minor. Fashionably late comes vivacious Kate (Logan Hill) with her date, Mr. Black (Allen Sledge).

Also occupying the stage for much of the show are Ervin Gainer, Logan Laflin, Claire Slaven, DeSean McLucas, Grant Craig, Jacoba White, Job Victor Willman, Anna Lee, Reno Moore and Tessa Gibbons. True to the title, the cast create a visual cacophony throughout most of the scenes, with some appropriate freezes when the action focuses on a solo or duo. Prior to the party, many stand by (and sing and dance) as a chorus mostly unseen by Queenie and Burrs. When the party gets going, there is a lot happening.

Lippa putting his own spin on the text, creating a mostly sung-through musical, didn’t seem to do the original verse any favors. Since March gave various characters the spotlight in the poem, it translated to Queenie and Burrs’ songs mostly advancing the plot, while the most memorable numbers are asides with supporting characters. Nehrig puts in the best performance with Madeline’s comic sapphic lament “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.” Draves and Hurt charm with Eddie and Mae’s “Two of a Kind.” The D’Armanos give us a fun digression, with Queenie and Burrs, presenting part of their saucy Biblical musical.

Stilabower and Massingale do very well as the leads, while Sledge adds surprising depth as Black develops feelings for Queenie, who surprises herself by reciprocating. Hill is dynamite, channeling the greatest redheaded comics in her portrayal of Kate. 

A note must be made of the show’s content. It goes beyond the swear words and the drunken fight (At this party? Who would have guessed?). This is the most mature content I’ve seen in a Footlite show – two words: choreographed rape. In movie terms, consider this a hard “R”. 

If you are familiar with the source material, or feel you are up for this kind of entertainment, check out the Wild Party through March 20 at 1847 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Info and tickets at footlite.org.

‘Birds’-inspired ‘Fowl’ far more funny than frightening

By Wendy Carson

Ben Asaykwee, the force behind Q Artistry and creator of the perennial favorite “Cabaret Poe,” has tapped his deep comical well to bring us the hilarious musical delight that is “The Fowl.” In this sharp parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, “The Birds,” we are transported to 1960s Bodega Bay, California, where several mysterious bird attacks occur. 

We are reminded that the secondary romantic plot is better suited to a film on the Hallmark channel, though necessary to facilitate the events in which the attacks take place. While the show’s costumes and “wigs” give everything the look of a cartoon, they are quite ingenious and perfectly reflect the quirkiness of the show. The special effects are crude but reinforce the irreverence of the production. 

Though the look is reminiscent of what one would expect from an elementary school show, the cast and crew are genuine in their love of what they are doing and passion to make you laugh. It is also an excellent mentoring opportunity, as local stage veterans work side by side with young actors. 

This show is presented in two acts. The first retells the movie, pulling no punches at some of its more ludicrous portions.

The second act revolves around the stories of the birds themselves (from their point of view) and supposition as to why these attacks were necessary. While I personally take umbrage at the constant disparaging comments regarding the tardiness of the penguins, the birds do make some very valid points.

Asaykwee, as director/choreographer, had cast members each learn more than one set of roles, not only to help gain experience, but also in case a Covid-positive test sidelined any performers. You’ll see at least a different order in the lineup from one show to the next. Therefore this is a true ensemble effort. That flock includes: Matt Anderson, Shelbi Berry, Quincy Carman, Jaddy Ciucci, Ellie Cooper, Finley Eyers, Fiona Eyers, Janice Hibbard, Tiffanie Holifield, Noah Lee, Maria Meschi, Pat Mullen, Himiko Ogawa, Inori Ogawa, Wren Thomas, Diane Tsao, and Noah Winston. 

At our performance, we saw Berry doing her best Tippi Hendren, a scene-stealing turn by Finley Eyers as an over-eager Seagull, and a beautiful interpretive Ostrich dance by Holifield.

With all the current stress in the world and each of our lives, it is good to be able to go out and have a really good laugh. This show will afford you a whole flock of opportunities to do just that. So go out and catch “The Fowl” – Thursday through Sunday (March 3-6) at The District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis – before the opportunity flies past.

ATI goes ‘Big’

By John Lyle Belden

“The Big Bang: The Musical,” presented by Actors Theatre of Indiana, has nothing to do with the similarly named sitcom that recently ended its TV run. Instead, picture a cross between “The Producers” and “History of the World, Part 1” — sans Mel Brooks, but still funny.

Written by Jed Feuer and Boyd Graham, who staged it Off-Broadway in 2000, the show is a presentation for potential New York backers (us in the audience) of what Jed (played by Darren Murrell) and Boyd (Jon Vessels) promise will be the next sure-fire musical smash.

Imagine this borrowed Manhattan apartment as a full Broadway stage, and accompanist Albert (Brent Marty) as a full orchestra, as a cast of hundreds (portrayed by our two manic creators) bring to life the entire history of Western Civilization, from Adam and Eve – with their hit number, “Free Food and Frontal Nudity” – to the present. Fortunately, we get just the “highlights” of this extravaganza/trainwreck in a hilarious 90 minutes.

Chock-full of cheesiness, dated references and over-the-top slapstick, Murrell and Vessels still manage to “sell” this show, even if it’s obvious the fictional backers shouldn’t buy in. “The Big Bang” is a satire of creator hubris and naked pandering in the Big Apple, as well as a silly farce that even steals/homages a Carol Burnett gag. The more you like Old Broadway, the more you will love this mock musical, directed by New York-based entertainer Michael Blatt.

Performances run through Feb. 20 in the Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. For tickets and information, visit atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org.

Footlite put a ‘Spell’ on us

By John Lyle Belden

The Broadway hit “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is one of those musicals we find simply F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C, and Footlite Musicals is treating us to the latest production to hit an Indy stage.

Created by Rebecca Feldman and her theatre collective The Farm (book by Rachel Sheinkin, songs by William Finn, additional material by Jay Reiss), and inspired by America’s fascination with the Scripps National Spelling Bee (launching smart kids to instant momentary fame), this Tony-winner presents a local contest that qualifies the winner for the big Bee in Washington, D.C., with two past Nationals attendees in the mix.

Anyone who reads the dictionary for fun (yes, there’s a song about it) can come across as a little odd – or a lot – so director Kathleen Clarke Horrigan (who often works with actual youth) gives some young adult actors a chance to creatively engage their inner child. There’s:

  • Leaf Coneybear (Josh Vander Missen), raised by hippies and generally clueless, but a spelling savant who gets possessed by the words.  
  • Logainne SwartzandGrubenierre (Jonna Kaufmann), pride of her two dads and likely the world’s youngest firebrand liberal, who writes out the word invisibly on her arm.
  • Marcy Park (Adrian Daeger), epitome of the Asian overachiever stereotype – six languages! — and it’s starting to get to her.
  • Returning champ Chip Tolentino (Jim Melton), the Boy Scout who gets surprised by the one thing he wasn’t prepared for.
  • Olive Ostrovsky (Kelsey McDaniel), who really hopes one of her super-successful parents shows up to see her make her mark; her secret weapons are the hand she recites the word into, and her beloved bestie Websters.
  • William Morris Barfee, pronounced ending in -AY, with one functioning nostril, catty attitude, and the “magic foot” that makes him a potential favorite to win it all. Brendon McCray wore those fancy shoes during opening weekend; upcoming shows have Adam Gardner as Barfee.

And last, but not least, there are three to four lucky spellers plucked from the audience! Don’t worry, you have to apply to get drawn for the gig. If selected, you’ll get at least a moment on the stage and a juice box, provided by Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney (Antony Winfrey), a parolee escorting eliminated contestants off the stage as his community service.

We also meet host, and past champion, Rona Lisa Peretti (Sarah Marone-Sowers); vice-principal Panch (Bryan D. Padgett), returning as word pronouncer, promising there won’t be an incident this time; and a brief cameo by Jesus Christ himself (Ed Trout). Trout and Andrew Exner also appear as paternal characters, while Hannah Janowicz plays Moms, and Leaf’s hot sister, Marigold.

This production is full of the energy and fun that has made this musical a hit nationwide, with trophy-worthy performances all around. Like Rona, you’ll be hard-pressed to select your “favorite part of the Bee.”

You also have a shot at seeing what was a nearly sold-out run. This was to be Footlite’s traditional January show that places the audience on-stage for a more intimate cabaret feel. However, with present health concerns, the stage will only hold cast (and audience spellers), which works fine for this particular musical, and ticket-holders take the regular seats – still general admission — allowing for bigger audiences than initially planned. Performances run through Sunday, Jan. 23. Get information and tickets at footlite.org.

Holiday favorite ‘Elf’ returns to Civic

By John Lyle Belden

Just two years ago (what seems a lifetime now), the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre had one of their biggest-ever hits with the musical “Elf,” based on the 2003 Wil Farrell film that is already a beloved Christmas classic.

And as live theatre has returned around central Indiana, so, too, has Buddy and his friends. And – a holiday miracle? – this production is just as wonderful as it was before.

This presents the reviewer with a problem. How do I say practically the same thing I wrote in 2019?

Like this — To save you the click and page-load of a link to the previous review, the following is the same text that still applies, with updated cast and info as needed:

The book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, with songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, allows Buddy the Elf to escape the shadow of Ferrell’s unique talent to make him his own wonderful character — portrayed happily here by Matt Bays. 

As in the original story, Buddy is a human who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s sack, unseen until the end of the journey. Finding that the boy’s single mother had died, Santa Claus (Parrish Williams) lets him be raised by the elves, allowing Buddy to think he was one of them. 

The truth is inevitably revealed, and Buddy travels to find his biological father — who doesn’t know he exists — in New York City. The dad, Walter (Jack Tanselle), is a workaholic executive at a publishing house of children’s books who is rough on coworkers like good-natured Deb (Nina Stilabower) and neglectful of wife Emily (Carrie Neal) as well as son Michael (Dylan Aquaviva). Naturally, Walter doesn’t believe this strange man in elvish tights is his son, so has him sent away. Since Buddy claims to be from the North Pole, he is dropped off at the next-best thing — Macy’s. There he ends up among the store’s Santa’s helpers, where he falls in love with fellow “elf” Jovie (Emily Bohannon). 

From there, the story is Buddy’s struggle for acceptance and belonging, along with a chance to save Christmas for his father’s family, and the whole world — when Santa is stranded in Central Park, his sleigh too low on the Christmas Spirit that fuels it (PETA nixed his reindeer a while ago). Other notable roles include Jonathan Studdard as the stressed-out Macy’s Manager, Dick Davis and Kelsey VanVoorst as hapless children’s book writers, and Jeff Angel as Mr. Greenway, the curmudgeonly owner of the publishing company, who wants a new hit Christmas story from Walter — or else!

The feel of the show throughout is best described by one of its song titles: “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.” The mood is perpetually sweet, even when characters aren’t “Happy All The Time.” And even when they feel that “Nobody Cares,” there’s a fun dance break. 

Directed by Michael J. Lasley and Anne Beck with choreography by Beck and musical direction by Brent Marty, this is a magical ensemble effort. Seeing it on a matinee with an audience of mostly children, I noticed they were all entranced and swept up in the spirit of it all. 

Just as sweet and special as spaghetti with syrup, “Elf” is yet another holiday must-see in central Indiana, playing through Dec. 24 at the Tarkington theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel, right next to the Christkindlmarkt. (Arrive early for hope of parking.) See www.civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org for info and tickets.

Catch the spirit of Civic’s ‘Color Purple’

By John Lyle Belden

The Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre is helping bring live audiences back in a big way with the Tony-winning musical “The Color Purple.”

For those unfamiliar with the acclaimed Alice Walker novel, or the Oscar-nominated Stephen Spielberg film (starring Whoopi Goldberg), this complex and dark coming-of-age story is difficult to justly describe. From a book by Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray – directed for the Civic by Michael J. Lasley with musical direction by Teneh B.C. Karimu – “The Color Purple” is challenging and disturbing, yet uplifting and life-affirming. This is one of those musicals where it’s best to just go and see for yourself the pain and triumph, and have the soulful voices wash over you. Whether or not God is in this place, or even with our heroine Celie, his Spirit has no doubt taken notice.

A lot happens in the story, so the musical keeps the characters, their motivations and actions mostly sung-through, up front with some handy chairs the only necessary props. Early 20th-century rural Georgia is more evoked than shown. The chorus starts out singing to the Lord, while Celie (Bridgette Michelle Ludlow) essentially asks if the Creator has forsaken her. Life with her abusive father (Bradley Alan Lowe) is so bad, that marriage to whip-toting Mister (Troy T. Thomas) is marginally better.

Though descended from slaves, Mister considers every person on his land his property, even his children. He frequently reminds Celie she is “ugly” and berates young son Harpo (Brenton Anderson) for being kind-hearted. At least Celie’s sister Nettie (Kendra Randle) manages to escape, promising to write to her from wherever she goes – but Mister intercepts the letters, letting Celie think she is alone in the world.

A strong-woman example comes into Celie’s life in Harpo’s bride Sofia (Rachel Bibbs), who will herself find the limits of standing up to authority in that era. We also meet the magnetic Shug Avery (Ashlee Baskin), the singer who is Mister’s one weakness, and who shakes things up even more than expected by befriending Celie. The large cast also features Miata McMichael as sweet Squeak, and Rayanna Bibbs, Tiffany Gilliam and Alexandria Warfield as the Church Ladies – this culture’s equivilant of a Greek Chorus.

Performances are solid, including Ludlow’s perseverance, Baskin’s complexity, Anderson’s charm, Rachel Bibbs’s full-throated attitude, and Thomas’s complete character arc.

Though bad times come frequently, there are genuine moments of joy and laughter, music in the juke-joint, colorful fabrics, and without spoiling, I’ll note that a measure of justice is meted out.

See – and feel – “The Color Purple” through Oct. 23 at the Tarkington theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get info and tickets at civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org.