Down with BHC? Hey, you know me!

By John Lyle Belden

Do you have a favorite BHC?

That stands for Beloved Holiday Classic book, movie or television special; nearly everyone has at least one they love to revisit this time of year. And nearly all get at least a shout-out in “Every Christmas Story Ever Told …and then some!” on stage through Dec. 18 at Buck Creek Players.

Steven Linville apparently loves Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” and is eager to get its performance under way – “Marley was dead…” etc. – but Jessica Bartley and Stacia Ann Hulen revolt, and insist that other holiday classics get their due. Thus the trio address the plots of various BHCs, from Charlie Brown to Dr. Seuss to Dylan Thomas, and throw in facts about Christmas celebrations in other countries around the world.

In Act Two, Linville finally gets to lead a production of Christmas Carol – but wait! One of the more popular BHCs was almost forgotten, and its story ends up in a wild mash-up with Scrooge’s.

Bartley, Hulen and Linville charm and bring plenty of festive comic energy to the show, but they can’t do it alone – the audience and select members occasionally get called on to help things along. If this doesn’t bother you, you’re bound to have a fun time at this holiday treat.

And I must praise set designer Aaron B. Bailey for the wonderful stage set, with our players standing among a library of giant holiday-themed books.

Director D. Scott Robinson said he wasn’t sure he wanted to helm a Christmas show, until he saw this script. He especially enjoyed mixing the music for the show’s “Nutcracker” interlude, which sounds a little different from how Tchaikovsky wrote it.

P.S. Bring cash for the annual cookie sale fundraiser.

Find the Buck Creek Playhouse at 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road exit off I-74); call 317-862-2270 or visit www.buckcreekplayers.com.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor for The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based LGBTQ news source, where he also places his reviews. He’d like to think of “Die Hard” and “Trading Places” as BHCs, and has a great fondness for “Year Without a Santa Claus.”

Review: Complex killer musical at BCP

By John Lyle Belden

For about a year now, it has been the unofficial Year of Sondheim around central Indiana stages. And now it appears to be Buck Creek Players’ turn, with its production of the musical, “Assassins.”

This play brings together in a dark-humored fantasia various men and women who killed – or tried to kill – the President of the United States. The genius of this piece by Sondheim and James Weidman is that it compellingly presents these individuals’ point of view without glorifying their acts.

The Proprietor (Steven R. Linville) in this room outside of time and space is offering guns to the various frustrated characters seeking – something. Perhaps it’s personal relief; perhaps it’s attention; perhaps it’s to change the world. The solution? Shoot the President.

The characters represent people who actually existed (a couple are even still alive), who you may or may not have heard of, but they all look up to the one we all know: Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth (Mark Meyer). Charles Guiteau (David Wood) would be shocked that we don’t know his name as readily, as he expected his shooting of President James Garfield (briefly played by chorus member W. Michael Davidson) to boost sales of his book and lead to him becoming President himself – rather than be hanged, which happened instead.

We also hear of the irrational motivations behind Leon Czolgosz (Jake McDuffee) shooting William McKinley, Guiseppe Zangara (Scott Fleshood) shooting at Franklin Roosevelt, John Hinckley Jr. (Trenton Baker) shooting Ronald Reagan, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Stacia Ann Hulen) and Sara Jane Moore (Cathy Tolzmann) taking shots at Gerald Ford (played, complete with pratfall, by Bryan D. Padgett).

Most intriguing are the ramblings of Samuel Byck (Daniel Draves), taken from the actual tape recordings he made and sent to journalists, before attempting his plan to crash a passenger jet into the White House to kill Richard Nixon (his gun was used on others as he tried to take over the plane).

To let us know these assassins’ stories, we hear from a Balladeer (Luke McConnell), who eventually finds his own dark and infamous purpose.

These are not heroes; most are arguably insane, but it’s hard to say they are entirely bad people. These facts add depth to performances throughout the cast. Guiteau’s delusions make Wood’s portrayal one of the more entertaining. Hulen as a loopy-hippie Fromme and Tolzmann’s Kathy-Bates-esque turn as Moore provide much of the dark humor, especially in Moore’s total incompetence with a firearm. Mary Hayes Tuttle boldly portrays famed anarchist Emma Goldman, an influence on Czolgosz, who McDuffie infuses with desperation. Fleshood plays Zangara earnestly, an appropriate approach for someone whose pain was real but actions made little sense. And Draves is like an obscenity-spewing force of nature as Byck – the dirty Santa suit he wears to protest Nixon making him look even more unhinged. Baker’s Hinckley is a lost, confused boy with a gun.

Above all, Meyer exudes a charisma befitting Booth, a renowned actor before committing the one act he is known for, as he takes charge of this macabre exclusive club. Linville and McConnell ably represent American Culture and History, respectively, as tangible beings with genuine influence on the stories we see, making it feel inevitable when McConnell’s young man picks up the rifle.

(Note: This production doesn’t hold back on language. But then, the topic already makes this not a show for children.)

With sharp direction by D. Scott Robinson with Christine Schaefer, and interesting set design by Aaron B. Bailey, this is worth taking a shot at seeing down at the Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road exit off I-74), through June 12. Just kindly leave your firearms outside.

No actual Presidents were harmed in the making of this musical. Find info at www.buckcreekplayers.com or call 317-862-2270.

(This was also posted at The Word [later The Eagle], Indy’s LGBTQ newspaper)

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)