A Jane Austen rom-com
by John Belden, www.eastofindy.com
Buck Creek Players' production of "I Love You Because," playing through Oct. 17, is like a musical "date movie," one of those by-the-numbers boy-gets/loses/recovers-girl stories that hit the theaters on Valentine's Day.
The play is a fairly successful college thesis project by NYU students Joshua Salzman (music) and Ryan Cunningham (book and lyrics), who reportedly based the story on Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" with gender roles reversed -- Mr. Darcy becomes "Marcy" and instead of five sisters we have two brothers -- and set in modern-day New York. This latter aspect allows the language to be a bit more salty than the discourse of 19th-century England. This is for mature audiences who don't mind a couple of f-bombs.
And somehow all the class-and-family plot complexities of "P&P" got boiled down to two lonely guys and two lonely girls who shouldn't be attracted to them but they hook up anyway. If I had been told this had been based on "How I Met Your Mother" I would have believed it quicker than I would have believed this is Austen. So it's best to forget the origin story, and just accept this musical on its own merits.
Austin Bennett (played by David Michael Cress) suddenly discovers the woman that was to be his fiance has left him for another man. His crass, randy brother Jeff (Stacey "Jack" Johnson) persuades him the best thing would be not to try vainly to win the woman back but instead to trigger her "sick sense" by going out with someone new -- someone wrong for him, of course, so he won't get attached.
Meanwhile, Marcy Fitzwilliams (Angela Manlove) has just broken up with her jerk of a boyfriend. Her best friend Diana Bingley (Jennifer Poynter), an actuary, calculates by her relationship formula that Marcy must spend six months in rebound and recovery, dating only unsuitable men, before seriously seeking another relationship. Since Diana herself wants a "wild abandon phase," she accompanies Marcy in her search for Mr. Wrong.
Thus the four meet.
And anyone conversant with rom-coms can guess what follows. To add to the "opposites attract" factor, Austin is a very ordered and structured person (in spite of being creative, he writes greeting card poems for a living) while Marcy is a total free spirit (as demonstrated by her unorthodox coffee orders). And intellectual Diana finds herself stuck with dim-bulb Jeff.
To sell a show like this, we have to really like the characters, and fortunately these four actors are talented and charming enough to generate some empathy. They are helped along by Kate Ayers and Matthew Konrad Tippel, who play all supporting roles (waiters, bar staff, people on the street, etc.) and as the show's Greek Chorus even get their own song.
Curtain is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, at the BCP playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road exit off I-74). Call 862-2270.
The Buck Creek Players present I LOVE YOU BECAUSE
by Kelsee B. Hankins, www.naptownbuzz.com
Buck Creek Players opened their 2010-2011 season, “From Page to Stage”, this weekend with Salzman & Cunningham’s I Love You Because. This modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, marks the Indiana premiere of this contemporary musical.
The musical tells the story of conservative greeting card writer, Austin (played by David Michael Cress) who discovers that his longtime girlfriend is cheating on him and then feels edgy about re-entering the dating scene. Austin’s dunce of a brother, Jeff (Stacey ‘Jack’ Johnson), persuades Austin to go on a double date where the brothers meet free-spirited Marcy (Angela Manlove) and the structured Diana (Jennifer Poynter). The couples; Austin and Marcy and Jeff and Diana fall into unexpected relationships where they deal with complications, exes, and being “just friends…with benefits!” The score and dialogue are offbeat, quirky, and the show is great fun to watch. The musical enlightens the audience to love others BECAUSE of their differences, rather than in spite of them.
Checkmarks to Angela Manlove for an excellent performance of “Just Not Now”, bringing a very clear and touching end to the first act. Also, checkmarks to Stacey ‘Jack’ Johnson and David Michael Cress for top-notch comedic moments throughout the show – Superman underwear, anyone? Standout musical numbers included the opening “Another Saturday Night in New York” and “What Do We Do It For?”. Finally, the fabulous (and versatile) set design: a park, office, two different apartments, a bar, and a coffee shop – conceived by Aaron B. Bailey, is definitely worth noting.
I Love You Because continues during weekends at Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Avenue, Indianapolis – through October 17th. More information can be found online at: http://www.buckcreekplayers.com
APRIL 17, 2010: "THE INDIANA BRAIN"
from the online blog of Bruce Kimmel (Composer/Lyricist of The Brain from Planet X)
Well, dear readers, it is REALLY late and I have to get up early, but I do want to tell you all about my rather fabulously fabulous day ... we headed over to the Buck Creek Playhouse. We met the director of the show, who was very sweet, and I also met his mum, also very sweet. Our seats were taped off, so that was nice. And then it was show time. And how much fun did I have? A ton. It was so great to just sit in the audience and watch a production I had nothing to do with, and see how well the show works. The audience had a great time and the company got all the laughs they should have. The music sounded terrific (they had a really good sax player), and I just had a blast. The cast was really fun, every one of them. Some stuff was similar to what we’d done, and some stuff was very different, which I enjoyed. They got a great mark for The Brain Tap, so that was a load of laughs. The set was terrific, as was all the technical stuff including lighting and costumes. During the curtain call, the director came out and introduced me, which was very nice. Then I met the cast and we took some photographs onstage (which I hope to post here soon). Then a lot of the cast and backstage crew gathered at a local pub and we all had the best time. I had really nice chats with so many lovely people and it just could not have been a better evening. As Sally Durant Plummer put it so very succinctly – I’m so glad I came.
Musical Delivers Fun SF Parody
by Ronald Hawkins, Science Fiction Sojourns
Buck Creek Players Sci-Fi Send Up is Frolicsome Camp Entertainment
by Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts ExaminerWhat's most ironic about seeing The Brain From Planet X, Buck Creek's Players current production, is that it is being presented in what was once a fundamentalist church. Now of course this structure serves as home for this far southeast side community theatre company, known for its adventurousness
Continuing next weekend, April, 23-25, this irreverent, over the top, spoof, musical tribute to sci-fi movies of the1950's, with its purposely cheesy sets & props, stylized acting, sexual innuendos, gay references, and tongue in cheek humor, makes for pure
entertainment, and a rollicking good time.
Expertly directed by D. Scott Robinson and produced by Lynne B. Robinson, The Brain From Planet X (with music and lyrics by Bruce Kimmel and book by Kimmel and screenwriter David Wechter) recounts the tale of a 1958 invasion by
aliens.With a plan to take over the San Fernando Valley (California), and eventually the entire planet, A Brain and its two alien companions start with the picture perfect nuclear family of Fred Bunson an inventor, his homemaker wife Joyce and highly sexed daughter, Donna.Along the way they encounter stock characters such as the military officer, General Mills, his adjunct, Private Partz, Professor Leder, Joyce's elderly father and Donna Bunson's beatnik boyfriend, Rod. Despite their best efforts however, the aliensare thwarted by the stubborn earthlings.With a storyline and plot twists that mirror those of all the films it parodies, The Brain From Planet X has an ending which is predictable yet none-the-less satisfying.
Essentially stealing the show whenever they appeared together on stage, were Craig Underwood as The Brain, Daniel Robert as Zubrick, and Erin M. Rettig as Yoni.
Playing his character with a haughty and regal grandness, Underwood, was the perfect "straight" man to the machinations of Robert whose Zubrick was a whacked out cross between Will & Grace's Jack MacFarland and the late comedian/actor Paul Lynde.
Completing the obvious chemistry amongst this highly engaging trio was Rettig who infused her sex pot Yoni with the sauciness of Anne Margaret and the comic timing of Madeline Kahn.
While performing together in their production numbers, The Plan, and its reprise, Underwood, Robert and Rettig were masterful in both voice and movement as they executed vaudeville inspired choreography that was perfectly suited to the overall tone of the proceedings.
Other standouts were Stacey '
Jack' Johnsonas Fred Bunson, and Kelsee B. Hankins as his wife Joyce. Possessing superb singing voices and acting abilities, the two were highly effective in capturing the period and genre style in both attitude and delivery.Also appealing was, Maria Meschi as their daughter Donna who was also effective in switching between an innocent ingénue and a secret Lolita.
Others deserving recognition for their contributions were David K. Dulhanty who played dual roles as the narrator and Professor Leder and Steve Hermanson as
Keeping in mind the talent pool is sometimes limited within the non-professional theatre arena; and that in this case, all participants both on and off the stage are completely volunteer--- the positives of this production far outweighed the negatives.
The large cast included some performers playing smaller roles that only accentuated their limitations. Nevertheless, the uneven quality of those performances did not detract greatly from the overall quality of the production itself.
On the positive side, the technical and musical aspects of the production were outstanding and in some cases nearly flawless--- making for a creative endeavor that was both polished and professional.
Now in its 36th year of operation, Buck Creek Players continues its On The Home Front season with Ghosts, June 4-13 and Alice in Wonderland, July 30-August 8, 2010. For more information call at 317/862-2270 or visit their website at www.buckcreekplayers.com.
Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage
by Josefa Beyer, www.nuvo.net
Buck Creek Players; Directed by Parrish Williams
This country-western gothic comedy introduced me to playwright Jane Martin (Talking With..., Keely and Du), who apparently is best known for not being known. Martin is suspected to be a pseudonym for a male Kentucky playwright. Here she/he writes women very well and makes “hick” stereotypes believable, even honorable. I could stretch it and say that the small-town Wyoming sisters depicted represent the struggle by women to overcome male domination, but the real breakthrough in this play is that they talk and act like real sisters. They are curt in their criticisms, undying in their loyalty and tied at the wit. While displaying a zeal for butchery to rival the Coen Brothers, Big 8 and Shirl roll with some big punches: the appearance of a never-heard-of, lip-pierced daughter-in-law, a boyfriend’s betrayal and a homicidal attack. Sunday's small audience, mostly gray-haired couples, seemed to enjoy Flaming Guns, but I can imagine a rowdier Mass Avenue crowd filling the Franklin Township playhouse and hooting for the play's grisly humor and playful sexiness. Director Parrish Williams, who also directed BCP’s How I Learned to Drive in 2003, wisely nabbed Jolene Mentink Moffatt and Kimberly Ruse from that show, plus Pete Lindblom as a dumb blonde cowboy, Paul Hansen as a lovable gullible sheriff, and Carrie Schlatter as the late night intruder that starts all the trouble. Through Oct. 18; 862-2270, www.buckcreekplayers.com.
by John Belden, eastofindy.com
We all know stories of the “crazy cat lady” and occasionally see a news article about an old person living in a house in disrepair, overrun with animals. But she wasn’t always like this, was she?
A pair of women who fit the stereotype when filmed for the 1970s documentary “Grey Gardens” turned out to have quite a glamorous past – related to America’s “royalty,” including former First Lady Jacqueline (nee Bouvier) Kennedy Onasis. That film inspired a stage musical, a hit on and off Broadway, which makes its American community theater debut at Buck Creek Players.
The first act shows a house full of nervous optimism, as “Little Edie” Beale (played by Erin M. Rettig) is about to celebrate her engagement to Joseph Kennedy Jr. (Daniel Robert). Mother Edith Bouvier Beale (Laura Duval-Whitson) sees it as another chance to perform, planning a full evening’s worth of songs with close friend and accompanist George Gould Strong (Trevor Fanning), to the annoyance of her daughter as well as her father J.V. “Major” Bouvier (Ken Ganza). Also on hand are young sisters Jackie (the future Mrs. JFK, played by Paige Brown) and Lee Bouvier (Mt. Vernon Intermediate School student Emma Weber) and butler Brooks (Carvis Herron Jr.).
Watching the 1941 events from a 2009 perspective, the knowledge of what's to come makes them bittersweet. The women don’t know that Joe will die in the War, let alone of the loneliness and squalor that awaits them. When things don’t go as planned with the engagement party, it seems fitting.
But it is in the second act, set in 1973, that the show really finds its footing. The contrast from the bright stage of the first is stunning, showing how much the Edies’ lives have changed. Duval-Whitson now plays Little Evie as Susan Page Freeman takes the role of her mother. Herron appears as Brooks’ son, still checking in on the women. A neighborhood youth, Jerry (played by Robert), brings groceries and offers help and friendship.
But where the show truly impresses is in the minds-eye glimpses of the women’s inner worlds, played by the rest of the company as ghostly reproductions of their 1941 selves. The multitude of cats sing; Norman Vincent Peale’s radio show comes to life in the living room.
The songs throughout the musical soften the edges while adding emotional punch. And the cast all do a commendable job, particularly the three playing the Edies.
The set design by Aaron Bailey is impressive, especially in the way that the elder Edie’s bedroom is added between acts. Overall, it’s a credit to the playwrights (Doug Wright, book; Scott Frankel, music; and Micheal Korie, lyrics) and director D. Scott Robinson that such a difficult topic for a musical makes such a fascinating evening of entertainment.
“Grey Gardens: The Musical” runs through June 14, curtain at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 862-2270.
Grey Gardens... Fantastic!
There are moments when watching a play that I’m keenly aware that it’s make-believe. My thoughts drift to the rhythm of the lines and how they seem like give and take between characters in a play rather than an actual conversation. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with “Grey Gardens.” During the performance, it seemed as though I was watching an actual bit of history, rather than actors on a stage. It was natural, with voices overlapping and natural responses, rather than set-ups for the next line or joke or song.
Everything was “just right” with this presentation. It was perfectly cast, the actors had terrific singing voices, the costumes were amazing (especially the military costumes and the Edie’s white gown), the actor’s timing was “spot on,” and the set on three levels was visually appealing and inspired.
I liked the changes in the times and values as well. The first half, set in 1941, showed the characters rambling on about superficial things that some of the “moneyed” social strata held important, such as “marrying well” and the right career path. As humorous as it was to look at the wealthy characters deal with those choices, it was a reminder how all of us consider them, regardless of our financial situation.
The second half was the more down-to-earth part of the show with the disturbing realization that mental illness had crept in without the residents of Grey Gardens seeming to know it, but powerless to stop it.
All the cast did a terrific job, but Laura Duvall-Whitson deserves major kudos for tackling the two roles of first “Big Edie” (1941) and then “Little Edie” (1973) that spanned the length of the show. I’m sure it’s challenging not only to have two different roles in a show, but to memorize dialogue and music for the entire show is an achievement. Of course, Susan Freeman was terrific, as Big Edie (1973) and Erin Rettig was sexy as Little Edie in her prime. Trevor Fanning as Gould and Ken Ganza as Major Bouvier added the necessary humor and atmosphere of the early ‘40s.
In the beginning, I enjoyed the fun, but vacuous, conversations of the wealthy elite. At the end, I could feel the torment of Little Edie wanting to escape, but not having the courage, nor the resources, to do so, and settling for what was least uncomfortable. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to see Grey Gardens at Buck Creek Players and credit goes to director D. Scott Robinson for following his passion in bringing this to the local stage.
Despite the differences in budgets, this was every bit as entertaining to me as “Wicked” and the similarity of the two was the talent displayed on stage for both plays.
Drood performed well despite complicated plot
by Julie Young, www.indy.com/events/view/84075#review-3854
Intrigued by the idea of voting for the end of a performance, I attended The Mystery of Edwin Drood offered by the Buck Creek Players. From the moment I entered the Music Hall Royale, I loved the improve interaction between audience members and the cast of players. However, right from the start of the show, I was confused as to cast members' names and characters as one might expect from watching a show about people putting on a show. Sound complicated? Trust me, it's better if you see it for yourself rather than hear my convoluted explanation.
First off, props to the cast for handling a unique performance. The cast was delightful to watch, Mary Katherine Smith's voice was beautiful and Parish williams handled I don't know how many roles during the course of the show. (I am personally impressed he hasn't gone mad from trying to keep it all straight.) The show is based on Charles Dickens' unfinished final work which concerns the mysterious disappearance of one Edwin Drood who is the nephew of Mr. John Jasper and betrothed to the lovely Rosa Bud. In an attempt not to give anything away for those who want to see and solve the mystery for themselevs, the show deals with the underbelly of the London street scene along with the apparent madness of one of the lead characters. In act two, the show comes to an abrupt end while the audience votes on several key elements to the story. I will say that voting at one point became very suspect in my opinion as cast members came out into the audience and tallied the votes. It didn't strike me as an overly precise process so I was not surprised to learn the end of the story. For the most part, the show was a lot of fun and certainly worth seeing, however the length is well over two hours and that can be tedious for some. The ending drags slightly as well, but this is not the fault of the actors, rather the way it is written. Theatregoers will get a charge out of the raucous cast and the ending will give everyone something to talk about on the way home.
Incomplete "Mystery" a complete blast
by John Belden, eastofindy.com
Go through the doors to the auditorium and stage of the Buck Creek Playhouse this weekend, and you are transported to The Music Hall Royale in Victorian England and their production of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."
The fact that Charles Dickens died before completing the story doesn't stop this intrepid troupe as they act and sing the story, and when they come to the place where Dickens stopped, the audience decides how it all ends.
Buck Creek Players has done a brilliant job of capturing the fun of this award-winning Broadway musical, right down to the balloting. Is Drood dead? If so, who killed him? Who is the detective-in-disguise? And finally, since it can't be a musical without a happy ending, who will be the couple who find love in the end?
The Chairman, the Music Hall Royale's William Cartwright (who bears a resemblance to Hancock County's own Parrish Williams) does an excellent job of keeping the story going as narrator, and filling in if a member of the cast doesn't show up.
In the tradition of English "panto" theatre, Drood is the Principal Boy played by male impersonator Miss Alice Nutting (known in the 21st century as Carrie Neal). She does an excellent job of portraying the young man -- she wears pants! The musical melodrama has Edwin reconsidering his engagement to Rosa Bud (Mary Katherine Smith) while seeming to be oblivious to the scheming of choirmaster John Jasper (Dean Reynolds)-- whom the audience is encouraged to "Boo! Hiss!" Other characters are introduced, including the colorful Princess Puffer (Diann Ryan), gravedigger Durdles (John Pittman), the Reverend Mr. Crisparkle (Christopher Brown) and his guests from Ceylon, siblings Neville and Helena Landless (real-life married couple Daniel and Heather Draves). Then, on a stormy Christmas Eve, Drood disappears!
Andrew Ranck is a hoot as struggling actor Phillip Bax, who is stuck with the brief role of Bazzard in the play (Dickens apparently didn't write much of him) but "longs to play a bigger part" -- and in the voting, the audience could choose to give it to him.
The show would be fun even without the unpredictable ending, but is a blast to see how it comes out. Depending on the mood of the audience, it's a different show every performance. And BCP will be happy to take your ticket reservation again and again. Playing Fridays through Sundays through Oct. 12, call 862-2270.
Last Saturday evening (June 21, 2008) I drove south through a blinding rainstorm to see one of the final performances of “Honk!” as presented by the Buck Creek Players.
I knew I would not be able to write about it in time to help anyone else make a decision about whether or not to go see it, but I had several reasons for wanting to see it just for myself:
1) Josefa Beyer of Nuvo called the show “professional-grade comedic high jinx at community theater prices.”
2) When I was out at Spotlight the weekend before to see “Voices from the High School,” director Jeremy Tuterow recommended “Honk!” to me, too. “It’s sweet,” he said.
3) I hadn’t been out to Buck Creek since before Christmas. It was time for some “relationship maintenance” with this theatre.
4) But mostly, I just really like Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Ugly Duckling,” in which a lonely, bullied misfit finally grows into himself and discovers that he is something beautiful, lovable, and admirable after all. “Honk!” is based on that story.
The musical version has music by George Stiles, with book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. Buck Creek’s production was directed by D. Scott Robinson and produced by Lynne B. Robinson. The vocal director and conductor was Matthew Konrad Tippel. The technical director was Aaron B. Bailey. The assistant director was Melissa DeVito. The assistant vocal director was Scott Pittman.
The show sold out soon after I phoned in my reservation. I got there early and snagged my favorite seat at Buck Creek: at the end of the back row, up near the rafters, which sounds as if it would be far away from the stage but it is not. Buck Creek’s theatre space is a nice size: large but not vast.
I overheard the people sitting in front of me comparing notes. One of them had already seen the show twice. Another had already seen it three times!
The show charmed me, too. I would go see it again myself, if it were still running.
And not just because I was totally smitten with The Cat (Trevor Fanning), although that is one of the main reasons I would go back if I could. His black leather energy was a cross between sexy James Spader and that cartoon character who used to say “Heavens to murgatroid!” In other words: funny and steamy and dangerous, an intoxicating combination. I hung around after the show like a cat in heat myself, to see if the actor was a tom in real life, but he was surrounded by family and other fans. My shyness got the best of me and I came on home. But mmm, The Cat was a yummy villain in the show.
Several other elements in the show were pleasing as well.
The musical accompaniment was quite fun to listen to. It had me tapping my toe right from the beginning. I don’t find the orchestra members’ names listed in the program, but I got to chat with the bass guitar player a bit after the show. He said there were “lots of us in a small space” behind the set. I heard wind chimes, plus some other intriguing sounds I couldn’t identify. The bass player said that the “wanging” sounds I heard at one point had probably been produced by a synthesizer, but I know that many of the other sounds were produced by percussion instruments for which I just don’t have the names. The fun sound that the eggs made when they cracked open is just one of many examples.
The voices were strong and beautiful, too, and well balanced with the orchestra. (Sound design by Don Drennen.)
Stacey “Jack” Johnson played the very huggable (to me, but not to the other poultry, unfortunately!) Ugly. He had an irrepressible ”honk!” and an irresistible swim wiggle. His voice was powerful; I was touched by the innocence and earnestness in his voice as he sang, “My looks may well be funny, but I hurt the same inside.”
Kari Ann Stamatoplos played his hardworking mother, Ida. She was much more loving and devoted than the mother in the original Andersen story, thank goodness. She sang beautifully - seemingly effortlessly! - and had good comic timing. I laughed out loud when she told the ducklings to wipe their webs before coming back into the nest.
Four children played Ugly’s siblings, Billy (Sam Jacobi), Beaky (Lauren Raker), Downy (Hattie King), and Fluff (Morgan Ray.) They tumbled all over each other and marched along behind their mom in an adorable manner. They were a bunch of meanies when it came to Ugly, but that is what they were supposed to be.
Their dad, Drake (John Sparkman), was a bit of a bum at the beginning (Ida said she would have been better off pairing with a decoy!) but after Ida left on a journey to find their missing son, Drake was stuck taking care of the ducklings, and he became a better man, er, duck for it.
Sparkman also wore a monocle and played Greylag, the British captain of a hilarious flock of geese adventurers, later in the play. In fact, each of the supporting actors played two or more characters, and played them well. The whole poultry community was filled with quirky, distinct personalities and lovely voices. Here are just a few examples:
Craig Underwood played Turkey with an authentic yet expressive gobble in the barnyard. Later, out in the wide world, he played the aesthetically challenged Bullfrog and assured Ugly (and all of us) that “out there, someone’s gonna love ya, warts and all.” He and the Froglets twirled green frog umbrellas while they danced. Delightful!
Cathy Cutshall played the very sophisticated Grace, the top ranking duck in the barnyard, the one with the enviable red band around her ankle. She also played Queenie, the resident feline in a house that Ugly stumbled into on his journey. Queenie felt the same way about The Cat, who came chasing after Ugly, as I did.
Denise A. Fort played Lowbutt, the jealous house hen who did her best to get in the way of Queenie and Cat’s romance. Fort also played Ida’s well-meaning but not-helpful friend, Maureen, in the barnyard.
Erin M. Rettig played the obnoxious TV reporter, Maggie Pie, from “America’s Most Feathered.” Her cameraman was stage manager Dawn Frick. Rettig also played Penny, the gorgeous and mysterious creature that captured Ugly’s heart.
The set (designed by Aaron B. Bailey with properties by Lynne B. Robinson and Sonja Schoene) was enchanting, a cross between a preschooler’s farmyard play set and an adult’s lush memory of childhood. There was a copse for the ducklings, paths through cattails (whose “cigars” doubled as propeller blades in the goose brigade’s scene!), and a red barn that doubled as the Cat’s kitchen - also known as the ”Kitty Kat Snack Shack: Fast Food for Famished Felines” - and a human house with oversized furniture. The show opened with peaceful, dappled light over everything. (Lighting designed by Don Drennen.)
At one point, though, Ida and Ugly went for his first swim. Ugly loved the water! The special effects for this portion of the show transformed the stage to reflect his joy and wonder. The regular lights went down and a black light came up. Schools of glow-in-the-dark fish glided past Ugly as he frolicked “underwater.” (The program says that Jennifer King, April Raker, and Michelle Ray were the “gorgeous ladies of glow paint.”) Bubbles poured forth from somewhere in the ceiling (I couldn’t figure out where!) and the audience oohed and ahhed.
It was very cool.
I admired the creativity of the costume designers, Linda Rowand and Susan Sanderock, too. They did not put anybody in bird or animal costumes but rather came up with whimsical outfits that fit the characters’ essences. The ducklings wore bright orange shirts, yellow overalls, and yellow caps to fit their playfulness. Ida wore several layers of homey petticoats over orange tights. Grace wore a fitted brown dress suit and carried a walking stick. The swan family wore black-and-white silk, in shapes like something out of a New York fashion show. These are just a few examples.
I took a lot of notes for this enjoyable show. The man sitting next to me asked what I was writing, so I gave him my “Indy Theatre Habit” card. He turned out to be Jeff Best, vice president of the board of the Hendricks Civic Theatre, on the far west side of Indy. I have not seen any of their shows yet, but I would like to. Best shared with me some of the exciting progress that they have made towards getting a building of their own. He also invited me to see their upcoming production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I can’t find any information about this show on their website right now, but I will keep my eye out for it.
When director D. Scott Robinson gave the curtain talk for “Honk!” on Saturday night, he emphasized that Buck Creek is an all-volunteer organization and that they are celebrating their 34th (!) season. Flex passes for the 2008-2009 season were available at a bargain price on Saturday night. I don’t know if they are still available, but it would be worth asking. Call the box office at 317-862-2270.
Buck Creek’s final show for this season is “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” with an all-youth cast. It opens Friday, July 25, 2008 and runs for two weekends.
Sunday 8 June 2008:
HONK! The Ugly Duckling Musical at
Buck Creek Players
by Joe Boling, www.indianaauditions.com
This is a show that has been offered several times wherever I have been seeing theater, but that I had never gone to see. I wasn't especially drawn to it, given the source material (the eponymous Hans Christian Andersen story) and the genre (musical). I'm glad that my introduction to it was such a fabulous production. But I fear that any time I see it henceforth, it will fail to live up to what I saw today.
Ugly (Stacey "Jack" Johnson) is the last hatchling of Ida and Drake (Kari Ann Stamatoplos and John Sparkman). Not only does he arrive after the other ducklings, he's big, loud, and UGLY. When the others utter discreet quacks, his vocalization is HONK. When Mom takes him to the pond to learn to swim, he's so big and strong that he wears her out. And he's not too observant of her cautions - he sees no problem in visiting the barn with Cat (Trevor Fanning), where Cat intends to turn Ugly into a tender repast.
Upon escaping from this trap, Ugly flees into the wide world, and gets lost. He encounters lots of other creatures in his travels (geese, a chicken, another cat, swans, frogs - all played by the same players who represented the ducks, chickens, and turkey back at home), while Ida and Cat search for him constantly. He's gone almost a year, during which, of course, he grows up - into a magnificent swan. The transformation is quite amazing.
Which leads us to a discussion of the strengths of this production. First is the show itself - book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe and music by George Stiles. The piece won the Olivier for best musical in 2000 (beating competition like The Lion King and Mamma Mia). The lyrics work on two levels - kids will think they are funny on their face; adults hear the way they describe life, and are cracked up more than the kids. Then we move to the set (Aaron B Bailey) and costumes (Linda Rowand and Susan Sanderock) (checkmarks all around). The set is colorful, very versatile, and starts one's imagination churning. The costumes are exquisite. Then we move to the underwater scene. When Ida takes Ugly to the pond, he knows how to dive, and does so immediately. Under water, everything is illuminated in UV, and all the pond residents (including fish that float in from the wings) are UV-reactive. It's magical. Meanwhile, soap bubbles fall from the ceiling - I saw front-row kids trying to catch them. The whole scene (the product of director D Scott Robinson's mind) is enchanting. And then there are the mundane elements such as singing and dancing (choreography also by Robinson) - not a hiccup to be found.
And weaknesses? Well, there was a little bit of static in one microphone - that was it. The result is a show that's more than the sum of its components - a truly wonderful experience.
Checkmarks to Robinson for direction and Matthew Konrad Tippel for music direction and conducting; to the designers already cited; to Johnson, Stamatoplos, Sparkman (as both Drake and Greylag, a goose aviator), Fanning, and to Craig Underwood as Bullfrog. Honorable mentions to Denise A Fort, Erin M Rettig, and Cathy Cutshall, each in several roles (a cast of twelve plus the stage manager are spread across thirty-three roles).
Closes 22 June. Highly recommended.
HONK! The Ugly Duckling Musical
by Josefa Beyer
JUNE 11 , 2007
Buck Creek Players; Directed by D. Scott Robinson
Honk! is another formulaic musical with very little to excite the ear that still makes for exciting theater. George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s adaptation of The Ugly Duckling replaces Hans Christian Anderson’s darkest passages about the pain of being different with an overload of motherly love, an enjoyably wicked cat lusting for duck à la orange and nonstop puns — some saucy, some just about duck sauce. For Buck Creek’s production, director D. Scott Robinson wisely chose a small ensemble cast for their wonderful voices and their ability to deliver professional-grade comedic high jinx at community theater prices. Stacey “Jack” Johnson is the wayward swan, Kari Ann Stamatoplos his mother and Trevor Fanning the leather-clad cat who likes to play with his food. John Sparkman, Cathy Cutshall, Denise A. Fort, Craig Underwood and Erin M. Rettig take on multiple delightful side roles to make feline romance, froggie wisdom and a wild goose chase that is not metaphoric. Aaron B. Bailey’s barnyard set, with its painted pond and 3-foot cattails, sets the tone of artful whimsy. Linda Rowand and Susan Sanderock costume the farm fowl not in feathers but in dresses, vests and pants, combined sometimes subtly, sometimes outrageously to suggest a bright yellow brood, fighter pilot geese and a graceful swan who knows where real beauty lies. Through June 22; 317-862-2270.
Arts and entertainment:
The best of 2007
The Indianapolis Star - December 30, 2007
As we move toward a new year, the Arts & Entertainment staff at The Indianapolis Star wanted to take a look at some of the highlights in 2007 on the local A&E scene. From movies to concerts to theater, classical music, dance and visual arts, here are the events that hit a high note.
Claire Wilcher portrays Lucille Frank
and Scot Greenwell portrays Leo Frank in
the Buck Creek Players' production
This year, Indianapolis theatergoers have been fortunate to have a broad choice of ambitious local productions of contemporary plays and musicals, not the least of which was Buck Creek Players' June staging of "Parade."
The all-volunteer community theater on the Southeastside has a reputation for undertaking challenging works, and this year offered the Indianapolis premiere of the darkly provocative musical, based on a real-life story. Under D. Scott Robinson's direction, the production was well-crafted and well-acted. Claire Wilcher's portrayal of the wife of wrongly accused murder suspect Leo Frank was outstanding.
Other compelling contemporary works this year have included Indiana Repertory Theatre's production of "Tuesdays With Morrie," inspired by the relationship between a sportswriter and his dying professor; the Phoenix Theatre production of "Stuff Happens," David Hare's think piece about the buildup to the Iraqi conflict; and the Alley Theater's production of "Blackout," set on Christmas Eve at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
You’ve got to admire a community troupe that creates theater in a former tennis facility (think airplane hangar) in a pasture next to an interstate. From its surprisingly plush interior, the Buck Creek Players present Pat Cook's family-friendly Dad’s Christmas Miracle, in which a newspaper editor relives his favorite Christmas memory: the year of the go-cart. Admonished by his former teacher Mrs. McLaughlin to “stick to the facts,” the grown Murphy reverts to his sixth-grade self, prefacing one scene with “It wasn’t my fault” and ending another with “I have to go to the bathroom.” The young actors who play the child Connor (Sammy Munro), his friends (Blake Brown and Aaron Acher), teen siblings (Sarah Brown, Aaron Goins) and teen friend (Hannah Shelton) make the play. They wear the childhood bickering, knock-knock jokes and 1950s attire well. Dan Denniston’s meticulous set, including a black and white television console running vintage hits, splits Connor’s memories neatly between his middle-class home and Mrs. McLaughlin’s orderly classroom. It is nostalgia, all sweet and no bitter, more often dear than hilarious or insightful, of a fictitious past when dad knew best, but mom knew everything. Through Dec. 16; 317-862-2270.
This is another memory play, written by Pat Cook, with another grade school boy (6th grade this time) at the center of the action. The premise is almost exactly like A Christmas Story, except that the adults in Connor Murphy's life do not reject his Christmas gift ambition, a go-kart, on safety grounds. It is simply more than they can afford this year.
Nevertheless, Connor (Sammy Munro as the kid, Sam Brown as the adult remembering his days as a kid) endeavors to be "good" in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Of course, events conspire against him - report cards are issued the week before Christmas, and he manages to push a friend into a closing door, which breaks an arm - leading to medical bills that have to be paid by his father (Michael M. Jones) from Christmas funds.
We never learn where this family lives, nor when Connor was a 6th grader. The playwright is a Texan, so I placed it there, and the TV in the living room is a black and white console that looks 1970s. I thought initially that Connor as an adult looks too young to have been in 6th grade in the '70s, but I suppose he might be 40. What I loved about the TV was that it actually takes several seconds to warm up, with the picture gradually materializing, and that when Connor or his sister (Sarah Brown) change the channel, the program switches from one vintage b/w program to another - nice work from the technical crew.
The set is bifurcated, with the Murphy living room appearing on the left, and Connor's 6th grade classroom on the right. It's practically a one-room schoolhouse - there are only three 6th graders in evidence (all boys - Aaron Acher and Blake Brown are the other two). The 6th grade teacher, Miss McLaughlin (Debbie Jones) reminded me a lot of my own 6th grade teacher, for whom our daughter is partly named. So I was pulled into this story a bit. (Acher's character, Neil - the one with the broken arm - eventually goes to MIT. I related to that too, being class of '64 from MIT, and having come from a very small high school.)
But - on balance the story is pretty thin. There are some good scenes, some funny situations, and the audience laughed fairly often, but much of the action is simply family dynamics, with little relation to the Christmas miracle promised by the title. The miracle eventually appears, but little is shown of Dad's involvement in the process (and there is certainly no audience anxiety about its eventual arrival). I suppose one could say that this is supposed to be only what Connor remembers, and he was not supposed to know what is father was cooking up or what obstacles were involved.
This was opening night, and not all cast members were settled into their roles yet. Several line bobbles and hesitations were evident. Those will doubtless fade away.
Checkmarks to Don Drennan for light/sound, and to Dan Denniston for the set and the go-kart. Honorable mentions to Jones as Miss McLaughlin and to Melissa DeVito as Connor's mother. Ken Kern directed. Closes 16 December.
A good performance you enjoy while you're watching it, but a great performance stays with you for days after the final bow. That's how I feel about Buck Creek's "Defying Gravity," a drama with touches of fantasy about the Challenger disaster written by Jane Anderson.
Director Kari Ann Stamatoplos brings out award winning performances from each of her seven main characters in this uplifting script. At the heart of this story is the relationship between Christa McAuliffe, who is referred to as "Teacher" in this piece, and her daughter Elizabeth. Lisa Kaake gives us a wonderful realistic performance as McAuliffe. Her classroom scenes are spot on as a teacher who encourages her students to examine the wonders of this world. Kaake's scene in the Challenger flightchair as she tries in vain to call her daughter before liftoff is especially heartbreaking.
Lynn Burger as Elizabeth changes before our eyes from adult to child effortlessly. She shows us at both ages how she survived the loss and how with courage she kept reaching upward as her mother had. Mark Kamish as CB, a member of the NASA groundcrew, gives us a memorable moment in Act 2. His character has volunteered to write a letter of regret to daughter Elizabeth after the explosion. The audience experiences his despair as he blames himself for the accident due to a lack of communication on his part.
Gregory Karl Howard (Ed) and Margy Lancet-Fletcher (Betty) provide the comic relief to the show as the retired couple touring the country in their Winnebago. They have come to see Challenger's liftoff and dream of traveling in space like this brave teacher. In a humorous fantasy scene in Act 2, they finally get their wish. Lucy Fields, as Donna the bartender, creates a Texas gal who shares with us her moments with McAuliffe who encourages her to get over her fear of heights. Donna shines when she refuses to let these moments become fodder for uncaring journalist's stories.
Woven throughout this story is the character of French Impressionist painter Claude Monet played by Tom Meador. Meador provides a rich understated performance as Monet who serves as a guide for us through several scenes. I believe Anderson uses this character as a device to parallel McAuliffe's space exploration with another person who tried to gain a different "view" of this world. Monet's work lives on today as does the memory of the Challenger and her crew.
Lea Viney and Ed Trout together have created a amazing set with the shuttle itself as the centerpiece. The lighting and sound design by Don Drennen compliments the story and set perfectly. His projection design for the slides used throughout the show also add much to the overall production value.
This wonderful drama deserves your attendance. With only one weekend left get to your phones and order your tickets before it's too late!
Friday & Saturday 8:00pm
Call (317) 862-2270 today!!!
Frank's tragic, real-life tale encompassing prejudice and allegations of pedophilia may seem an unlikely premise for a musical. But "Driving Miss Daisy" playwright Alfred Uhry and composer Jason Robert Brown have shaped the story into a suspenseful, unexpectedly heartwarming theater piece.Buck Creek Players, an all-volunteer community theater on the Southeastside, has not shied away from challenging works in the past and now offers the Indianapolis premiere of a darkly provocative piece called "Parade." Under D. Scott Robinson's direction, the production is well-crafted and generally well-acted. Friday's performance was compelling, even when part of the judge's bench inadvertently came crashing down, disrupting the solemnity of a trial.
In Southern stories, a steel magnolia often saves the day. In "Parade," Claire Wilcher's strong, genteel, bored but loyal Lucille Frank helps transform a competent production into a memorable one. All of her songs reveal something about character, from disillusionment over Leo's workaholic ways in "What Am I Waiting For?" to quiet strength in "You Don't Know This Man."
As Leo, Scot Greenwell's gifts are mainly dramatic. He nails the character's inner discomfort as a Northern Jew in a Jewish community that has assimilated to Southern ways. This Leo is a gefilte fish out of water, not unlike characters in Uhry's "Last Night of Ballyhoo" and in Brown's musical "13," about a New York Jew who is shellshocked when he moves to an Indiana town.
At Buck Creek, John Sparkman's strong singing voice and genuine Southern accent help make a convincing character of Tom Watson, a Bible-toting editor with a revivalist's demeanor. Other standouts are Stacey Johnson's slick, thoughtful Governor; Hillary Larman's coy, innocent murder victim Mary Phagan; and Bernard Würger's Judge Roan, who dares not reveal his fears in court.
The sole disappointment among the leads was Michael Davis' Britt Craig, a reporter on the verge of breaking a big story. Davis sang the news hawk's bluesy licks well enough but turned a tipsy scene into a festival of overacting.Overall, the musical director would do well to lighten up the instrumentals during solos by smaller voices and during quiet ensemble numbers.
Call Star reporter Whitney Smith at (317) 444-6226.
Buck Creek Players is presenting the Indianapolis premiere of the 2000 Tony Award-winning musical for Best Book and Best Score, Parade. Set in 1913 Atlanta, it is the based-on-fact story of Leo Frank (Scot Greenwell), a factory manager wrongly accused of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagen (Hillary Larman).
The show deals with anti-Semit-ism and the pervasive Southern resentment of Northerners, as well as love that can be discovered even under dire circumstances.
Greenwell plays his part of the fussy Yankee Jew well, carrying his vocal numbers gracefully. Claire Wilcher as his wife, Lucille, has the most powerful voice among the principals, with an exceptional rendition of “You Don’t Know This Man” being her standout number.
The foils include prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (Dustin D. Podgorski), who coaches witnesses into giving damning testimony because he needs a conviction to offset his sagging record, and pressmen Britt Craig (Michael Davis) and Tom Watson (John Sparkman), who turn the trial into pulp fiction for their papers. All three communicate their smarmy intentions in the hopes of making gains for themselves.
The cast is monstrous, but other standouts are Carvis Herron Jr. as Jim Conley, the man whose testimony nails Frank’s case, as well as the small numbers by John O’Brien as Frankie Epps, love interest to Larman’s Mary Phagen, as well as Larman herself. Vocal director John D. Phillips does good work getting this large group up to snuff.
On the downside, some sound issues often made vocal pieces hard to hear as mikes created too much fuzz to understand lyrics. Early on, the live orchestra backstage drowned out the actors.
Director D. Scott Robinson has the dual challenges of a long show and a large cast. While the show feels every bit as long as it is, Robinson keeps the stage from looking cramped or chaotic. Picking up the pace or trimming some of the longer pauses might help shorten the run time.
Costuming has a period feel, thanks to Linda Rowand, and set designer Aaron B. Bailey has created a cunning set that not only serves well for all the scenes, but acts as prop storage as well. A tree is the dominant feature, keeping the knowledge of Frank’s eventual demise forefront for the audience.
Buck Creek is gaining a reputation for taking on musicals that are intriguing and important — such as Violet, Side Show and, most recently, Spitfire Grill — that other theaters haven’t, and all of them were done exceptionally well. Kudos for taking on yet another with Parade.
Parade continues at Buck Creek Players, 11150 Southeastern Ave., through June 17. Tickets are only $15 ($13 for children, students and senior citizens). Call 317-862-2270 for reservations or go to www.buckcreekplayers.com.
The latest offering from the Buck Creek Players takes its name from the procession that celebrates Confederate Memorial Day – a day that celebrates the South’s losing the Civil War. “Parade,” focuses on the bigotry and political corruption that the South was known for decades after the Civil War. And, it does so by spotlighting a historical murder trial. The word “parade” comes from the French word, “parer,” to prepare. And, with a run time of nearly two hours and 45 minutes (including curtain speech), you need to be prepared to sit in an uncomfortable pool of murder, lies and racism for a long stretch. Thank the stars this production is completely worth the trouble.
If you want to see the show unspoiled, here’s your warning: Stop reading this and DO NOT gaze through the program before the show. You’ll learn too much about the plot. Of course, if you’re familiar enough with history, you already know what happens.
Director D. Scott Robinson transports the audience to Atlanta, GA, circa 1913, where the South has yet to get over the Civil War. The story is based on the true events surrounding sweet, little Mary Phagen’s murder and the attempt to bring justice to her killer. Leo Frank is an accountant at the factory Mary works at and is one of the last people to see her alive when she comes to his office to collect her pay. He is quickly accused and arrested of the murder, though the only crime Frank is really guilty of is being a Jewish Yankee in the South on Confederate Memorial Day. From here, corrupt Southern politics, bigotry, lies and mob mentality take over to convict Frank. Later, his loving wife, Lucille, tirelessly works to prove his innocence in hopes of gaining his freedom.
Under Robinson’s direction, the cast does a great job of keeping the story moving along. Though, a handful of times the flow between scenes and scene changes got a tad clunky and made the story seem more like related vignettes than plot points. There are a few moments in the book that seem unnecessary and don’t move the story along. The opening number, while performed well, didn’t pull me into the show. Also, Frank’s part in the song, “The Factory Girl/Come Up to My Office,” seemed completely out of character for a supposedly innocent man. The trial’s staging effectively makes the audience his jury and I was ready to hang him after this song. If the intention was plant doubt about Frank’s innocence, then it achieves its purpose; I just disagree that the intention was necessary. Otherwise, the staging is marvelous.
Scot Greenwell completely disappears into the character of Leo Frank. His portrayal is spot on. Claire Wilcher, as his wife, Lucille, is equally as strong. In the finale, I was completely caught up watching Wilcher grieve for her husband and practically didn’t notice the ensemble was finishing the show. Together, they create a very sweet, personal, loving relationship that is simply divine to watch and hear. With the amount of musical numbers, nearly everyone in the ensemble gets their moment to shine. Standouts include Michael Davis’ drunken reporter during “Big News,” and John O’Brien’s solo in “It Don’t Make Sense.” Particularly haunting was Jim Washington’s “Interrogation: I Am Trying to Remember.” It’s a very chilling moment. All in all, there’s not really a bad vocal performance in the show thanks to Vocal Director John D. Phillips.
You might think creating a set for a show that has over 25 scenes a daunting task, but Tech Director/Set Designer Aaron B. Bailey makes it look easy as well as beautiful. As cluttered as five or six different sets on one stage might sound, it works for the show. Special kudos must be given to the transforming red set that breaks apart to become Frank’s office, a judge’s bench, and a grandstand. Joanne M. Johnson’s lighting design effectively enhances the mood of each scene. The “fans” in the courtroom was a nice touch, but the odd lighting changes during the trial’s testimony was distracting and took away from the scene. Soundwise, there were a few pops and crackles from microphones and one or two sounded “tinny.” Occasionally, the orchestra fought with the ensemble. Still, Don Drennen’s overall sound design was appropriate. Costumes by Linda Rowland were well-done.
BCP’s “Parade” is a highly entertaining show despite the uncomfortable subject matter. At times, it seems as if there are maybe only two good guys to root for. While some musicals are just pure good fun, this production will stir up emotions in the audience and linger with them well past the curtain call. This piece of theatre is well-worth the price of admission. Thank you to BCP for staging an important piece of history.
Buck Creek Players present “Parade
June 8-9-10, 15-16-17, 2007
8:00 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays
2:30 p.m. Sundays
Admission is $15 for adults and $13 for students and senior citizens (62+). For more information and reservations, please call 317-862-2270.
Don't see this play if you have a weak heart or are prone to violent reactions when exposed to injustice - this piece really makes your blood boil. Some of the characters are so smarmy that it is difficult to objectively evaluate the acting that creates them - one is so aggravated by the actions that one does not want to credit the players of the roles.
The play was written by Alfred Uhry (music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown), and deals with one of Uhry's recurring subjects - the Jewish community in the south. It is based very closely on actual events.
Leo Frank (Scot Greenwell) was manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta that employed child laborers in 1913. On 27 April that year, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan (Hillary Larman), one of the workers, was found murdered in the factory. Suspicion fell on Frank because she had been to his office to get paid that afternoon. Hugh Dorsey (Dustin D Podgorski), a politically ambitious prosecutor, relied on perjured testimony and community anti-Semitism to convict Frank of the murder. Frank's wife, Lucille (Claire Wilcher), commenced a campaign to have the conviction reversed, or at least to have the death sentence commuted. She succeeded in the second objective, but after Frank was moved to a minimum security prison, he was seized by a lynch mob and hanged on 16 August 1916. He was pardoned on 11 March 1986, nearly seventy years later. <END SPOILER>
With twenty-nine in the cast (in over thirty roles, plus the ensemble), the script gives many players opportunities to shine, and this cast makes the most of them. The musicians are backstage, but amplified into the house, and a dozen microphones are swapped around among the players, so they are largely able to hold their own against the music. Only Larman is too quiet to make out consistently. By the end of the show my program was littered with checkmarks and plus marks (my code for an honorable mention), though many of these fell on the same players as they shone in one song after another. Checkmarks to D Scott Robinson for direction; John D Phillips for vocal direction; and Nick Herman for musical direction (and piano). Acting/singing checkmarks to: Jim Washington as Newt Lee, the night watchman; John O'Brien as Frankie Epps, Mary's hoping-to-be boy friend; and Carvis Herron Jr as Jim Conley, the janitor whose testimony was most damaging. Double checks to each of Greenwell and Wilcher (Leo and Lucille Frank) (although Wilcher was a bit too stentorian in two places), and triple checks to the vocal ensemble. Honorable mentions to Podgorski (the prosecutor); Christina King (Mrs. Phagan, Mary's mother); Stacey "Jack" Johnson (Governor Slaton); Bernard Würger (Judge Roan); John Sparkman (Tom Watson, an incendiary publisher); Michael Davis (Britt Craig, an alcoholic reporter); and Dane Rogers (Luther Rosser, Frank's incompetent lawyer).
The incongruous title for the piece comes from the fact that the original crime was committed on Confederate Memorial Day, a state holiday in Georgia at the time, and a day on which parades occurred. One wonders (at least I wonder) why this story was made into a musical instead of a straight drama. Maybe the subject matter is too intense for a straight play. As I said, be prepared to be outraged, and take comfort in the fact that courts today are usually more discriminating about what they accept as testimony (and trials get moved when local publicity makes it impossible to seat an impartial jury).
And don't stay away because you don't want to be outraged - it's still possible to admire a few characters in the story, and the production is exceptional. Closes 17 June.
All Aboard The Christmas Express!
By Mark Kamish, IndianaAuditions.com
Returning to Buck Creek Playhouse is always a joy for me, but I have to admit my motivation in coming to see The Christmas Express was more in anticipation of reconnecting with friends from the Buck Creek family than it was high expectations of really enjoying yet another sappy Christmas play (probably dripping with all the sweetness of a layered Christmas gelatin salad surprise). After all, The Christmas Express, written by prolific playwright Pat Cook, is advertised as a “nostalgic theatrical greeting card . . . full of eccentric small town characters, wise-cracking their way to finding the true wonder of Christmas.” Oh, joy, another Christmas play that’s going to show the audience the “Magic of Christmas,” expecting us to grow quiet and nod our awe-struck heads.
How delighted I was to be wrong! From the minute we left the holiday-decorated lobby (courtesy of Aaron B. Bailey), sat down and saw Dan Denniston’s wonderful set (with all the nostalgic trappings of an old train station), noticed that director Ken Kern took the license of setting the Holly Railway Station in Acton, IN (complete with research to try and reconstruct the look of the old Acton train station), and listened to what I thought had to be the perfect music to open a Christmas play (thank you, Don Drennen, for another tech design home run – this time on sound), I knew we were in for a different kind of Christmas play. Kudos as well to lighting designer Tyler Braun, costumer Linda Rowan, stage manager Patrick Banks, Jeff Rowan on the lightboard and George Weber on the soundboard.
This is not your typical Christmas story. Sure it has its embedded messages of the season, but this Cheryl Kern/Lynne B. Robinson production is a hilarious comedy that will delight you so much that the “Magic of Christmas” message may just sort of sneak up on you by the time the lights fade.
As the show opens, Hilda (Nikki Hunter) the sulky train station manager and Satch (Mike Tapp) the lackadaisical porter are bickering over what time it is in a way only small town folks who have spent way too much time together can. “This is the most hopeless place in the world!” groans Hilda as she dreams of faraway places and finds only tedium in running the Holly Railway Station. Both Hunter and Tapp are marvelous throughout the show and work off each other with the greatest of ease. Add to those two the mail carrier Maggie Clooney (delightfully portrayed by Kathi Hoffmeister), busy-body reporter Penelope Blaisedale (brought to life by Kate Hinman), town caroler director Myrna Hobsnable (Debbie Jones – make sure you watch her as she makes the holiday punch), and a second act appearance by Deborah Smith (Melissa Devito), you will see some hoot-worthy acting and lines that make for good ol’ belly laughs.
After the sudden arrival of mysterious Leo Tannenbaum (nicely done by Mike Jones), strange things begin to happen. Suddenly, an old radio that hasn't worked in years comes to life, the town carolers (who usually yowl like a gang of wet cats) begin to sound like the Morman Tabernacle Choir, and Leo produces a beautiful Christmas tree out of nowhere (uh, hello people...Mr. Tannenbaum, remember?). But Leo isn't the only stranger in town. Another odd fellow meanders into the station. Who is this Mr. Fairfax (you will love Martin Hinman in this role)? Rumors fly. Is Leo some nutcase who escaped from the sanitarium? Will Mr. Fairfax, a railroad representative, finish his inspection and issue a death sentence for the train station?
Yet somehow, with Leo lurking in the wings, everything seems to get fixed, and everyone in town starts feeling the Christmas spirit, including the troubled young couple Jerry (Ray Gron) and Donna Fay (hysterically done by Denise Rush in her first visit to Buck Creek’s stage). Coincidence? Come and see for yourself.
Buck Creek Players proudly present Pat Cook’s The Christmas Express, continuing for one more weekend only, December 15–17. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8:00 p.m., with a matinee Sunday at 2:30 p.m. There are still seats available for the final weekend, but they are going fast. This past weekend’s performances were SOLD OUT, so call your reservations in now! A waiting list will be available at the box office for sold-out performances beginning one hour prior to curtain. Unfortunately, having your name on the waiting list will not guarantee there will be any seats available, so reserve your seats today by calling (317) 862-2270. Tickets are $13 for adults and $11 for students and seniors (62+). The lobby opens one hour prior to performance time, with the auditorium doors opening thirty minutes before curtain. Even with a reservation (which is strongly encouraged), seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information and for directions to the playhouse, visit BCP’s website at www.buckcreekplayers.com.
'Small-town Christmas spirit'
by Lisa Gauthier, www.nuvo.net
NUVO Newsweekly - December 13, 2006
The Christmas Express
Buck Creek Players
Directed by Ken Kern
The Christmas Express is a quaint story about a small-town train station on the verge of extinction. The town’s residents have watched people move away and shops close down, and the next logical step is for the train station to shut down. Consequently, station manager Hilda (Nikki Hunter) is far from being in the Christmas spirit. It’s three days before Christmas and she is the Grinch without his catch phrase.
When two strangers show up at the station — one with a seemingly magic touch and the other with a vacant stare — Hilda doesn’t trust them, sure that one is a con artist and the other is here to shut the station down. No matter how helpful Leo (Michael M. Jones) is or how harmless Mr. Fairfax (Martin Hinman) seems, Hilda’s doom and gloom attitude only worsens.
The show is chock full of other interesting characters, as well: not too bright but well-meaning station-hand Satch (Mike Tapp), smart-minded mailwoman Maggie (Kathi M. Hoffmeister), busybody newspaper woman Penelope (Kate Hinman), organizer Myrna (Debbie Jones) and quarreling newlyweds Donna Fay and Jerry (Denise Rush and Ray Gron).
While a talkative show, the ensemble makes it an enjoyable trip. Each character has substance enough to quickly draw you into the small-town lifestyle. And, since this is a Christmas show, Hilda’s attitude reversal is inevitable, and getting there is a grand time. Tangents and character quirks are what keep this show interesting and the cast does great work in bringing out those nuances. Director Ken Kern sets a quick pace — there is always something going on.
Check out the set: Buck Creek was loaned authentic antiques to flesh out the train station in true 1950s style.
The Christmas Express continues through this weekend only at Buck Creek Players, Friday-Saturday, Dec. 15-16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 17 at 2:30 p.m. Admission is just $13; $11 for students and senior citizens. Call the theater, 11150 Southeastern Ave., at 317-862-2270 for reservations.
by Lisa Gauthier, www.nuvo.net
NUVO Newsweekly - June 7, 2006
The Spitfire Grill: The Musical
Buck Creek Players
Directed by D. Scott Robinson
Perhaps you remember The Spitfire Grill because it is a movie — a 1996 Sundance film. The Spitfire Grill: The Musical came shortly thereafter, opening Off-Broadway soon after Sept. 11, 2001. The story of starting over would have been apropos for the time, and the stage version won some small acclaim: It received the 2001 Richard Rogers Production Award, was named one of the five best musicals of the year by New York Magazine and was nominated for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical by the New York Outer Critics Circle.
Alas, Sundance and the Outer Critics Circle aren’t the stuff money-makers are made of. While not a blockbuster or Tony nominee, Spitfire is a sweet, heart-warming production that shares a lot in common with Fried Green Tomatoes: the bonds of female friendship, the chance to find yourself.
Buck Creek Players is presenting a lovely rendition of Spitfire through June 18.
It all starts when rough-around-the-edges Percy (Kristi Wilkinson), fresh out of five years in prison, chooses the small town of Gilead, Wis., as her new home. Sheriff Joe (Shane Arthur) sets her up with a job at the Spitfire Grill, which is owned by the tough but loveable Hannah (Susan Page Freeman).
The cast does solid work, both in their acting and singing. Wilkinson has a strong, honest voice, and carries all of her songs exceptionally well. Joe Urban (Saving Star Wars), as Hannah’s nephew Caleb, gives an amazingly passionate performance in his one solo number. Christy Walker as Caleb’s mousy wife, Shelby, exhibits a sweet disposition to match her voice. Arthur, Freeman and Kari Ann Stamatoplos (as local busy-body Effy) all do smart work, as well. (Tony Stamatoplos, as The Visitor, rounds out the cast in his lineless role.)
Individually, each singer does notable work, but often ensemble, duet or trio pieces don’t mesh. The only other quibble with the show is that director D. Scott Robinson could have picked up the pace a bit. Clocking in at almost exactly two hours, the show felt at least a half-hour longer.
To wrap up, the set is a quaint, rustic area created by set designer Aaron B. Bailey, and the orchestra does top work.
For reservations, call Buck Creek, 11150 Southeastern Ave., at 317-862-2270, or go to www.buckcreekplayers.com. Tickets are only $15.
The Colors of Gilead, Wisconsin show brightly in Buck Creek's “The Spitfire Grill”
June 6, 2006
The stage show (based on the movie of the same name) follows a strangely dark theme that successfully interweaves warm and endearing messages throughout! This beautifully crafted show is brought to life by a talented cast, creative staging, innovative set design, and captivating lighting and sound design.
This show follows an ex-con, Percy Talbott, to a small town (Gilead, Wisconsin) which is greatly in need of re-energizing. The town of Gilead has lost its only source of real income as the quarry which helped it sustain life has long since closed. In her new home, a struggling grill, run by gritty owner Hannah (Susan Page Freeman), becomes Percy's only hope for a new start at a better life.
The Spitfire Grill cast is well rounded with their performances, bringing to life the little town that time forgot. The two female vocal leads, Percy Talbot (Kristi Wilkinson) and Shelby Thorpe (Christy Walker) each struggle with their own inner demons, but find positive changes in their lives which flow easily from their characters as the story progress. Kristi's outstanding portrayal as Percy Talbott gives the audience someone to care about while allowing the mystery of her past to keep the rest of the cast at a cautious distance. Along the way, Percy befriends Shelby (Christy Walker), a meek housewife too afraid to speak her own mind in front of her brutally controlling husband Caleb (Joe Urban). Joe Urban brings Caleb to life on stage in a manner which leaves the audience uncomfortable and waiting for him to leave the scene. Christy portrays Shelby with such finesse that you want to cheer for her when she finally stands up to her domineering husband Caleb. Sheriff Joe Sutter played by Shane Arthur struggles between his growing feelings for this new addition to the town and the role he needs to play as her parole officer. Seasoned actress Susan Page Freeman plays crotchety Grill owner Hannah whose strong performance shows through this strong willed character. The dark story is lightened by Kari Ann Stamatoplos who portrays the nosey postmistress Effy, a role that seems to have been custom tailored for Kari Ann. Her strong voice and character is able to break up the tension of the show giving the audience a chance for breath. Displaying sensitivity difficult for veterans of the stage, newcomer Tony Stamatoplos (Kari Ann’s husband) plays the mysterious visitor who never speaks but is able to use his strong mannerism to tell a much deeper story.
The strength of the characters is a credit to the actors and director. Everyone in Gilead had been closed off from one another, living in their own fear, unable to see beyond themselves. Their conversations were borne of years of “sameness” belying the weeks of rehearsals. As the whole town talked about the contest to raffle off the Grill, they suddenly came alive and began to connect with each other again.
Beautifully acted and sung, the actors can’t do what they do without a staff to get them there. Director Scott Robinson assembled a strong cast and a talented staff to make The Spitfire Grill somewhere to be.