‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ Coming to Topeka Civic Theatre

Topeka, KS–Winner of the Tony and the Drama Desk Awards for Best Book, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has charmed audiences across the country with its effortless wit and humor. Featuring a fast-paced, wildly funny and touching book by Rachel Sheinkin and a truly fresh and vibrant score by William Finn, this bee is one unforgettable experience.

An eclectic group of six mid-pubescents vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime. While candidly disclosing hilarious and touching stories from their home lives, the tweens spell their way through a series of (potentially made-up) words, hoping never to hear the soul-crushing, pout-inducing, life un-affirming “ding” of the bell that signals a spelling mistake. Six spellers enter; one speller leaves! At least the losers get a juice box.

A riotous ride, complete with audience participation, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a delightful den of comedic genius. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a fast-paced crowd pleaser and an instant theatre patron favorite.

Venue: Topeka Civic Theatre (3028 SW 8th Ave, Topeka, KS)
Show Dates: June 9-25
Tickets: $25 They can be purchased here or by calling 785-357-5211.

Directed by: Jeff Boyer
Musical Director: Nancy Goodall
Choreographer: Sally Glassman


 Chip Tolentino / Jesus – Peter Sandquist

Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere / Leaf’s Mom – Maggie Davis

Leaf Coneybear / Carl’s Dad – Jaxon Schroeder

William Barfee / Leaf’s Dad – Nick Beasley*

Marcy Park / Leaf’s Sister – Kristin Ross

Olive Ostrovsky – Skye Reid

Rona Lisa Perrettie / Olive’s Mom – Lauren Lynn Lewis

Vice Principal Douglas Panch – Dylan Hart

Mitch Mahoney / Dan Dad / Olive’s Father – Dané Shobe

Run, Run Away With Me

Wedding singer Robbie Hart has wished many a bride and groom well and made their day extra special.  But on the day of his own wedding, he is cruelly jilted and spirals into a deep depression which bleeds into his work.  Hope arrives in the form of Julia Sullivan, a waitress who is regrettably engaged to a Wall Street shark.  Will Robbie find a way to win Julia’s heart or is he doomed to a lonely life living in his grandmother’s basement?  Discover the answer in The Wedding Singer which is currently playing at Great Plains Theatre.

I typically don’t watch rom-coms, so I never even watched the film upon which this musical was based.  However, I was quite surprised with how this story plays with the typical rom-com formula.  It takes some twists and turns and has quite a deal of fun in getting to the inevitable ending.  It also helps that the movie’s writer, Tim Herlihy, also helped write this script so his vision was able to be transitioned to the medium of the stage.  Throw in a clever and fun score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, mix in an immensely talented cast, add a dash of top flight direction with a pinch of epic choreography and you have the recipe for a gourmet night of fun.

Mitchell Aiello really understands the script and his direction reflects that understanding.  He knows when to go big and he knows when to be authentic.  His staging is spot on as I felt I had stepped back in time to the 1980s and he led his actors to sterling performances which were a delightful mix of over-the-top hilarity and genuine emotion as the need arose.

I can’t say enough good things about this ensemble.  Each was always involved in the moment.  Their harmonies were beautiful.  Their dancing was pristine and immaculate.  Some of the stellar performances came from Erica Lee Bigelow who tramps it up as Robbie’s jilting skank ex.  Kristina Miranda Sloan is a laugh riot as Robbie’s doting (and breakdancing) grandmother.  Ronald Spoto epitomizes 80s greed and is a grade A smug jackass as Glen.  Spoto shines in Glen’s signature number, “All About the Green”, and gets bonus points for maintaining his smug attitude up to the final moment of the show.  Delaney Bigley is materialistic, but good-hearted as Holly.  And that sustained high note she holds at the end of “Right in Front of Your Eyes”. . .mmwaa (chef’s kiss). . .utter perfection.

Hannah Hill gives an entrancing and grounded performance as Julia.  Her delivery is natural, real, and extemporaneous.  Her motivations also make complete sense as to why she would marry a drip like Glen.  Not only does he provide security with his wealth, but she remembers the decent guy he was before success changed him into a buttmunch.  Hill’s Julia is a genuinely good person and her singing is just as sweet as Julia’s personality with tender turns in “Come Out of the Dumpster” and “If I Told You”.

Keegan Sells is a triple threat in the role of Robbie Hart.  He can act.  He can sing (and has a fantastic falsetto, to boot).  And he can dance (sometimes his footwork seems like he’s just gliding on water).  Sells is placed in a unique situation as Herlihy was clearly influenced by Adam Sandler’s performance in the film and infused several moments and songs (a pair of which Sandler helped to write) that are clearly suited to Sandler’s brand of comedic acting.  So Sells has to balance Sandlerish overacting with moments of true realness and he hits that balance admirably.  Sells gets a lot of the show’s best songs as he gets to go huge and funny with “Somebody Kill Me” and “Casualty of Love” then be loving and/or sincere with “Grow Old With You” and “It’s Your Wedding Day”.

Melissa Ford has crafted my new favorite piece of choreography in a production.  The dance numbers are high energy, lavish, and assuredly 80s.  I especially liked how she would work famed 80s dances into the work such as the zombie dance from “Thriller” or having Grandma Rosie bust out The Worm.  They were all so good that it’s hard to pick a standout, but, for my money, “Casualty of Love”, “All About the Green”, “Saturday Night in the City”, and “Today, You are a Man” were the big winners.  Alicia Santee-Davis’ musical direction was dead on the mark.  All of the songs had a distinctly 80s flavor and her singers delivered on their numbers.  Mitchell Aiello has designed a suitably simple set with some colorful symbols, a raised dais for Robbie’s band, and a convincing back alley complete with dumpster.  Becky Dibben’s costumes were pluperfect suiting the style of the 80s right down to the eye-popping colors of the garments and I give extra points for the cleverness of giving George a Boy George look.  Kent Buess’ lights really lent an emotional strength such as the lonely spotlight on Robbie in his most depressive moments and the gentle pink light on Julia in the “If I Told You” scene or are just fun like the dance club vibe in the “Saturday Night in the City” sequence.

Great Plains Theatre has a killer season opener with this true blast to the past.  Enjoy it as a date night.  Enjoy it by yourself.  Just come prepared to, like, have a really good time, fer sure!

The Wedding Singer runs at Great Plains Theatre through June 11.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-Sat and 2pm on Wed, Sat, and Sundays.  Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased here.  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.

One is the Loneliest Number

Meet Jordan Berman.  He’s a good guy.  He’s a fun guy.  He’s a guy you’d want for a pal.  He’s also a lonely guy.  He manages to keep his loneliness at bay by hanging out with his three best friends.  But as they find true love and marry, he begins to despair of ever finding Mr. Right or of maintaining his bonds of friendship.  This is Significant Other and it is currently playing at Flixx Show Bar under the auspices of Voices in Alliance.

After opening its inaugural season with a hard-hitting drama, Voices in Alliance closes with a light-hearted comedy by Joshua Harmon.  Harmon’s script has the feel of a modern-day Dobie Gillis as the main character pines for true love and laments being unable to find it.  However, Harmon opts for a real-life ending where not everything ends happily ever after, but perhaps hopefully ever after. 

Harmon has a real gift for characters which is the play’s true strength.  Whether large or small, every character is fully developed and three-dimensional which makes them very compelling to watch.

Randall T. Stevens’ hand is sure and steady with his direction of the production.  That steadiness is especially crucial as the beats come fast and furious and the scenes, as promised by the program, literally bleed into each other, often with zero transition time.  Stevens guides his actors well as he’s helped them to develop robust characters bursting with reality, fun, and sensitivity.

The well-balanced cast brought its A game to the table.  Allen Griffin brings a natural, low-key performance as the men in the lives of the show’s young women and I was particularly impressed with his quiet strength as Tony.  Bowen Nowak shows some versatility as the men in Jordan’s life with his serious and professional Will being my favorite of his characters.  Sherry Josand Fletcher gives a touching performance as Jordan’s grandmother, Helene, who appears to be in the early stages of dementia.  Xena Broaden is a riot as Kiki who assuredly marches to her own distinctive beat.  Allana Pommier has some of the night’s best bon mots with her dry and sardonic take on Vanessa.

Olivia Howard brings an amazing sincerity to Laura.  She is a true friend to Jordan as she supports and advises him during his trials and travails with love.  But Howard’s finest moment is a wonderfully underplayed scene where her Laura serves as a whipping boy to Jordan who projects his fear and anger at his crippling loneliness onto her.  Howard maintains Laura’s dignity with a quiet rebuttal that would shame even the hardest of hearts.

Brock McCullough admirably carries the load of the show as Jordan Berman.  McCullough’s animation makes him a load of fun to watch and his extemporaneous speaking style makes his multiple monologues feel real, natural, and believable.  McCullough has complete mastery over the beats of his speeches as he makes sharp emotional changes on the turn of a dime.  He also has a grand gift for physicality and pantomime as his quite literal self-struggle over sending an e-mail to a potential lover was one of the season’s finest comedic moments.

Shannon Smay provides some suitable sounds with the whooshing of a sent e-mail and the beeps of text messages.

Significant Other is a charming night of theatre packed with touching humor and is sure to either get you reflecting on your own pursuit of your S.O. or just musing on that crazy thing called love.

Significant Other runs at Flixx Show Bar through June 10.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7pm.  Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased here.  Flixx Show Lounge is located at 1019 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Dance Magic

A troupe of pre-teen dancers prepares to engage in a series of competitions hoping to land ultimate victory in the Boogie Crown Grand Prix Finals.  Along the way, we learn a bit about who each dancer truly is and the identity that each forge for herself or himself.  Welcome to Dance Nation which is currently playing at BlueBarn Theatre

This is one of those shows where all the elements blend together to shape something truly special. Everything means something in the show. Whether it be a monologue, the shine of light from a pale moon, a tap routine or the thunderous beat of a drum.  Nothing happens by accident.  It all means something and makes for a compelling and powerful night of theatre. 

Clare Barron has written a very intriguing script.  She seems to have taken some cues from A Chorus Line, but takes it many steps further.  Instead of learning about the dancers and their motivations for wanting to perform and be cast, we learn about who these kids truly are.  How they envision themselves.  Their hopes.  Their dreams.  Who they want to be.  And, ultimately, the identity they seize for themselves.   

The conceit of having adults play children is very clever as the monologues give this show a flashback quality.  It’s almost as if the characters truly are adults, but are remembering that key point in their lives where they began to pursue their own paths. 

Susan Clement brings the hand of a grandmaster to this production.  It’s not just her guidance of the acting and her sense of the story’s beats which are all perfectly precise and performed.  It’s how she brings in the other elements to tell this story.  The use of sound to support emotional moments and monologues.  The subtle use of lights that not only bring focus to specific characters, but set a particular mood for the scene so the audience fully understands the subtext of the moment.  Even the application of dance means something.  They’re not just visually appealing routines, but they often show the emotions and thinking of the kids at that moment in time. 

This show is truly the epitome of an ensemble.  There is no lead role and every character gets a moment in the spotlight.  There isn’t a squeaky wheel in this group as the entire cast gives superlative performances.  I was especially impressed with how “kiddie” they managed to be.  They truly felt like 13-year-olds with all the energy, drive, dreams, frustrations, excitement and pettiness all of us had at that age.   

What I found most fascinating was Barron’s knowledge of the human psyche.  These characters are really going to speak to you and you will really identify with them as people.  Your level and type of connection is going to depend on your own personal make-up.  This is a review where I wish I could have been in the heads of the other members of the audience to see which characters spoke the loudest to their being in order to present a fuller picture. For me, there were several characters who resonated with my core. 

Kylah D’Jai gives a heartrending performance as Zuzu. This is a girl with some heart. She loves to dance and it has been her dream to be, not only a dancer, but the world’s greatest dancer. But her dreams hang on by a thread as she realizes she’s not even the best dancer in the troupe. D’Jai does a wonderful job displaying the frustrations of that knowledge and playing Zuzu’s duality of emotion. She loves her best friend, Amina, but is jealous of the fact that Amina’s natural skill is always ahead of her mightiest effort. So dedicated and desperate is Zuzu to be THE dancer that she seems headed for a train wreck of an emotional crash until, and unless, she can separate Zuzu the dancer from Zuzu the person. 

If you look up character in the dictionary, I think you’ll find a picture of Ashlee. As essayed by Nina Washington, Ashlee is the confident dreamer. She knows who she is and she knows where she’s going. In an adult, Ashlee’s attitude might be seen as arrogance, but in a child, it’s just that rock solid certainty of self. Washington’s energy could power a city and she shines in an energetic monologue about how smart and pretty she is and how she is going to be the best of the best and nothing can, or better, stand in her way. But Washington is equally as effective in quieter moments, especially in her reactions to a softer monologue when another character suggests that Ashlee’s success won’t come without considerable struggle. 

Courtney Stein Cairncross’ Amina is certainly the flip side to Zuzu in many ways. While Zuzu gives her all to be the best dancer, Amina IS the best dancer. Cairncross does a fabulous job showing the unfair weight that can be heaped on a child’s shoulders when people focus on her or his gift instead of his or her personhood. As Amina, Cairncross tries to downplay her talent so as not to alienate her friends, but admits that when the spotlight hits and the trophies come out, she simply must win. In many ways, Amina is a very tragic character as her identity is subsumed by being a winner. Her destiny is to win and keep proving she’s the best and the cost will be the loss of herself. 

Melanie Epps’ choreography adds a vital emotional reality to the show. Not only are the dance routines fun, but, as I stated earlier, they often give insights into how the characters are feeling and what they are thinking at that precise moment. Arnulfo Maldonado has designed a simple set of a hardwood floor suitable to appreciate the taps of the dancers. Bill Kirby has designed some of the best sounds I’ve heard in a production. Not only does the show have one of my favorite soundtracks, but I liked how subtle and appropriate the sounds always were. From the mood music used to softly boost the monologues to the howl of a wolf to the blowing of the wind, the sounds were virtually characters in and of themselves. I loved Michelle Harvey’s lights. They enhanced the emotion of the show so beautifully. Favorite light moments were the use of a pale full moon, a prolonged sequence where the spotlights lit up only the actors’ faces as they practiced their expressions, and the minimalist use of lights on the potent monologues. Denise Ervin’s costumes were spot on and looked like genuine practice clothes or the costumes of a competition performance. 

This is likely to be one of the most unique theatre performances you are likely to experience. With the universality of the characters, something will speak to you. It will happen in such a way that you will think this show was written specifically for you. 

Dance Nation runs through June 25. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm with Sunday performances at 6pm on June 4 and 11 and 2pm on June 18 and 25. Tickets cost $37 and can be purchased at www.bluebarn.org or by calling 402-345-1576. Due to adult language this show is not suitable for children.  BlueBarn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE. 

The Blue, Bluegrass of Kentucky: Montgomery Inn & Versailles, KY

Montgomery Inn B & B

Today the road has brought me to Versailles, KY.

Memorial Day Weekend had arrived and I was long overdue to answer the call of the road.  Truth be told, this weekend was a bit of a treat for me as I had recently been promoted into a senior level position so I didn’t waste a beat in booking a room at Montgomery Inn Bed & Breakfast.

This was one of my longer outings, and would require 2 days of driving.  Eight hours of driving on day 1 brought me to Mt Vernon, IL where I stopped for the night at a Holiday Inn.  After several hours of rest, I was ready for some dinner so I walked the few hundred feet to Showdown Steakhouse & Saloon.

Showdown Steakhouse & Saloon

For a rarity, I was starving.  (What can I say?  An apple and a bit of beef jerky wasn’t enough fuel to see me through the day.)  I ordered the 10 oz ribeye with some sauteed mushrooms and onions along with a salad and enjoyed one of the tenderest steaks I’ve ever sunk my teeth into along with some of the fluffiest rolls I’ve ever tasted with a smidgen of cinnamon butter.

The weariness of an 8 hour drive combined with a relaxing meal finally caused fatigue to catch up with me and I called it a night at 9pm where a full night of sleep re-energized me for another day of driving.

Sometimes even the interstate can take you to a pretty neat place.  Part of my 2nd day drive went through Indiana and for years I’ve semi-joked about how travel grinds to a halt due to about five interstates merging there.  But this route was almost a subtle entry and it took me through the Hoosier National Forest where I just got to enjoy some of God’s splendor as I zipped down the lone interstate.

I rolled into town a tick past 1pm.  I had paid $25 to check in early so I wandered into the house and met the innkeeper, Pam, and her trusty labradoodle, Sadie.  Pam gave me the codes to use Hulu and Netflix and sent me to my room, the Cottage Suite.

This inn is a bit different than any I’ve visited.  None of the rooms are in the house proper.  Connected to the house is a long trailer shaped like a railroad car (it was once an open walkway) and all of the rooms plus the dining room are contained in the structure.  My room was located in the caboose where I had a little porch where I could enjoy the perfect spring weather.

When I originally booked the room, it was called the Oriental and had an Eastern flavor.  It had a little remodeling done and now had a more homey atmosphere with sky blue walls, some comfy chairs, a king-sized bed with luxury sheets, a writing desk, and a jetted tub.  Truthfully, it felt more like a first class apartment. 

I puttered around for a few hours before I headed to one of Montgomery Inn’s recommended restaurants for my dinner.

That restaurant was Ricardo’s Grill & Pub, a modernized and elegant sports bar.  The pub was packed to the rafters, but service was still incredibly quick and efficient.  I enjoyed a Build Your Own Burger (vegetables, pepper jack, bacon, and grilled onions) while I read a classic mystery from Ellery Queen. 

Ricardo’s Grill & Pub

With a good dinner digesting, I made my way over to Woodford Theatre where I had made arrangements to review their production of The Music Man

Woodford Theatre

The theatre has an awfully good location as it shares space in a community center, but has its own auditorium which is very well suited for theatrical productions.  It also packs an impressive amount of talent as I enjoyed a very very good show which you can read about here.

After the show, I returned to the inn, still feeling well juiced due to having lost an hour crossing into the Eastern Time Zone.  So I enjoyed a little Law & Order on my smart TV while cobbling my play review together.  Around 11pm, I sunk under the sheets to enjoy a lengthy and comfortable sleep.

At 8:30am, I headed to the Club Car to have some breakfast.  The room has the look and feel of a dining car and I felt like I was on the Orient Express as I sat down to enjoy a bit of breakfast and conversation with Pam.  She had whipped up homemade cornbread along with a breakfast scramble of sausage, two poached eggs, and fried potatoes.  A little pepper and hot sauce enhanced the already fine meal and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before returning to the Cottage Suite.

Normally, I plan a lot of activities, but I didn’t do so this time around.  Two days of driving just found me wanting to relax.  For myself, I took a long soak in my jacuzzi bath and then spent my day reading, walking, and trying to get caught up on Cobra Kai.  I will say that outside of Woodford Theatre, there are also a few museums and historical houses in town.  There are many horse related activities as this is derby country.  The towns of Frankfort and Lexington are also nearby if you’d like to hunt up some other activities.

But I enjoyed a sweet day of doing virtually nothing before heading over to Shelbyville where I enjoyed a service at Church of the Annunciation and then it was time for dinner.

Church of the Annunication

KFC’s founder, Col. Sanders and his wife, Claudia, lived in Shelbyville and had quite a compound.  Mrs. Sanders opened her own restaurant on the property, Claudia Sanders’ Dinner House, which is still in operation today.  Mrs. Sanders had her own secret recipe for fried chicken and I was looking forward to putting that to the taste test.

Claudia Sanders’ Dinner House

The restaurant is located in what seems like a small auditorium on the far end of the property.  You walk into a entry hall which contains a gift shop before being sent down a long hallway to the dining room.  The room does feel like the dining room of a house with a large fireplace at one end of the room with a picture of the Colonel hanging above it.

I ordered the two piece chicken dinner which came with authentic mashed potatoes with milk gravy and a second vegetable of choice (I picked baked apples) along with some fluffy rolls shaped like muffins.  The potatoes were light and whipped.  The baked apples were blended with cinnamon.  And the chicken was tasty and juicy.  Some have said her recipe for fried chicken is better than Col. Sanders.  I think it’s more of an apples and oranges thing, but I liked it and thought it more than measured up to the Colonel’s recipe.

With dinner taken care of, I returned to the inn to rest up for the night before the next day’s travels.

I awoke to a rainy, gray, and chilly morning.  I once again made my way to the Club Car where I was greeted by Pam and the exuberant Sadie.  Today’s repast consisted of homemade waffles with an apple/walnut compote and sausage patties.  I enjoyed some more conversation with Pam (and played a little fetch with Sadie) before bidding the duo adieu and hitting the road.

And so ends another chapter of the road.  If you’re looking for a quaint getaway in some beautiful country, try a stay at Montgomery Inn.  It’s literally a home away from home.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

‘The Music Man’ is Marvelously Magical

Swindling salesman, Professor Harold Hill, plots to fleece the citizens of River City, IA by selling them the equipment for a boys’ band before fleeing town with the proceeds.  But the town librarian just might be able to make the con artist turn over a new leaf.  Find out if she succeeds by watching The Music Man which is currently playing at Woodford Theatre.

One thing I’ve always liked about Meredith Wilson’s acclaimed musical is that it’s really a story about transformation.  Both Harold Hill and the citizens of River City manage to change each other for the better.  Hill, both consciously and unconsciously, helps the citizens to become friendlier, more open-minded people while the citizens, especially Marian Paroo, help Hill to become an honest man.  And the force behind that transformation is compassion, a theme that was clearly on director Matthew Winters’ mind as he guided this production.

Winters excels in his first outing as a director.  His guidance of this production was incredibly nuanced and he had an instinct for striking emotional beats square on the head.  The show is funny and sweet and sensitive and moving and even a little philosophical.  I was very impressed with the staging which utilized all of the theatre with performances going right into the aisles.  Winters also led his troupe to strong performances which brought River City to colorful and vibrant life.

I raise a toast to this ensemble as it proves once more just how essential their commitment is in creating the soul of a production.  Every member was engaged and coming up with little gems of business that just enhanced the production.  All did a marvelous job, but I want to give a special acknowledgement to Merry King who provides a master level’s course in presence with her subtle gestures and reactions to the events going on in River City.  Other standout performances came from Stephani Gillham who measures out the precise level of over the topness needed to make Eualalie Mackecknie Shinn a memorable character, but still keeps one foot on the ground to retain her reality.  Reilly Dalton is convincing as the shy and introverted Winthrop Paroo and flaunts some golden tonsils with his rendition of “Gary, Indiana” while maintaining Winthrop’s lisp.  Jameson McBrayer, Jason Price, Dawson Akers, and Mason O’Brien provide some scintillating harmonies as the school board turned barbershop quartet.

Cassidy Mullins stuns as Marian Paroo.  When the show begins, Mullins’ rigid posture and slightly superior line delivery demonstrate her attitude that she considers herself a step up culturally and intellectually from the other citizens of River City.  But she still has noble intentions as she wishes to raise the town’s cultural sensibilities and protect them from Hill.  Yet even she succumbs to Hill’s magic, and her body language and delivery loosen up and relax as love and joy begin to burst from her heart. 

Mullins also has an angelic soprano that can charm birds from the trees with some of the night’s best executed songs as she brought the audience to tears with “Goodnight, My Someone” and “My White Knight” before hitting a dead-center bullseye with “Till There Was You”.

Jaime Delgado is a spot-on Harold Hill.  He is both charming and oily and a cad with a heart of gold.  Delgado gives Hill a crucial likability which not only helps him in being an effective con artist, but makes his transition into an honest man believable.  Delgado brings real intelligence to Hill as can quickly think his way out of troublesome situations, but I also liked how he balanced Hill’s decency and crookedness.  Even when he did something genuinely nice like taking the town troublemaker under his wing, you see the wheels churning in his head when he realizes he can turn that act of kindness to his advantage by getting the rebel to help him with his scam.

Delgado can really hoof, too.  He glides like Fred Astaire and kicks like Michael Flatley and his infectious animation was on best display in “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Shipoopi”.  The role of Hill is that rare musical lead where the actor doesn’t necessarily need to be a great singer, but Delgado proves it certainly helps with his own potent turns in “Marian the Librarian” and the reprise of “Goodnight My Someone”.

Andrea Wilson and her band give an extraordinarily polished and poised performance with their phenomenal rendition of the score.  Ashley Holbrook Oldham provides some lavish and smooth choreography with the extended dance sequences in “Seventy-Six Trombones”, “Marian the Librarian”, and “Shipoopi” ranking as my personal favorites.  Adam Sovkoplas has designed an effectively functional set.  The town of River City comes out on rollers with the various building and house fronts on both sides so the town can be efficiently metamorphosed from scene to scene.  The costumes of Darlene Drayer and Robin Dickerson suit turn of the century America with tweeds, straw hats, cotton suits, and elegant dresses.  Becki Yarrow’s lighting adds that x factor, especially with the use of a gentle spotlight during some of the soft solos.  Paul Manning adds some ambient sounds to create the world of River City.

This is truly an excellent and fun night of theatre.  This cast will run you through a gamut of emotions and you’ll be singing along, clapping your hands, and giving them a well-earned standing ovation when it’s all said and done.

The Music Man runs at Woodford Theatre through June 11.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays with one Thursday performance at 7:30pm on June 8.  Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at the Box Office or www.woodfordtheatre.com.  Woodford Theatre is located at 275 Beasley Rd in Versailles, KY.

‘Big River’ Starts Maples Repertory Theatre’s Season of Memories

Macon, MOBig River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn kicks off MRT’s Season of Memories, which features some of the classics in Maples Repertory Theatre’s illustrious history.

A bluegrass-inspired musical based on the classic novel, Big River follows Huck Finn and Jim on their journey to freedom down the Mississippi River. Their hilarious, suspenseful, and heartwarming adventures along the way feature your favorite Mark Twain characters and an award-winning score by Roger Miller. Last seen at Maples Rep in 2014, we are proud to bring back this brilliant theatrical celebration of pure Americana.

Where: Maples Repertory Theatre (102 N Rubey St, Macon, MO)
When: June 14-July 9 (7:30pm showtimes June 14, 16, 24-25, 30 & July 5 and 9. 2pm showtimes June 16-18, 20, 25, 30 & July 1, 5, 9)
Tickets: $36 for Main Floor & $29 for Balcony. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling the Box Office at 660-385-2924

Directed by: Marc Liby
Musical Direction by: Justin Cowan


Ross Coughlin as Huck Finn

Clinton C. Harris as Jim

Licia Watson as Widow Douglas

Donald Groves as Pap

Ross Konstans as The King

Todd J. Davison as The Duke

Emma Phillips as Mary Jane


Will Poost

Rafi Mills

Shelly Schaefer

Jorja Focht

Elizabeth Racunas

Aidain Tschilhlis

Chance McKim

Ethan Bond

Jake Daley

Aren Alexander-Battee

‘The Music Man’ Closing Woodford Theatre’s Season

Versailles, KY–Wicked, funny, warm, romantic and touching – The Music Man is family entertainment at its best! Meredith Willson’s six-time, Tony Award-winning musical comedy has been entertaining audiences since 1957 and is a family-friendly story to be shared with every generation. The Music Man follows fast-talking traveling salesman, Harold Hill, as he cons the people of River City, Iowa into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys band that he vows to organize – this, despite the fact that he doesn’t know a trombone from a treble clef. His plans to skip town with the cash are foiled when he falls for Marian, the librarian, who transforms him into a respectable citizen.

Where: Woodford Theatre (275 Beasley Rd, Versailles, KY)
When: May 26-June 11 (Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. One Thursday performance at 7:30pm on June 8)
Tickets: $25 and can be purchased here

Directed by: Matthew Winters
Musical Direction by: Andi Wilson
Choreographer: Ashley Holbrook Oldham


Jaime Delgado as Harold Hill
Cassidy Mullins as Marian Paroo
Forrest Loeffler as Marcellus Washburn
Alan Brown as Mayor Shinn
Stephanie Gillham as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn
Madeline Smith as Mrs. Paroo
Reilly Dalton as Winthrop Paroo
Dawson Akers as Jacey Squires
Jameson McBrayer as Ewart Dunlop
Jason Price as Oliver Hix
Mason O’Brien as Olin Britt
Jordan Lewis as Tommy Djilas
Ellie Phillips as Zaneeta Shinn
Susan Strange as Alma Hix
Macey Fix as Maud Dunlop
Grace Hensley as Mrs. Squires
Hannah Lauck as Ethel Toffelmier
Doug Tatters as Charlie Cowell
Sarah Bradley as Amaryllis
Bella Floyd as Gracie Shinn
Tyler Rosso as Constable Locke
Jimmy Miller as The Conductor

Featuring the talents of: Elizabeth Massie, Phoebe Glaser, Amanda Shih, Mikayla Hughes, Lydia Fletcher, Melissa McBrayer, Katherine Harville, Claire Adkins, Merry King, Kody White, Andrea Brown, Aubrey Carman, Hayden Sypolt, Emma Shih, Taylor Dickens, Cash Gorman, Maddox Resinger, Deacon Resinger, Evelyn Cecil, Noah Boos, Ella Peach

Symphony From the Soul

An artist always has to create.

Despite announcing his retirement from touring (and, ostensibly, music) in 2018, Paul Simon returns with his first album of original work since 2016’s Stranger to Stranger.  Entitled Seven Psalms, the album, largely inspired by the Bible’s Book of Psalms, came to Simon in a dream and he has crafted a masterpiece which may serve as a fitting coda to his astonishing career.

Seven Psalms is unlike any album I’ve ever heard.  Heavily wrapped in spirituality, Simon encapsulates his entire career into a sweeping seven movement symphony as he intended the album to be listened to in one complete session.  This album is deep and will churn up emotions from the depths of your soul.  At times reflective, humorous, hopeful, somber, and philosophical, Simon skillfully blends complexity and simplicity as the complicated music is presented acoustically and primarily by guitar.  Indeed, Simon proves himself a highly underrated guitarist as he uses this instrument almost as if it were a living entity to set the mood and emotions of each movement.

The sonorous tolling of a bell kicks off the album’s first movement “The Lord” in which Simon reflects on the awesomeness and the beauty of God as He appears in everything such as being a “welcome meal for the poor” to “a terrible swift sword”.  Indeed, “The Lord’ drives the album as Simon uses it to transition into other movements on several occasions.  From there he ponders the highs and lows of love in “Love is Like a Braid”, injects some humor with the comically crabby “My Professional Opinion”, begs for “Your Forgiveness” in a plaintive number that generates some of the most vivid imagery I’ve ever heard, muses on the end of life and regrets in “Trail of Volcanoes”, has a philosophical conversation with a pair of hitchhikers in “The Sacred Harp”, and finally closes things with “Wait”.  One of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard, Simon teams with his wife, Edie Brickell, where he sounds like a man on death’s door afraid to make that transition to the afterlife while Brickell is the angel warmly inviting Simon to Heaven.

At the age of 81, Paul Simon still has absolutely perfect pitch though, for the first time, I could hear a bit of age creeping at the edges of his voice.  Yet that age added a vital piece of seasoning to the album and added unbelievable strength to Simon’s musings and reflections.

Many critics have suggested this is Simon’s final album and it may very well be.  With his pursuit of the perfect sound, Simon often has put years into his albums to get them exactly as he envisions (he spent four years working on this album).  So, if this be the end, Simon has put an exclamation point on an amazing 60 year career with an album that might be the very best he’s ever written and will certainly rank as one the deepest albums ever composed.

‘The Wedding Singer’ Kicks Off Season 29 at Great Plains Theatre

Abilene, KS–Great Plains Theatre cordially invites you to a wedding. Entertainment will be provided by The Wedding Singer which launches GPT’s 29th season.

The Wedding Singer (based off the 1998 movie of the same name) tells the story of Robbie Hart, New Jersey’s most popular wedding singer. When he’s jilted at the altar, he falls to pieces and proceeds to cause every wedding he works to become a shambles. When a winning waitress begins to thaw his heart, he vows to win hers before she marries a Wall Street shark. With a score written by Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics) and a book written by Chad Beguelin & Tim Herlihy, The Wedding Singer is the June wedding to remember.

Where: Great Plains Theatre (215 N Campbell St, Abilene, KS)
When: June 2-11 (Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-sat & 2pm Wed, Sat, and Sun)
Tickets: $40 and they can be purchased here.

Directed by: Mitchell Aiello


Keegan Sells as Robbie Hart
Hannah Hill as Julia Sullivan
Delaney Bigley as Holly
Braden C. Andrew as Sammy
Hunter Quinn as George
Ronald Spoto as Glen
Kristina Miranda Sloan as Rosie
Erica Lee Bigelow as Linda
Also featuring the talents of: Sheldon Mba, Griffin Krause, Zoi Neely, Becca Worthington, Lela Campbell, Jacobi Robinson, Lexi Tyler, Scarlett Randolph, and Tyrel Immel