Frightful Delight

October is here which triggers images of colorful leaves, bonfires, autumn, and haunted houses.

Yes, the season for spooks has arrived which means the country starts breaking out haunted house attractions by the bushel.  And in nearby Kansas City, MO lay two of the USA’s most famous horror attractions:  The Beast and Edge of Hell owned and operated by Full Moon Productions.

Now I had visited these two attractions many years ago, but that was before I became a travel writer and, also, my memories of my original visit had faded so I felt it was time to revisit them and put the power of the pen to work.

So it was that this past Saturday found me on the road with my haunted house loving friend, Eric Grant-Leanna, to revisit a pair of legends plus Full Moon’s other attraction:  Macabre Cinema.

So what makes for a truly great haunted house?

  1. It should be scary (or at least generate a certain level of tension)
  2. It should be long.
  3. If possible, it should be non-linear and open for exploration.
  4. Actors should be fully committed to their roles.

With those in mind, let us proceed.

Now each house costs $35, but you can get a combo pass for all 3 for $90 or a VIP pass for $150 which lets you bypass the line on all of them.  As we both detest waiting in lines, Eric and I went for the VIP Pass.

We first visited Macabre Cinema (1222 W 12th St) and Eric and I agreed that this one was the best of the three.

As we briefly waited for our turn, we were treated to a digital portrait that morphed into several characters which behaved ghoulishly to whet the appetites for the public.  Then my trusted companion and I ventured into the cinema.

You’re immersed into the attraction from the beginning as you enter a movie theater with a horror movie playing on the screen and you go through the screen and into the scares.

Now this house ticked all of my boxes as we wandered throughout the cinema.  It is very long as it took us over 30 minutes to venture through the theater.  It’s even a little non-linear as you have to do a little bit of searching to find your way out of each room, usually having to find a hidden exit of some kind.  We wandered through sets reminiscent of horror movies such as The Mummy and Killer Klowns from Outer Space.  Horror legends such as Michael Myers pursued as along with a psychotic clown which reminded me of The Joker’s moll, Harley Quinn who seemed to warp between rooms and floors to follow us with her creepy, high-pitched laugh.

Highlight of this house was the Bloody Mary room where you are forced to play the game.

After 4 floors of frights, we burst out into the cool night and made our way across the street to Edge of Hell.

Edge of Hell (1300 W 12th St) was definitely the weakest of the three largely due to its linear nature as Eric and I were able to complete it in about 15 minutes.  Now this house focuses more on phobias with some tight squeezes and the presence of the world’s longest, living snake.  But it also has some traditional spooks with vampires, crypts, and the like.  Two of its unique attractions was a room meant to be Heaven which serves as a respite from the scares at least until you’re given the boot.  While creative, one element of the room did push the boundaries of taste a bit and may offend people of faith.  The other unique attraction was the five story plunge down a slide to escape from the house.  Stairs are available for the fearful or those unable to slide.

From there we marched the few blocks to the legend:  The Beast (1401 W 13th St).

Now this was second to Macabre Cinema only by a hair.  I promise you that you won’t find a haunted house quite like this one.

This is the most non-linear house I have ever visited.  You begin by traveling around a swamp on shaky suspension bridges and I dreaded something coming out of the water.  There is also the feared Werewolf Forest (and, yes, it is a forest).  This is a maze so baffling that cast members sweep it periodically to help the hopelessly lost.  We got jammed behind a group of school girls who did get hopelessly lost here and in the castle maze (I wonder if they’re still wandering the halls).

Animatronic creatures pop out of walls to startle and scare and you’ll also need to find hidden exits to escape from some of the rooms.  This attraction also has its own multi-story slide to escape (stairs also available), but you use waxed paper to help speed you down.  They may want to rethink the paper as it makes you slide down like lightning and I nearly vaulted past the stop zone.

My only real critique of the three houses is that I thought the lights could be brought up just a bit as there are some considerable details put into the rooms of these houses and it would have been nice to make them out.  Sometimes it was so dark that I needed Eric’s glowing shoes to help guide me.  Also, proceed very carefully through the houses.  You will need to indemnify the houses before entering and these are old buildings where a bad step could lead to injury if you’re not careful.  But if you take it slow, you’ll have a great time.

But if you’re a fan of haunted houses, then you need to visit this legendary trio.  It’s a spooktacular good time!

Battle of the Bards

Nick Bottom is determined to be the bard of bards, but has to topple William Shakespeare from his perch to reach that goal.  Desperate to get out of debt and provide for his wife and soon to be newborn, Bottom consults a soothsayer in order discover the next big thing in theatre and to stick it to his hated rival by stealing Shakespeare’s greatest idea.  However, ol’ Will has a thing or two to say about that.  This is Something Rotten! and it is currently playing at Springfield Little Theatre.

This article is a personal milestone as it marks my 200th play review.  I was truly hoping to find something special for the occasion, but failed to do so with this show.

I didn’t find “something special”.  I hit the theatrical lottery.

I knew I was on to something from the first notes of Connor Sanders’ Minstrel and what I got was the pinnacle of theatrical kismet.  This show has everything.  An original and endearing story.  Marvelous melodies.  Dazzling costumes.  Stunning sets.  A director who knew how to put it all together.  A cast more than ready to perform and an audience hungry to be entertained.

Jamie Bower’s direction was nothing short of masterful.  The pace of the show was blitzing and started on high octane and worked its way up to volcanic fury by the end.  He had a nearly symbiotic connection with the beats as he knew when to be fast and funny, when to be slow and sweet, when to be heart attack serious, and when to be farcical and bold.  Bower made this anachronistic world quite believable and guided his troupe to virtually flawless performances.

The entire ensemble gets a standing ovation from me for their work.  All of them were always in the moment and you could see and feel the joy of performing radiating from them and contributed so much in bringing the audience into this world.  Some outstanding work in the supporting cast came from Claire Caubre as Nick Bottom’s wife, Bea.  Caubre’s Bea is the rock in her marriage and willing to do whatever it takes to support her man and makes sure he knows she’s his “Right Hand Man”.  Dean Price is hilarious as the holier than thou stick in the mud, Brother Jeremiah, determined to quash immorality (i.e. fun) while constantly making unintentional double entendres.  Joseph Galetti provides some yuks as Shylock, the Jewish moneylender who sounds like a Jersey version of Jerry Seinfeld.  Todd Smith darn near steals the show as the soothsayer, Thomas Nostradamus, with his over the top summoning of his visions and his ability to wring a boatload of laughter from the delivery of a single word.

Kaleb Patterson is superb in his SLT debut as Nick Bottom.  Patterson brings a real sincerity and, dare I say, vulnerability to the frustrated writer.  Patterson’s Bottom is a good man, but is slowly losing himself due to his jealousy of Shakespeare and his increasing desperation to be a good provider and make his mark in the theatrical world.  Patterson also has a gentle, soothing tenor and merges it with a wide range of interpretative ability whether he is snarking out in “God, I Hate Shakespeare”, being broad and theatrical in “A Musical”, or being honest and forthright in “To Thine Own Self”.

Andrew Wilson matches his “brother” step for step with his take on Nigel Bottom.  Wilson is wonderful as the shy, unassuming poet with an incredible gift for language.  His initial awkwardness around his love, Portia, is so natural and spot-on and his raw honesty with his brother about writing from the heart and truth always hits the mark.  The only tiny, tiny, tiny change I would make is that he got a bit shrieky on a couple of cries when a more plaintive cry would have had the audience sobbing.  Wilson has a mighty tenor of his own which is blessed with a gorgeous falsetto and put to excellent use in “I Love the Way” and his own take on “To Thine Own Self”.

Katie Orr is comedic gold as Portia.  I believe her to be sincere about attempting to be a good Puritan, but she just can’t deny her poetry loving heart.  Orr is just a scream as she has a “When Harry Met Sally” climax moment as she swoons to Nigel’s poetry and is a convincing drunkard after accidentally chugging a stein of alcohol at Shakespeare’s party.  Orr also has an angelic soprano, beautifully utilized in “I Love the Way” and “We See the Light”.

Eli DePriest is an arrogant, smug prick as William Shakespeare.  The Shakespeare of this story is the equivalent of a modern rock star and he just laps up the adulation.  DePriest’s Shakespeare is fully aware of his status as #1 and lords it over all and appears to have a pansexual appetite as he openly flirts with girls and guys and would sleep with himself if he could.  DePriest is also gifted with his own strong tenor as he wallows in his own greatness in “Will Power” or grouses about the hard work involved in being the best in “Hard to Be the Bard”.

This is my third time reviewing a show at SLT and, in my nearly thirty years in the business, I don’t think I’ve found a choreographer to match the skill of Chyrel Love Miller.  Miller’s dance numbers are always flashy, big, and full of pizzazz and this show is no exception.  Favorite numbers of mine were “Welcome to the Renaissance”, “A Musical”, “We See the Light”, and “Make an Omelette”.  John R. “Chuck” Rogers has designed another sensational set with the period correct village buildings, but my favorite piece of scenery was the raised stage with the lanterns for Shakespeare’s “Interpretation in the Park”. Jamie Bower pulled triple duty as he also designed the lights & sounds along with directing and my favorite moments with these were “Will Power” with the lit lanterns, star patterns in the spotlights, and the colorful backdrop which looked like the NBC logo and was also reused in the closing number, “Welcome to America”.  Kaley Jackson and Bailey Doran nailed the costumes with the period correct jerkins, cod pieces, tights, Puritan outfits, and petticoats and bustles.  But I truly loved the zing of the colorful Puritan garb when they started rocking out in “We See the Light”.  Danielle Hardin and her orchestra’s handling of the score was heavenly and pinpoint precise.

Truly, I can’t say enough good things about this show.  You just have to go and see it.  I promise you a good time and you may just want to go back again and again before the run is through.  It is amazing!!

Something Rotten! runs at Springfield Little Theatre through Sept 25.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets range from $23-$37. For tickets, visit http://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call the Box Office at 417-869-1334.  Springfield Little Theatre is located at 311 E Walnut St in Springfield, MO.

Feeling Flushed

In a dystopian world where water has nearly dried up, private toilets no longer exist.  Now people are forced to pay to use pissoirs and woe betide any who think they can simply publicly relieve themselves for they will pay a high price indeed.  This is Urinetown:  The Musical and it is currently playing at the City Theatre of Independence.

It’s amazing how fate works.  I was sitting in my hotel room in Oak Grove, MO looking for something to do when I stumbled upon this theatre and it happened to be opening night for this show.  I’d heard good things about the production so decided to buy a ticket.  But, dang it, it was so good that I felt compelled to write a review for it.

This show is a lot of fun.

Greg Kotis has written a very clever and satisfying show.  Kotis is obviously a fan of musical theatre as this show has influences from Newsies, Les Miserables, and West Side Story.  But he turns the genre on its head and inside out.  The show is meta as the two narrators are aware they’re in a musical and often reveal salient plot points before they occur.  It’s also surprisingly dark, but that’s often forgotten due to the comedic presentation and the light and fun music of Kotis and Mark Hollman.  Kotis and Hollman borrow from many types of music as you get show tunes, ballads, and a truly rocking Gospel number that brought the house down.

Coralyn Martin provides some truly fine directing for this piece as she just dives into its absurdity.  The staging is the best I’ve ever seen in a production as she doesn’t just use the entire theatre space.  She uses the entire building.  Cast members were wandering the lobby before the show and coming out during intermission to keep the story going.  I also truly admired how the cast members slowly appeared on stage before the show began and stayed in character from their first appearance to their final bow.  Martin gets all she can out of the script and guides the actors to very strong performances as they know how to be over the top just enough to be funny, but keep under the point where it would be caricature and ridiculous. 

The supporting cast is chock full of good performances, but some real standouts came from Wendy Buchheit who gives a PhD level class in how to be present in a scene.  Seldom have I seen such animation in body, facial expressions, and eyes (which seemed to operate independently of each other) as she just threw herself into Hot Blades Harry.  Adeana Carr is hilarious as Little Sally.  Carr is very convincing as a precocious little kid and I love the touch that she is also the smartest character in the show.  Cora Hoaglin has a sizzling debut for the theatre as the crotchety, semi-villainous Penelope Pennywise who manages the pissoir on the poor side of town.  Hoaglin has mastered the fine art of projection and could have a fine future in opera with that superhuman soprano which gets to take center stage when she belts out “It’s a Privilege to Pee”.

De’Markus Howell had the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he stepped on the stage as Officer Lockstock for he just has that natural “it” presence.  It’s an interesting twist to have a villain be the narrator and Howell seems to wallow in his corrupt nature especially as he knows he’s virtually bulletproof from repercussions due to his godlike status as the narrator.  I was also extremely amused by his theatrical poses every time he said the show was a musical.  Howell also has a deadly baritone which thrilled the audience in “Urinetown” and “Cop Song”.

Alex West epitomizes the greedy CEO as Caldwell B. Cladwell.  West revels in his power as the ruler of this pathetic world as he takes every last cent from the public to fund a lavish trip to Rio.  But West also gives Cladwell the minutest picoparticle of decency because his policies have actually enabled people to survive.  He just snuffs out the decency by making them pay through the nose to use a toilet.  West also has a superlative tenor which shines brightly in “Mr. Cladwell” and “Don’t Be the Bunny”.

Olivia Franklin is very sweet as Hope Cladwell.  Assuredly, she isn’t the brightest bulb on the tree and comes off even less intelligent as that due to her innocence.  But you have to admire her determination to see the best in every brigand and every hopeless situation, even as she helps to contribute, albeit unwittingly, to that hopelessness by not understanding just how truly dire things are in this world.  Franklin’s honey of a soprano gets to do the heart tugging numbers of “Follow Your Heart” and “I See a River”.

Ken Koval makes for a worthy hero as Bobby Strong.  Koval ticks all the boxes of a hero’s rise as starts as the unwilling participant in the machine of this world before the death of his father and the awakening of his heart inspire him to lead a revolution against the greedy elite.  Koval gives Bobby a unique blend of courage, naivete, and cowardice.  He also has a bright tenor which can be hopeful as in “Look to the Sky”, loving as in “Tell Her I Love Her”, or just plain fun as in my favorite number “Run, Freedom, Run”.

Mike Hadley has designed a nice derelict set of a beaten concrete edifice so realistic that I thought it was stone.  Hadley also skillfully designed the lights with the green phantasmagoric lights used when the dead show up to the use of a simple pinkish spotlight on Hope whenever she launches into a solo number.  Valerie Minniear’s costumes well suit the status of the characters from the cheap clothes and rags of the poor to the elegant suits and dresses of the elite and I really liked the sparkling vests and dresses of the performers in the “Mr. Cladwell” number.  Carlye Stone’s choreography really got to sparkle in the second act with the big flashy numbers of “Snuff that Girl” and “Run, Freedom, Run”.  Blair Walker and his orchestra rise to the challenge of the varied score like champs and strike every emotional note and fun tone with aplomb and kudos to Walker for the funniest cameo of the night.

There were a few blips during the night.  Feedback drowned out dialogue at certain points.  Microphones seemed to be a bit of a mixed bag.  Some members of the supporting cast also need to be more animated in the group scenes.  I could tell they were working the scenes in their heads.  Now they just need to push out the mental work to their bodies.

This show was a delightful and fun surprise with a little something for everyone.  If you’re looking for an immersive, rib-tickling good time, then go see Urinetown:  The Musical.

Urinetown:  The Musical runs through Sept 18 at the City Theatre of Independence.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $12 and can be purchased at the Box Office, by calling 816-370-6654, or visiting citytheatreofindependence.org.  The City Theatre of Independence is located in the Powerhouse Theatre within the Roger T. Sermon Center at 201 N Dodgion in Independence, MO.

A Lost and Troubled Soul

L to R: Noah Berry, Andy Harvey, Daniel Thompson, Karen Pappas, Kimberly Braun, Michael Perrie, Jr., Millicent Hunnicutt, Evan Raines, Horace Smith, and Matt Smolko star in “Hank Williams: Lost Highway”

He was a musical genius troubled by demons.  He was the first megastar of country music.  And he left this world far too soon.  He was Hank Williams and you can watch his story in Hank Williams:  Lost Highway currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

On very rare occasions I actually attend a show purely as a patron.  This was meant to be one of those times, but after seeing this show I felt obligated to put fingers to keyboard to share the gloriousness of this production.

Simply put, this is the finest show I’ve seen mounted at Maples Repertory since I first discovered this theatre.  It’s brilliantly directed.  It’s stellarly acted and sung.  Randal Myler and Mark Harelik conjured a pretty intriguing way of sharing Williams’ story.  It’s told in the vignette style, showing events from the life of Williams and using a nice touch of a pair of characters silently listening to Williams’ music on the radio.  They are people involved in Hank’s life, but they also serve as his id and the fans of Williams, respectively.  Williams’ numbers are skillfully placed as there’s no set up for each particular song, yet each song feels as if it was deliberately placed in its slot for a specific reason.

Todd Davison provided a spectacular piece of direction for this production.  This is a tricky show to direct as it does not tell a complete and connected story.  As such, each vignette is a mini-play in and of itself with its own build, climax, and resolution.  But there still has to be a unifying x factor to tie the vignettes together and Davison has that factor firmly in the palm of his hand as the transitions felt seamless.  He staged the show very effectively though some sightlines might be obscured from your view if you’re sitting at the farthest edges of the theatre.  His coaching of his actors is beyond reproach.  As my friend who joined me said, “There isn’t a flat tire in the lot.”  The acting is pitch perfect and the singing is angelic.

The supporting characters carry a heavy load in this show as they not only help to tell Williams’ story, but also have to play their own instruments.  Justin P. Cowan’s musical supervision is sure and certain with the cast nailing the interpretations of Williams’ songs to the floor.  Evan Raines provides some fine fiddling while Daniel Thompson sizzles on harmonica and, I think, a mandolin.  Amazing acting performances are supplied by Karen Pappas as Williams’ somewhat dominating mother, Mama Lilly.  Kimberly Braun skillfully sings badly as Williams’ wife, Audrey, whose ambitions far exceed her talent.  Andy Harvey brings a quiet leadership as Williams’ manager, Fred Rose.  Matt Smolko and Noah Berry shine as Jimmy and Hoss, friends and bandmates of Williams.  Berry especially impresses as the loyal friend who sticks by Williams until his demons become too heavy for him to support.  Millicent Hunnicutt does sterling work as a waitress who gets a one-night fling with Williams and also being a spiritual representation of his fans.  Horace Smith dominates as Tee-Tot, a street singer who inspires Williams’ career and serves as his emotional anchor and id as he appears to sing during Williams’ times of troubles to remind him of why he sings.  Smith has a beautiful, deep baritone that is Heaven sent and transports you to the heights and depths of emotion.

This show ultimately lives and dies by the performer playing Hank Williams and this show not only lives, but thrives, thanks to the talents of Michael Perrie, Jr.  If Perrie doesn’t get a Broadway World nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, it’s going to be a crime because he pulls off something truly amazing with the role.

Perrie simply IS Hank Williams.  Perrie perfectly duplicates his speaking and singing voice right down to the yodeling vibrato falsetto Williams often used in his songs.  Perrie is so much fun to watch due to his animation and attention to detail, finding little bits of business that enhance action and doesn’t pull attention away from the primary moment.  His body language was incredible as he well communicates Williams’ back issues from a botched spina bifida surgery with his grunts, grimaces, and twists.  Perrie’s drunken staggering and slurred speech in Williams’ darker moments is natural and realistic.  His song interpretation and emoting of said songs is so powerful that when he started crying during “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, I wanted to cry along with him.

Charles Johnson has designed a simple set of a barn, farmhouse front, and steps to be all of the scenes of the show.  Dominic DeSalvio’s lights really enhance the show, especially with his use of intimate spotlights to highlight the more emotional moments of the production.  Eliot Curtis’ props helped to flesh out the world of this show while Pete Nasir’s sound work was pluperfect.  Jack A. Smith’s costumes take you back to the late 40s/early 50s with the simple dresses of the women, the suspenders and dress clothes for the men, and, of course, Williams’ trademark white suit and Stetson hat.

A show like this serves to remind me of why I got into theatre and it deserves to be seen and appreciated.  You don’t even have to be a fan of country music or even know anything about Hank Williams to enjoy the show because I’m certainly not and I truly didn’t.  If you love great acting and music, you will love this show.  You’ve still got 2 chances to see this remarkable production, so give it a try.  You won’t regret it.

Hank Williams:  Lost Highway runs at Maples Repertory Theatre through August 7.  Final performances are tonight at 7:30 pm and tomorrow at 2pm. Tickets cost $33 for the Main Floor and $26 for the balcony and can be obtained at the Box Office or by visiting www.maplesrep.com or calling 660-385-2924. Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Photo by Kelly Lewis

A Most Unwelcome Pest. Err. . .Guest

Willum Cubbert is dealing with quite a bit of frustration in his life.  His creativity is being whittled down to blah by a dull client.  The woman he loves is moving to D.C. to be a weather girl.  On the upside, he’s about to meet the man who saved his life in Vietnam.  But, when he arrives, Willum discovers he’s a creature beyond terror.  He’s. . .He’s. . .The Nerd!!!!  And it’s currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

The plays of Larry Shue are enjoyable in every conceivable aspect (reading, performing, watching, and directing) and The Nerd is one of his finest and best known.  Shue not only had a great gift for wordplay, but he also had a flair for the ridiculous and a penchant for creating a title character who takes absurdity to the zenith.  As such, his farces are a rich source of fodder for directors and performers.

For a play of this type, I can think of no better director than Peter Reynolds who has a positive bent towards handling this kind of material.  Once again, he rises to the occasion with his direction of this piece.  Not only has Reynolds guided his actors to superior performances, but he knows how to get his thespians to mobilize the frenetic words so that they not only sound funny, but believable, no matter how outrageous the situation.  Reynolds also knows how to craft bits so funny with timing so smooth and coordinated that you’ll laugh until your ribs ache.

Splendid supporting performances were supplied by Holden White who’s an obnoxious brat as Thor Waldgrave.  Sandia Ahlers is darling as the meek Celia Waldgrave whose repressed anger manifests in the destruction of breakable objects.  Trevor Belt is the blustering, unimaginative hotel magnate.  Kimberly Braun is a unique blend of supportive friend and proponent of women’s lib as Tansy McGinnis.

Michael Perrie, Jr. darn near steals the show as Axel Hammond.  Perrie is perfect for the role and just glows as the cynical theatre critic.  His witty asides are so extemporaneous that I wondered if some of them were improvised.  Perrie is also a great deal of fun to watch as he always finds bits of business that keep him involved in the scene, but enhance the primary action as opposed to drawing attention away from it.  He’s also great at the absurd parts of farce and his chant at the play’s climax is one of the show’s hallmark moments.

Nick Ferrucci is the consummate everyman as Willum Cubbert.  Cubbert epitomizes most of Shue’s leads:  a nice guy who has difficulty standing up for himself and going for what he wants until an outside force galvanizes him.  Ferrucci is completely believable as the kind-hearted architect, but his life spirals out of control when he finally meets his nerdy pen pal who once saved his life.  Ferrucci skillfully walks that line of a man trying to maintain his gratitude while simultaneously losing his mind.  His meltdowns are hilarious especially when he practices speeches throwing out his pesty acquaintance and has a knack for farcical improv with his machinations to get Steadman out the door.

And the source of all this turmoil is Rick Steadman, brilliantly essayed by Andy Harvey.  Anything you can think of when you hear the word “nerd” is embodied in Harvey’s take.  Steadman has a nasally, adenoidal voice.  His dress sense is godawful.  He’s completely oblivious to social cues.  He has weird hobbies like adapting songs for tambourine.  He’s also good-hearted and well-meaning, but he has the Sadim (read that backwards) touch as everything he touches turns to blech.  Harvey doesn’t chew the scenery.  He devours it and has a grand time doing so and brings you along for the ride.

Dana Weintraub has designed a comfortable apartment for the level-headed Cubbert and the properties of Eliot Curtis give it that homey atmosphere (bonus points for digging up the Fry Guy on the bookcase to give the place that 80s feel).  Jack Smith’s costumes suit the personalities of the various characters from the suits of the urbane Axel and business minded Walgrave to Steadman’s rainbow-colored suspenders and ill-fitting clothes to the smart dresses of Tansy. 

This show is pure escapism.  Grab a ticket and laugh yourself into a happy place. It’ll cure what ails you.

The Nerd plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 31.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on July 16, 22, and 30 and 2pm on July 12, 17, 22, 26-27, and 31. Tickets cost $33 for the Main Floor and $26 for the balcony and can be obtained at the Box Office or by visiting www.maplesrep.com or calling 660-385-2924. Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Tender Trash

From L to R: Millicent Hunnicutt, Lisa DeChristofaro, Andy Harvey, Sandia Ahlers, Julia Rocchio, Noah Berry, Alexis Reda star in “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”

A love quadrangle breaks out at Armadillo Acres Trailer Park between a toll collector, his agoraphobic wife, an exotic dancer, and her crazed, fume huffing ex-boyfriend.  It may sound like an episode of Jerry Springer, but it’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical and it’s currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

Betsy Kelso seems to have been heavily influenced by both Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Show.  Like Shop, the story is narrated by a trio of women who serve as the Greek chorus and the weird characters definitely hearken back to Rocky.  Two big differences are that this show lacks the darkness of the others and the songs of David Nehls are much deeper and add some character depth that the dialogue does not.  The end result is a truly fun show.

Deep this show is not, nor is it intended to be.  What sells it is that the characters are such, well, characters.  It’s an actor’s delight as they can throw caution to the wind, chew the scenery, and blow the lid off as they go over the top.

Brandon McShaffrey understands that and his actors are sterling with their larger than life, stereotyped performances.  Any cliché that pops into your mind when you hear “trailer park” is found in this show and then some.  McShaffrey gets his actors to lean into it with everything they’ve got and mixes it with their golden voices to serve up a rib-tickling good time.  McShaffrey also throws in suitable choreography.  Nothing fancy or flashy.  Just fun and catchy.

Millicent Hunnicutt, Lisa DeChristofaro, and Alexis Reda kill it as the Greek chorus.  Unlike other choruses, each actress has actually molded a well-defined character which adds a vital bit of pep to the production.  Hunnicutt is the group’s leader as Betty, the trailer park manager with an Ethel Merman type presence, but a more powerful and developed singing voice.  DeChristofaro is hilarious as Linoleum who moons over her death row husband and constantly seeks to prolong his life by keeping the power on to prevent the electric chair from working.  Reda is a riot as Pickles, a dumb as a post ditz suffering from a hysterical pregnancy.

All three ladies have beautiful singing voices and maintain perfect harmony and shine in “This Side of the Tracks”, “That’s Why I Love My Man”, and “Storm’s A-Brewin’”.

Noah Berry excels in the role of Duke, the fume huffing, loose cannon ex-boyfriend.  Berry knows how to be big and just eats the role with shining teeth.  What I like best about Berry’s interpretation is that he makes Duke unpredictable, but not excessively dangerous.  Rest assured, he’s got a screw loose, but wouldn’t really hurt another person.  Small animals, on the other hand, need to be wary, lest they become the “Road Kill” he seems likely to create when driving and sniffing.

Julia Rocchio brings a new take to the stereotypical “bad girl with a heart of gold” role.  Rocchio’s Pippi does not have a heart of gold.  To be honest, she’s downright selfish as she gladly fools around with a married man, but she manages to be sympathetic at the same time.  Pippi has been wounded a lot in her life and is constantly on the run from her ex so one can understand that she would grab happiness wherever and whenever she could find it.  Rocchio does a fantastic job of showing that woundedness in her best number “But He’s Mine”.

Andy Harvey gets the deepest character with Norbert Garstecki.  Harvey’s Garstecki seems like a pretty decent and likable guy at the top of the show.  He’s deeply in love with his wife and has been trying to help her through her agoraphobia for the entirety of their marriage.  He only gives up when an anniversary outing to the Ice Capades fails to entice his wife out of their trailer and it is then that his eye starts to rove.  Harvey actually does a good job of making Norbert’s behavior understandable, if not acceptable.  Harvey also has an amazing bass voice and gets some of the show’s more emotional numbers including brilliant renditions of “One Step Closer” and “It’s Never Easy”.

Sandia Ahlers is very sweet as Jeannie Garstecki and she makes Jeannie’s struggle with agoraphobia a very real battle.  It’s almost as if her phobia is a physical enemy as she painfully (and humorously) works her way down the patio stairs by any means necessary (think ropes and flotation devices) in an attempt to conquer her fears.  Ahlers can also belt out a tune like nobody’s business and has mighty turns in “Owner of My Heart” “Panic” and “Flushed Down the Pipes”.

Justin P. Cowan and his band (Chris Fritschie, Kate Hutton, and Nick Ferruci) rock out with the show’s score.  Denise Warner’s costumes fit the trashiness of the characters from cheap dresses to jean shorts and T-shirts to tight leather pants and tops to cowboy hats and cut-offs.  Dana Weintraub’s set is perfect with the dilapidated trailers of Armadillo Acres and the cheap furniture inside the Garstecki trailer.  Dominic DeSalvio’s use of spotlights bring the right focus on characters during musical numbers and the malevolent red and shade used for the nightmare sequence really sells it.  Mike Ekelburg’s sounds help to enhance the show from radio static and stations at the top to the gunshot in the final confrontation.

There were some moments when the microphones went soft and I lost pieces of dialogue and songs, but that did little to detract from the entertainment.  It’s truly fun theatre and definitely an escape from life for a while.  If you want to feel better about yourself, go immerse yourself in the plight of these characters.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical continues at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 10.  Showtimes are 2pm on June 28-29, July 3, 8, and 10 and 7:30pm on July 2, 6, and 9.  Tickets cost $33 for the Main Floor and $26 for the balcony and can be obtained by visiting www.maplesrep.com or calling 660-385-2924.  Parental caution is suggested due to some language and themes.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Photo by Kelly Lewis

Oh, What a Night!!

Four guys from New Jersey form one of the most successful musical groups of the 1960s.  This is the story of The Four Seasons.  This is Jersey Boys and it is currently playing at Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre.

Few things thrill me more than walking out of a theatre and knowing that I’ve seen something truly special.  This show didn’t just hit a home run.  It hit an out of the park, ball leaving my scope of vision home run.

While I am familiar with the music of the Four Seasons, I was unfamiliar with their personal story.  And what a story!  The Four Seasons were no saints.  Petty crime, infidelities, family struggles, tax issues, group strife, debt to the wrong people were just some of the problems plaguing the group.  Aside from their gripping story, I even learned there truly is a difference between The Four Seasons and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice do an incredible job sharing this fascinating tale as each of the Four Seasons presents his own viewpoint on what went on in the group and shows the powerful influence of perception.  Throw in the group’s legendary hits and you’ve got a compelling show from start to finish.

The entire ensemble did a superlative job.  Each was always in the moment and really fleshed out the little world of the musical.  Some of the outstanding performances featured were supplied by Grace Bobber who is a combustible fireball as Valli’s first wife, Mary Delgado.  Steve Isom is a force as fixer, Gyp DeCarlo.  Lauren Echausse has some diverse turns as the lead singer of the Angels whose impressive pipes are matched by her dimwittedness and a sweet turn as Valli’s lover, Lorraine.  Anthony De Marte provides some levity as Joe Pesci (yes, THAT Joe Pesci) who played a key role in the formation of the Four Seasons. 

I was stunned to learn that this was Michael Ingersoll’s directing debut as he has the poise and polish of a director with numerous shows under his belt.  The energy of this show is relentless.  It starts at a fever pitch and just gets higher, pulling the audience in deeper and deeper.  His knowledge of the beats is spot on and he knew how to emphasize each crucial moment with proper setup, tension, and resolution. Ingersoll guided his actors to top quality performances with well defined interpretations and precision pacing and cue pickups.

Depending on one’s point of view, Ryan Williams’ Tommy DeVito is either the guy you hate to love or the guy you love to hate.  Williams just oozes confidence and charm as the founder of the Four Seasons.  DeVito is a lovable scoundrel and con artist and it’s hard to separate the truth from his bull because it is so finely blended together.  He claims to have watched over the group as a big brother and handled the seedier sides of show business during their salad days and there probably was some truth to that.  But he can also be a real prick and the way he rubs the others the wrong way and his own personal financial troubles nearly sink the group at their peak.  Williams deftly portrays all sides of DeVito’s complex personality getting you to despise, respect, or even be amused by him at his discretion.

Jason Michael Evans is an ideal Nick Massi.  At one point, Evans’ Massi compares himself to Ringo Starr and there is a lot of truth to that.  According to Evans’ interpretation, Massi was the most easygoing member of the group and his gift for harmony was equal to Starr’s gift for rhythm due to its intense precision.  Evans also brings a real depth to Massi with his being uncomfortable with success as its stress leads him to drink and the temptations of the road inspire him to screw around on his family.  Eventually the weight of the business forces Massi to make a life altering decision and Evans handles that moment with a gracefully understated honesty.

Bob Gaudio is to The Four Seasons what Pete Townshend is to The Who.  Gaudio was the genius songwriter of the group and already had a major hit at the age of 15 with “Short Shorts” before he joined The Four Seasons.  Erik Keiser is a sheer joy in the role as he plays Gaudio with a wise beyond his years vibe and keen intelligence.  Keiser’s Gaudio is nobody’s fool given how he negotiates his way into the group as an equal partner and never loses sight of the business aspect of music.  What I liked best about Keiser’s take is that he is fully aware of his role in the group’s rise, but isn’t arrogant about it.  It was just the truth. 

Courter Simmons is gold in the role of Frankie Valli.  Valli has the most distinctive falsetto in pop music and is instantly recognizable.  When I closed my eyes during Simmons’ singing, I would swear it was Valli himself singing as Simmons perfectly emulates Valli’s falsetto and singing style.  Simmons’ singing is well matched by his acting and he does beautiful work with Valli’s arc.  Evolving from the shy teenager whom DeVito wrangles into the group to the strong, confident leader who never forgets family.  Simmons skillfully handles the more dramatic moments of Valli’s life from his fractured relationships with his first wife and youngest daughter to dealing with the implosion of the original Four Seasons.

Brett Kristofferson and his band were so subtle and skillful that it took me until the end of the first act to realize that the actors weren’t playing their own instruments.  His music direction is spot on as the four principals nail the iconic songs to the floor and are always in perfect harmony.  Courtney Oliver’s choreography is exactly what’s needed for the show.  There aren’t any flashy dance numbers, just the well-organized movements of the singers as they perform, though she gets a wonderful big moment in the curtain call.  Ryan J. Ziringibl has designed a simple set of stairs, walls, and fence, but it is quite effective as it allows furniture to roll in and out to change the scenes.  Jonathan A. Reed’s lights greatly enhance the story from making you feel you’re at a concert or club to a fine moment when you see the group performing from a backstage point of view and his stage lights fuel that illusion.  Garth Dunbar’s costumes bring you back in time with the perfect suits and dresses from the late 50s to the late 60s.  Jon Robertson’s sounds help bolster the show and keep it in fine form.

This is an excellent show and I highly encourage you to grab a ticket while you can because they are selling like hotcakes.  For myself, this show was a superior introduction to Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre and I look forward to my inevitable return.

Jersey Boys plays at Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre through July 3.  Showtimes are 2pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays and 2pm and 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  Tickets cost $46 and can be purchased at the Box Office, visiting www.lyceumtheatre.org, calling 660-837-3311, or visiting Wood & Huston Bank in Marshall, MO where single tickets can be purchased from Michelle England from 9am-3pm Mon-Fri.  Due to some of the subject matter, parental discretion is advised for this show.  Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre is located at 114 High Street in Arrow Rock, MO.

Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre Presents ‘Jersey Boys’

Arrow Rock, MO–With phenomenal music, memorable characters, and great storytelling, Jersey Boys follows the fascinating evolution of four blue-collar kids who became one of the greatest successes in pop-music history. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical, Jersey Boys takes you behind the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons to discover the secret of a 40-year friendship as the foursome work their way from the streets of New Jersey to the heights of stardom. You will be thrilled by electrifying performances of chart-topping hits including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Dawn,” and “My Eyes Adored You.”

Tickets range from $20-$46 and can be purchased at www.lyceumtheatre.org or calling the Box Office at 660-837-3311. Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre is located at 114 High Street in Arrow Rock, MO.

Performance Dates
Thursday, 06/23/22 – 7:30 pm
Friday, 06/24/22 – 2:00 pm
Friday, 06/24/22 – 7:30 pm
Saturday, 06/25/22 – 2:00 pm
Saturday, 06/25/22 – 7:30 pm
Sunday, 06/26/22 – 2:00 pm
Wednesday, 06/29/22 – 2:00 pm
Thursday, 06/30/22 – 2:00 pm
Friday, 07/01/22 – 2:00 pm
Friday, 07/01/22 – 7:30 pm
Saturday, 07/02/22 – 2:00 pm
Saturday, 07/02/22 – 7:30 pm
Sunday, 07/03/22 – 2:00 pm

Directed by: Michael Ingersoll

Cast

Courter Simmons as Frankie Valli
Erik Keiser as Bob Gaudio
Jason Michael Evans as Nick Massi
Ryan Williams as Tommy DeVito
Corey Barrow as Barry Belson
Grace Bobber as Mary Delgado
Anthony de Marte as Joey
Lauren Echausse as Lorraine
Christian Fary as Charlie
Steven Gagliano as Joe
Steve Isom as Gyp DeCarlo
Perry Ojeda as Norm Waxman
Joseph Oliveri as Hank
Rebecca Russell as Francine
Jeffrey C. Wolfe as Bob Crewe

Ozark Actors Theatre Announces Auditions for 2022 Professional Season

Rolla, MO–Ozark Actors Theatre announces its 2022 Professional Season and its auditions.

Mamma Mia!
June 30-July 10

Prepare to have the time of your life at Mamma Mia! Sophie, a 20-year-old bride-to-be, is on the search for her father. After reading her mother’s diary, she discovers there are three potential suitors. Unbeknownst to her mother, Donna, Sophie invites each of them in hopes of having one of them walk her down the aisle. As the big day draws near, surprises abound with old flames and old friends. MAMMA MIA! is packed with 22 ABBA hits, including “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “Take A Chance on Me,” and “The Winner Takes It All.” This worldwide megahit will have audiences shouting “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” more!

Rumors
July 12-31

At a large, tastefully-appointed Sneden’s Landing townhouse, the Deputy Mayor of New York has just shot himself. Though only a flesh wound, four couples are about to experience a severe attack of Farce. Gathering for their tenth wedding anniversary, the host lies bleeding in the other room, and his wife is nowhere in sight. His lawyer, Ken, and wife, Chris, must get “the story” straight before the other guests arrive. As the confusions and miscommunications mount, the evening spins off into classic farcical hilarity.

The Great Gatsby
August 11-21

Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, passionately pursues the elusive Daisy Buchanan. Nick Carraway, a young newcomer to Long Island, is drawn into their world of obsession, greed and danger. The breathtaking glamour and decadent excess of the Jazz Age come to the stage in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, and in Simon Levy’s adaptation, approved by the Fitzgerald Estate.

Auditions for Ozark Actors Theatre 2022 Season

United Professional Theatre Auditions – Memphis, Tennessee: 

February 4th – 6th (registration with UPTA is necessary to attend these auditions.) 

LOCAL auditions at The Cedar Street Playhouse – Rolla, Missouri: 

February 18th & 19th

Friday, Feb, 18th  |  5 pm – 9 pm

Saturday, Feb 19th  |  10 am-3 pm

Callbacks Saturday, Feb 19th  |  4 pm-8 pm

Please prepare 2 contrasting monologues or one monologue and 32 bars of a song not to exceed 3 mins. Accompanist provided. Audition from will soon be available at www.ozarkactorstheatre.org/audition.

ST. LOUIS Auditions

February 20th

10 am – 4 pm

Callbacks 5:30 pm – 8 pm 

Please prepare 2 contrasting monologues or one monologue and 32 bars of a song not to exceed 3 mins, and fill out the soon to be available Audition Form at www.ozarkactorstheatre.org/audition. Accompanist provided. 

VIDEO SUBMISSIONS

OAT will accept video audition submissions for all shows in our professional summer season. Please submit 2 contrasting monologues or one monologue & 32 bars of a song directly to casting@ozarkactorstheatre.org with a headshot and resume

Ozark Actors Theatre (OAT) proudly hires members of the Actors Equity Association (AEA). At OAT we support inclusive casting and encourage performers of all genders, ethnicities, ages and abilities to submit. Submit any questions to casting@ozarkactorstheatre.org.

AEA is committed to diversity and encourages all its employers to engage in a policy of equal employment opportunity designed to promote a positive model of inclusion. As such, Equity (and OAT) encourages performers of all ethnicities, gender identities, and ages, as well as performers with disabilities, to audition.

Maples Repertory Theatre Announces 2022 Season

Macon, MO–Maples Repertory Theatre has announced its 2022 season.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical

June 15 – July 10

There’s a new tenant at Armadillo Acres—and she’s wreaking havoc all over Florida’s most exclusive trailer park. Pippi, the exotic dancer on the run, comes between agoraphobic Jeannie and her tollbooth collector husband, and storms begin to brew. A musical comedy that has a little bit of everything: spray cheese, road kill, hysterical pregnancy, a broken electric chair, kleptomania, strippers, and disco!


The Nerd

June 24 – July 31

When Willum has an unexpected party guest, who turns into an unwanted houseguest, he executes an elaborate plan to rid himself of the wacky nuisance. Aided by a rag-tag team that includes friends, a would-be lover and an oblivious boss, creative acts of desperation quickly dissolve into utter mayhem. The twists and turns of this madcap comedy lead to an ending that leaves you feeling happily hoodwinked!


Hank Williams: Lost Highway

July 15 – August 7

Travel the road with country music’s first music star! This musical follows Hank Williams’ journey from backwoods Alabama, to his triumphs on the Grand Ole Opry, and to his self-destruction at twenty-nine. Audiences will be treated to an unforgettable tribute of more than 20 hits, including “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, “Move It on Over”, “Jambalaya”, and “Hey, Good Lookin’”.


The Bikinis: A New Musical Beach Party

October 5 – October 16

Back together again! This favorite girl group from the Jersey Shore reunites to raise money for the good folk s at Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort. Reliving their heyday from the summer of ’64, these four inseparable friends offer a nonstop celebration of song from their early days through the next two decades. Featuring the hits “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “I Will Survive,”and “It’s Raining Men,” The Bikinis is a musical beach party!


Something’s Afoot

October 27 – November 7

Ten people are stranded in an isolated English country house during a raging thunderstorm. Suddenly, one by one they’re picked off by cleverly fiendish devices. As the bodies pile up in the library, the survivors frantically race to uncover the identity and motivation of the cunning culprit. Something’s Afoot is a zany, entertaining musical comedy that takes a satirical poke at Agatha Christie mysteries and musical styles of the English music hall of the ’30s.


A Tuna Christmas

November 30 – December 11

It’s Christmas in the third-smallest town in Texas. Radio news personalities Thurston Wheelis (played by MRT favorite Michael McIntire) and Arles Struvie (played by MRT favorite Sean Riley) report on various Yuletide activities, including the hot competition in the annual lawn-display contest. With the “Christmas Phantom” on the loose and the local Christmas production in peril, there is lots of mayhem to report. In this hilarious sequel to Greater Tuna, two actors play all of the crazy citizens of Tuna, Texas.