You Say You Want a Musical Revolution

Tony and Maria are in love, but their love faces numerous obstacles.  Her brother and his best friend are the leaders of rival gangs that refuse to let them be together.  The world also tries to keep them apart due to its racism as they come from different cultures.  When they try to rise above these problems, they get dragged back down and crash to a hideous reality.  This is West Side Story based on a concept by Jerome Robbins, written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  It is currently playing at Springfield Little Theatre.

It isn’t often that I find myself tongue-tied when I start to write a review, but I am still in a state of glorious shock at what I just saw.  Prior to tonight, I had never seen West Side Story in any capacity though I had read that the original mounting of the show revolutionized what could be done with choreography.  While I have no real comment to make on that, I can say that SLT’s take on this show completely revolutionized what I considered possible with musical theatre.  This was, by far, the single best musical I have seen mounted on any community theatre stage.

Lorianne Dunn does double duty as both director and choreographer and excels in both aspects.  As director, she has put together an absolute masterpiece of a production.  Her direction is certain as she expertly maneuvers her actors through the emotional beats of the stories and songs and leads them to sterling performances.  Her staging is impeccable.  It makes full use of the performance space and none of her actors upstaged themselves or others.

Her choreography is genius.  Never have I seen such lavish dance numbers especially standouts such as “America”, the prologue, and “The Rumble”.  Her work is all the more impressive given the youth of her cast who absolutely nail their performances with a polish and poise that experienced veterans would envy.

This cast is just amazing.  Their energy (and fitness levels) was off the charts.  They were clearly having fun and that added further fuel to nearly flawless performances.  The chorus remained in each and every moment adding vital life and reality to this staged world.  Exceptional supporting performances were supplied by Richard Bogue as the racist and thuggish Lt. Schrank; Lysander Abadia as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks; Robert Hazlette as the always angry Action and he also gets the lead on the night’s funniest number, “Gee, Officer Krupke”; and Miriam Stein as Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s best friend.  Ms Stein especially shines with a velvet lower soprano in “America” and “A Boy Like That”.

Asa Charles Leininger stuns as Riff, the leader of the Jets.  Leininger makes Riff far more than a brainless brute with his multilayered take on the character.  His Riff started the Jets to have a sense of belonging.  He’s proud of his gang because of the support they provide.  He’s tough.  He’s loyal, remaining friends with Tony despite his walking away from the gang.  His Riff even has a code of honor as he’s willing to settle his issues with the Sharks with one fistfight.  He even has some common sense as he refuses to react to those that call him and his gang hoodlums and prefers to stay cool.  Leininger’s New York accent is spot on and he retains it as his lower tenor entertains us with “Jet Song” and “Cool”.

Tanner Johnson is scary smooth as Tony.  Johnson takes the audience by the hand and gracefully leads it through Tony’s emotional journey.  He’s got the perfect personality for the likable Tony who is trying to escape his former world of violence by holding down a job and finding love.  You will be swept along with him as he experiences the highs of love, the horror at his violent actions when he gets dragged back into the gang world, and his heartbreak when he thinks he has lost Maria.

Johnson also has a gorgeous tenor voice.  More importantly, he knows how to act through the songs, striking each emotional beat with unerring accuracy.  Some of his best moments were his joyous “Maria” and his beautiful take on “Somewhere”.

Genevieve Fulks is a powerhouse of talent and will steal your hearts as Maria.  She has such innocence and sweetness in the role and you can believe she has the power to evolve Tony into a better person.  But she just as easily handles anger and pain when her world begins to fall apart due to the lifestyle of violence lived by her loved ones.  And, my word, what a heavenly voice she has.  Ms Fulks’ operatic soprano gave a performance for the angels with showstopping turns in “I Feel Pretty”, “I Have Love”, and “Tonight”.

Susan Gravatt and her orchestra perfectly play the score of this musical.  John R. “Chuck” Rogers has designed a magnificent set of fences, crumbling tenements, and fire escapes.  Jamie Bowers’ lights and sounds enhance the story.  Kris Haik and Ginny Herfkens are winners with their precise costuming with the t-shirts, jackets, and jeans of the gangs and the elegant dresses for the ladies.

As I said earlier, this is the best community theatre musical I have ever seen staged in nearly a quarter century of theatre involvement. I have seen professional productions that couldn’t hold a stick to this show.  It’s just a blitzkrieg of perfection from the fantastic story to grade A direction to stunning choreography to flawless acting and entrancing singing.  If you love theatre and live in or near the Springfield, MO area, buy a ticket to see this show.  You will be blown away.

West Side Story plays at Springfield Little Theatre through Feb 4.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets range from $16-$36.  For tickets visit http://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call the Box Office at 417-869-1334.  Parental discretion is advised for coarse language and gestures and some scenes of violence.  Springfield Little Theatre is located at 311 E Walnut St in Springfield, MO.

Advertisements

Springfield Little Theatre Kicks Off 2018 with “West Side Story”

Meme - SLT's West Side Story_preview

Springfield, MO–Springfield Little Theatre (SLT) is pleased to present West Side Story at the historic Landers Theatre beginning Friday, January 19 through Sunday, February 4, 2018.  Performances start at 7:30pm on Thusdays-Saturdays and at 2pm on Sundays.

Young lovers are caught between prejudice and warring street gangs in this seminal retelling of Romeo and Juliet written by Arthur Laurent with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

The powerful, poignant, and timely musical explores the rivalry between the “American” Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, two teenage street gangs in New York City.  Tony, best friend to the leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, sister to the leader of the Sharks.  Their struggle to survive in a world of hate and violence weaves an innovative, heart-wrenching, and relevant tale.

From the first notes to the final breath, West Side Story is one of the most memorable musicals and greatest love stories of all time.  The score is widely regarded as one of the best ever written.  The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theatre.

SLT’s West Side Story features a cast of 57 and is directed and choreographed by Lorianne Dunn with music direction by Susan Gravatt.  Performing the iconic roles of star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, are Tanner Johnson and Genevieve Fulks.  Johnson, a student at Drury University studying Arts Administration and Vocal Performance, is making his Springfield Little Theatre debut.  Fulks was last seen on the Landers stage as Doris Walker in Miracle on 34th Street the Musical.  Since that time, she has performed as Young Maxine in Maxine’s Christmas Carol (Andy Williams Moon River Theatre), Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro (Opera in the Ozarks and Springfield Regional Opera), Zerbina in The Maid Mistress (Classical Arts Inc), and Madame Herz in The Impresario (Ozark Family Opera).  Genevieve is a professional singer and actor and also teaches voice at MSU, Drury, and SLT.

West Side Story is rated PG-13.  Tickets range in price form $16-$36.  Group pricing is available for parties of 10 or more.  Please visit www.springfieldlittletheatre.org to purchase your tickets and select seats 24/7.  You may also call the Box Office at 417-869-1334.

Parents’ Night Out is offered on Saturday, January 20 for only $10 per child.  Drop your kids off at 5:30pm and treat yourself to dinner before watching the performance.  Or drop your kids off at 7:15pm just before you take your seat.  Children will enjoy a full evening of theatre activities and can be picked up in the lobby following the show.  Register when you purchase your tickets or add it on later!

Enjoy a Backstage Pass Experience before any of the performances for only $10.  Observe company warm-ups prior to the show, take a guided tour backstage, and receive a signed poster and photo with the cast.  Register when you purchase your tickets or add it on later!

Final Fridays Improv Night takes place on Friday, February 3 following the performance.  Admission is “pay what you can”.  SLT’s Teen Players present this hilarious, family-friendly program to raise funds for SLT’s education programs.

The Landers Theatre, SLT’s beautiful home, is located in downtown Springfield at 311 East Walnut Street.

Support for West Side Story is provided by Phenix Marble, Lezah & Ron Stenger Family, Mirowski Inspections, KOLR10, 104.1KSGF, and the Missouri Arts Council, a nonprofit state agency.

The Death of Innocence

A group of youths in provincial Germany experience the thrill of their emerging adulthood and the pain of losing their childhood innocence.  This is Spring Awakening with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik based off of Frank Wedekind’s original play of the same name.  It is currently playing at the UNO Theatre.

I’m not familiar with Wedekind’s original play, but have read praise for Sater remaining reasonably faithful to the original work.  Wedekind’s tale poses some very challenging ideas and themes that still resonate today.  The theme of emerging adulthood takes the form of their sexual awakening and the youths are thrilled and unnerved by the changes taking place within them.  However, this awakening comes at a price.

The change into adulthood comes at the cost of their innocence and hope.  Even worse, they are ill equipped to handle these changes due to a society of adults which refuses to educate and help them cope with these changes.  Instead they label the youths’ burgeoning desires as evil and hypocritically hide their own evil and cruelty to maintain a world that suits their vision.

Sater does a fine job updating Wedekind’s work for a modern audience and Sheik has written a punchy score full of catchy, memorable tunes.

It’s unusual to see two directors at the helm of a show, but Doran Schmidt and Wai Yim do quality work in guiding this musical.  Clearly both are on the exact same page with their vision, fusing their unique talents to create a strong show.  Their performers know what they are doing with their roles and where they are going.  Ms Schmidt’s musical direction is spot on and Yim’s gift for designing movement keeps this story going as there is never a static movement.  The actors make full use of the performance space in an effortless and unceasing flow of movement and action.

The supporting cast is skilled and unified.  They harmonize well.  They play well off each other.  All manage to find the ebbs and flows and the humorous and serious moments of the production.  But I’d like to single out Bethany Bresnahan for a memorable cameo performance as Ilse.  Ms Bresnahan’s Ilse is the lone character who seems to retain her childhood innocence as she transitions into adulthood.  She had a dynamic presence, beautiful animation, and a haunting sequence in “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind”.

Ryan McCann is wonderful as Melchior.  McCann well plays the duality of this character as Melchior is both the angel and the devil.  He is a playful, intelligent wit and loyal friend.  But he also has the makings of a fiend within him with his whipping (albeit requested) and possible raping of a childhood friend.  Truly, he seems to be the character in the most danger of becoming part of the cruel, hypocritical society he lives in until he finds the strength to overcome it with a little help from his spiritual friends.

McCann’s tenor was in fine form all night.  His voice captured all of the important nuances both musically and orally.  He especially shone in “The Guilty Ones”, “Those You’ve Known”, and the night’s best number, “Totally F@!#ed”.

Seldom have I felt the kind of empathy for a character as I did for Nick Jansen’s Moritz.  Moritz has pressures on him that few adults could be expected to handle, let alone a child.  His parents demand perfection from him.  He studies beyond the point of exhaustion.  He’s uncomfortable with his new “sticky dreams”.  Jansen does superior work in communicating the ever mounting weight on Moritz’s shoulders until he collapses under the pressure.  Jansen also has a fine tenor and falsetto best utilized in “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” and “And Then There Were None”.

Roni Shelley-Perez soars as Wendla.  Wendla may be the show’s most tragic character as her innocence makes her truly childlike.  An overprotective mother refuses to help her understand her transition into adulthood.  Her safe lifestyle has rendered her unable to feel, pushing her to request to get whipped by Melchior so she can empathize with a classmate who is routinely beaten by her father.  Due to her safety and immaturity, Wendla simply does not know how to protect herself and those who should protect her fail utterly.

Ms Shelley-Perez brilliantly essays the confusion and innocence of Wendla.  I was especially impressed with her facial expressions during her moment of intimacy with Melchior which left it beautifully ambiguous as to whether or not it was rape.

Ms Shelley-Perez can also belt out a tune with a monstrously strong soprano in “Mama Who Bore Me” and “The Word of Your Body”.

Steven Williams has designed a simple, yet imposing set of black pillars and balcony with chalk drawings all over it.  Audrey Wardian’s lights were incredible with strobe flashes and emotional colors which were all variations of the rainbow leading to subtler shades of meaning.  Valerie St Pierre Smith’s costumes invoked the sedate elegance of 19th century school uniforms and clothing.

At this preview night performance, the cast started off a bit hesitantly and quietly.  Once they reached “Totally F@!#ed” they were firing on all cylinders and the theatre was overflowing with their confidence and I do believe they are on to something quite magical.  Sound also suffered a touch from either microphone issues or dead spots on the stage.

Growing up is hard to do, especially when there isn’t an instruction book or a person with experience to lend a helping hand.  Spring Awakening does a dandy job in sharing the difficulty and pain of growing up, but it also leaves a glimmer of hope that the current generation will fix the mistakes of the previous.

Spring Awakening plays at the UNO Theatre in the Weber Fine Arts Building through Dec 2.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  Tickets cost $16 (a 2nd preview night performance on Nov 16 will be $6).  UNO students can attend the show for free.  For tickets, call 402-554-PLAY or visit www.unomaha.edu/unotheatre.  Due to strong language and sensitive themes, Spring Awakening is not suitable for children.  The UNO Theatre is located at 6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

This Shop is Worthy of a Visit

Seymour Krelborn has one dream:  to get out of Skid Row.  One day fate seems to offer him a shot at that dream when he buys a strange, exotic plant which he exhibits in the window of the florist shop where he works.  Suddenly Seymour has fame, money, and the girl.  And all it took was a little blood.  Find out the rest of Seymour’s story in Little Shop of Horrors  by Howard Ashman with music and lyrics by Alan Menken. It is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

Ashman’s script is a bit of genius.  He took a cult horror film and managed to turn it into a hit musical due largely to his tongue in cheek approach to the material and the snappy score of Alan Menken.  The tongue in cheek approach was certainly the way to go as it helps disguise the fact that this is a pretty bleak tale.  Nearly all of the characters are unlikable and it does not have a happy arc.  In spite of that, you can’t help but have a great time due to the comedy and memorable songs.

D Laureen Pickle’s direction is a strong bit of work as she has led her cast to some fine characterizations and knows how to balance the serious moments with the over the top moments.

The cast was quite clearly enjoying themselves which really adds to the fun of the show.  Some notable supporting performances were supplied by Carrie Beth Stickrod, Samantha Shatley, and Brenda Smrdel as a trio of chiseling Skid Row do woppers who also serve as the play’s musical narrators; James Verderamo as a sadistic dentist; and Christopher Scott as Mr. Mushnik, the greedy and abrasive owner of the florist shop.

When I envision Seymour Krelborn, Kyle Avery is the image that springs to mind.  Avery was a pitch perfect Seymour as his lean and lanky physique were well suited to the nebbish Seymour.  Rest assured that Avery’s acting and singing chops were also more than up to the challenge of the role.  Adopting an adenoidal, Brooklyn tinged voice, Avery well presented Seymour as a shy, nerdy man who merely wants a few nice things out of life, but whose innocence leave him susceptible to manipulation by others.  Avery gives Seymour an inherent decency that makes his struggles with his conscience quite believable when he starts to go down a darker path due to the machinations of his plant, Audrey II.

Avery possesses a strong and sweet tenor voice that he modulates well emotionally with heartbreaking numbers such as “Skid Row” and “Suddenly, Seymour”.

Jen Dillon is delightful as Audrey.  Ms Dillon utilizes a breathy, Brooklyn voice to communicate the uneducated nature of Audrey, but, boy, does she have a heart of gold.  She is a really nice girl who just happened to be born on the wrong side of the tracks and you really pity her as she seems resigned to being poor and being involved with rotten men.  She also has a lovely soprano with which she can either belt out a tune such as her sequences in “Skid Row” or melt your heart like butter in “Somewhere That’s Green”.

Andrew Miner gives an incredibly animated performance as Audrey II.  What makes it even more amazing is that it’s all done by the power of his voice as Audrey II is nothing more than a series of puppets (kudos to the puppet designer by the way).  Miner gives Audrey II a delicious aura of evil and a malicious mean streak.  His powerful upper baritone singing voice also aid in communicating Audrey II’s nastiness with tunes such as “Feed Me (Git It)” and “Suppertime”.

D Laureen Pickle’s set design really looks like a skid row with its dilapidated, abandoned buildings and garbage strewn streets.  Lindsey Pape has designed a series of pluperfect costumes from Seymour’s nerdy outfit of baseball cap, sweater, and glasses to the disheveled clothes of the Skid Row inhabitants to the do wop outfits of the Skid Row trio.  Chris Ebke and his band provided a wonderful afternoon’s entertainment performing the catchy tunes.  I also want to note the puppetry of Brian Henning which made Audrey II seem like a living entity.

Energy seemed to lag a bit in today’s production and projection was all over the map.  I also thought there was room to go a bit bigger in some of the show’s more over the top moments.  But these are easily remedied items which will make a hot show scalding.

It may not be a happy tale, but, by golly, it’s a fun time.  Take a visit to this shop.  Just remember, don’t feed the plants.

Little Shop of Horrors plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Oct 1.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students.  For tickets contact the theatre at 402-291-1554 Mon-Sat from 10am to 3pm.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Take A Chance on It . . .

Sophie is getting married and she’s inviting her dad.  The trouble is that she doesn’t know who he is.  Using her mother’s diary, she has discovered three possible candidates, but will she be able to discover which one, if any, is her pop before her big day?  This is the story of Mamma Mia! written by Catherine Johnson with music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Mamma Mia! is one of those shows that’s short on story, but long on fun.  It’s a crowd pleasing, raucous romp where the tale is meant to take a back seat to the music.  But I promise you that you’ll be singing along and bopping to the ABBA tunes interpreted by Jim Boggess and his superior orchestra long before the night is through.  The show is strengthened remarkably by the direction of Jeff Horger who kept the energy and joy flowing through his cast and maximized a few serious moments along the way.  It also doesn’t hurt that Horger’s cast includes a slew of some of the finest talent in local musical theatre.

Frankly, I thought the work of the ensemble was worth the price of admission on its own.  If you took away the rest of the cast and just had to watch the shenanigans, antics, and singing of the chorus, it would still be a great time.  They are that good.  It’s some of the best harmonizing I’ve heard in a show and be on the lookout for Marcus Benzel as Dionysus.  Without uttering a single word, he tells a fantastic story through facial expressions and body language.

There are so many strong performances in the supporting cast that it’s hard to know where to begin.  For starters, there’s the work of Brendan Brown and Justin Eller who show some impressive comedic chops with their roles of Eddie and Pepper, the “help” at the Villa Donna.  Angela Jenson-Frey and Emily Peklo sparkle as Tanya and Rosie, the best friends of Sophie’s mother, Donna, and her former singing partners.  Ms Jenson-Frey is tremendous as the shallow and snobby, but good-hearted, Tanya and Ms Peklo is a hoot as the tomboyish Rosie.  Both ladies also have fabulous altos which they put to good use in “Dancing Queen” as well as in solo moments, specifically “Does Your Mother Know?” for Ms Jenson-Frey and “Take A Chance on Me” for Ms Peklo.

Jacob Roman and Mike Palmreuter entertain as 2 potential candidates for Sophie’s father.  Palmreuter plays Bill, a travel writer with a major phobia for commitment while Roman plays Harry, a successful British banker whose headbanging leaves something to be desired.  Roman has a particularly lovely tenor which soars in “One Last Summer”.

Victoria Luther gives a winning performance with her take on Sophie.  Ms Luther brings a real sweetness and honesty to the role.  There’s really nothing terribly sneaky about her plan to invite her possible fathers to her wedding.  Once she meets them, she’s actually mostly up front about why she invited them.  Ms Luther can also belt a tune as her soprano kept batting musical pitches in numbers such as “Honey, Honey”, “The Name of the Game”, and “Slipping Through My Fingers”.

Sarah Ebke is a force as Donna, Sophie’s mother.  Ms Ebke’s Donna is an independent woman used to standing on her own two feet as she raised a daughter plus single-handedly ran a hotel.  But she’s also a very dedicated mother and a very sensitive soul.  Ms Ebke’s magnificent alto got many of the night’s best numbers including “Mamma Mia”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “One of Us”.

Adam Hogston has, arguably, the most well developed character in the form of Sam.  Hogston’s Sam is clearly still in love with Donna and Hogston displays a mighty emotional range and haunting emotional vulnerability as he wrestles with the multifaceted feelings wrought by his love from his nervousness about seeing Donna again to talking about the dissolution of his marriage with Sophie.  Hogston’s tenor will really touch hearts especially with his melancholic rendition of “S.O.S.”.

Jim Othuse opts for a simpler set with a hotel that evokes images of a Spanish villa and a dock with a view of the sea.  His lighting was also right on the mark with their changes with the emotional beats of the play.  Darin Kuehler’s properties added just the right touch, especially the pictures and items in Donna’s room.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are varied and strong from the beachwear, to the ABBAesque costumes seen at the curtain call and Sophie’s bachelorette party, to the hideous leisure suits worn by the potential papas at the start of Act II.  Melanie Walter’s choreography is a wonder.  Her dancers are satin smooth and I was especially impressed with the comedic swimwear number that kicked off Act II plus the curtain call number.

Mamma Mia! delivers exactly what it promises and that’s a rip roaring good time.  The songs are memorable and the dancing is entrancing.  A nearly full house seemed to agree with my assessment and another Playhouse hit seems to be on the horizon.  Oh, and I can already see the T.A.G. nomination for Best Ensemble for that curtain call.

Mamma Mia! plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 15.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Maples Repertory Theatre Announces 2018 Season

Maples Repertory Theatre is pleased to announce its 2018 season.

The summer portion of the season (June-Aug) will feature:

Mamma Mia!

This smash-hit musical featuring the songs of ABBA is one of the top 10 longest-running Broadway musicals. Mamma Mia! is a delightful tale of love, laughter and friendship. Donna is slowly warming up to the notion of her daughter Sophie’s impending wedding when her life is upended by the unexpected arrival of three former beaus, all possible candidates to walk Sophie down the aisle. With all your favorite ABBA hits such as “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance On Me,” “Honey, Honey” and more, find out why Mamma Mia! has become an audience favorite!

Tom, Dick, and Harry

In this hilarious story of three brothers, Tom and his wife are about to adopt a baby. His brothers are anxious to help make a good impression on the woman from the agency who has arrived to check on the home and lifestyle of the prospective parents. Unfortunately Dick, who has stashed boxes of smuggled brandy and cigarettes in the house, and Harry, who is in possession of a cadaver he is planning to sell illegally to a medical school, fail miserably. The adoption agency representative is aghast – and the illegal Croatian aliens who do not speak English are no help at all.

The Drowsy Chaperone

 In a loving send-up of the frivolously inconsequential stage musicals of the Jazz Age, a fan known only as Man in Chair gives a spin to the original cast recording of one such musical, providing the audience with amusing minutiae about the play and the players.

The fall portion of the season (Late Sept/Early Oct-Dec) features:

Dearly Departed

In the Baptist backwoods of the Bible Belt, the beleaguered Turpin family proves that living and dying in the South are seldom tidy and always hilarious. Despite their earnest efforts to pull themselves together for their father’s funeral, the Turpin’s other problems keep overshadowing the solemn occasion: Firstborn Ray-Bud drinks himself silly as the funeral bills mount; Junior, the younger son, is juggling financial ruin, a pack of no-neck monster kids, and a wife who suspects him of infidelity in the family car; their spinster sister, Delightful, copes with death as she does life, by devouring junk food; and all the neighbors add more than two cents. As the situation becomes fraught with mishap, Ray-Bud says to his long-suffering wife, “When I die, don’t tell nobody. Just bury me in the backyard and tell everybody I left you.” Amidst the chaos, the Turpins turn for comfort to their friends and neighbors, an eccentric community of misfits who just manage to pull together and help each other through their hours of need, and finally, the funeral.

On Golden Pond

This is the love story of Ethel and Norman Thayer, who are returning to their summer home on Golden Pond for the forty-eighth year. He is a retired professor, nearing eighty, with heart palpitations and a failing memory—but still as tart-tongued, observant and eager for life as ever. Ethel, ten years younger, and the perfect foil for Norman, delights in all the small things that have enriched and continue to enrich their long life together. They are visited by their divorced, middle-aged daughter and her dentist fiancé, who then go off to Europe, leaving his teenage son behind for the summer. The boy quickly becomes the “grandchild” the elderly couple have longed for, and as Norman revels in taking his ward fishing and thrusting good books at him, he also learns some lessons about modern teenage awareness—and slang—in return. In the end, as the summer wanes, so does their brief idyll, and in the final, deeply moving moments of the play, Norman and Ethel are brought even closer together by the incidence of a mild heart attack. Time, they know, is now against them, but the years have been good and, perhaps, another summer on Golden Pond still awaits.

Away in the Basement:  A Church Basement Ladies Christmas

It is the 1959 Sunday School Christmas Program. As the children rehearse, kitchen ladies are finishing up goodie bags and touching up Nativity pieces. Little do they know what surprises await when they are called upon to step in and save the day.

Season tickets go on sale November 1, 2017.  For more information, visit http://www.maplesrep.com, e-mail info@maplesrep.com, or call 660-385-2914.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

This Quartet is Worth Far More than a Million

On December 4, 1956, the first supergroup of rock and roll appeared at Sun Records.  On that day, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins all happened to be at Sun Records at the same time and had an impromptu jam session recorded by Sun’s owner, Sam Phillips.  Inspired by that day, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux wrote a little show about what might have gone on in the studio.  They called it Million Dollar Quartet and it is playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

To be honest, I was expecting a jukebox musical when I sat down to review this show, but Escott and Mutrux actually wrote a nifty little story that segues nicely into the evening’s showstopping numbers.  It’s fun, actually delves a bit into the characters of Phillips and the Million Dollar Quartet, and is even a little sad and haunting at certain points.  This strong tale is strengthened by the legendary hits as performed by a powerhouse cast who hit all the right notes musically and acting-wise.

Paul Kerr has directed a real winner with this production.  He sets a snappy pace, wonderfully stages the show, and pulls some exceptionally strong performances out of his actors.  Kerr has a good grip on the true depth of this story and hits all of its emotional beats with maximum impact.

Kerr’s cast is stellar from top to bottom.  Each fully understands his or her character and each also happens to be a darn good singer and instrumentalist.

I’d like to give special notice to the unsung heroes of this show:  Sean Powell and Darren Johnston.  Powell does double duty as the show’s musical director and in the small role of Jay Perkins.  As musical director, Powell’s work is superb as he and the cast don’t miss a trick in any of the night’s numbers.  He also does well in the role of Jay, Carl Perkins’ older brother.  Powell brings a real presence to the role and brings a natural flamboyance to it, not to mention some dynamite strumming on and skillful acrobatics with his stand up bass.  Johnston fuels all of the numbers with a deadly accurate backbeat as the session drummer, Fluke.

While all of the actors are great, Billy Rude may be the one to keep your eye on with his frenzied performance as Jerry Lee Lewis.  Rude’s Lewis has a natural gift for rubbing people the wrong way and has a self-confidence bordering on arrogance as he struggles to achieve stardom as Sun Record’s newest artist.  Rude’s ability with the piano borders on the superhuman as I had difficulty following his fingers as they blitzed across the keys.  He didn’t just play the singer known as “The Killer”, he became him as he perfectly emulated his over the top piano playing right down to kicking away the piano bench and having that hairstyle that gets just as wild as his performances in “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’”.

Sean Riley brings a surprising amount of pathos to the role of Carl Perkins.  Perkins was the first breakout star of Sun Records, but has hit a bit of a slump and is feeling overlooked by Sam Phillips.  Riley brings a bit of bitter frustration to the role as he is a bit of a curmudgeon who is only really close with Johnny Cash.  Lewis irritates him and he harbors a lot of resentment and jealousy towards Elvis who not only supplanted him on the charts, but became better known for Perkins’ hit song “Blue Suede Shoes” more than Perkins himself.  Riley is also a master guitarist and singer who flies high in “Matchbox” and his sections in “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”.

You may think Johnny Cash has been reborn when you see Christopher Essex’s take on the Man in Black.  He bears a remarkable physical similarity to the singer, effortlessly duplicates his unique style of guitar playing, and has a similar bass voice.  Essex ably plays Cash as a gentle man of faith wrestling with the problem of telling Phillips he’s leaving the label.  He also shines in classic Cash numbers such as “I Walk the Line” and “Down By the Riverside”.

I really liked Courtney Crouse’s take on Elvis Presley.  He managed to show Elvis’ congeniality which people often forget about.  By displaying this side of Elvis’ personality, he shows us that the King was actually too nice for the cutthroat world of show business as he is often pushed around by Colonel Parker and his new record label, RCA.  But Crouse also reminds us that Elvis was a versatile performer almost without peer as he rocks out with “Hound Dog” then just as easily goes Gospel with “Peace in the Valley”.

After Bradley Farmer, as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, belted out “Fever” with that sultry alto, I needed to go soak my head in a bucket of ice water to cool off.  Ms Farmer gets a lot of mileage out of this small role who ends up serving as the confidante of nearly every character in the show.  Ms Farmer adds that extra something to the show whether it be singing or dancing to the numerous numbers or boosting the beat with her tambourine.

Last and certainly not least is Eddie Urish’s beautiful turn as Sam Phillips.  As the narrator of this tale, Urish presents Phillips as the grizzled record producer who built tiny Sun Records into a starmaking factory by recognizing rock and roll for the revolution it was and seeing the talent in future stars that other labels wouldn’t glance twice at.  I loved the loyalty that Urish gives to Phillips because it made his pain at watching the Quartet dissolve around him all the more believable and moving.

Todd Davison’s set is phenomenal as it has the perfect flavor of the former auto parts store now turned into a hitmaking machine.  Reymundo Montoya’s properties complete the picture of Davison’s set.  Shon Causer’s lighting adds a je ne sais quoi to the story as it changes from the brightness of the jam session to the dark blue of Phillips’ narration.

Believe me when I say you’re going to get more than a million bucks worth of entertainment out of this show.  The story is strong.  The performances are terrific.  The music is legendary.  Buckle up and enjoy the ride of this show.

Million Dollar Quartet plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 9.  Showtimes are at 7:30pm on June 28 and July 7-8; 2pm on June 25, 27, 30 and July 5 and 9.  Tickets cost $29 for the Main Floor and $22 for the balcony.  For tickets contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.