H-T Review: Indiana Festival Theatre closes its season with this fun, family show

The idea of an elephant guarding a speck of dust that hosts a village called Whoville, inhabited by creatures called Whos, would probably sound even stranger than it does if it wasn’t a story that so many of us grew up with.

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Horton (Christian Fary) hears a Who.

“Horton Hears a Who” by Dr. Seuss is that classic story. It’s a tale that stupefies adults, but children, on the other hand, just take it for granted as an entirely reasonable account of reality.

That’s the genius of Dr. Seuss; even in old age, he was able to access parts of the human imagination that typically fade away at the onset of adolescence.

Adults interested in reawakening those depths of imagination might look to Indiana Festival Theatre’s production of “Seussical,” its last show of the summer. Veteran theater professor George Pinney directed and choreographed this musical.

Kids will love it too, of course. “Seussical” is one of those shows that isn’t just a great kids’ show, but suitable for the whole family. The story is complex, but whimsical enough that kids don’t have to follow every detail.

“Seussical” is a tuneful amalgam of nearly 20 original Dr. Seuss books, but the primary story arc is that of “Horton Hears a Who.” “Horton Hatches an Egg” and “Miss Gertrude McFuzz” also make significant plot contributions.

The songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty created this show for Broadway in 2000. The premiere was followed by two U.S. national tours, a West End production, an off-Broadway production, a U.K. tour and countless regional productions.

Ahrens and Flaherty composed music for nearly all of “Seussical,” which is a wise choice. The music propels the show forward, and unlike most music written with children in mind, it’s actually pretty good.

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Jojo (Andrew Minkin) thinks a new think.

The show opens with a groovy performance of “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think.” Music director Terry LaBolt ably leads and plays piano in the five-piece rock band accompanying the singers.

A major theme in “Seussical” is a topic that, as discussed above, was clearly important to Seuss: imagination. JoJo (Andrew Minkin), our young hero, often lets his imagination run amok, much to the dismay of grownups. JoJo ends up in the military, under the oppressive command of General Schmitz (convincingly played by Cameron Mullin).

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Jason Craig West as The Cat in the Hat.

Jason Craig West emcees “Seussical” delightfully as the Cat in the Hat. West’s explosive physicality and ability to engage the children are boons to the show.

Other standout performances are Christian Fary as Horton the Elephant and Courtney Reid Harris as Mayzie LaBird (the lazy bird from “Horton Hatches the Egg,” who leaves Horton guarding her nest for months while she vacations in the tropics).

The vocal performances, other than a few moments of questionable intonation, are strong across the board. Mary Beth Black tears “Biggest Blame Fool” to shreds as Sour Kangaroo.

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Courtney Reid Harris as Mayzie La Bird

 

The visual spectacles of “Seussical” are sumptuous. Aaron Wardwell’s costumes, Carrie Barton’s lighting and Andrea Ball’s scenic design all evolve throughout the show. By sheer force of imagination (and a set of wheels attached to the bottom), JoJo’s bathtub becomes a boat, with the former showerhead functioning as an oar.

Indiana Festival Theatre closes its season with this fun show for the whole family.

 

 

If you go

WHO: Indiana Festival Theatre.

WHAT: “Seussical,” by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle, based on the works of Dr. Seuss.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and Aug. 14-15; 2 p.m. Aug. Saturday and Sunday and Aug 15-16.

TICKETS: $12-$25. Visit theatre.indiana.edu or call 812-855-1103.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Click here to read at The HT Online.

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High schooler immersed in the theater world

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Basie Cobine is a Bloomington High School North senior who is working as an assistant stage manager for “Seussical the Musical,” the final production for Indiana University’s Indiana Festival Theatre. The show opens Friday.

Many 17-year-olds are spending their last weeks of summer swimming and hanging out with friends. Basie Cobine is taking notes and tracking props.

The Bloomington High School North senior is spending her summer as an intern at Indiana Festival Theatre. She is working as an assistant stage manager for “Seussical the Musical” — the third show she’s worked on this summer.

“Stage managing is my favorite thing,” said Cobine, who is a stage manager for productions at North. “I like that I can know what’s going on everywhere and can deal a little bit with every part of the production process.”

As an intern, Cobine works with “Seussical” stage manager Tiffany Lutz and assistant stage manager Alexander Allen to make sure productions go off without a hitch.

“It’s kind of early in the process for ‘Seussical’ now,” Cobine said. “We’re taking down blocking notes, and I’ve been props tracking. Alexander and I have been trading off doing things like sweeping the room and running errands around the building.” If anyone needs a practice piano brought upstairs, Cobine makes it happen.

The teen, who has worked on the run crew for a Bloomington Playwrights Project production and as a spotlight operator for the Cardinal Stage Company production of “Hairspray” already this summer, credits her involvement in the theater world to her high school mentor, teacher Francesca Sobrer.

“She would tell me, ‘Hey, go try out this thing at the BPP.’ She was the one who first told me about Indiana Festival Theatre,” said Cobine, who is now in her third summer as an intern for the IFT.

With Sobrer’s encouragement, Cobine started volunteering at various Bloomington theaters.

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The cast of “Seussical the Musical” rehearses at Indiana University. The musical is the last show for this summer’s Indiana Festival Theatre season.

“That kind of built a connection,” Cobine said. “They started reaching out to me, or I would reach out to them about doing different shows.”

As a result, Cobine now holds an extensive resume that also includes work at the Jewish Theatre of Bloomington and the 2015 Ike and Julie Arnove Playoffs at BPP.

“I just go in and do my job, and everything works out. I don’t feel the need to impress anyone,” she said.

Being a part of theater productions takes a lot of time, with rehearsals sometimes running from 1-10 p.m., but Cobine has nowhere she would rather spend her summers.

“It started as a hobby because I’ve always enjoyed seeing the process come together, but when I started getting paid for it, I was like ‘Why not? Why not do this all the time?’” Cobine said.

In fact, the theater seems to be a good fit for the teen.

“I don’t do very much outside of theater,” she said. “I don’t like shopping or swimming, so I have no problem spending my whole summer doing it, because it’s just what I like to do.”

And when she does not get out of rehearsal until late at night, Cobine says, her parents understand.

“They’re very supportive,” she said. “My dad worked as a spotlight operator at the IU Musical Arts Center many years ago, and now they’re both really dedicated to their own jobs, so they get it.”

Though Cobine says there’s nothing like seeing the hard work pay off with great shows night after night, her involvement in the Indiana Festival Theatre has an added bonus: connections.

Cobine hopes to study stage management and lighting in college. Her dream school? Indiana University.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have already made some connections with IU and the theater,” Cobine said. “It’s quite lucky.”

But until then, Cobine is happy with the work she’s doing as an intern and volunteer.

“It’s really great to know that you’ve been a part of something successful,” she said.

If you go

WHAT: “Seussical the Musical”

WHEN: Friday Saturday and Aug. 4-8, 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Sunday and Aug. 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre on the IU campus.

MORE: Tickets are $12-$25 and can be purchased online at https://oss.ticketmaster.com/aps/iuartstd/EN/buy/browse#.

For more information, visit the Seussical show page.

Reprinted with permission from the Herald Times. Click here for the original article.

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The Herald Times: Whimsical ‘Seussical’ merrily musical

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Valeri Grimes holds her three year old daughter Annabelle Grimes on her lap as the Cat in the Hat performs during the Indiana Festival Theater presentation of songs from Seussical the Musical at the Monroe County Library to promote its upcoming production of the play at Indiana University in Bloomignton, IN., Wednesday, July 22, 2015. The event was just one of the outreach events planned to engage the community in theater. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

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The Indiana Festival Theater presentation of songs from Seussical the Musical at the Monroe County Library to promote its upcoming production of the play at Indiana University, Wednesday, July 22, 2015. The event was just one of the outreach events planned to engage the community in theater. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

It was hard to tell who was more excited when the cast of “Seussical the Musical” hit the stage at the Monroe County Public Library.For the past two weeks, the cast has been working on their lines, choreography and songs, and Wednesday night, they were able to showcase some of their hard work.

With the smaller stage, the full choreography wasn’t possible, but that didn’t stop the IU students from grooving and moving as much as the space allowed. There were no costumes to make Horton look like an elephant or Mayzie look like a bird, but it didn’t matter.

“Kids don’t need flashy costumes,” said Jason Craig West, who plays the Cat in the Hat.

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Courtney Reid Harris, right, plays Mayzie and performed during the Indiana Festival Theater presentation of songs from Seussical the Musical at the Monroe County Library. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

The simple staging doesn’t seem to be a challenge for the actors. Courtney Reid Harris, who plays Mayzie, was prepared to be a bird for this show.

“We have to really rely upon the work we’ve done on our character,” she said.

The library is often a place where local music and theater organizations will perform to not only get the word out about their shows, but to contribute arts to the local community.

With Indiana Festival Theatre, the partnership with the library started in 2012, when the summer season included a children’s show for the first time. “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” was a natural fit at the library, said Drew Bratton, arts administrator for IU’s department of theatre and drama and managing director for Indiana Festival Theatre.

Most outreach events will use just a few cast members, but the library shows are slightly bigger, according to Bratton.

“Seussical the Musical” is narrated by the Cat in the Hat and takes characters from a variety of Dr. Seuss books, so most of them were on hand for Wednesday’s performance.

Stephanie Holman, community engagement librarian at the Ellettsville branch, said the library is visited throughout the year by arts organizations eager to reach out to the local community. With “Seussical,” even if families aren’t familiar with the musical, they know the books.

“That is why I believe our registration for both these events are full. They filled up right away, without any promotion,” she said.

Library patrons have had opportunities to learn more about live productions through the many organizations in Bloomington. Previously, the library has hosted events organized by Cardinal Stage Company, Indiana Youth Musicians, Musical Arts Youth Organization, Roundabout Opera for Kids, Stages Bloomington and University Players.

Because of these productions, the library has a First Theater Experiences webpage that helps prepare kids for live theater, music and dance. The webpage also offers a handout on “What to Expect When You See a Play,” a simple one-page document that explains what kids might see. It also introduces vocabulary words such as scenery, props and matinee. The handout also explains how lighting helps direct attention and that the end of a performance is a curtain call.

Holman said the idea behind the webpage is to explain why live performances are important and what benefits they offer.

“They’re stunned by the presence of 3-D live action, and they’re just agog, literally. Their little chins are down with the intensity and joy that is being conveyed by whoever performs,” Holman said.

Holman said most librarians like to perform, although they typically do it in a different setting.

“Most of the children’s librarians are storytellers, and we’re bringing books to life all the time,” she said.

Wednesday’s performance was a mix of song and education. After singing one song, each actor held up an artist’s rendering of their costume. The actors introduced themselves and told the audience what role he or she was playing.

A few of the actors got a chance to sing songs about their characters before West told the audience a little about the story.

Before singing a final number, the cast sat on the stage and took questions from the audience. The first question: Do you ever get nervous? The answer is a resounding yes, but Kaitlyn Louise Smith, who plays Mrs. Mayor, explains that she has a routine to prepare herself that helps with the nerves.

Soon the questions are rolling in, from kids curious about when these young actors got their start in theater to one boy who likes the Wickersham Brothers because he himself is mischievous.

And the performance of “Seussical” comes at a good time. There has been hype over the upcoming Tuesday release of “What Pet Should I Get?”

Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote more than 40 children’s books, and it has been 25 years since Dr. Seuss published his last original book. Audrey Geisel found the manuscript and illustrations for “What Pet Should I Get?” after her husband’s death in 1991. The work was rediscovered in 2013, and the decision was made to publish the book.

Armed with this information, Bratton reached out to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore to see if they had any plans for celebrate the release, and he was able to schedule West to participate in the store’s weekly storytime event. West will bring along the signature cat hat for the event.

Bratton said these community events give the student actors a chance to interact with kids in the community who may not have much experience with live theater. As a former performer, Bratton said he remembers having those experiences and wants IU’s students to share in that.

Kids don’t have much of a filter, so it is easy for them to express their feelings about the show.

“The energy that you get back from them is just a wonderful feeling,” said Christian Fary, who plays Horton the elephant.

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Samantha Mason, who plays Gertrude, performed during the Indiana Festival Theater presentation. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

“If there is a mean character, they will tell you,” said Samantha Lee Mason, who plays Gertrude McFuzz.

Mary Beth Black, who plays Sour Kangaroo, seemed touched when an audience member asked how she got such a gorgeous voice. Prior to the show, Black admitted the role was a great challenge vocally, but she loved the chance to expand her range while having fun with the role.

“I love how sassy she is,” Black said.

For Andrew Minkin, who plays Jo Jo, the play gives him a chance to be a kid again — a welcome change from the adult life he must lead as a college student.

“It allows me to use my imagination,” Minkin said.

Members of the cast will perform again Friday at the Ellettsville branch of the library before the show opens next week. And while they look forward to hitting the stage at IU, the experience of performing in such a small venue for such a small, receptive audience was rewarding. And that’s exactly what Bratton hopes will happen.

“It’s so gratifying, and it’s not an experience you get often. Children are very genuine, and for (the actors) to be able to experience that unfiltered reaction to performances we think is beneficial for them and encouraging them to continue to do that in their careers,” Bratton said.

More information

To read more about introducing children to live theater, check out http://mcpl.info/childrens/first-theater-experiences. The link provides information a link to the handout “What to Expect When You See a Play” as well as a list of upcoming performances scheduled at the Monroe County Public Library.

If you go

WHAT: Wednesday Storytime. Actor Jason Craig West will read Dr. Seuss books.

WHEN: 11 a.m. Wednesday.

WHERE: Barnes and Noble, 2813 E. Third St.

MORE: The event is geared to preschoolers, but everyone is invited.

If you go

WHAT: “Seussical the Musical.”

WHEN: 7 p.m. July 31, Aug. 1, 4-8, 14-15; 2 p.m. Aug. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

MORE: Tickets are $12-$25. Purchase tickets online at theatre.indiana.edu or call 800-745-3000.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Click here for the original article.

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The Herald Times: Zachary Spicer returns to IU stage

IU grad comes full circle with performances in Indiana Festival Theatre

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Zachary Spicer practices his lines for his part in “The Gentleman from Indiana” early this month at Indiana University’s theater department. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

The last time Zachary Spicer was on Indiana University’s campus, the Greencastle native had just graduated with a bachelor of arts in theater and anthropology. Now, nine years later, the New York-based actor has returned to the same stage where he performed his first IU show during his sophomore year.

Since his times as a lead in “Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” Spicer has built an impressive resume, including appearances on television shows including “Louis,” “Gotham,” “Blue Bloods,” “CSI: NY,” “Law & Order SVU” and “All My Children” and has a slew of on- and off-Broadway shows under his belt.

“My career and my time at IU have been strangely all tied together,” the actor said. “The two shows I auditioned my senior year here were “Wit” and “Macbeth” and, incidentally, those are the two shows I’ve done on Broadway.”

Spicer is starring in Indiana Festival Theatre’s “As You Like It” in the Wells-Metz Theatre, which is directed by Jonathan Michaelsen.

“Jonathan was one of the first directors I ever worked with, so to be able to do all of this again here with him is really great,” Spicer said.

The actor is also starring in “A Gentleman from Indiana,” which follows the journey of a New York journalist who gets tired of New York politics in the business and comes to own a newspaper in a small Indiana town.

“I don’t have to do a whole lot of deep digging for this character,” Spicer said. “The character kind of awakens to the beauty that is this life that seems a little more authentic in Indiana, and that’s not difficult for me at all because the second I come back to Indiana, I remember all of the great things I love about it.”

Eye contact during conversations, people not immediately getting on their phones at a restaurant and strangers holding doors open for each other are all among the things Spicer misses when he leaves Indiana for New York.

“There’s a wholesomeness here, and it seems like everyone’s main focus is not just, ‘How do I get ahead?’,” he said. “Here it’s more about the quality of life, how you treat each other and the kind of person you are instead of what it is that you do.”

Having relatives nearby is an added bonus.

“My grandpa, who is also an IU grad, is 94 years old, so it’s great to be able to spend this time with him and my family,” Spicer said. “It means a lot to me.”

Spicer’s career has not always gone smoothly, though. After graduating from IU, he attended the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York. But when the 6-foot-2 actor didn’t start landing roles, his agent dropped him and he ended up working as a security guard for Shakespeare in the Park.

“I was protecting actors who had already made it. My job was to stand outside the shows I wanted to be doing,” Spicer said. “It was very humbling.”

He continued to go to auditions, however, and after three years without a role, he was cast in the Tony-nominated revival of “Wit,” starring Cynthia Nixon.

“That was a huge, huge milestone,” Spicer said. “When I got to tell my mom and my grandfather for the first time that I was going to be on Broadway, that was pretty cool.”

Spicer used the opportunity to continue to learn — an approach he takes to every professional endeavor.

“You should learn something from every single job you do,” he said. “I may have acted for an hour of the 10-hour rehearsal, but the other nine hours was just me sitting there watching Cynthia Nixon deconstruct this play, which was one of the most complicated contemporary plays written in the last 20 years.”

In fact, the actor credits his mentors with a lot of his success. And the rest? He says it comes from personality.

“Just be nice to the people you work with. If you’re a good person and you work hard and you keep going at it, regardless of what industry you’re in, you will make it sooner or later,” he said.

That attitude has its roots at IU, Spicer says.

“College is all about finding what your passion is, and it definitely did that for me,” he said. “But more than that, it started to shape how I was going to be as a person. That whole thing about being somebody that people want to work with is something I learned here.”

Though his run at Indiana Festival Theatre ends at the end of the month, Spicer has big Indiana plans in the works. After starting his open production company, Pigasus Pictures, last year, the actor has been working with screenwriter and director — and his best friend from IU — Paul Shoulberg to produce the feature film “The Good Catholic.”

“I’m a huge movie nerd; that’s why I originally got into this business,” he said. “It’s always been my dream to do a feature film.”

Spicer and Shoulberg started working to bring the film to life in February and now have “attractive” names on board thanks to a New York casting director.

“We’re going to be shooting it later this year in Bloomington,” Spicer said. “This is kind of the ultimate goal that we’ve set for ourselves.”

If everything goes as planned, Spicer knows how he’ll celebrate another dream accomplished.

“That’ll be my next good phone call home,” the actor said. “‘Hey, Mom, we just made a movie.’”

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. See original article here.

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Behind the scenes – creating the world of SEUSSICAL!

“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.
– Dr. Seuss

BTS_IMG_1866By the time the audience is seated in the Wells-Metz Theatre for IFT’s wild, wacky, and wonderful SEUSSICAL, the crazy colors currently adorning the scenic and costume shops will be replaced by the muted tones of this coming fall’s production of Hedda Gabler. Truffula trees will give way to turn of the century furniture, and the sleeveless and feathered flounces that currently adorn the dress forms will be replaced with earth-toned vests and jackets, and the high collars, long sleeves, and floor-length skirts of Ibsen’s time.

No problem, bring it on!

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A truffula tree sprouts in the scene shop!

Our scenic and costume shops are accustomed to changing gears quickly. No sooner has one show opened, and it’s on to the next, likely completely different, mission. But for now, we’re enjoying creating the wild world of Dr. Seuss!

We give you… A TRUFFULA TREE, in process! Scenic designer Andrea Ball and the crew are hard at work bringing her designs to life. With bright orange trees and rolling settees, patrons will be greeted with a dizzying display that will do Dr. Seuss proud!

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Scenic designer Andrea Ball works with undergraduate Josiah Brown on fantastical flora that will adorn the set of SEUSSICAL

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Joe Pauli creates the rolling tub that becomes McElligot’s Pool.

We wonder if Joe Pauli is reminiscing about his years as scenic carpenter at BPP as he crafts the shower head that will double as JoJo’s microphone in “It’s Possible”, which could be the theme song for the creative minds and hands behind the scenes of all IU Theatre productions. “Anything’s possible…!”

MFA scenic designers work side-by-side to realize each other’s visions with every new production. Kevin Nelson, who recently designed the sets for last season’s At First Sight new plays, concentrates as he examines and tunes a whimiscal one-man-band.  And below, the first claw of staff Prop Master Dan Tracy’s creation, Vlad Vladikoff, the evil puppet vulture, protrudes from a styrofoam body with menacing black wings.

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Kevin Nelson, MFA student, Scenic Design

BTS_IMG_1888The costume shop is also aflutter as the team works to build the bevy of creatures created by costume designer Aaron Wardwell. Bird Girls, Yertle the Turtle, Fox in Sox, and of course the Cat in the Hat will come to life here, as cutting and dyeing, stitching and fittings continue until the first dress rehearsal, when the fully-costumed characters take the stage.

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Costume Designer Aaron Wardwell with a Bird Girl in the making. Feather boas!

Natasha Heines is pursuing a Masters in Textiles in Fine Arts and has been with Indiana Festival Theatre since its first productions in 2011. Even a quick visit behind the scenes reveals the breadth of talent and experience that go into the productions.

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Natasha Heines prepares to dye!

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Kelsey Nichols, also an MFA student in Costume Design, builds a Bird Girl’s hat, which she will shepherd from fragile to fabulous!

We hope you’ll join us in appreciating the many people who work behind the scenes to make theatre happen at IU, and EVERYWHERE! Whenever actors take the stage, you know that a team of talented and dedicated designers and builders has worked many long hours to create the world that that they inhabit, and the world that provides you with the opportunity to spend a few hours looking through the wrong end of that telescope!

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Aaron Wardwell poses with his very own Cat in the Hat, MFA actor Jason Craig West.

SEUSSICAL, the Musical opens July 31st in the Wells-Metz Theatre at 7th & Jordan. Tickets and information available at theatre.indiana.edu.

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H-T REVIEW: ‘The Gentleman from INDIANA’ Production of comedic drama breathes life into stories of rural Indiana

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Emily Sullivan and David Kortmeier in The Gentleman From Indiana. Kortmeier appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association

“It takes a long time for the full beauty of the flat lands to reach a man’s soul. Once there, nor hills, nor sea, nor growing fan leaves of palm shall suffice him. It is like the beauty in the word ‘Indiana.’”

Booth Tarkington wrote that of our state in his 1899 debut novel “The Gentleman From Indiana.” Tarkington was a born and bred Hoosier, and a deep love of Indiana can be felt in much of his work.

Tarkington won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction twice, a feat accomplished only by him, William Faulkner and John Updike. These wins were for “The Magnificent Ambersons” in 1919 and “Alice Adams” in 1922.

Although Tarkington was a successful playwright, “The Gentleman From Indiana” wasn’t adapted for stage performance until James Still did so in 2006. Still’s adaptation is presented this month by Indiana Festival Theatre.

The play is running in rotating repertory with Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” The two shows, both playing in the Wells-Metz Theatre, use roughly the same cast of student and professional actors.

The town of Plattville, Indiana, doesn’t get many strangers visiting, so the arrival of an East Coast man named John Harkless stirs things up. Harkless has purchased the town newspaper, which has a reputation, a local resident informs him, for being a “poor, poor paper.”

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Whit Emerson and Zachary Spicer. Spicer appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.

John Harkless shows an ambition that’s rarely seen in Plattville. He believes that he can turn the Herald into an interesting publication, but more importantly, he sets out to invigorate the political minds of Plattville citizens. A local politician, Rodney McCune, attempts to intimidate Harkless into using the Herald to prop him up, but Harkless refuses.

Harkless hires a couple of staff members for the Herald: Xenophon Gibbs (a fellow whose usual occupation is doing “a little of this, a little of that”) and Fisbee (an archaeology professor turned town drunk). They don’t sound like much, but they end up being the best staff Harkless could ask for.

A little more pressing than McCune’s threats are the white caps’ attempts to murder Harkless. The white caps were a network of violent vigilante groups that operated in southern Indiana in the late 19th century.

“The Gentleman From Indiana” is also a touching love story. A spellbinding woman named Helen Sherwood comes to Plattville shortly after Harkless does, but her plans to leave for Europe endanger the love that blossoms between them.

Director Dale McFadden stages “The Gentleman From Indiana” in the round, which has advantages and disadvantages. On the whole, McFadden takes a straightforward approach to telling the story.

The lead is enacted by Zachary Spicer. Spicer’s Harkless is a likeable hero, balancing determination and romanticism with a touch of pragmatism.

Henry Woronicz’s work in the role of Fisbee is quite moving. Fisbee enters drunk and singing at the beginning of the play, seeming like a static character thrown in for comic relief, but he ends up having his own very significant story arc.

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Amanda Catania appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association

Amanda Catania is a charming and adroit Helen Sherwood. It’s the only large female role in the play, but she does end up being much more than a romance object for the protagonist.

As with many stage adaptations of novels, some narration is necessary. Rather than opting for a single narrator, Still makes the shrewd choice of having an ensemble of townspeople relay the offstage action.

“The Gentleman From Indiana” is a comedic drama with an old-fashioned appeal. McFadden’s production breathes life into the stories of rural Indiana.

If you go

WHO: Indiana Festival Theatre.

WHAT: “The Gentleman From Indiana” by James Still, adapted from the novel by Booth Tarkington.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. July 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25; 2 p.m. July 18.

TICKETS: $15-25. Visit theatre.indiana.edu or call 812-855-1103.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times.

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H-T Review – Classic comedy presented with unique direction, exquisite costuming

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Zach Decker, Whit Emerson, Ian Martin and David Gordon-Johnson perform in a dress rehearsal for “As You Like It” at IU Wells-Metz theater.

Shakespeare’s 1599 comedy “As You Like It,” in many aspects, follows the Bard’s comedy formula. We start with a royal family torn apart by past injustice and by way of a cross-dressing heroine, arrive at a bunch of marriages.

However, the treatment that “As You Like It” receives from director Jonathan Michaelsen is far from formulaic. Entering the Wells-Metz Theatre, one gets the impression that a rave has occurred. Exiting is a much different story.

“As You Like It” opens the 2015 season of Indiana Festival Theatre. Running in repertory with an adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s “The Gentleman From Indiana,” the show combines the talents of professional actors and students of the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

Before the play begins, Duke Senior has his power usurped by his younger brother, Duke Frederick. Duke Senior is exiled to the Forest of Arden, where he finds contentment in simple living.

Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, remains in the court of Duke Frederick, because of her closeness to her cousin Celia (Frederick’s only offspring).

Oliver and Orlando are two brothers whose father, Sir Roland de Boys, recently died, leaving Oliver (the elder) in charge. Oliver, out of spite for his younger brother, refuses to provide Orlando with the education and accommodations he feels entitled to.

Once Rosalind falls in love with Orlando, the action moves to the Forest of Arden. Rosalind and Celia flee Frederick’s court with his fool, Touchstone, in tow.

Amanda Catania leads energetically as Rosalind, Shakespeare’s largest female role. Catania nicely captures the wit and ingenuity of the character.

Henry Woronicz gives a delightful performance as Touchstone. His waggish delivery reminds one of Robin Williams.

Both Duke Frederick and Duke Senior are portrayed deftly by David Kortemeier. Kortemeier’s exaggerated icy demeanor as Frederick is a sharp contrast to his easygoing benevolence as Senior.

AYLI_KortemeierFrederickandSenior

David Kortemeier as Duke Frederick and Duke Senior. Kortemeier appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association

The other pair of brothers, Oliver and Orlando, is intensely played by John Putz and Zachary Spicer.

Spicer and Sam Barkeley (Charles) have a ruthless wrestling match in the first act, choreographed masterfully by Rob Johansen.

Some of Shakespeare’s best-known text comes from “As You Like It,” and much of it is spoken by Jaques, a lord attending on Duke Senior. Ian Martin enacts this role engrossingly. His famous “All the world’s a stage” speech captivates.

Linda Pisano’s costume design is exquisite. Pisano’s bold choices and eye for detail contribute remarkably to the visual transformation that takes place in “As You Like It.”

Credit is also due to Reuben Lucas’s set, which functions as a wrestling ring and a lush woodland. Matthew Wofford’s lighting and Jack Keefer’s sound design complete the shifting atmospheres of the production.

Indiana Festival Theatre’s “As You Like It” is a promising bet for Shakespeare lovers, and may even convert some Shakespeare skeptics.

If you go

WHO: Indiana Festival Theatre.

WHAT: “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. July 14, 16, 18, 22, 24; 2 p.m. July 19 and 25.

TICKETS: $15-25. Visit theatre.indiana.edu or call 812-855-1103.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. View the original review here.

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