Arts & Entertainment

Back ‘On The Aisle’ at the Phoenix, IRT and ISO

September 28, 2016

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After many years as a free lance journalist, covering arts and entertainment for publications such as Arts Indiana, NUVO Newsweekly, the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Monthly Magazine, Unite Indianapolis Magazine and most recently, Examiner.com, I have decided to go it alone. Henceforth, I am writing my own blog titled, “On The Aisle with Tom Alvarez.” Today’s column represents my first foray, as an independent writer, onto the web.

 

Mitchell Wray

Given the unfortunate dearth of arts coverage in local traditional media, I hope that my opinions and observations will continue to help stimulate interest in and support of music, dance, theater, film and visual art throughout Central Indiana and beyond. The arts are my passion and I consider it an honor and a pleasure to promote and advocate them.

With the arrival of fall, comes the kick off of the performing arts season, making it difficult for theater and concert goers, including me, to choose from the broad array of quality offerings available.  After studying my options,  however, I elected to attend two plays and a concert presented by three of Indy’s most robust performing arts organizations.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” – Phoenix Theatre

"Peter and The Starcatcher" Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used by permission.

Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used by permission. L-R Front row – John Vessels, Jr. Tyler Ostrander, Nathan Robbins, Phebe Taylor, Paul Nicely & Ian Cruz. Back row – Paul Hansen, Peter Scharbrough, Dan Scarbrough, Joshuan Coomer, Michael Hosp

 

To say that “Peter and the Star Catcher,” is inventive,  is a complete understatement. A captivating theatrical delight, the comedy with music by Rick Elice is playing on the Livia and Steve Russel Stage at the Phoenix Theatre through Oct. 23. I attended Thursday’s opening night performance.

It is based on the 2004 novel of a similar name by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson that reveals Peter Pan’s backstory and serves as a prequel to J. M. Barrie’s novel, “Peter and Wendy.”

The play recounts the story of young Molly Aster. An apprentice starcatcher, she and three orphan boys, including one without a name, take to the ocean with a trunk full of magic starstuff  (residue from shooting stars that possesses supernatural powers). They are being pursued by pirates with evil intentions for  its use. Eventually landing on an island, which becomes home to the boys,  including the nameless one who is anointed Peter Pan, Molly discovers what it means to become a grown up while the others find an enchanting home where time stands till and youth is eternal.

Impeccably directed by Bryan Fonseca the play features an ensemble consisting of a dozen seasoned actors, many of whom portray myriad characters. Utilizing ingenius set pieces and employing fanciful props, the engaging cast  succeeded at prompting my imagination and transporting me to another time and place.

The expedition begins at a busy port in England during the 1800s where Lord Aster and his daughter Molly are about to embark on a secret mission on behalf of the Queen. Key to the story’s plot are two identical trunks, also waiting on the dock, with each about to be loaded onto the wrong ship. What follows is a madcap romp filled with perilous adventure and hilarity, and  guaranteed to entertain and uplift.

Each and every performer, well known to me as a reviewer, excelled in their execution of the production’s often intricate blocking and the critical comic timing the script demands but its the show’s leads that exceeded my expectations.

Nathan Robbins was entirely convincing as boy/Peter, abused by adults whom he mistrusts, yet able to find himself and transform into the legendary figure he becomes.

Phoebe Tyler, as apprentice starcatcher Molly, who is bright and excels at everything she does, was pitch perfect as the spunky, often bossy, yet compassionate 13-year old who teaches Peter and the other orphan boys about friendship.

Turning in the most entertaining performance was Eric Olson as effete, Black Stache, the villainous pirate chief with a penchant for melodrama and high flown language, marked by malaprops, who tells jokes with current day references.

Making the most of a minor role was John Vessels, Jr., who stood out as Mrs. Brumley, Molly’s quintessential prim British Nanny. Vessels also acquitted himself well in drag as the Teacher, a sage and mysterious mermaid.

Contributing to the show’s artistic quality is the piano accompaniment of musician Brent Mary, music director Jeanne Bowling and fight choreographer Rob Johansen.

Never one to give too much away, I do wish to point out, however, that you are in a for a treat at the beginning of Act 2 during which the entire ensemble performs a beguiling production number choreographed by Mariel Greenlee. Set on the shore of the island, it involves a school of fish who have undergone a transformation after swimming in water  containing starstuff.

Notable as well are the technical contributions of the show’s designers who continue to elevate the Phoenix’s production values that are among the finest in the city. They include set designer Jeff Gross, lighting designer and tech director Jeff Martin, sound designer Tom Horan and costumer Emily McGhee.

Tickets for “Peter and the Starcatcher are on sale are $27.00 per person on Thursdays and Sundays, $33.00 per person on Fridays and Saturdays, and $20.00 for anyone 21 & under. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (317) 635 -7529 or visiting phoenixtheatre.org. Curtain times for the production are Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.

“The Three Musketeers” – Indiana Repertory Theatre

- Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used by permission.

Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used by permission. L-R Nathan Hoser, Jeb Burris, Ryan Artzberger & David Folsom

As a reviewer, it is not unusual for me to encounter theater goers in the lobby during intermission who are eager to share their thoughts about what they have just seen. Friday’s opening night at “The Three Musketeers,” at Indiana Repertory Theatre, which opens its 45th season, was no exception.  One patron in particular, was candid in his assessment about the show when he said “I thought it was going to be just a boring historical drama but it really is a lot of fun.”  And fun, it most certainly was.

Henry Woronicz must surely have relished directing “The Three Musketeers,” an adaptation by Catherine Bush, based on the 1844 historical novel by Alexander Dumas. Replete with romance, comedy, adventure, intrigue, brawling, heroics, and tragedy and the results showed.  It’s a treatment of a story that will keep you glued to your seats.  A commentary on the toxic political climate pitting republicans versus monarchists during the time in which it is set, the play portrays the adventures of D’Artagnan, who leave his home to travel to Paris.  His purpose for going there is to join the Musketeers of the Guard. Although the determined young man is not able to join the prestigious corps right away, he manages to become friends with Athos, Porthos, and Aramis—three most esteemed musketeers of the period.

Like the Phoenix, the IRT, another Actor’s  Equity Association theater,  sets high standards when it comes to the caliber of actors cast for its productions That high quality is evident in the 17 member ensemble chosen to dramatize Dumas’ exciting, swashbuckling tale.  Many of the actors played multiple characters but each portrayal was distinctive owing to the skills and talents of the performers who created them.

Colorful, energetic performances were turned in by Jeb Burris as earnest D’Artagnan. Hoser, along with fellow actors, Nathan Hosner as Aramis, Ryan Artzberger as Athos and David Folsom as Porthos as the jovial Musketeers, all conveyed a genuine affection and camaraderie amongst their bigger than life characters.

Dan Kremer, was particularly formidable as ruthless Cardinal Richelieu, King Louis XIII’s  (Chuck Goad) chief minister who plots against the Queen (Emily Ristine) and her lover (Lord Buckingham).

Standing out as Richelieu’s spy, the steely villainess Milady De Winter, was Elizabeth Laidlaw. The scene in which her character is killed by Musketeer Athos (Artzberger), the husband she has betrayed, couldn’t have been more graphic, nor bone-chilling.

Considering that the play features characters who fight as expert swordsmen with flamboyant bravado , I hoped that the action portrayed would look realistic. Thanks to fight director Paul Dennhardt, I was not disappointed. The stage combat in this production was among the finest illusion I have ever witnessed on any stage.

As far as the show’s technical elements, William Bloodgood’s set design pays homage to the stagecraft of the period; Ann G. Wrightson’s lighting design beautifully replicates the look of classical paintings of the era and Devon Painter’s sumptuous costumes mimic those worn by subjects in those images. Recalling film scores of classic swashbuckling films was the sound design and music compositions of Barry Funderberg.

To purchase tickets for “The Three Musketeers,” visit irtlive.com or call the IRT box office at (317) 635-5252. Tickets start at $25.00.

“Opening Night Gala” – Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

George Takei. Courtesy of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Used by permission.

Walking into the Hilbert Circle Theatre on Saturday’s opening night of the 2016-2017 Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra season, my eyes were immediately drawn towards the giant centerpiece, consisting of white flowers of various varieties, including orchids, that was positioned in the center of the main lobby. It was an extravagant display which I soon discovered, mirrored the immense talent of the artists who performed on the stage of the ISO’s home which is this year celebrating its 100th Anniversary.

Led by Principal Pops Conductor, Jack Everly, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra welcomed guest artists that included Broadway and television star Megan Hilty, Broadway and television star George Takei, opera diva Angela Brown and Pink Martini founder and bandleader Thomas Lauderdale. Also featured was violinist Zach DePue, concertmaster of the ISO. The 90-minute program included a few classics but was mostly pop standards.

The floral design decorating the lobby was carried through in the Hilbert auditorium with white flower arrangements and greenery, bordering the stage and greenery with white ribbons adorning  the hall’s balcony box seat.  Suspended from the ceiling above the orchestra, along with white paper lanterns of varied sizes, were gold frames with white flowers and greenery attached.

The concert commenced with the Indianapolis native Brown singing an inspiring rendition “Star-Bangled Banner” with the ISO. It was followed by the orchestra performing a medley, arranged by Everly, of themes from films that played at the venue when it was a movie house, originally called the Circle Theatre. Following the movie medley the orchestra paid tribute to Hoosier composer Hoagy Carmichael when it performed, perhaps his most well known composition, “Stardust.”

DePue took the spotlight next to play a lovely, affecting, and technically precise rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns’ masterpiece—Introduction and Rondo capriccioso in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28.

Hilty, a blonde beauty with a voice to match who last appeared with the ISO in 2015 demonstrated why she is one of the brightest stars on Broadway when she sang a medley of songs by another Indiana native, Cole Porter.  Songs performed were “Anything Goes,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “So In Love” and “Always True to  you in My Fashion.”

A highlight of the evening was the ISO’s performance of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” narrated by Takei, an actor (Sulu in “Star Trek), political activist and social media icon.” Takei’s interpretation of excerpts from Lincoln’s speeches, read in his deep booming voice, was chilling in its power. Given the level of angry discord and racial discrimination taking place currently in our country,  Copland’s towering piece was a timely reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a democracy and why it needs to be protected.

Reflecting Everly’s knack for entertaining programming, piano soloist Lauderdale joined the ISO in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Playing with flair and showmanship, Lauderdale’s performance reflected the celebratory mood of the the entire evening.

For tickets and information about the 2016-2017  Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra season visit indianapolissymphony.org or call the Hilbert Circle Theatre ticket office at (317) 639-4300.

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Author

Tom Alvarez

Tom Alvarez is a freelance writer who has covered theater, dance, music and visual art for over 40 years. He has written for the Indianapolis Star, NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana and Examiner.com. Tom appears regularly as a contributor on WISH-Channel 8''s "Indy Style." Also an actor/model, Tom is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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