Vonnegut novel-based musical is fitting show for Phoenix’s new mainstage debut

May 11, 2018
Patrick Goss performs onstage

Patrick Goss as Eliot Rosewater – Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used by permission.

Another Phoenix Theatre historic milestone was made when the 35-year-old organization previewed “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” on the mainstage at its brand-spanking-new Cultural Center located at 705 N. Illinois Street in downtown Indianapolis. Having missed the April 28 goodbye ceremony, parade and ribbon cutting at its new home due to surgery, it was especially gratifying for me to be in attendance. As a founding board member with a career intertwined with the Phoenix, as an actor in several plays and as reviewer of its shows during its entire history, I couldn’t have been more proud as an audience member to witness the beginning of the theatre’s newest chapter.

And what better choice for the Phoenix’s inaugural production in the new space than a quirky musical based on Indianapolis native son Kurt Vonnegut‘s 1965 satirical novel of the same title. With book & lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken (the same songwriting team that created “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin,”) the musical premiered off-Broadway in 1979. The novel tells the story of Eliot Rosewater, a millionaire who abandons New York City after developing a social conscience. A World War II veteran and volunteer firefighter, Rosewater establishes the Rosewater Foundation in Rosewater, Indiana, where he gives away generous sums of money and unconditional love to anyone who needs it in the poor, backward town.

Directed by Bryan Fonseca, the cast reflected the Phoenix founder’s knack for choosing just the right talent for his shows. In this case, the ensemble ranges from three Phoenix founding members, Chuck Goad (Senator Rosewater), Deb Sargent Shaver (Diana Moon Glampers) and Suzanne Fleenor (Psychiatrist, et al.) to Patrick Goss making his Phoenix debut as Eliot Rosewater.

Men singing onstage

“God Bless You Mr. Rosewater” – Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used with permission.

Also included are veteran Indy actors, Rob Johansen (Charley Warmergran), Mark Goetzinger (McAllister), Emily Ristine (Sylvia), Scot Greenwell (Fred Rosewater) and Diane Tsao Boehm (Dawn Leonard). Other cast members are Jean Childers Arnold (Caroline Rosewater), Devan Mathias (Mary Moody), (Josiah McCruiston (Delbert Peach), Peter Scharbrough (Jerome Hayes) and Isaac Wellhausen (Norman Mushari).

With Goss distinguishing himself as the endearing humanitarian Eliot, Ristine also deserves high marks for her performance as his high-brow, long-suffering, fish-out-of-water wife, Sylvia. Thoroughly enjoyable was Sargent Shaver’s comedic performance as wacky Rosewater resident Diana Moon Glampers, who constantly calls Eliot just to chat.

As far as the show’s singing and dancing, the cast acquitted itself well under associate music director Jonathan Stombaugh and in the execution of Mariel Greenlee’s sprightly choreography. Some of my favorite production numbers were “Thank God for the Volunteer Fire Brigade” and Volunteer Fire Bridage (Part II) featuring men in the ensemble and “The Rhode Island Tango performed by Childers, Wellhausen and Greenwell. Ristine and Goss also shined in “Eliot& Sylvia.”

Cast singing and dancing onstage

“God Bless You Mr. Rosewater” – Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used with permission.

Of special interest to me was the show’s production elements which highlighted the venue’s new bells and whistles, providing the Phoenix with more options to enhance its storytelling capabilities, with its fly system, trapdoor, stage depth and wing space. What a wonderful canvas it was for the art created by music designer Tim Brickley, set designer Bernie Killian, lighting designer Lindsey Lyddan, Brittany Kugler’s costume design and Ben Dobler’s always first-rate projection design.

True to its mission, the Phoenix once again points out the disparity that exists in our society between the marginalized and those in power through its presentation of Vonnegut’s indictment of this country’s distribution of wealth, with its social and physiological consequences. At a time when the natonal dialogue is often ugly and mean-spirited, and attitudes about the oppressed are so harsh, Eliot Rosewater’s slogan “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind,” resonates now more than ever.

For tickets to “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater,” call the Phoenix Theatre box office at (317) 635-7529 or visit phoenixtheatre.org.

photo: Julie Curry

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Indy Style.

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

On the Aisle Team

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