Fearless 5 vs. Music!! Five Funny Fictions From Fearless Five For Four Further … Performances

Cast Photo by Dan Norman

Briefly, Fearless 5 is a annual production by Fearless Comedy Productions. They select a theme and this year it’s music. Using that theme, five different writers each write a short comedic play that in some way links to that theme. Those scripts are then directed by five different directors. The only constant between all of the shows are the seven performers Adrienne Reich, Emma Tiede, Mackenzie Diggins, Blair Kott, Joy Ford, Caleb Cabiness, Michael Bloom, and Music Director Chad Dutton. What I enjoyed about the evening was the variety of the plays, some were musicals, some just used music in their plots the results were always fun. I look forward to next years Fearless Five as this is the perfect scenario to experience the work of five writers, five directors and the versatility of these performers who have the tricky job of learning five distinct plays to perform in one evening. Below are my thoughts on the each of the plays in the order they were presented. I will say up front that for me the shows got better as the evening went on but all had their moments.

The Bard – Written by Kayla Sotebeer and Directed by Aiden Milligan

I had a disconnect with this one from the beginning. I realized by the end that this was probably about a group of Dungeon and Dragons players, but I didn’t catch that at first and thought it was set in a fantasy world, and maybe it was. The clarity of this play was an issue for me. It just didn’t flow well from moment to moment, that is something the later plays improved upon. Of all the shows this one felt the least polished though it also had perhaps the more challenging of scripts for the performers in that there were multiple songs. I enjoyed the song about artists needing to be sad and Mackenzie Diggins has a nice moment with a fun dance. Michael Bloom as the Wizard, gets to do some little bits of magic that work really well.

The Second Annual Upper Midwest Vegan Ribfest – Written by Kelvin Hatle and Directed by Jason Kruger

This one is about a former band reuniting after 15 years to see if they can make a go of their band which had achieved some near success before they disbanded. This one was a small improvement on it’s predecessor script wise, developing better characters and telling a cohesive story. The main issue with this one was that it just didn’t add up to much. I like the situation, I like where it ended, it just didn’t capitalize as well as it might’ve on it’s structure. This one has the potential to be expanded, but it needs to up the complications and the laughs and it could sustain a dive into some more dramatic material as well. They are playing with some cliches here and I think they could have had more fun exploiting them. I did really start to warm to the performers with this one. Michael Bloom in a larger role this time creates a different type of character and brings the most laughs to the show. Emma Tiede got my attention for the first time here and I think with a longer script she could have really taken this character somewhere. You can tell that there is more than a comedians gifts in her toolbox.

Macbeth: The Musical – Written by Tim Wick and Directed by Dave Rand-McKay

Here’s where the evening finally seemed to hit it’s stride the first production that seemed to be firing on all cylinders. A fully formed idea that seems to exploit it’s situation completely while taking some unexpected turns. The situation is the first read through of a new production called Macbeth: The Musical. Here we get Adrienne Reich taking center stage as the Director of the play and a surprise character. We get Michael Bloom as the star and Blair Kott as the actor who will play every other role. They get a chance to sing and both acquit themselves nicely, the songs are also rather clever and fun. Reich really steals this one when she reappears in the second half as a new character. Also shining here is Emma Tiede as the writer. This is also the first play of the evening where you sense a directorial hand and Rand-McKay has done a nice job of staging the action and keeping it flowing nicely. We also get some fun interaction with Musical Director Chad Dutton here.

Westbrook Middle School Is Proud to Present It’s Fall Musical Which Opens Tomorrow For General Audiences – Written by Denzel Belin and Directed by Duck washington

Carrying on the theme of putting on a show we get a backstage look at a middle schools final dress rehearsal. Basically, it’s about the romantic relationships that go on in middle school and in particular in theater arts situations. This one is just fun. Some of the shows are just perfect as they are. Macbeth: The Musical for example is just the right length, there is nothing more to do with that idea it’s perfect as a short little play. The Second Annual Upper Midwest Vegan Ribfest could have benefitted from being expanded. This one is solid as it is, it doesn’t need to be expanded to improve it, but you could also see this situation be expanded into a longer form. These characters and their little dramas feel like they could support more, while also feeling complete at this length. This one gives it’s four performers a chance to really have fun with their characters, they are all playing 14 year old theater kids, you really can’t go too big playing that. Michael Bloom and Caleb Cabiness play the two boys one a performer the other a stage director who think their relationship is a secret. Emma Tiede and Adrienne Reich play the costumer and the other performer who appear to hate each other. I don’t want to spoil anything that happens but the plot is almost beside the point. This one is all about the performances. these four solidify themselves with this show as the breakout performers.

No Small Parts – Written by Angela Fox and Directed by Cara White

The final show is another behind the scenes theatrical show it also falls under the category of show that is exactly as long as it should be. It features the best song of the evening and it’s for the altos in the audience who I’m sure can relate. This one could be a little too inside baseball for a general audience at times, but I really enjoyed this one. You have to love theater people and be able to laugh at their foilables to really get everything out of this that it’s serving up. but I think even if that isn’t you there is still a lot to love. Again, we get excellent character work from Michael Bloom, Adrienne Reich and Emma Tiede. Bloom has shown all night long that he has a commanding stage presence and the skills to really give us a distinct and funny characters. Reich by this point has become the performer that we love to laugh with. She always seems in on the joke and there is something in her face that invites in on it as well. Tiede somehow always encourages our empathy, she doesn’t specialize in the wacky, over the top or hammy characters she’s playing the character in most of the shows that we can identify with and she has us on her side from the beginning.

Fearless Five: Music ends up being a night of laughs and fun. It’s an evening of extended SNL skits, and like SNL some of them are greta and some fall short. But, also like SNL, you develop an affection for the performers as you see them inhabit different roles throughout the night. There isn’t anyone in the cast who doesn’t belong here but like every SNL cast there are those that shine brighter and become fan favorites. For me those were Michael Bloom, Adrienne Reich, and Emma Tiede. I wish I could tune in next week to see what new characters they would come up with. Fearless Five: Music runs Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30 through February 26th for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://moundstheatre.org/

A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder at the Old Log Theatre

David Beukema as the entire D’Ysquith Family. (photo Old Log Theatre)

This was not my first visit to The Old Log Theatre, I have been going there annually for close to 20 years. It was however my first non-kid-centric production and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The yearly Christmas shows that I had been attending with some combination of children or grandchild were always fun affairs if a little underwhelming. Though truth be told, several of the productions in the last few years seemed to have raised the bar a bit. Well, I was not disappointed in the quality of the production or the cast. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder as a show is a superior musical comedy, Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak, the show won 4 Tony awards in 2014 including Best Musical and Best Book. Based on the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a criminal by Roy Horniman. This novel was also the basis for the 1949 British Film from the Ealing Studios Kind Hearts and Coronets, which I am very fond of. Clearly taking a queue from that film in which Alec Guinness played nine separate members of an upper class family, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder also casts one actor, David Beukema, in just as many roles.

The musical begins with a warning to the audience that it is about murder and suggests that if you are of a weaker constitution you might want to leave before it starts. We then meet Monty Navarro who is writing his memoirs in prison while he awaits the ruling in his murder trial. The rest is basically a flashback. Beginning when Monty, after returning from the funeral of his mother is informed by an old friend of hers that he is actually a member of the wealthy D’Ysquith family. In fact, it turns out he is Ninth in line to be the Earl of Highhurst. His mother was disinherited and forever rejected by the family for eloping with his father whom she loved despite being beneath her in the families eyes. After his father died when he was seven, his mother and he scraped by as best they could. Letters he finds confirms that she tried repeatedly to reach out to her family for help, all of which were returned without assistance. When his attempts to reach out to his newly discovered family are rebuked, and faced with the realization that the woman he loves, Sibella will never marry him as he is not rich or have any real prospects, he hits upon the idea of shortening the line of succession, by killing off the members ahead of him. The rest of the show concerns itself with the murders of the eight family members ahead of him in line for the Earldom. Adding yet another layer is his engagement to Phoebe, the Widow of one of his earlier victims, which occurs with Sibella, now his married mistress in the other room.

Max Wojtanowicz who plays Monty is well cast. The role requires a performer that can win over the audience despite committing what, when you think about it, are some truly horrible acts. He has a good singing voice and the perfect body language to convey the almost straight man reactions to the D’Ysquith family. Speaking of the D’Ysquith family, David Beukema absolutely nails each of his nine roles. Assisted by Costumes, he finds ways to make each member of the family unique and amusing in their own ways. This is a tour-de-force of comic acting, each character distinct. One’s mind boggles at the speed of costume changes that must be occurring back stage. One of my favorite songs in the show was a duet between Wojtanowicz and Beukema “Better With a Man” It perfectly blends the wit and humor of the lyrics with the comic blocking of the action, keying into the performers reactions to each other. Both actresses Emily Scinto (Sibella) and Elizabeth Hawkinson (Phoebe) are lovely in their parts with beautiful singing voices. They share a scene with Wojtanowicz involving a set of doors and the song “I’ve Decided to Marry You” that involves split second timing on the part of all three performers which is another highlight of the show. One other performer that really caught my attention was Suzie Juul in her role of Lady Eugenia, the interaction between that character and Beukema as her husband Lord Adalbert are fantastic in their caustic mutual loathing.

The show as directed by Eric Morris is fast paced with not a swing wasted as we chop our way through the D’Ysquith family tree. The set is changed by the drawing of curtains and the rolling on and off of various pieces. All of the frequent transitions are handled smoothly, moving between scenes fluidly and without drawing attention to them. We are never left at a loss for where a scene is taking place or have the feeling there is more on stage than there needs to be. It’s a very clean and effective design. There were some interesting uses of fabric and lighting to convey scenes that could have been challenging. When a character falls to his death, his fall and landing are suggesting mainly through lighting. When a couple falls through the ice on a lake we see them struggling underwater silhouetted behind a sheet. Clever ways in which to capture these visual moments. There are also some very clever costume and prop designs, a rifle with a ever elongating barrel, a bee keepers hat, and the head of a Major are just a few examples of the inventive work being done in those departments.

This is a show full humor, filled with witty and catchy songs. The Old Log has mounted an impressive production. Including a masterclass in comic acting from David Beukema in nine separate roles and Max Wojtanowicz as the perfect sympathetic murderer. Perfectly complimenting each other Beukema creating the characters and Wojtanowicz reacting to them. You are not going to beat this for entertainment, it’s about some dark themes but it’s appropriate for teens and Grandma alike. Tickets can be purchased at the Old Log’s website http://oldlog.com/ The show runs through February 15 2020. Plenty of time to take it in, but don’t let this one slip your mind. Go early in it’s run, you may just want to take it in again before it closes.

Emily Scinto, Max Wojtanowicz and Elizabeth Hawkinson (Photo Old Log Theatre)
David Beukema (Photo Old Log Theatre)
Emily Scinto and Max Wojtanowicz (Photo Old Log Theatre)