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/

Letters to Santa Assemble at Bryant Lake Bowl in Uptown.

Janelle Ranek as… well, everyone. Graphic by Thomas Bonneville

Bryant Lake Bowl has it all: drinks, great food, shoe rental, and of course what bowling alley is complete without a theater? I’ve been to this theater before, I used to take my oldest son there for these London After Midnight serial productions featuring Varney the Vampire and Springheeled Jack. And my youngest son gave a guitar recital there once. So this theatre has some nice associations for me. It’s a blackbox theater perfect for comedy shows like Letters to Santa Assemble!. There’s a back section of stadium seating and then a floor section that goes right up to the stage of what can only be described as too many chairs. The theater probably seats 140 and should seat 110. Luckily I like to be in the front row, and we were there early enough to get that and on the aisle. The seating is general admission and the parking is mostly street, so I recommend getting there a little early.

Letters to Santa Assemble! is a one woman show co-written by Janelle Ranek and Brenda Lucy. The show was co-directed by Brenda Lucy and Nancy Michael. The performer is Janelle Ranek who channels 10 different characters in just over an hours time. Each character has it’s time in the sun narrating their letter to Santa. It opens with Larry Dyc, not a Dick or a Dyke it’s Dyc, like what you roll in vegas. His aspiration is to get one of his ideas picked by Shark Tank, and his creations are very unique and funny. Next we get the vacuous Amber Holstein who wants to be a social media influencer, if there is a way to misunderstand something she will, and if there isn’t, she will anyway. Nora Pearl wants Santa’s help to get her books onto Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, with titles like Being Fat is Less Work and Don’t Touch The Raccoon!, a parenting book of course, I’m not sure even Santa has enough clout to get that wish fulfilled. There are many more until the show culminates with a video piece featuring Gloria and Hillderina. Once that ends Ranek walks up from the back of the theater in costume as Gloria and answers questions that the audience provided before the show. When you go write a raunchy question, they were the most fun.

Now the key to this type of comedy is that each character needs to feel fully developed and distinct. It reminds me of some great British TV series like Little Britain or Inside No. 9, where you have two actors who play multiple roles or new roles in every episode. That can only work if you have actors who can create these distinct personalities and on some level they all seem true. That isn’t something every actor can do. Janelle Ranek is an actor who can. There are no two characters that could ever be mistaken for each other, they all look and sound different. Almost all the costume changes take place onstage gracefully with the lights dimmed while a song plays that informs the audience to some aspect of the next character. For instance, for the writer Nora Pearl, we hear “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles. These changes are not that elaborate, a change of sweater, a wig, some glasses and we are confronted by a completely new character. It’s the change in voice and mannerisms that sell the new characters. All of them are unique and all of them are very funny.

Having a great comedic actor isn’t going to get you anywhere if you don’t have a funny script. Luckily not only is Ranek a great comedic character actor but along with Brenda Lucy she’s a very funny writer as well. It’s hard to say which is better the script or the performance, but I think I’ll give the edge to the performance. There are several instances where what the character says is not as funny as the way in which Ranek says it. The laugh comes not from the lines in those cases but from the line reading. Either way, Letters to Santa Assemble! is a great fun, full of characters you will remember, and plenty of laughs to get you in a jolly frame of mind.

For more information on Letters to Santa Assemble! and to buy tickets visit the Bryant Lake Bowl website at https://www.bryantlakebowl.com/theater/letters-to-santa-assemble/?mc_id=1615 . The last performance is Friday December 27th. This is the 15th year for this show, and I can see why people would come back year after year, as I imagine the letters change but we probably get some of the same characters back year after year.