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Review: “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” at Tyler Civic Theatre

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By John Baggett

“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” opens on Thursday, January 11th and runs through Sunday, January 14th, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm.

It’s a new year, and Tyler Civic Theatre is continuing its current season with a special production of the one act drama, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.”It’s a new year, and Tyler Civic Theatre is continuing its current season with a special production of the one act drama, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Set in Terezin, a fortress turned concentration camp in the Czech Republic, we follow Raja (Maddie Keeling), a teenage girl who was taken from her home and separated from her family after the Nazi occupation of Prague. She befriends Irena (Tana Switsky), who runs the school at the camp and looks after the children living there. We see Raja in flashbacks of her life at home with her family before they endure a series of moves in the ghetto and end up in the camp. We also see Raja as an adult, played by Saskia Lynge, recalling the horrors she witnessed.

Raja’s time in the camp is naturally filled with fear, but she grows close with the girls who live in her barrack and even befriends a young man, Honza (Joseph Brumfield), who lives in the boys’ barracks. Their friendship blossoms, and they begin leaving “gifts” and poems for each other. Over time, Raja does find the will to face each day and the courage to survive.

“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is based on the book of the same name, which was a collection of art and poems created by the real life children who lived in Terezin. It has been adapted for the stage twice, a one act drama and also a musical. This one act version was written by Celeste Raspanti, whose works include other Holocaust related productions, including “No Fading Star” and “The Terezin Promise.” The TCT production was directed by DeAnna Hargrove, who has assembled an incredible cast and brought to life a show filled with horror, tragedy, and, above all, hope.
The play is not an easy one to watch, and this is by no means a criticism. It’s not supposed to be a lighthearted affair. It is, however, an incredibly engaging show; one that mixes the horrors of the past with a reminder that we are all human, capable of good and evil, and that we can rise above the worst of humanity.

This is also a really hard play to review, not in terms of quality, but because I want to give praise to every single cast member and there are 34 of them, so I will do my best. First, I have to praise Keeling. As she is in pretty much every scene of this show, she had so much dialogue to deliver with so many different emotions, and she did a fantastic job. As her grown up counterpart, Lynge is equally wonderful, matching her co-star, delivering some truly heartbreaking dialogue, and it was flawless.

As for Raja’s family, I want to give praise to Sidney Smith (Father), Stephanie Walter, Asa Johnson (Pavel), and Brianna Beard (Vera), who share in the more heartbreaking moments of the show and are all wonderful. Switsky is great as Irena, providing the balance for Raja and delivering the hope her character so often needed. The same goes for Brumfield, who also is a ray of hope, giving a performance that mixes childhood innocence with a maturity beyond his years.

For those who played Raja’s barracks mates and other children in the camp, I want to deliver high praise to Ava Saxon (Erika), Kerbie Langley (Renka), Novalee Welch (Irca), Remi Zachry (Suzanna), Blair Gonzales (Linda), Ewan Switsky (Alfred), Jessica Earls (Eva), along with ensemble cast members Victoria Barrett, Suna Malik, Farrah Ford, Aria Castaneda, Tres Taylor, Zach Combs, Mary Tijerina, Dalton Baldauf, Abigail Ourso, Kaylin Sewell, Delaney Mullee, Lila Katz, Rebecca Katz, and Xitlaly Morales. You were all wonderful, and I wish I could give each of you individual praise.

I also want to give kudos to Ryan Castner and Nathan Herman who play the German officers and handle their roles with a degree of grace in a play with such delicate subject matter. Finally, as the Rabbi, Richard York is amazing and heartbreaking. Every single person in this cast gave it their all and delivered this material with the class and talent it deserved. I also have to give a special shout out to Samantha Greene, who put together the costumes for the show along with her mother, Jan Copas.

I can’t recommend “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” enough. It’s a truly wonderful and emotional production that takes us back to a time of tragedy and gives us a reminder that even when it doesn’t seem like it’s possible, we can always hold on to hope.

“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” opens on Thursday, January 11th and runs through Sunday, January 14th at Tyler Civic Theatre located at 400 Rose Park Drive in Tyler.  For more information and to purchase tickets go to tylercivictheatre.com.

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Around East Texas

The 70th Season Begins at Tyler Civic Theatre Kicks-Off July 26th

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The 2018-2019 season begins with a lot of fun!

Single show tickets are available for $18 for adults and $15 for students. FLEX Pass are available for multiple performances. Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Dr., Tyler, next to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. For more info or tickets call (903)592-0561 or go to tylercivictheatre.com. The 2018-2019 productions are:

July 26th-August 12th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “Singin’ in the Rain” – The “Greatest Movie Musical of All Time” is faithfully and lovingly adapted by Broadway legends, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, from their original award-winning screenplay in “Singin’ in the Rain.” Each unforgettable scene, song, and dance is accounted for, including the show-stopping title number, complete with an onstage rainstorm! Hilarious situations, snappy dialogue and a hit-parade score of Hollywood standards make “Singin’ in the Rain” the perfect entertainment for any fan of the golden age of movie musicals.

September 6th-9th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “The Touch” by Mike Hargrove – “The Touch” tells the story of a grandmother with a healing touch – a secret “gift” her own grandmother helped her to discover and understand. An accident on the family farm brings opportunity for restoration of body and soul that spans four generations. Hope is found in a family secret buried beneath decades of doubt and skepticism. Playwright, Mike Hargrove made his final edits to the script only five days before his untimely death in January 2017. DeAnna Hargrove is honored to present her husband’s story for the first time in the theatre he fervently supported alongside her.

October 5th-14th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “Dial M for Murder” – Tony Wendice has married his wife, Margot, for her money and now plans to murder her for the same reason. He arranges the perfect murder. He blackmails a scoundrel he used to know into strangling her for a fee of one thousand pounds, and arranges a brilliant alibi for himself. Unfortunately…the murderer gets murdered and the victim survives. But this doesn’t baffle the husband: He sees his hireling’s death as an opportunity to have his wife convicted for the murder of the man who tried to murder her, and that is what almost happens. Luckily, the police inspector from Scotland Yard and a young man who is in love with the wife discover the truth, and in a scene of almost unbearable suspense they trap the husband into revealing his guilt, thus freeing Margot.

November 6th-7th (school shows) and November 8th-11th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs” – The classic children’s tale of Snow White, seven dwarfs, a magic mirror and an evil queen comes to Tyler Civic! Supposedly disposed of by the wicked queen, Snow White finds her way to a happy glen and the home of seven friendly dwarfs. A deadly apple casts her into a deep sleep, from which she is revived in time by her devoted prince.

January 13th-14th (school shows) and January 15th-20th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “The Taming of the Shrew (Condensed)” – This season TCT performs a hilarious, but seriously abridged version of Shakespeare’s classic “The Taming of the Shrew.” The 45-minute play preserved the original language along with all the major plot turns, but condensed it down to a one-act play and is a perfect introduction to the Bard for participant and audience member alike.

February 8th-17th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “On Golden Pond” – This is the love story of Ethel and Norman Thayer, who are returning to their summer home on Golden Pond for the 48th year. He is a retired professor, nearing 80, with heart palpitations and a failing memory but still as tart-tongued, observant, and eager for life as ever. Ethel, ten years younger, and the perfect foil for Norman, delights in all the small things that have enriched and continue to enrich their long life together. They are visited by their divorced, middle-aged daughter and her dentist fiancé, who then go off to Europe, leaving his teenage son behind for the summer. The boy quickly becomes the “grandchild” the elderly couple have longed for, and as Norman revels in taking his ward fishing and thrusting good books at him, he also learns some lessons about modern teenage awareness – and slang – in return. Date Night for Valentine’s Day will be February 14th with a Dessert Theatre. Tickets are $24 for adults, $20 for students.

March 8th-17th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “Bus Stop” – In the middle of a howling snowstorm, a bus out of Kansas City pulls up at a cheerful roadside diner. All roads are blocked, and four or five weary travelers are going to have to hole up until morning. Cherie, a nightclub chanteuse in a sparkling gown and a seedy fur-trimmed jacket, is the passenger with most to worry about. She’s been pursued, made love to and finally kidnapped by a twenty-one-year-old cowboy with a ranch of his own and the romantic methods of an unusually headstrong bull. The belligerent cowhand is right behind her, ready to sling her over his shoulder and carry her, alive and kicking, all the way to Montana. Even as she’s ducking out from under his clumsy but confident embraces, and screeching at him fiercely to shut him up, she pauses to furrow her forehead and muse, “Somehow deep inside of me I got a funny feeling I’m gonna end up in Montana …” As a counterpoint to the main romance, the proprietor of the cafe and the bus driver at last find time to develop a friendship of their own; a middle-age scholar comes to terms with himself; and a young girl who works in the cafe also gets her first taste of romance.

April 11th-14th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “The Complete Works of Shakespeare – Abridged” – Come see all 37 Shakespeare plays performed in 97 minutes! Three madcap men in tights weave their wicked way through all of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, and tragedies in one wild ride that will leave you breathless and helpless with laughter. An irreverent, fast-paced romp through the Bard’s plays, “The Complete Works of Shakespeare – Abridged” was London’s longest-running comedy.

May 10th-19th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “Groucho Marx, A Life in Revue” is a stage play written by Groucho Marx’s son Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher with musical direction by Jim Grady. It is a look at the life and career of the famous entertainer Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers and “You Bet Your Life” fame. It opened off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on October 8, 1986 and played 254 performances closing on May 3, 1987. This inspired bio musical about “The One and Only” begins with Groucho as an old man doing his famous Carnegie Hall show. It then goes back to the beginnings of the Marx Brothers and their struggles to make it in vaudeville, their rise to stardom and their eventual break up. All classic Groucho songs are included. One actor plays Groucho, another plays Chico and Harpo, and one actress plays all the wives, girlfriends and Margaret Dumont. A hit in New York, across the U.S. and in London, this show will delight Marx Brothers fans and the as yet uninitiated. The performance on Sunday, May 12th (Mother’s Day) has an optional pre-show brunch. Tickets are $34 for adults, $30 for students. Also, a dinner-theatre opportunity will be available for Thursday May 16th performance.

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Theatre

Texas Shakespeare Festival Continues

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The Texas Shakespeare Festival returned to Kilgore College on June 28th for a season that continues through July. Performances take place in Van Cliburn Auditorium located in Kilgore College’s Anne Dean Turk Fine Arts Center. Ticket prices vary depending on the show and seat location. Tickets can be bought at texasshakespeare.com or (903)983-8601.

The Shows

“King John,” one of Shakespeare’s historical dramas, deals with the topics of social and political unrest, the consequences of decisions, human shortcomings, and royal infighting.

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is a comedy by Shakespeare about men who vow to give up women for fasting and studying. This version is set in the 1920’s and includes music from the period.

“Tartuffe” is a comedy by Molière that tells what happens when a French aristocrat foolishly lets Tartuffe, a pretentious religious zealot, into his home.

“110 in the Shade” was adapted from Richard Nash’s play “The Rainmaker” into a musical by Meaghan Simpson, associate artistic director. It tells what happens when a traveling con man shows up in a drought-stricken western town.

“The Lovely Stepsister,” a children’s show written by company member Grace Abele, tells the story of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters who discovers the true meaning of beauty, thanks to other fairy tale characters.

The festival also will include performances of the “The Belle of Amherst,” a one-woman show on the life of poet Emily Dickinson as played by Jennifer Burke. These shows will be in the smaller upstairs theater at the center.

The Schedule

  • July 1st: (7:30pm) “110 in the Shade”

  • July 5th: (2pm) “110 in the Shade” and (7:30pm) “Love’s Labour’s Lost”

  • July 6th: (2pm) “Tartuffe” and (7:30pm) “King John”

  • July 7th: (2pm) “110 in the Shade,” (2pm) “The Belle of Amherst,” and (7:30pm) “Love’s Labour’s Lost”

  • July 8th: (2pm) “Tartuffe” and (7:30pm) “King John”

  • July 11th: (2pm) “The Belle of Amherst”

  • July 12th: (2pm) “King John,” (7:30pm) “110 in the Shade,” and (7:30pm) “The Belle of Amherst”

  • July 13th: (2pm) “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and (7:30pm) “Tartuffe”

  • July 14th: (2pm) “King John,” (7:30pm) “110 in the Shade,” and (7:30pm) “The Belle of Amherst”

  • July 15th: (2pm) “Love’s Labour Lost” and (7:30pm) “Tartuffe”

  • July 18th: (10am) “The Lovely Stepsister”

  • July 19th: (10am) “The Lovely Stepsister,” (2pm) “Tartuffe” and (7:30pm) “King John”

  • July 20th: (10am) “The Lovely Stepsister,” (2pm) “110 in the Shade,” and (7:30pm) Love’s Labour’s Lost”

  • July 21st: (10am) “The Lovely Stepsister,” (2pm) “Tartuffe,” and (7:30pm) “King John”

  • July 22nd: (2pm) “110 in the Shade” and (7:30pm) “Love’s Labour’s Lost”

  • July 24th: (7:30pm) Talent Showcase – At this Chinese Theater Night, performers from Chongqing and Shanghai, China present an original show created for the Texas Shakespeare Festival. The Talent Showcase features members showing their singing, dancing and comedy skills in a show.

  • July 25th: (2pm and 7:30pm) Talent Showcase

  • July 26th: (10am) “The Lovely Stepsister,” (2pm) “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and (7:30pm) “Tartuffe”

  • July 27th: (10am) “The Lovely Stepsister,” (2pm) “King John,” and (7:30pm) “110 in the Shade”

  • July 28th: (10am) “The Lovely Stepsister,” (2pm) “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and (7:30pm) “Tartuffe”

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Theatre

Review: Ring Of Fire

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By John Baggett

It’s summer! (Well…close enough, that is) So, what better way to spend these (incredibly) warm summer evenings than a show at Tyler Civic Theatre. Summer musical season has begun, with the first of three huge shows, “Ring Of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.”

“Ring Of Fire” is a jukebox musical that uses the music of Johnny Cash (Ray Carter) to tell his life story. The show portrays some of the highlights of Cash’s story from his childhood, to his first meeting with Sun Records founder Sam Phillips (Zach Woods), playing the Grand Ole Opry, meeting and falling in love with June Carter (Libby Davis), his addiction problems, his legendary San Quentin performance, and his faith. The performance also features Brad Echols as Ray Cash, Johnny’s father, Regina Money as Carrie, his mom, and Tres Taylor as Young Johnny.

“Ring of Fire” was created by Richard Maltby Jr., best known as a lyricist for “Miss Saigon” and director of “Fosse.” The Civic Theatre production was directed by Helen Strotman, hot off her previous directorial effort, “Screwtape,” with musical direction by Rafael Espinoza, leader of the band Rafael Espinoza and the Rockabilly Railroad. This duo has assembled a fantastic ensemble of actors and musicians to bring this show to life.

As Johnny, Ray Carter is unbelievably good. He has the voice that is true to Cash without ever being an imitation. He treats the songs with the respect they deserve and if he wasn’t already a musician in his own right, I’d be suggesting he become one. Equally impressive is Davis, who has an incredible voice, and every time she is able to add a little of June’s spunk to her performance, she nails it.

Echols, who was last seen in “The Lucky O’Leary’s” does a phenomenal job. He is always a delight to watch, especially in musicals. As Carrie, Mooney is wonderful. She has Southern charm coming out of her every moment she is on stage. Making a return to TCT, Woods does a great job. I hope he returns for more shows. As Young Johnny, Tres Taylor is adorable and I hope he too continues to perform.

As good as this cast is, the backing musicians are equally fantastic. Espinoza shreds the guitar, along with his wife Emmylou Espinoza on bass, Daniel Armstrong on keyboard, and Grace Ensley on drums. They play their hearts out and bring the energy to this show that keeps the audience and the cast on their toes.

While the show, by design, focuses more on the music and only hits the highlights of Cash’s overall story, it’s not so much a biography of Cash, but a show about his music with biography thrown in. That’s not a negative. Honestly the cast and musicians are so talented, they could drop the story and just take the music on the road.

“Ring of Fire” is a fantastic show filled with great music that will have even the biggest cynic tapping his toes and clapping along. I highly recommend this show. Get your tickets NOW!

“Ring of Fire” opens at Tyler Civic Theatre on Thursday, June 7th and runs through Sunday, June 17th.  Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive. For more information and to purchase tickets call (903)592-0561 or go to http://tylercivictheatre.com/

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