By John Baggett
It’s almost Easter time, so it would make sense that a lot of venues are going to be taking advantage of the season, be it various Passion plays, screenings of the 1956 classic, “The Ten Commandments,” or the new biopic, “The Case for Christ,” which is playing in theatres now. Tyler Civic Theatre is also doing their part, with their production of ”Godspell.”
Based, for the most part, on “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” “Godspell” is the story of Jesus (Justin Forward), preaching the gospel to a group of homeless people, an update from the hippies in the original play. Along with John the Baptist (Dustin Simington), he delivers the Sermon on the Mount, along with his message through a series of parables. The second act of the play picks up in the days prior to the crucifixion, including the betrayal by Judas (Simington), the last supper, and ultimately his death and resurrection.
“Godspell” was written by Stephen Schwartz, with the book written by John Michael Tabelak, best known for, well, this and “Wicked.” The original production opened in 1971 with numerous revivals and updates over the years. The Civic Theatre production was updated even further to reflect our current political climate, beginning with a video montage of war and news footage, featuring our Presidents from Ronald Reagan through Donald Trump.
The show was directed by Justin Wayne Purser, who previously directed ”Charlotte’s Web.” The musical director was Charles Praytor, who has previously served as musical director for “The Little Mermaid” and will be directing the Civic Theatre/Liberty Hall production of “Rock of Ages.” It was also choreographed by TCT veteran Shelby Moy, who did the choreography for “The Little Mermaid,” “Hairspray” and “Footloose.”
This production is incredibly innovative, daring, and moving; a refreshing update to the material (not that there was anything wrong with the previous versions). This modern, almost near future, take is sure to ruffle some feathers, but that has always been the point of theatre – to comment and critique the world around us. Those who will get hung up on an impression of our current president are going to miss the entire message of the show. “Godspell” began as an anti-war, anti-racism allegory, using the words of Christ, and that still holds true.
In his debut performance at the Civic Theatre, Forward is riveting as Jesus, both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Also making his Civic Theatre debut is Simington, who I had previously seen as Roger in the APEX production of “RENT,” and is equally as powerful and heartbreaking. The rest of this truly wonderful cast includes TCT veterans Emily Casper, Mary Creath, Hannah Pascaul, Kendall Phillips, Stephen Rainwater (in a wheelchair), Caroline Reyes, Helen Strotman, and Jess Vinton. Everyone in this cast shines and will make you laugh, make you cry, and you can’t help but relate to them.
“Godspell” is a daring, bold production that delivers a message of love, tolerance, and one heck of a catchy score. It goes to show that even these old standards of theatre not only still have life in them, but sometimes can come back bigger and better than ever. This is a wonderful production that has to be seen. So, get your tickets now and experience this story with your entire family.
“Godspell” opened on April 7 and runs through April 16. Tyer Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive in Tyler. To buy tickets, call (903)592-0561 or visit https://buy.ticketstothecity.com/purchase.php?event_id=4464
Review: The Touch
By John Baggett
Tyler Civic Theatre is kicking off its 70th season. To start the brand new season, they begin with a very special one week run of the new play, the heartwarming drama, “The Touch.”
Set in East Texas, generations ago, the story revolves around Big Granny (Traci Smith), a woman who has the ability to heal those with just her touch, a power passed down in her family every other generation. While her grandmother healed almost everyone she could, Big Granny is afraid of her powers. She is haunted by the loss of her daughter to pneumonia, whom she could have healed but was afraid that her attempt would have killed her.
Now, a great grandmother, Big Granny lives with her granddaughter Faye (Brianna Beard) and great-granddaughter Juney (Delaney Mullee). Faye stayed home to raise her daughter and help out while her husband left to work on the docks and her sister, Betsy (Kaylee Parker), travels the world. Betsy returns with news that she has a permanent teaching position in Dallas. Her return stirs up feelings of hurt in Faye, but when Juney gets hurt in an accident, everyone, including Big Granny, must face their worse fears to be a whole family again.
“The Touch” was written by Mike Hargrove, a veteran of Tyler Civic Theatre, having written a dozen plays and directed several shows. This is his final work, completed just days before he sadly passed away. This debut production is directed by his wife, DeAnna Hargrove, who also directed “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” earlier this year.
This is a play that was written with love, as much of it was inspired by Hargrove’s family, and beautifully produced. So much heart and soul into this show, from writing to casting to every single performance. It is truly a labor of love.
This cast is superb. Smith, who is always excellent in every role, has never been better. She delivers such a warm, yet powerful performance, and gives her absolute all on stage. Beard is also outstanding, running almost the entire span of human emotion. Mullee continues her streak of wonderful performances and this also is a career best for her. She has talent beyond her years. Parker is also amazing, delivering an almost effortless, natural performance.
The supporting cast is brilliant as well. Cheyenne Whorton plays Sonny, a man who was healed as a child by Big Granny’s mother, and he gave a flawless performance. Kenneth Reid plays Monroe, the patriarch of the Marner family, and is terrific in his few scenes. Stan King gives as another first-rate performance as the doubting Doc Fleming, who believes there is a scientific reason for everything.
Making their TCT debuts are Austin Sandy and Maria de la Garza-Grahm, M.D, as the shopkeepers of a local market and I hope they continue to grace the stage. Finally, in silent roles as customers are Chylar Whorton, Blair Gonzalez, and Bella Schenck. Every single one of them did a fantastic job and I cannot wait to see what they do next.
“The Touch” starts this new season on an incredible high. It is a touching, funny, emotional experience and I really encourage you to see this show. It’s going to be over before you know it, so go see this wonderful play before it’s too late.
“The Touch” opens on Thursday, September 6 and runs through Sunday, September 9. For more information and to purchase tickets call (903) 592-0561 or go to http://tylercivictheatre.com Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive.
The 70th Season Begins at Tyler Civic Theatre
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:
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.
Memberships Available for CCT’s 2018-19 Season
If you love the theatre, does the Cherokee Civic Theatre have a deal for you! The Cherokee Civic Theatre’s (CCT) annual membership drive is open, and theater patrons are invited to cash in on the deals, steals, perks, and privileges that come with being a CCT member.
“With the price of movie tickets and concessions on the rise, becoming a member of the Theatre really is the best bang for your entertainment buck,” CCT Vice President of Membership, Carol Dilliard said.
CCT audiences are treated to a traditional season of four full-length live-theater productions including at least one musical and a Christmas show which runs from October through April.
“The show would not go on without our patrons, members, and volunteers,” longtime theater volunteer and board member Jerry Parker said. “We appreciate so much the support of all our members and patrons – you’re why we do this in the first place.”
The First Night membership package starts at $50 and includes one ticket to every show, reserved seating, mailed reminders of upcoming productions, recognition in every show’s program, discounts on additional tickets, and voting privileges at the theater’s annual meeting. Student memberships and junior memberships are also available for $25 and $10, respectively. Contact the CCT Box Office at (903)683-2131 or visit cherokeetheatre.net to become a CCT Patron member.
This season’s line up of plays begins this fall with the musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” set for October 6th-7th and 12th-14th.
The annual Christmas play, “Scrooge of the West,” hits the stage December 7th-9th and features a holiday classic with an old West twist, written by longtime CCT alum and Rusk resident Sheilah O’Heaney.
The spring production, set for February 23rd-24th and March 1st-2nd, showcases the world premiere of “A.M WWJG,” penned by another local writer, Minette Bryant, of Jacksonville.
The final show of the 2018-19 season is “Leading Ladies” by Ken Ludwig, set for May 4th-5th and 10th-11th.
Proceeds from shows, season ticket memberships, and donations help keep the theater moving forward.
The all-volunteer, non-profit organization has dedicated more than 45 years to bringing the dramatic arts to the greater East Texas area.
According to the CCT’s website, the group’s mission is “to afford opportunities for cultural and artistic enrichment in East Texas by providing a venue for local talent to produce live theater for the entertainment of diverse audiences. Our goal is to educate both youth and adults in all aspects of the theater and to encourage volunteers to learn and showcase their skills both on and off the stage.”
Adults can get in on the fun during Cherokee Civic Theatre’s regular season, both in front of and behind the curtain.
“You can get involved by being cast in a show or by volunteering for backstage positions like stage manager, set or sound design, lighting and costume design,” CCT board member Lisa Pierce said. “There is no experience required, just show up on the audition day. There is no shortage of ways to get involved here.”
The Cherokee Civic Theatre is located at 157 W. Fifth St., just off the square in Downtown Rusk. Tickets are available for the entire season or for individually for at cherokeetheatre.net.
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