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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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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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Theatre Guide: Opening June 7th, “Ring of Fire” at Tyler Civic

 

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Upcoming Events, Concerts & Plays

June 7th-17th  (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30) – “Ring of Fire” – From the iconic songbook of Johnny Cash comes this unique musical about love and faith, struggle and success, rowdiness and redemption, and home and family. More than two dozen classic hits—including “I Walk The Line,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and the title tune—performed by a multi-talented cast – paint a musical portrait of The Man in Black that promises to be a foot-stompin’, crowd-pleasin’ salute to a unique musical legend! Though he is never impersonated, Johnny Cash’s remarkable life story is told through his music, climaxing in a concert that will both move and exhilarate! Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Dr., Tyler, next to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. For more info call (903)592-0561 or go to tylercivictheatre.com.

June 29th-30th, July 1st (Friday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm) – Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Jr. – Lewis Carroll’s famous heroine comes to life in a delightful adaptation of the classic Disney film. Travel down the rabbit hole and join Alice, one of literature’s most beloved heroines, in her madcap adventures.  Featuring updated songs from Disney’s thrilling animated motion picture, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland JR. is a fast-paced take on the classic tale. The ever-curious Alice’s journey begins innocently enough as she chases the White Rabbit.  Her adventures become increasingly more strange as she races the Dodo Bird, gets tied up with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, raps with a bubble-blowing Caterpillar and beats the Queen of Hearts at her own game! Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Dr., Tyler, next to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. For more info call (903)592-0561 or go to tylercivictheatre.com.

July 4th (4pm) – “Annual Independence Day Concert” will be presented by Tyler Civic Chorale at First Presbyterian Church, 230 W. Rusk St., Tyler. For more info go to tylercivicchorale.org or facebook.com/tylercivicchorale. Tickets are available through TCC members and at the door.

July 13th-15th, 20th-22nd (Nightly at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30) – “Charlotte’s Web” will be on stage at Henderson Civic Theater. All the enchanting characters from the book are here: Wilbur, the irresistible young pig who desperately wants to avoid the butcher; Fern, a girl who understands what animals say to each other; Templeton, the gluttonous rat who can occasionally be talked into a good deed; the Zuckerman family; the Arables; and, most of all, the extraordinary spider, Charlotte, who proves to be “a true friend and a good writer.” Henderson Civic Theater is located at 122 E. Main, Henderson. For more info call (903)657-2968 or go to hendersoncivictheatre.org.

July 26th-August 12th  (Friday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm) – “Singing 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. “Singin’ in the Rain” has all the makings of a Tinseltown tabloid headline – the starlet, the leading man and a love affair that could change lives and make or break careers! In silent movies, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are a hot item but, behind the scenes, things aren’t always as they appear on the big screen! Meanwhile, Lina’s squeaky voice might be the end of her career in “talking pictures” without the help of a talented young actress to do the talking and singing for her. Filled with every memorable moment from the film and a downpour of unforgettable songs, Singin’ in the Rain is a guaranteed hit. Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Dr., Tyler, next to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. For more info call (903)592-0561 or go to tylercivictheatre.com.

September 20th-September 29th (Friday-Saturday at 7:30pm) – “The Odd Couple” will be on the stage at Henderson County Performance Center.  This Tony Award winning play never grows old.  Oscar and Felix become the ultimate roommates when their wives leave them.  Felix’s fastidious, depressed, tense, clean freakiness drives Oscar nuts as he is the exact opposite.  Don’t miss this hilarious show! Henderson County Performance Center is located at 400 Gibson Rd, Athens, TX.  For more info call (903)675-3908 or go to hcpac.org.

November 29th-December 8th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:00pm) – “A Christmas Carol” will be on stage at Henderson County Performance Center – Charles Dickins’ timeless story never fails to enthrall audiences.  When old Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old man, receives a Christmas Eve visit from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, he becomes a changed man, joins the festivities, and treats everyone better.  Henderson County Performance Center is located at 400 Gibson Rd, Athens, TX. For more info call (903)675-3908 or go to hcpac.org.

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Review: “The Odd Couple (female version)”

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By John Baggett

The men had their turn. Now, it’s time for the ladies to shine, as Tyler Civic Theatre brings a close to their “The Odd Couple Times Two” extravaganza with the highly anticipated female version of “The Odd Couple.” In 1985, playwright Neil Simon took his original play and revised it by reversing the genders of all the characters. (Fun fact: Tony Shaloub of “Monk” and “Wings” fame made his Broadway debut in the original run of the play.)

In this version, slobby Oscar is now Olive (Jennifer Lane) and neurotic neat freak Felix is now Florence (Jes Byboth). The story opens with Olive, a recently divorced woman still hung up on and sending money to her ex-husband. Despite this, she is holding her weekly Trivial Pursuit game (a change from poker in the other version). Her regular fellow players are Mickey (Sandy Junek), Sylvie (Nadine Booth), Vera (Traci Smith), and Renee (Melanie Brumit). Missing from the game is Florence, which makes the rest of the players wonder where she might be. They become even more concerned when her husband calls to say they are getting a divorce.

Florence finally arrives, only to have a breakdown over her collapsing marriage. Olive asks Florence to move in with her, hoping that she can assist her friend with moving on with her life. Instead, she slowly becomes a cooking, cleaning, crying nightmare who slowly begins to drive Olive crazy. Florence is still wound up tight and pining for her ex. Finally, Olive breaks down and tells her that they need to break their routine and go on a date. Olive’s idea is to set her and her roommate up with their Spanish neighbors, Manolo (Nyc Moy) and Jesus (Jack Ragland). However, date night does not go as planned, leading Olive to her ultimate breaking point.

The female production for TCT is directed by Judy Griffin-Deal, a veteran of shows on and off stage. Her previous directorial effort was “Red, White, & Tuna,” part of the beloved “Tuna” series. Deal has assembled a cast of six daring women who were fearless in their approach to the material given to them, along with two male cast members just as equally unafraid to go big in their performances.

As our leads, Lane and Bysboth, both making their debuts on the TCT stage, are wonderful. The changes to the Oscar and Felix types serve bo th well, and they are both clearly talented. Lane has the tendency to go big at times, with the comic timing and swagger of a stand up comic who knows the joke she just dropped killed. Bysboth’s Florence is more on the quiet and timid side, but the contrast serves the character well, and she is the perfect counterpart to Lane.

As the Odd Couple’s friends, TCT veterans Junek, Smith, Booth, and, in her acting debut, Brumit, are great. The chemistry they share is quite simply natural, and at times feels more like we are watching a real life group of friends instead of actresses performing roles. This leads me to Moy and Ragland as the lovely Spanish gentlemen who Olive is desperately trying to woo. To be honest, these two very nearly steal the show every time they are on stage. I almost want a spin off show just about them.

Like the male version last week, “The Odd Couple (Female Version)” is at times a very different experience than its male counterpart, but also very familiar. It’s even edgier than the previous version in terms of its humor. If you missed last week’s performance, or if you didn’t, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to miss this version. I know I referred to it as a “Battle of the Sexes” in my last review, but there’s no battle here. No one version was better than the other. Over the course of two plays, I have seen 13 actors (Ragland was in both versions) deliver two unique, incredibly funny shows that are well worth your time. Go see this version. You only have a handful of performances left. Don’t miss out.

“The Odd Couple (Female Version)” opened on Thursday, May 10th and runs through Sunday, May 13th at Tyler Civic Theatre located at 400 Rose Park Drive.  For more information and to purchase tickets call 903-592-0651 or go to http://tylercivictheatre.com/production/2017-2018/the-odd-couple

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