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Callaway, Eder, and a classic Ameican drama move local audiences

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Over the weekend, Examiner.com had the opportunity to experience three distinct performing arts events, all of which made for a series of unforgettable moments of outstanding entertainment. The first featured Ann Hampton Callaway, a leading American Songbook interpreter who shone Friday with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Jack Everly, in a Printing Partners Principal Pops Series concert titled “Ann Hampton Callaway Sings the Streisand Songbook.” Then, on Saturday, superstar Linda Eder, one of the finest voices around, wowed the crowd during her concert at Carmel’s Palladium. Finally, a production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” presented by Acting Up Productions Sunday at the IndyFringe Theater was powerful due to the superb performances of some of its cast members.

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“Ann Hampton Callaway Sings the Streisand Songbook”

Tony Award nominee Callaway is a singer, pianist, composer, lyricist, arranger, and actress among other things. She also happens to have written two hits for Barbara Streisand, who she considers her mentor and for whom she paid tribute to in “Ann Hampton Callaway Sings the Streisand Songbook,” a show she has been performing with symphonies and touring nationwide this season.

Callaway, who possesses a gargantuan voice and a commanding presence, joked about being a diva, but was in actuality affable and easy-going in her informal banter with a receptive audience. It was obvious that it was a crowd familiar with the singer who has appeared previously with the ISO, along with her sister Liz Callaway, in “Sibling Revelry” and in “The Duke Energy Yuletide Celebration.”

“Great singers are those who inspire” was a quote by Streisand referenced by Callaway during the concert in which she described the icon’s influence on her. As it turned out, Callaway herself fit that same description as she performed a program consisting of many of Streisand’s most famous hits. Demonstrating her own formidable vocal range and dramatic intensity, Callaway’s renditions included Harold Arlen’s “A Sleepin’ Bee”, Marvin Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were”, Jule Styne’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl” and “Evergreen” from “A Star is Born.”

Callaway also exhibited her stellar songwriting gifts when she sang “I’ve Dreamed of You” and “At the Same Time.” They are the tunes Streisand made famous and which established Callaway as a composer/lyricist of note.

High points of Callaway’s concert included her interpretation of an arrangement of “People” from “Funny Girl” coupled with “Being Alive” from “Company” and “A Piece of Sky” from “Yentl.”

Callaway's performance with the tremendous Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra was ultimately a double treat. The audience was not only exposed to the Streisand mystique but they also had the privilege of exploring it via one of the few talents to do it justice.

Linda Eder

Her voice is truly a wonder of the world. Possessing a flexible range with limitless vocal stamina allowing her to hit seemingly impossible high notes effortlessly, Linda Eder was a wonder to behold during her concert which she described as a visit down her memory lane.

Eder’s eclectic set list showcased her ability to sing multiple styles of music consisting of Broadway, standards, pop, country and jazz. Accompanying her in what turned out to be a feast for music connoisseurs was her top notch band which included music director and pianist Billy Stein, Peter Calo on guitar, David Finck on bass and Jerry Marotta on drums.

A Minnesota native, the laid-back Eder with an "aw shucks" attitude, made frequent reference to her country background as she introduced songs with commentary about her life and career which included her stint on Broadway as Lucy in “Jekyll & Hyde.” The musical, written by her husband Frank Wildhorn, includes two songs “Someone like You” and “A New Life,” both of which were performed by Eder in the concert and which illustrated her capabilities as a musical theater performer.

Even though “Jekyll & Hyde” was her one and only Broadway show, it was made perfectly apparent that Eder could handle any prospective leading role on the Great White Way when she belted “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Misérables,” “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from “Evita” and “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.”

Other songs which demonstrated Eder’s ease and versatility in conveying different musical styles included “Blue Skies,” “Stormy Weather,” “At Last,” “Fernando,” “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Charade.”

Prior to her encore during which she sang “Over the Rainbow” accompanied only by Stein on the piano, Eder acknowledged Judy Garland’s performance of the famous tune from “The Wizard of Oz” as the impetus for her decision to pursue a career as a singer. As she sang her own version of Garland’s signature song, it occurred to this writer that Eder’s choice has proved to be more than providential for those affected by her rare talents.

“A Streetcar Named Desire

With its production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Greenfield-based Acting Up Productions demonstrated once again that it is an adventurous community theater that is not afraid to take on artistically ambitious projects and do so with commitment and integrity.

Directed by R. Brian Noffke, the cast includes Carrie Schlatter as Blanche, Chris Saunders as Stanley, Lisa Ermel as Stella and Tim Sheehan as Mitch.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning play and considered to be one of America’s greatest, the drama by playwright Tennessee Williams premiered on Broadway in 1947. A 1951 film adaptation directed by Elia Kazan starred Marlon Brando as Stanley and Vivian Leigh as Blanche.,

The plot revolves about Blanche DuBois, a fading southern belle whose delusions of grandeur and alcoholism result in a life of fantasy that comes apart at the seams when she is confronted by ugly realities and forced to endure circumstances she is unable to cope with.

Presented in the IndyFringe Theater, a converted church which now serves as a venue for independent theatrical productions when it is not used for the annual IndyFringe Festival, this AUP production of “Streetcar” had its rough edges, but its virtues far outweighed its shortcomings.

Chief among its positive qualities were the performances of the actors who played the drama’s challenging leading roles, both individually and together.

Schlatter turned out a splendid performance as the psychologically broken and wounded Blanche and believably captured her character's vulnerability and fragile psyche.

Saunders was highly impressive as the coarse, volatile and brutish Stanley Kowalski, who is threatened by Blanche’s machinations which threaten his relationship with wife Stella, who is drawn to his sexual magnetism. Saunders conveyed a powerful stage presence and an intensity that was palpable.

Ermel was abundantly convincing as Blanche’s loving and compassionate sister Stella, who overlooks Blanche’s pretentiouness and idiosyncrasies while trying to please her hair trigger tempered husband, Stanley. Her character's sexual chemistry with that of Saunders was also potently transmitted.

Sheehan was also believable as Blanche’s gentle, naive suitor who she manipulates into believing her mistruths but who erupts with justified anger when he discovers she’s betrayed him with her lies.

An obvious low budget effort, this “Streetcar” suffered less from its minimum production values than from the limited playing area on a smallish stage that made for some fairly crowed quarters for actors who had very little space in which to tell their story.

Also making for a less than seamless experience for playgoers were the often weak performances of walk-on actors who crossed back and forth in front of the stage. Presumably meant to replicate gritty New Orleans street life, this particular staging failed to serve its intended purpose and was extraneous at best.

Nevertheless, these distractions aside, Noffke and company still managed to do proper justice to Williams’ masterpiece, making it a production worth seeing, especially for those who have yet to experience one of the most important plays of the 20th century.

For tickets and information regarding Acting Up Productions’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” continuing through March 23, call (317) 207-2135 or visit www.actingup-productions.com.

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