An Indiana Historical Society performance hall featured an array of musical-theater hits and swaying hips on the nights of April 5 and 6. The Indianapolis Men’s Chorus put on a show titled “From the West End” in the Frank and Katrina Basile Theater that did not disappoint, running the gamut from Mary Poppins to Les Misérables, Spamalot to The Secret Garden, with all the appropriate levity and laughs. Transitions were largely fluid, and the show on the whole delivered on a range of talents, including tap dancing, opera, acting, vaudeville, persistent choreography, and more.
This was a skill-stretching exercise for its capable members, with precious few stand-and-sing numbers in play and small groups filtering in and out of the room in spurts. Poppins‘s patented chimney sweeps (“Step in Time”) and Company‘s disjointed lovers (“Not Getting Married Today”) let some key players in the IMC shine in brief, bawdy, and/or tear-inducing roles. The latter allowed Sanders to dedicate a one-two punch of “Not Getting Married” and My Fair Lady‘s “Get Me to the Church on Time” to Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, a recent convert to the concept of marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans.
Jacquelynne Fontaine, most recently seen on the Indy stage in the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of A Little Night Music, guest-starred in a leading-lady sort of role, filling the shoes of Cosette and Poppins. Also a special guest, Indy’s own Claire Wilcher, native to Mass Ave’s ComedySportz and a runaway star in recent Avenue Q and Cabaret runs locally, stole some parts of the show. She is by turns brassy and classy, and always on point, with a big voice far above the guttural monster she voiced in the Phoenix Theatre’s Avenue Q. Wilcher’s comic timing is impeccable; I would say she is a double- or triple-threat, but as with Fontaine, really, one loses count.
The show began with a highlight, Fontaine and Wilcher’s appearance on Spamalot‘s “The Song That Goes Like This,” which established their night-and-day personalities for the evening. IMC artistic director Greg Sanders wisely cast these polar opposites to reap all the drama and the comedy, the operatic and the full-throated belting, that they could offer. And both bolstered their fellow performers and especially gifted the audience with repeatedly beautiful takes on so many tried-and-true tracks.
Hilarity ensued on “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” (Spamalot) as performed by Ethan Butt, Andy Cherolis, Scott Hainey, and Jonathan Rossing, with Butt doing the heavy lifting, as it were, on so many fleeting comedy bits. Elsewhere, John Strachan took a spirited, winsome turn as Bert (Dick Van Who?) to Fontaine’s Mary on a few Poppins tracks, and Wilcher shined on “Cabaret,” a song she slayed, in the best way, on the Athenaeum Theatre stage in 2012.
The show was not without its slight missteps, but quick-witted maskings covered those over save one. Fontaine fell in one of her many beautiful gowns in the Saturday performance as she descended a short set of stairs to exit stage-left at one point. Still miked, she laughed it off with hearty surprise, and the show marched on. Consummate-professional stuff, really. It would only serve to further endear her to the Indy audience. One wished that the microphones lining the stage picked up the rest of the singers’ voices more clearly and fully when they sang solo verses and one-liners, sometimes drowned out or else delivered too far away from the mics. And the five selections from The Secret Garden seemed a bit languid (or just lengthy, the most of any musical on display) as a part of this lineup, though obviously a passion project for Sanders, who gave those songs a thoughtful intro.
In the end, Sanders, his IMC, Fontaine and Wilcher, and the accompanying instrumentalists and dancers finished with a fury, commanding a batch of Les Mis songs—”The Red and the Black,” “In My Life/A Heart Full of Love,” and especially “One Day More”—with visceral honesty and urgency to match the recently ballyhooed movie-musical version. It was a fitting denouement to a delightful, well-executed evening of singing, grinning, tearing up, and dancing. Cheers to the Indy Men’s Chorus for taking chances on its talents—and succeeding.
Photos by Sherry Brechbiel and Laura Neidig