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GhostLight, Beckwith, CMW ... oh my!

3 stage shows opening this weekend around Southwest Michigan

HP Staff Writer


Those looking to take in a stage show this weekend in Southwest Michigan have their options.

The GhostLight Theatre will present “No Exit,” Beckwith Theatre Co. will stage “Heroes,” and Children’s Music Workshop’s TeenStock will present “Newsies.”

Here’s what you need to know about each show:


Hell is other people.

That’s the moral of this play about existentialism that opens tonight at The GhostLight Theatre in the Benton Harbor Arts District – the second show in its inaugural season.

“It’s the theory or approach of the existence of the individual person and their development through their own choices and acts of free will,” director Paul Stortz said.

“No Exit” features Estelle, Garcin and Inez, who have recently died. As they’re brought to hell, they are expecting torture, but end up in a plain room with each other.

“Essentially, the three people kind of go through what brought them to this point and find out they are diametrically opposed: One is the other’s torture,” Stortz said.

Megan Pelkey plays Estelle, Dan Maxon plays Garcin and assistant director Mariah Rifenberg plays Inez in a last minute change to the cast. John Crumb plays the Valet that brings the three of them to hell.

Stortz said working with a small cast has been great for getting deep into the characters’ back stories.

“We are given a script, and it tells us what happens through the play, but not what they makes them think this way or makes them react to certain things,” he said.

Stortz said his favorite part of the show is toward the end when the characters start to understand their roles in the others torturing.

“Torturing might be a strong word, but there seems to be a lot of soul-searching for each character out loud through the show,” he said. “And obviously with the tag line, ‘Hell is other people,’ it brings to the front of your mind we really have two selves: our perceived self and actual self. You see those two kind of cross.”

Stortz said he hopes the audience goes away with some enlightenment.

“And maybe with some introspection of how and what we do, and what we say and our actions, really affect others,” he said. “We might think a few words are harmless, but especially online, they have repercussions.”

People of all ages have value.

That’s the moral of this play that opens tonight at the Beckwith Theatre in Dowagiac.

“I’m in my 60s, and the cast average is 66,” director Rich Frantz said. “The messages of this play are poignant, but most of it is just flat out funny.”

“Heroes” is about three old soldiers, veterans of World War I, who are in a military hospital eager to escape. The characters pass their time in the show engaging in verbal battles of long-forgotten military campaigns, grumblings about the staff, and reflections on their lives.

The three-member cast is made up of Max Sala as Henri, Bill Svelmoe as Phillippe and Jack Gannon as Gustave.

See STAGE SHOWS, page D4

From left, Mariah Rifenberg, as Inez, Dan Maxon, as Garcin, and Meghan Pelkey, as Estelle, rehearse a scene from The GhostLight Theatre’s production of “No Exit.”

Photos by Don Campbell / HP staff

“Hell is other people” for Don Maxon (Garcin), from left, Megan Pelkey (Estelle) and Mariah Rifenberg (Inez) in GhostLight Theatre’s production of “No Exit.”

From page D1

“These are terrific actors,” Frantz said. “How many directors walk in the first day and they know the first act? These guys are just that good.”

Frantz said while the play deals with issues people face at an older age, like death, the show can appeal to any age, touching on themes of friendship and friendship due to shared experiences.

He said what’s different about this play is that it’s based on the writing.

“Action is far less important than nuance, than timing,” Frantz said. “There is a little slapstick, which we spent a lot of time on.”

He said the show doesn’t overdo anything, and the the set may be lovely, but it’s secondary to the actors.

“I think the audience should go away with an appreciation for friendship and for duty and honor,” Frantz said. “But also maybe a little more comfort with the idea that your time ends. I think that’s where they kind of get to in the story.”

He said “Heroes” is going to be a little different than other shows at The Beckwith – six days in a row instead of two weekends, because of the actor’s schedules.

Standing up for each other.

That’s the moral of this musical by Children’s Music Workshop’s TeenStock program that opens tomorrow at Lake Michigan College’s Mendel Center Mainstage Theatre. “The kids haven’t really gone through this, but they still recognize injustice and react to it,” director Meagan Francis said. “They get really amped up, and it’s fun to watch. The show is full of teenage anthems about standing up for each other.”

“Newsies” is based on the historical newsboy strike of 1899 in New York City. When publishing titans William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy, and his band of teenaged newsies rally from across the city to strike against the unfair conditions and fight for what’s right.

“We have 55 kids in it,” Francis said. “Typically our teen shows don’t have that many, and there is a lot of dancing in the show, so we’re working on getting them on stage as much as possible.”

“Newsies” is being put on through a partnership between CMW and LMC’s Visual and Performing Arts Department.

Kristopher Zook, music director for the show and LMC department chair, said a team of people came together and realized they were all doing the same sort of theater experience for teens each summer.

“What if we took your 30 kids and our 30 kids and really be in business?” Zook said. “We decided to share resources, and it has allowed us to do some recruiting for the college, and we can now offer a lot more in terms of services to the CMW organization, like rehearsal space and a live orchestra. We’re trying to get high school students playing alongside college, alongside professionals.”

It will be the first time in several years that CMW has staged a musical with a live orchestra.

“Rehearsals have been going smoothly,” Zook said. “The kids are terrific. They have a lot of energy, spunk and creative ideas. They’re doing a phenomenal job.”

He said during orchestra rehearsals, the students have been really upbeat about discussing how they can be a positive force for change in the world.

“We’ve been having goosebump-raising experiences where we’ve been sort of talking about the philosophical side of the music as well as the mechanical side,” Zook said.

Francis said it’s the same with the actors.

“‘The World Will Know’ is probably my favorite song in the show,” she said. “It’s when the newsies have all decide to go ahead with the strike, just saying, ‘We’re not going to be held down any longer.’ It’s a really powerful song, and the kids really get into, and it’s fun to watch them perform it.”

Joshua Weber stars as Jack Kelly. Other principal members of the cast are Maxamiliion Paar (Crutchie), Brayden Lynam (Davey), Zoe Shaw (Les), Ally Wilson (Katherine), Amber Case (Medda Larkin) and JD Hall (Joseph Pulitzer).

In addition to Francis and Zook, the production team includes choreography from The Citadel Dance & Music Center’s Lari Lawrence-Gist.

“There’s a lot on the table, but we have a really good team of people who know what they’re doing,” Francis said, “and they’re bringing a really cool experience to the kids.”

Contact:, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman

Bill Svelmoe climbs on Jack Gannon during rehearsal for Beckwith Theatre Co.’s production of “Heroes.”

Photo provided

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