Performance & Entertainment Venue

Oh, the horror! Wichita’s stages scare up some laughs for Halloween

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Keely Connolly, Justin Ralph, Damian Padilla, Meredith Hollan and Angela Geer star in Roxy Downtown’s production “Evil Dead: The Musical,“ which combines horror and laughs. Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

Keely Connolly, Justin Ralph, Damian Padilla, Meredith Hollan and Angela Geer star in Roxy Downtown’s production “Evil Dead: The Musical,“ which combines horror and laughs. Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

BY BOB CURTRIGHT

Eagle correspondent

September 25, 2015 02:47 PM

What do you get when you take a rowdy bunch of college kids pursued by demons in an abandoned cabin, stir in a man-eating plant and Mrs. Bates’ murderous mama’s boy, Norman, and top it all off with time-warping, cross-dressing extraterrestrials?

What you get is the Halloween season on Wichita’s live theater stages.

Roxy’s Downtown is conjuring up “Evil Dead: The Musical,” the Forum Theatre is visiting “Little Shop of Horrors,” Crown Uptown Theatre is rocking out to “The Rocky Horror Show,” and Mosley Street Melodrama is checking into “Hitchcock’s Psycho Hotel.”

All the shows feature a mix of horror and humor, pitting shudders against snickers, gore against guffaws, chills against chuckles. And some say the combo intensifies an audience’s enjoyment of both precisely because of the contrast.

“They’re a natural pair, like salty and sweet. They work well together. They enhance each other,” says J.R. Hurst, a longtime local actor who wrote and directed the original melodrama “Hitchcock’s Psycho Hotel,” which runs through Oct. 31 at Mosley Street Melodrama. “Comedy and horror are structurally very similar. You build to a high point, which is…

Review: Roxy’s ‘Pageant’ is frothy fun

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The guys play beauty contestants in Roxy Downtown’s “Pageant.” Courtesy photo

The guys play beauty contestants in Roxy Downtown’s “Pageant.” Courtesy photo

BY BOB CURTRIGHT

Eagle correspondent

August 13, 2015 01:50 PM

Beauty may be only skin deep, but the beauty of “Pageant” goes all the way to the funny bone – and then some.

This 1991 musical spoof of beauty pageants, where the “girls” are actually all guys in gowns, swimwear and colorful regional costumes for their “talent” competition, is full of chuckles, giggles and more than a few guffaws.

And this latest version, the fourth in the past two decades at Roxy’s Downtown (formerly Cabaret Oldtown), is a hoot, with some surprisingly accomplished – and convincing – high-heeled maneuvering.
This cast, as trumpeted in the opening production number, has “Something Extra.” And they know just how to conceal it under layers of flounces, sexy sequins, mounds of lustrous hair, flawless faces and swimwear that’s more revealing than you may think prudent (or possible) under the circumstances.

The show was conceived by Robert Longbottom with frothy, upbeat music by Albert Evans and silly, satirical lyrics/book by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly. It’s written so that if the actors really aren’t accomplished in certain pageant talent areas, it doesn’t make much difference. Klutzy only adds to the fun.

Here, though, Roxy’s cast, under direction and choreography by Kyle Vespestad, shows considerable aplomb in such areas as…

Review: Lively ‘Cougar the Musical’ has heart

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BY BOB CURTRIGHT

Eagle correspondent

June 24, 2015 06:06 PM

“Cougar the Musical” – being given its Midwest premiere at Roxy’s Downtown – is a little show with a big mouth and an even bigger heart. It’s about women of a certain age who discover that there is “Life” after divorce, widowhood and/or menopause.

Written with a naughty, knowing smirk by Southern comedian-singer-celebrity impersonator Donna Moore, this 2013 off-Broadway romp begins with mock outrage over the unfairness of labeling older women “cougars” for liking younger guys when older men dallying with younger women are just “men.”

Then the show – like the three disparate women who inhabit it – turns around to embrace and own the term like a badge of honor.

The women, directed by Cindy Summers and choreographed by Kyle Vespestad, begin by singing and slinking through “On the Prowl” as they brag about their fantasy sexual adventures. But the real message is the midshow anthem, “Say Yes,” about saying yes to aging like fine wine, saying yes to uncovering their authentic selves, saying yes to finding their empowerment, and saying yes to love no matter what polite society dictates.

While this is intended as an obvious gals-night-out show, it’s also surprisingly…

Rawwwr! Cougar at Roxy’s Downtown rediscovers femininity and sexuality

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REVIEW
By Grayson Barnes

WICHITA - Cougar the Musical had its Midwest debut on June 19 at Roxy’s Downtown in Wichita and runs through July 18. It is a fairly young show in the musical scheme of things, having opened Off-Broadway in August 2012. The book and lyrics are by Donna Moore, who was also responsible for a portion of the music.

The name of the musical promises the older-woman-in-search-of-younger-prey storyline, but the tale is more nuanced. Cougar is a series of vignettes about the changes in the lives of three women over 40. Their stories are loosely pinned like lengths of ribbon to a central place – a “cougar” club – and to a person – the club’s owner – Mary-Marie. Mary-Marie opened her business to cash in on the older female crowd, ensuring them an ample supply of …

It’s girls night out for ‘Cougar the Musical’

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The off-Broadway show “Cougar the Musical” will have its Midwest premiere at Roxy’s Downtown. The cast includes, clockwise from left: Ronda Kingwood, Ryan Ehresman, Kelly Wonsetler and Patty Reeder. Courtesy photo

The off-Broadway show “Cougar the Musical” will have its Midwest premiere at Roxy’s Downtown. The cast includes, clockwise from left: Ronda Kingwood, Ryan Ehresman, Kelly Wonsetler and Patty Reeder. Courtesy photo

BY BOB CURTRIGHT

Eagle correspondent

June 17, 2015 08:56 PM

“Cougar the Musical” began as a single joke by Donna Moore in her one-woman cabaret act. 

“Why are we giving a woman a derogatory name for dating a younger man when the name for a man who dates younger women is – I’ve researched this – a man?” Moore bemoaned, getting a knowing laugh from women of a certain age in the audience.

Moore took the hint and expanded her act to a full-fledged musical about three “fabulously over-40” women seeking new adventures with 20-something boy-toys after surviving divorce, widowhood, menopause and middle-aged boredom. The show hit off-Broadway in 2012 and caused a stir with sassy songs like “On the Prowl,” “Say Yes” and “Julio,” a seductive ballad sung to a, well, sex toy.

Now, Roxy’s Downtown is giving the show its Midwestern premiere, and director Cindy Summers sees it as a perfect girls night out treat – although she is quick to note that husbands and boyfriends need not be scared off. Where the guys will giggle, she says, the gals will guffaw.

“It’s a fun show that does cater to the ladies. What I really like is that…

Review: Roxy Downtown’s ‘The Big Bang’ a comic gem

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John Bates and Kyle Vespestad are together again for “The Big Bang.”  Photo - Jeff Templin

John Bates and Kyle Vespestad are together again for “The Big Bang.” Photo - Jeff Templin

BY BOB CURTRIGHT

Eagle correspondent

April 15, 2015 02:47 PM

“The Big Bang,” now at Roxy’s Downtown, is a scream – often of hilarity, but occasionally of shock and awe in the vein of “oh, no, they didn’t just go there” – as Kyle Vespestad and John Bates camp and cavort their way through the entire history of civilization from the Garden of Eden to Woodstock in a breezy 90 minutes or so. 

The show is very, very funny a la Monty Python or Mel Brooks (in his musical mode of “The Producers” or “Young Frankenstein”) with clever lyrics from Boyd Graham and bouncy, Broadway-lite music by Jed Feuer (the same guys who dared to musicalize Paul Bartel’s cult film “Eating Raoul” about love, jealousy, murder and cannibalism).

Consider Adam and Eve bragging about “Free Food and Frontal Nudity” before getting tripped up by a snake. Or Roman senators complaining about “Caesar, that crazy old geezer,” or the warning to “Eat your Wheaties if You Want to Work at Nefertiti’s.”
The music, ranging from upbeat to ballad to calypso, is given a fluid and lush interpretation by music director Rich Bruhn, who accompanies the duo at a grand piano and electronic keyboard in full view of the audience.

It’s a prop-heavy, slapstick farce where two overeager – make that desperate – would-be playwrights are…

Duo back for the ‘The Big Bang’ at Roxy’s Downtown

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John Bates and Kyle Vespestad are together again for “The Big Bang.”  Photo - Jeff Templin

John Bates and Kyle Vespestad are together again for “The Big Bang.” Photo - Jeff Templin

BY BOB CURTRIGHT

Eagle correspondent

April 09, 2015 02:18 PM

It’s been nearly 15 years since Kyle Vespestad played wide-eyed Adam to John Bates’ demure Eve, exploring the delights of Eden’s “Free Food and Frontal Nudity” to a catchy calypso beat.

It’s been that long since Wichita also saw Vespestad and Bates as, respectively, swaggering Napoleon and towering Josephine, or hilariously accented Queen Isabella and pie-in-the-sky Columbus, or simpering Southern belle Amber Lee and her dithering daddy, Col. Peckerwood – not to mention the two comic actors as the biblical Mary and Mrs. Gandhi commiserating over how hard it is to be a mother with a world-changing son. 

But Vespestad and Bates, longtime fixtures of Wichita’s theater and cabaret scene, are joining forces again for an encore of “The Big Bang” on Friday and Saturday nights through May 23 at Roxy’s Downtown. It’s the same venue the show played in 2001, but under its former name of Cabaret Oldtown.

And both say that coming back to the show is like putting on a favorite pair of slippers – easy, familiar and comfortable to slip into.

“Even though it’s been a long time and even though there is a lot of fast-paced dialogue and lyrics, it was such an interesting…

Roxy's Downtown in Wichita presents Always... Patsy Cline

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Always… is based on the true story of Patsy Cline’s friendship with Houston housewife Louise Seger. The show combines humor, sadness and reality. It offers fans who remember Cline while she was alive a chance to look back, while giving new fans an idea of what seeing her was like and wht she meant to her original fans. The show features all the hits of Patsy Cline on stage with a full band that will set your feet a’tapping, your hands a’clapping, and your heart a’singing.

Ironically, this show plays in two intimate dinner theatre’s in The Gayly’s region on or about the same time. Both here at Roxy’s in Wichita (through February 21).

At Roxy’s, Always … Patsy Cline stars Cindy Summers and Christine Tasheff.

“I am tickled pink to have the …

Review: ‘Plaid Tidings’ at Roxy’s Downtown evokes nostalgia

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Joe Boover stars in “Plaid Tidings” at the new Roxy’s Downtown.  Photo - Jeff Templin

Joe Boover stars in “Plaid Tidings” at the new Roxy’s Downtown. Photo - Jeff Templin

BY BOB CURTRIGHT

Eagle correspondent

December 03, 2014 08:04 PM

There’s enough solid close-harmonizing in “Plaid Tidings,” the holiday sequel to the nostalgic “Forever Plaid” jukebox musical about a 1950s quartet coming back from the spirit world for a concert they never got to give, to qualify as a musical. 

But the comedic interplay between the four delightfully nerdy characters named Sparky, Jinx, Smudge and Frankie seems to be competing with those glorious musical moments. Sure, the mugging and pratfalls are giggleworthy and fun. But they sometimes get in the way, giving a too casual, less precise feel to the musicality even when the quality of the voices is obvious. “Plaid Tidings,” which opened last weekend, launched the new Roxy’s Downtown.

Don Winsor as Smudge, the bespectacled worrywart of the group, goes for the lowest bass notes while Ben Balleau as Jinx soars for the stars – sometimes giving himself, according to a comic plot line, a nosebleed. Kyle Vespestad as Sparky, the goofy optimist, and Joe Boover as Frankie, the hunky matinee idol, cover everything in between as they journey through…

Roxy’s Downtown ready for its close-up

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Rich Bruhn, left, directs Ben Balleau in a rehearsal for “Plaid Tidings.” Photo Jeff Templin

Rich Bruhn, left, directs Ben Balleau in a rehearsal for “Plaid Tidings.” Photo Jeff Templin

BY BOB CURTRIGHT

Eagle correspondent

November 21, 2014 02:47 PM

John Hammer is convinced that the rebirth of Roxy’s Downtown – launching Friday with the holiday musical “Plaid Tidings” – was something that was serendipitously meant to be.

For one thing, Hammer says, the timing couldn’t have been better. Back in May when Cabaret Oldtown, Wichita’s popular downtown performance space for the past 22 years, quietly went on the market, he finally realized that, even though he loved the company he worked for, he had burned out on the corporate rat race.

“I’ve always been more of a creative type than a corporate guy, even though I learned a lot of valuable lessons about making large things happen through long hours with a creative team and using healthy competition to find innovative solutions,” says Hammer, a Wichita native and set designer who pursued a career with 3-D software company Autodesk, which helped make such movies as “Avatar” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”

“But I was feeling overwhelmed without much opportunity for a social life. I was Googling early one morning when I saw that Cabaret Oldtown…

Class Roxy's returns to Wichita

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Robin Dorner, Editor in Chief

The Gayly - November 10, 2014 @ 6:30am

Opening this month in Wichita, in her old “Cabaret” digs, is Roxy’s Downtown, a theatre with a rich history in the Air Capital city.

A Grand Opening Performance on November 22 of Plaid Tidings will show in the new and improved theatre space.

Roxy’s CEO and operating manager, John Hammer said that prior to coming back to theatre, he was “still in the tech industry, was working at home and I felt like I didn’t have a life.”

“I wanted to re-think my life and began looking at some things online. There was an announcement…

Wichita stages: Holiday theater preview 2014

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Cirque Dreams Holidaze features 30 performers from 12 countries wearing 300 glittering costumes and cavorting amid giant candy canes, 30-foot toy soldiers and mountains of brightly-wrapped gifts. Courtesy photo

Cirque Dreams Holidaze features 30 performers from 12 countries wearing 300 glittering costumes and cavorting amid giant candy canes, 30-foot toy soldiers and mountains of brightly-wrapped gifts. Courtesy photo

BY BOB CURTRIGHT

Eagle correspondent

November 07, 2014 04:38 PM

Are you wishing for a Christmas with “Plaid Tidings” all around?

Or are you ready for Scrooge confronting the ghost of Bob Marley – yes, the reggae idol – instead of his greedy, ghostly partner Jacob Marley in “A Christmas Carol”?

Or, how about celebrating the season with a pair of singing, dancing ice fishermen from Wisconsin, a rambunctious Gingerbread Man or even Sherlock Holmes?

The stages of Wichita’s theaters are more than ready to oblige with 13 live shows during the next seven weeks or so that feature shows ranging om holiday-themed Broadway musicals to original musical-comedy revues to dazzling international circus acts to outrageous melodrama spoofs to annual visits with favorites like “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.”

This holiday season also brings the grand opening of the new Roxy’s Downtown…

A conversation with Christine Tasheff

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Christine Tasheff is the artistic director for the new Roxy’s Downtown where her Cabaret Oldtown used to be. Tasheff says getting to do theater without having to own one is “like eating all the cake without the calories.” Mike Hutmacher - The Wichita Eagle

Christine Tasheff is the artistic director for the new Roxy’s Downtown where her Cabaret Oldtown used to be. Tasheff says getting to do theater without having to own one is “like eating all the cake without the calories.” Mike Hutmacher - The Wichita Eagle

BY CARRIE RENGERS

The Wichita Eagle

November 07, 2014 03:46 PM

When the new Roxy’s Downtown at 412 1/2 E. Douglas has its grand opening on Nov. 28, it will also be a homecoming – not to mention a birthday – for Christine Tasheff.

“This building’s always had a lot of sentiment for me,” said Tasheff, the theater’s artistic director.

Years ago, her sister and brother-in-law, Marni and Rich Vliet, had their Looking Glass restaurant on the first floor and their offices on second floor, where Tasheff’s office is now.

In 1993, Tasheff opened Cabaret Oldtown on the second floor, which had been home to a music venue called Roxy’s Downtown and then a recording studio before she opened.

In 2005, Tasheff sold Cabaret Oldtown, which continued as a theater until this year.

Now there’s a group of new owners, including John Hammer…

Cabaret Old Town to reopen as Roxy’s Downtown with new owners, former director

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The new owners of Cabaret Old Town decided to rename the business Roxy’s Downtown, mainly because of the vintage neon sign that has remained in place on the building through the years. Jaime Green - The Wichita Eagle

The new owners of Cabaret Old Town decided to rename the business Roxy’s Downtown, mainly because of the vintage neon sign that has remained in place on the building through the years. Jaime Green - The Wichita Eagle

BY DENISE NEIL

The Wichita Eagle

September 10, 2014 03:58 PM

Cabaret Old Town, the longtime music theater venue at 412 1/2 E. Douglas, will get new life later this year, along with a new-old name and a new-old director.

On Wednesday, a group of new owners announced they had purchased the business from Christi Moore and her partner Mark Leslie and that they would be making some changes, starting with the name. 

The theater now will be called Roxy’s Downtown – the name of the music venue that operated in the space before Cabaret Old Town took over in 1993. A vintage, neon sign bearing that name is still on the building.

Roxy’s Downtown’s first show will open in November.

The new owners are…