REVIEW: Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type at Columbia Children's Theatre by Melissa Ellington

click Longtime fans as well as newcomers to the children’s book Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin will be enchanted by the marvelous production at Columbia Children’s Theatre. Through songs like “Music To My Ears” and “Electric Blankets Feel Like Home,” the musical by James E. Grote and George Howe invites audiences into the amusing and often surprising world of Farmer Brown and his animals.

When the barn residents discover a typewriter, their newfound ability to communicate with the farmer develops into a dramatic standoff: no milk or eggs until the animals get electric blankets. As Farmer Brown protests, “Cows that type. Hens on strike! Whoever heard of such a thing?” Farmer Brown is played by talented performer Julian Deleon, who brings the beleaguered character to life with engaging charisma. Jackie Rowe sparkles in the fierce and funny role of the Hen, while Paul Lindley II charms the audience as Duck, serving as both narrator and participant in this farmyard tale. Frances Farrar and Georgie Harrington excel as the title characters: Cows 1 and 2 are vibrant individuals with impressive commitment and loads of personality. At certain shows, Taylor Diveley (Duck), Brandi Smith (Cow 1), Imani Ross-Jackson (Cow 2) and Erica Cooper (Hen) will perform.

Cast members capitalize on the physical comedy made feasible by a remote control feature with humorous “rewinding” and “translating” from animal speak. The script retains key elements from the beloved book while also opening up inventive possibilities. For instance, while Duck is presented as a “neutral party” in the book, the play suggests a more complex (and hilarious) situation. Guided by accomplished director Jerry Stevenson, the production team has crafted an appealing farm experience with a touch of whimsy and a whole lot of creativity. Just wait till you see the clever take on a duck pond as realized by set designer Robert Michalski. Costumer Donna Harvey evokes animal characteristics while also suggesting distinct identities, especially with the cows’ outfits. Courtesy of expert choreographer Cindy Flach, the tap sequences provide energy and flair. My tap-dance-loving daughter was star struck by the spiffy tap number that enlivens the title song. Music Director Lindley guides adept singers through the enjoyable score, while stage manager Crystal Aldamuy and sound/light technician Jim Litzinger ensure that top-notch quality emerges in every aspect of Click, Clack, Moo with gratifying attention to detail.

My kindergarten child was overjoyed to see one of his all-time favorite books come to life on stage. “Oh, wow! That was great! Hooray!” he cheered while clapping vigorously. Hooray, indeed. Hooray for this extraordinary cast and crew, hooray for a community that supports local theatre for families and schools, and hooray for a brilliant launch to Season 11 for Columbia Children’s Theatre.

Click, Clack, Moo will be performed on Saturday, September 26 at 10:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. as well as Sunday, September 27 at 3:00 p.m. (There will also be an adults-only “Late Night Date Night” version of the show presented at 8:00 pm on Friday, September 25). For more information, call (803) 691-4548 or visit

"The House of Blue Leaves" at Trustus Theatre - a review by August Krickel

blueleaves2 There's a speech at the beginning of the second act of The House of Blue Leaves, the new show at Trustus Theatre, delivered by Philip Alexander as the son in the story's central family. Speaking directly to the audience, he details a missed opportunity for stardom; as a child, he had the chance to be cast as Huck Finn in a Hollywood film, and so naturally he tried to impress the director by dancing, singing, and cavorting about with a child's typical joyous lack of inhibition. The director assumes he must have some emotional or developmental challenge, and the boy's ambitions, along with his ego, are crushed.

(L-R) Scott Herr, Monica Wyche - Photo by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

That's a fair representation of the themes addressed in the show. Ordinary people aspire to greater things, sometimes with great self-deception, while struggling with the emotional burdens they carry. Rarely do things work out as planned, although sometimes fate seems to give them a break - but only if they are paying attention. Scott Herr takes the lead role of Artie, a mild-mannered New York zoo employee who composes and performs songs, partly as a hobby (which he thinks is his passion) and partly to distract him from his home life. His wife, whom he called "Bananas," suffers from some form of mental illness, which is only getting worse. As Bananas, Monica Wyche drifts in and out of incoherence, sometimes passively crumpling into a ball, sometimes delivering rambling monologues that are occasionally quite poetic, and sometimes giving us glimpses of the well-adjusted wife and mother she must have once been.

(L-R) Kayla CAhill, Sumner Bender - Photo by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

The third principal character is Artie's new mistress Bunny, as loud and brassy a New Yorker as her name implies. Sumner Bender, normally a willowy, chic and sophisticated young actress, somehow manages to play a significantly older and frumpier character through mannerisms and line delivery alone, although costume design by Dianne Wilkins helps. Resembling a younger version of a Far Side lady, Bender dominates the stage whenever she appears, engaging in non-stop chatter. She's annoying, yet ultimately she grows on you, sort of like Snookie. Part of that appeal derives from her (seemingly) genuine desire to help Artie move on to a better place in his life. Unfortunately that involves placing Bananas in an institution, which Artie describes as surrounded by trees full of lovely bluebirds, creating the illusion of the title's blue leaves. All three performers employ every trick in the actor's handbook to create nuanced characters, and their accents, especially those of Bender and Alexander, are just perfect (if a little grating to the Southern ear.)

Sumner Bender and Scott Herr - photo by Jonathan Sharpe

With that inter-personal backdrop, the play begins in 1965 as the Pope is visiting New York. Most of the characters are Irish Catholic, and see this as a potentially life-changing event. Artie's connection is vastly more important, as he not only hopes that he will somehow be blessed/forgiven/vindicated as he prepares to leave his wife, but also that the Pope will somehow convince the country to end the Viet Nam War, in which his recently-drafted son will otherwise soon be involved.  The story I have just described seems quite realistic, but there is a pervasive tone of the Absurd (with a capital A, signifying the dramatic form) as events that technically could happen transpire, but become progressively surreal. Among the visitors to Artie's home in the second act are three nuns (Becky Hunter, Rachel Kuhnle, and Erin Huiett) Artie's childhood friend Billy, now a Hollywood bigshot (Bernie Lee), Billy's girlfriend (Kayla Cahill), and a couple of authority figures (Robert Michalski and Clark Wallace.) Everyone is perfectly cast, and Lee especially looks the part, with simple things like a turtleneck and facial hair instantly defining his character.  Cahill in particular has some incredible moments where she's not saying a word, but her silence and pained expression speak volumes.

"Then, a lot of wild comedy breaks out."  (L-R) Erin Huiett, Robert Michalski, wild comedy - Photo by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Then a lot of wild comedy breaks out, and there are some good laugh lines, as well as a lot of eloquent ones. Especially poignant is Herr's realization that "I'm too old to be a young talent." If at any time we lose track of a particular character's purpose or motivation, playwright John Guare incorporates a number of revealing and sometimes soul-baring monologues, spoken directly by the characters to the audience. Director Robin Gottlieb is a master of timing, and she has her actors working every possible detail of their roles, making unlikeable characters accessible to the audience.  All of this is significantly enhanced by Heather Hawfield's wide, expansive set design. It's just a realistic interior of a shabby apartment in a big city, but she somehow manages to open the stage up, as if she's taking a dollhouse and unfolding it, allowing us to see every corner. I can think of a half dozen shows or more at Trustus that would have benefited from this type of staging.

Kayla Cahill - photo by Richard Arthur Király Photography

As I have said previously, actors hate it when you review the material, not the performance. After all, they can't rewrite the script. So let me be clear: there is not a single flaw in acting or staging - everything is done quite proficiently and professionally, and I think everyone involved can be proud of their work on this show. That said... gentle reader, I just didn't get it. The play is a famous work from an important author; its original production won both the Obie and the Drama Critics' Circle Awards for Best Play, and subsequent revivals have garnered multiple Tony nominations and wins. Lots of famous people have appeared in versions of this show over the years. It's usually described as a comedy, or a dark comedy. There were certainly funny moments, and funny lines, but to me this was a serious drama that involved some witty characters and some surreal moments where you had to laugh. I'm told the audiences the night before and the afternoon after I saw the show were boisterous and laughing throughout the performance, whereas it was a much quieter house the night I attended.  This may well be. And given the fame and reputation of both the work and its author, I'm inclined to think I just somehow missed something.

(L-R) Clark Wallace, Sumner Bender -  photo by Richard Arthur Király Photography

There is certainly a broader theme of hope vs. reality, and the perils of life's curveballs. At some level I'm sure Artie represents humanity, with Bunny as the voice that tells us "you can do it," even if we can't. Bananas is probably the hurt child within us, the never seen Pope is surely symbolic of the redeeming panacea we all wish for, while the naughty nuns can probably be seen as representations of the random chaos surrounding and affecting us all. But again, let me be clear - while there are some Absurdist moments, this is by and large a straightforward, realistic play with a linear plot.  Possibly my tastes are changing as I get older, because parts of this play reminded me of Pinter's The Caretaker, Fugard's A Lesson from Aloes, even Beckett's Waiting for Godot, all difficult and challenging works which I enjoyed and admired as a young man. But for whatever reason, and no matter how well the cast delivered the author's well-chosen words, it never all came together for me in a way that I could understand, or benefit from some message or realization.  So that probably means it's just me. There are only seven shows remaining, and I encourage anyone who wants to be challenged by thought-provoking drama to go see the show right away.  I want to hear that you loved the comedy and were touched by the pathos, and I want you to tell me what I missed.  And I want you to tell me if the ending is literal or metaphorical. Seriously - we have a "comments" section below that is almost never used. So have at it, and tell me how I completely missed the boat on this one. And either way, enjoy some great actors while sipping on a tasty adult beverage in a cool, intimate performance venue.  The House of Blue Leaves runs through Saturday, May 24; call the box office at 803-254-9732 or visit for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

Bite Me. Columbia City Ballet presents Dracula: Ballet with a Bite

It's that time of year again. Around here, the start of the holiday season isn't signaled by sleigh bells or turkey and stuffing, but by fangs. Attending Columbia City Ballet's annual production of Dracula: Ballet with a Bite has become almost as much of a tradition as seeing one of Columbia's many productions of the Nutcracker. Yes, you've heard the tunes before, but there's something about those few moments before the curtain goes up when creepy sounds flood the Koger Center -- there's the ridiculous sensation that a bat actually might flap its gnarly wings over your head -- and then the music starts. Thomas Semanski's seductive cadence booms and, before you know it, you're tapping your feet and boogeying just a little in your seat. Let's face it, what the Nutcracker is to the younger set, Dracula is to balletomanes who like a little gore in their choreography. Sure, the Nutcracker might have cute kids, Petipa, and a snowy land enchanted by anthropomorphic dancing candies - but, I'll just say it, Dracula has hotties. Dancing hotties. Talented hotties. Scantily clad female hotties (yes, if you're wondering, it is very weird to be writing this about one's own kid) and muscular male hotties with shirts ripped to shreds in all the right places.

And then there's the ripped Romanian himself.

Principal Dancer Robert Michalski embraces the role of Dracula like no one before him.  Both terrifying and enticing at the same time, Michalski has mastered the art of transforming from the tender-hearted father of two that friends and colleagues in real life know him to be into the kind of two-legged monster you want to hide your own daughters from. A veteran dancer, Michalski's years in dance have earned him an enviable stage presence, and though he admits to not actually dancing so much in this role, his balletic movements coupled with his menacing acting have raised the bar on what local ballet audiences have come to expect from story ballets. Michalski isn't just a dancer, he is an actor.

The contemporary choreography and catchy tunes are enough to bring audiences back year after year, if for no other reason than the fun of it all. But even more importantly, given that city ballet artistic director William Starrett has established a reputation for keeping his dancers around for a while (rather than coming up with a brand new corps de ballet every season) means that almost every dancer on the stage for this season's performance of the ballet has been there before, performing the same role. What this means to the audience is that we get to see dancers who have become experts at the parts they perform. (This, of course, does not include the children's roles which do tend to change as the young dancers progress in their training.) This is not the case with every ballet you'll see -- it is a distinctive and not-always-common characteristic of a recurring ballet production and a consistent corps de ballet and principal dancers. It is something that Columbia ballet audiences are fortunate to be able to witness.

And again, on top of all this is the fun of it all.

And don't forget the hotties.

Columbia City Ballet presents Dracula: Ballet with A Bite at the Koger Center, running from Thursday, Oct. 25 - Saturday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Capitol Tickets, online at, or by calling (803) 251-2222. University students are encouraged to take advantage of special discount student pricing on Thursday, Oct. 25: all tickets are $10 with a valid student i.d.



The Centerfold -- The Men Behind the Artistic Director

In the most recent issue of Jasper we were graced with a centerfold that included not one but seven attractive young men. While the accompanying story told you all you'll ever need to know about Columbia City Ballet artistic director William Starrett, we thought you might like to know a bit about the other gentlemen in the portrait. To that end, Jasper is proud to present, The Men Behind the Artistic Director of Columbia City Ballet!

Ricky Davis was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. He started training in classical ballet at the age of 16 at the Tolbert-Yilmaz School of Dance in Alpharetta, Ga. Ricky continued his passion for dance in New York City and attended Marymount Manhattan College. While on break from school, Ricky auditioned for Columbia City Ballet and accepted their offer to join the company. This is his 2nd season with the Ballet. In his spare time Ricky enjoys traveling the world and shopping. 

Maurice Johnson is a member of the Columbia City Ballet entering his 7th season. He was born in Greenville, SC and began dancing at the age of 11 at the Fine Arts Center and Greenville Ballet. He studied at the Boston Ballet, The Rock School, and Dance Theater of Harlem. He graduated from University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2005. He's danced with the Nashville Ballet, Richmond Ballet, and also the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company. His notable roles have included Sand Dance Gymnopedies I/II, Sleeping Beauty, and Cleopatra. He also plays the flute!

Soloist Journy Wilkes-Davis, originally from Fort Hood, TX, began his ballet training at age 14 with the Savannah Arts Academy in GA. Now in his 3rd season with Columbia City Ballet, Journy has enjoyed dancing the roles of Arthur in Dracula, Snow King and Arabian Conjurer in the Nutcracker, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, and the Prince in Sleeping Beauty. Journy has also performed as a guest artist in SC, in productions of Don Quixote, Giselle, Paquita, Balanchine's Allegro Brillante and Scotch Symphony, Lila York's Celts. Journy is married to fellow company dancer Anna Porter.

Principal Dancer Robert Michalski is dancing his 14th season with the Columbia City Ballet. Born in Detroit, his previous dancing experience includes three years with the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Eglevsky Ballet in New York. His training began with the Dayton Ballet School. Robert was discovered by Artistic Director William Starrett when he participated in the company's summer dance experience in Myrtle Beach in 1988. Robert has danced the lead role of Dracula: Ballet With A Bite for five seasons, with The State praising his performance as "masterful" and citing his "remarkable talent for making movement seem effortless." Robert has also danced as John Smith in Pocahontas and one of his favorite roles as Chinese Tea in The Nutcracker. He is currently teaching at the Columbia Conservatory and married to Lauren Michalski, Columbia City Ballet's Development and Membership Director.

Wayland Anderson is in his 4th season with the Columbia City Ballet. He has performed soloist roles and the principal role of Darius Rucker in The Hootie and the Blowfish Ballet before he decided to leave and create his own company with H. G. Robert. In 2008 he co-founded DANCEWORDZ the place were poetry meets ballet. In 2011, Mr. Anderson returned to Columbia City Ballet for the 2011-2012 Season. Upon his return he had the pleasure of dancing the Dew Drop Cavalier in Nutcracker. When he is not dancing he enjoys working as a Real Estate Agent with Russell & Jeffcoat.

Philip Ingrassia, raised in San Jose, CA, received his professional training at the School of San Jose Cleveland Ballet under the direction of Dennis Nahat, Donna Delseni, and Lise La Cour.  Mr. Ingrassia then attended the Boston Conservatory where he received the Jan Veen Dance Scholarship, graduating Magna Cum Laude.  He has performed with Ballet San Jose, Ballet Rox, Boston Dance Company, Charleston Ballet Theatre, and is currently a soloist with William Starrett at Columbia City Ballet.  During his career, he has performed such roles as Cavalier and Snow King in The Nutcracker, the Jester in Cinderella, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and was able to perform one of his dream roles as Mercutio in William Starrett’s Romeo and Juliet.  This will be Mr. Ingrassia’s third season with Columbia City Ballet.

Announcing the Jasper Salon Series

In our ongoing mission to help lodge the various arts disciplines, their theories and histories and ways of understanding them, just a little deeper into the hearts of everyone in the greater SC Midlands, Jasper is pleased to announce our new project -- The Jasper Salon Series.

The Jasper Salon Series will consist of a series of intimate gatherings of artists and arts lovers who want to learn more about the arts and experience the arts, both visual and performing, in a manner that offers even greater engagement between artist and patron, and artist and artist. We'll be offering everything from lectures and demonstrations to exhibitions, readings, and performances. And always -- ALWAYS -- the opportunity for discussion because, at Jasper, we fully believe that it is through civil and enlightening discourse that we best practice the art of humanity.

Most events in the Jasper Salon Series will be held either upstairs in the Jasper Studios at the Arcade at 1332 Main street, or downstairs in the common Arcade area. Sometimes attending the events will require a modest ticket price, but most times, the events will be free. (Although Jasper may operate our Econobar in an effort to defray costs and rental fees -- and we always welcome your kind donations via the Jasper Guild..)

Take a look at what we have coming up in the Jasper Salon Series between now and Christmas.



Jasper Salon Series Calendar

Thursday, October 18th 7 pm – Dracula: Behind the Magic with Columbia City Ballet -- join us as we learn about behind the scenes special effects of CCB's Dracula - Ballet with a Bite, including make-up, music, flying bats, splattering blood, and more -- with William Starrett, Robert Michalski, Lauren Michalski, and other surprise guests. Free.

Wednesday, October 24th 7 pm – Local visual artist and author Laurie Brownell McIntosh comes to the Jasper Studios at the Arcade to talk about her new exhibit and art book, All the In Between, (releasing from Muddy Ford Press on October 19th at Vista Studios 80808, with a reading and signing on Sunday, October 21st, also at Vista Studios.) Free.

(Thursday, November 1st 7 pm – Book Launch, Fellow Traveler by Don McCallister -- this is not a part of the Jasper Salon Series, but we're sneaking the news in here so you'll be sure to put it on your calendars.  Join the staff of Jasper, the Artists of the Arcade Studios, and local author Don McCallister as we celebrate the launch of his newest novel, Fellow Traveler, published by Muddy Ford Press.) Free.

Wednesday, November 7th 7 pm – Reading, Don McCallister (see above) reads from Fellow Traveler and discusses his process and what inspired his story concept. Free.

Thursday November 29th 7 pmHow to Watch the Nutcracker with Columbia City Ballet -- learn about the story of the Nutcracker, how it was adapted to become a ballet by Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Marius Petipa, as well as some basic terminology and ballet movements and positions that will help you become a more engaged audience member and make the ballet experience more meaningful for you. With William Starrett and Pat Miller. Free.

Thursday December 6th 5 – 7 pm – Beer Tasting:  Christmas Brews – Start your First Thursday off with a tasting of holiday beers. Dr. Bob Jolley (aka the Bier Doc) will assemble a generous variety of Christmas beers for your drinking pleasure and talk about the art of brewing and what makes a holiday brew a holiday brew. Paid registration will be required for this event which will be limited to 25 attendees who will each take home a limited editorion Jasper pint glass.  

Wednesday December 13th 7 pm – this event is currently being confirmed.


Who and What do you want to know more about?

 What do you think would lend itself well to an intimate discussion by a group of people who want to know more about the art that surrounds them?

We'd love to hear your ideas for the Jasper Salon Series events.

Send them to or respond below.

Christmas Wishes for and from the Columbia Arts Community, Part II

(This is a continuation of a blog posted on Christmas Eve -- please start your reading here, and then join this blog post in progress.)  


from Cassie Premo Steele

An inner sense of validation of one's self, spirit, health, and creativity. We no longer need to look outside ourselves to know that we, ourselves, and our work are valid. We can be who we truly are and create from that shining place.

from  Noah Brock

Santa should bring the arts community the power to stand together to remove the confederate flag. The arts community should resolve to do the aforementioned so that artists and performers we enjoy and love will be more willing to play in Columbia. IT’S 2012! LET US GET IT DOWN THIS YEAR!


from Susan Lenz

I'd love for Santa to bring an arts calendar to Columbia ... something easy to navigate, used by all individual artists and organizations ... on a permanent Internet site (not just on Facebook) ... updated regularly ... better looking and more complete than "welcome to the weekend" ... and with images. Maybe Jeffrey can be Santa again ... or at least be part of the present ... with the rest of the gift being the funding that would make it all possible!


from Coralee Harris

Access to Bill Gates checking account so we can fund the myriad of projects that currently exist only in the minds of our talented artists. . .and in the absence of that, we probably need to do more classes on grant writing for the artists and performers so they can have a better shot at getting more funding.


from Robert Michalski

I want Santa to bring the Columbia arts community inspiration and financial success!



from Tracie Broom

For the young orgs, funding for paid staff and infrastructure would be pretty fantastic. For everyone? A few more hardcore, dedicated super-volunteers who take the lead and get things done well. Those folks are like human gold.



from Bonnie Goldberg

I wish for Santa to bring a continued love of the arts to a community already filled with curiosity, creativity, and love and support for one another where we will continue to gather and grow and make our Columbia one of the premiere art destinations in the world....happy holidays, Columbia artists!


Look for New Year's resolutions from Columbia artists and arts supporters coming soon. To add your own wish for the New Year, please comment below or send your resolution to






Jasper's Ghost Story Salon at 701 Whaley = Scarily Fun

The Jasper family has been busy of late putting together the finishing touches on your next issue of the magazine, but we took some time to celebrate All Saint's Eve by staging a Ghost Story Salon on Halloween night as part of the 701 Whaley amazing Halloween Costume party staged by Tracie Broom and Debi Shadel of Flock and Rally.  We were fortunate to have some of the most talented story tellers in the community share their gifts of conjuring up a mood with us. Sometimes it was a little hard to hear, but it was always a lot of fun. Have a look below at the tellers of the tales.

Coralee Harris