The Strand Theatre Hits it Big with The Most Massive Woman Wins

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 1 hour with no intermission

Different genders have different problems and, just until recently (in the grand scheme of things) most women’s problems weren’t something people wanted to discuss publicly. Forget about biological issues, good society certainly didn’t want to discuss emotional problems. However, in Strand Theatre’s latest offering, The Most Massive Woman Wins by Madeleine George, Directed by Nicole Mullins, makes no bones about touching on troubling women’s issues. Mainly concerning itself with body image, this piece also touches on emotional abuse, mother-daughter relationships, romantic relationships, and motherhood, among a plethora of other topics. It’s a show one needs to experience, even if to just get a smidgeon of an idea of what an number of women are possibly going through this very moment.

(l-r) Jess Rivera, Kaitlyn Fowler, Molly Boyle, Penni Barnett. Credit: Strand Theatre

Briefly, The Most Massive Woman Wins concerns itself with four women, Carly, Rennie, Sabine, and Cel, who are in the waiting room of an office (presumably) offering surgical cosmetic procedures. During their wait, they each tell the audience, and, at times, each other, their stories which include fat-shaming, troubled romantic and mother-daughter relationships, marriage, sexual urges, and self-harm, just to name a few. For reasons of their own, these women seem to believe cosmetic surgery is going to “fix” whatever problems they have, but each seems to have at least a sliver of doubt as to why they are there. As each woman takes the spotlight to tell of their trials and tribulations, the audience is pulled in and it’s not as though these women are looking for concrete answers, but needs the therapeutic process of just telling their truth.

Director Nicole Mullins seems to have a good grasp of this material and presents it in a minimal, but immersive way. It’s a deep, dramatic piece and delivery of the dialogue must be handled carefully and, for the most part, Mullins is able to guide her actors to effective performances, but, once in awhile, not often, the delivery does seem a bit over-dramatic. In fairness, this could be a director choice or an actor choice, so, there’s that. However, this is from a male reviewer, so, you can take that with a grain of salt. Overall, Mullins does a brilliant job with this piece and has given the audience an efficient, poignant presentation and should be applauded for her work.

Set and Lighting Design by Amy Rhodes is minimal, but engaging. The small space is transformed into a waiting room at doctor’s office in full effect and the impressive design makes it easy to be immersed in the piece. Lighting Design works nicely as it is subtle enough not to interfere with the action and highlights each character when necessary, adding value to the production, as a whole. Along with this, the Costume Design by Maggie Flanigan works well, giving each character a distinctive, individual look that matches their personalities. Though written in the 90s, it’s a timeless piece and the Set/Lighting Design and Costume Design are, as well. Kudos to Rhodes and Flanigan for their efforts.

Kaitlyn Fowler. Credit: The Strand Theatre

Since this is a stream-only presentation, a word or to must be said about Video Production by Glenn Ricci. Ricci is spot on with his superb camera work, keeping the production flowing, letting the actors do their thing as it is captured in a flowing design. It’s not just setting a camera or two up in the seating area and pressing record… not at all. Ricci makes an effort to keep it interesting with sweeps and follows that really get us up close and personal with the characters, adding great value to the production and keeping us engaged. Major kudos to Ricci for excellent videography.

Moving on to the performance aspect, it’s worth saying this small ensemble, a quartet, works to make this production all it can be. Their efforts are not in vain as each brings her own individuality to the stage as well as finds a way to blend in with their fellow actors. Though the scenes concentrate on each character, individually, the four actors have great chemistry that connects them, which is no small feat in a piece such as this. It’s a delicate balance, but these four make it work beautifully.

Penni Barnett takes on the role of Sabine, a slightly older character and one who seems to have had a few more life experiences than the other characters and also seems to be at her sexual peak. Barnett makes some good choices with her character and isn’t afraid of the dialogue or situations, express the sexuality of her character without a second thought, making for a solid performance. There are a few moments when the connection is broken as she sounds a bit scripted, but they are few and far between, not having an effect on the overall quality performance she gives.

Taking on the role of Rennie is Molly Boyle and she seems to have a good comprehension of her character and what she has gone through. Her character concentrates on an estranged relationship with a mother and it’s a relatable situation. Boyle’s natural delivery brings the audience in and makes you feel for her character, and want to help in some way. She portrays a character with a solid outer shell but a broken inner self and it comes across splendidly making for a strong performance.

Kaitlyn Fowler as Cel is a highlight in this particular production. Her portrayal is authentic and engaging as she clearly portrays a vulnerable character who seems to have been pushed into this appointment by a domineering husband who has gotten into her head. It’s a story that’s more common than not, unfortunately, but through her delivery of the dialogue, one begins to understand how someone can get themselves into this type of situation. Overall, her superb performance makes on take notice and she should be commended for her exceptional performance.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Jess Rivera is a standout in her portrayal of Carly, a down to earth, strong (though she may not know it) woman who is there because of her body image issues that, seemingly, she’s been dealing with throughout her entire life. Rivera is passionate and brings that raw passion to her character as she brings this woman’s story to the audience. She’s a great fit for this character and understands the anger, pain, and yearning in Carly, and portrays it excellently. Kudos to Rivera for her outstanding performance in this production.

Jess Rivera. Credit: The Strand Theatre

Final thought…  The Most Massive Woman Wins from The Strand Theatre is a no-holds-barred, intimate look in to the tribulations woman have to endure on a daily basis. The actors handle the material quite well, and though sometimes it seems a bit melodramatic, its effective enough not to be a hindrance to the performance. This small ensemble is giving 100% effort and deserve kudos for their wonderful performances. I have to mention, being an online only presentation, The Strand Theatre got it right! Videography is thought-out and top notch, making for a pleasant viewing experience. Though slightly dated, as the producers state in the beginning of the stream, it’s an important piece that should be experienced to give insight to the many unspoken issues women have to deal with and overcome. This delving, poignant piece of theatre is not to be missed. Get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of The Strand Theatre’s production of The Most Massive Woman Wins… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Most Massive Woman Wins will play (streaming only) through May 16. Click here for ticket info.

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Rapid Lemon Productions is Effective with Serious Adverse Effects

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Since we’re all going through a pandemic at the moment, one this writer hopes is the final phases, have you questioned health care ethics and equality? Well, Rapid Lemon Productions is back on the stage with their latest in-person or live-streamed option, the world premiere of Serious Adverse Effects by Derek Lee McPhatter, Directed by Noah Silas, and they take on this question along with addressing ethics, guilt, and yearning for forgiveness from others and oneself in a well put-together, brand-spanking-new production that will have you questioning, as well.

In a nutshell, Serious Adverse Effects handles hard, important issues that are as relevant today, if not more, than when Derek Lee McPhatter wrote it a few years ago. Though surreal at its base and seemingly hodgepodge, asking the audience to go on an almost psychedelic journey, he handles the dialogue beautifully, addressing the hard questions that have come to light, especially in the last few years, about inequity in the medical field, if we’re truly taking care of everyone as we should be, and who a majority of the Guinea pigs and test subjects are for trials of new medicines and treatments. He also masterfully opens the conversation to more holistic treatments of ailments (“The Syndrome” in his story) and the power of healing oneself through the ones mind. It’s an interesting notion and, depending on who you talk to, seems to work effectively for some folks. You will get all this, and more… if you pay close attention. That’s the key; paying attention. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in th surrealism. The effectiveness of this piece, however, comes in having POC characters/actors discussing and bringing attention to the inequalities of the medical field (and in general) to the forefront and it’s much more valuable than having non-POCs having this discussion because the characters and the actors playing those characters have a better understanding and experience they can relay. But that’s just this reviewer’s humble opinion. Overall, aside from the surrealistic moments which may ask a bit much of the audience, it’s a well thought-out, poignant script and story that needs to be told.

Valerie Lewis. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

For transparency’s sake, I have to say I viewed this presentation online, so, my perception may be slightly skewed as I only have a virtual viewing to go on. I will say, Rapid Lemon might want to tweak their technology a bit. I missed a lot of dialogue due mainly to sound issues (it’s a Zoom presentation), but, thankfully, was able to obtain a script to fill in the blanks here and there. If they haven’t already done so, my suggestion would be to have someone in the organization watch it online, and figure out what needs to be done with camera placement and sound.

That being said, the production is still enjoyable and well thought-out. Set Designer Bruce Kapplin, to his credit and expertise, has kept things simple with a few set pieces (desks, counters, etc.) and props and it is quite effective and immersive. The audience is treated to a futuristic, sterile lab/doctor’s office where all the action takes place, and this along with Projection Design by Director Noah Silas brings every scene together to create a captivating, aesthetically pleasing set design.

Costume Design by Deana Fisher Brill is appropriate and authentic, giving the characters a relatable look while keeping in touch with the differences in their positions and authority. The simple but efficient design adds production value without taking away from the story itself.

Kyla Hammond. Credit. Rapid Lemon Productions

Producer Max Garner also puts on the Sound Designer hat and this design is spot on from the funky incidental music to the crucial sound elements that move each scene along. The in-show, soothing, new-age, surrealistic soundtrack brings the into the scenes bringing just that much more immersion to the production. Along with Sound Design, Lighting Designer Allan Sean Weeks pulls the audience in with the same superb surrealistic, colorful, dreamy design that matches perfectly with Gardner’s design. Kudos to both Garner and Weeks for their efforts on this production.

Director Noah Silas seems to have a good grasp of this material and presents it clearly with just enough bells and whistles, but not too much as to take away from the subject at hand. He’s handling a new piece of theatre, which is no small feat, and he manages to bring forth the story through his simplistic but effective blocking and his casting his spot on.

Speaking of casting, speaking on the performance aspect of this piece, this small ensemble of four navigates this material wonderfully. Everyone has a good comprehension of what the author is trying to say and they convey it with ease, giving their all.

Max Johnson. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Maria Marsalis in more of a supporting role of Nia, the sister lost and/or trapped in a bizarre dimension due to her treatment for The Syndrome, plays her part hauntingly well and makes her limited time on stage matter. She may lean toward the melodramatic, occasionally, but it works for the role and she pulls it off effectively.

Taking on the role of Brandon, the frustrated, over-protective fiancé to Paula, is Max Johnson and he takes on this role with gusto. Maybe a little too much gusto at times, but it mostly works for the part. The contrast of the calm demeanor of Dr. Vye and his outbursts is interesting to watch, but there are times where I’d like to have seen a more toned-down delivery of the dialogue. Regardless, Johnson is well cast in this role and gives a terrific, intense performance that is warranted for the role.

Kyla Hammond tackles the role of Paula, an ex-patient of Dr. Vye’s who was a test subject for treatments for The Syndrome. Hammond gives a superb performance emoting both the pain and anger that is within her character. Her delivery of the dialogue is natural and the intensity and urgency is clear cut. She seems to have a good understanding of her character and portrays her delicately, but with passion that is fitting of the role. Kudos to Hammond on her work in this production.

Maria Marsalis. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Lastly, we’ve come to Dr. Vye, the tormented, guilt-ridden doctor, who was only a grad-student when the initial tests for treatments for The Syndrome were happening. This strong character is portrayed by the apt and knowledgeable Valerie Lewis. Lewis is a highlight of this production bringing a certain flair and nobility to the situation at hand. She’s well-rehearsed and gives this role 100% effort making the character sincere enough, expressing her guilt, need to right a wrong, and for forgiveness, to make the audience feel sorry for her anguish. The playwright makes a point in making a putting a black woman in a position of authority and knowledge fighting the very inequality it addresses in the story and it’s quite effective. Lewis absolutely shines in this role and I can’t wait to see more of her work in the future.

Final thought…  Serious Adverse Effects from Rapid Lemon Production is a dreamy, self-evaluating piece that addresses the questions of health care inequality, guilt, medical ethics, and hope and progress that happens through research and hard work. Though the piece asks a lot of its audience and depends on a certain suspension of disbelief, it still hits its mark through a pleasing aesthetic and soothing sound design that captures one’s attention. Production design is pleasing and effective and performances are top notch, though I would suggest seeing it in-person, if you’re able, as the tech for online streaming might have to be looked at and tweaked to get the full effect. In the current social climate, this is an important piece that needs to be seen and experienced, so get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Rapid Lemon Productions’ production of Serious Adverse Effects… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Serious Adverse Effects will play through May 23 both streaming and in-person at Motor House, 120 W. North Avenue, in Station North Arts District, Baltimore, MD. Click here for ticket info.

Important note about COVID-19 from Rapid Lemon Productions:

All performances will be live, and available both online and in person at Motor House, 120 W. North Avenue Baltimore. In-person attendance will follow strict COVID safety protocols, including:

  • Cast, crew, staff, and all audience members will be masked at all times.
  • The number of in-person attendees will be limited so as not to exceed 25% of venue occupancy (including cast, crew, and staff). Audience  members will be physically distanced in the theater.
  • Temperature checks will be conducted, and audience members’ information logged for contact tracing purposes.

For the safety of our workers, additional measures have been taken: All participants are required to produce recent negative COVID test results prior to any in-person rehearsal, where temperatures will be taken and masks worn at all times.

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Opposites Attract at The Mineola Twins at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

 

Approx. Running Time: 90-minutes with no intermission

Women have been fighting a fight for true independence for generations and in Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest offering, The Mineola Twins by Paula Vogel, Directed by Lindsey R. Barr, gives us a glimpse into how two mostly identical twins, handled this fight from Eisenhower Administration all the way through Regan and Bush Administrations. Of course, as many twins go, they may be mostly identical on the outside, but couldn’t be more different on the inside.

Ally Ibach. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

Cassandra (Casey) Dutt’s Scenic Design works well with this piece and the use of levels and set pieces on a unit set keep things simple. Though the scene changes were clunky at times because of so many loose parts, the overall design is intelligent with a certain flow that helps move the action along rather than impede it.

Along with a splendid Scenic Design, Lighting Design by Michael Logue and Sound Design by Heiko Spieker work in tandem with each other and with Dutt’s design to carry us through the decades and locations seamlessly. Both Logue and Spieker give us engaging, subtle designs that blend well into the action and transport the audience into each scene. Kudos to Dutt, Logue, and Spieker for their wonderful technical efforts for this production.

Costume Design by Taylor Keating is on point. Taking the characters through this long period between the 50s and the 80s, Keating nails the time period for each scene sometimes subtly and sometimes over the top (in a good way), and every bit of it works for this story and production. Keating should be commended for her thoughtful and detailed design.

Corey Hennessey and Ally Ibach. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

Lindsey E. Barr takes the reigns of this production and through her guidance and Direction, it’s clear she has a tight grasp on this material and presents it in humorous, but poignant way that is engaging and entertaining. You will be rooting for one of these characters, if not all, before the evening is through. The material can get a little pretentious and surreal, at points, but Barr presents it in an easy to follow fashion that stays true to the story but reflects her own vision. My hat’s off to Barr for a job quite well done.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, it’s safe to say this entire ensemble, though small in number, is big in heart and effort. All are giving their all to tell this twisted, funny story and all are to be applauded for their efforts.

Taking on more supporting roles is Rory Kennison and Kyla Tocopina as Psychiatric Aides/FBI Agents. These mostly silent characters create tension and conflict for the other characters and both Kennison and Tocopina are well versed in their roles, giving 100% effort. Both double as stage hands, helping move the set pieces on and off and in that, too, they do a bang up job.

Ally Ibach and Andy Belt. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

Andy Belt takes on the duel role of Jim/Sarah and Corey Hennessey doubles as Kenny/Ben. Belt is well cast and takes these roles and makes them his own. He sees the tongue and cheek in Sarah and doesn’t try to play it over the top, which I very much appreciate when it comes to roles like this. As Jim, the older wandering fiancé, he’s level-headed but nervous and he portrays both beautifully. As Sarah, the same-sex partner of Myra, he’s a gem in a purposely horrible wig. Overall, he plays the contrast of comedy and drama wonderfully with a good grasp on both. Hennessey plays the younger male characters of Kenny, Myrna’s son, and Ben, Myra’s son, and both seem to have been born to the wrong mother and though Hennessey seems to have a good comprehension of this, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between both characters. His portrayal is authentic, just not very diverse with these two. That’s not to say he doesn’t do a terrific job with a great stage presence and confidence that is required.

Ally Ibach as Myrna/Myra, The Mineola Twins themselves, is the definite standout in this production. Not only does she take on two very different characters who look alike and are actually very similar, once she hits the stage, she keeps going until the end. She has a very tight grasp on this material, her characters, and the dialogue, which she delivers naturally and with ease. The contrast between the two twins is clear and consistent and her confidence a gives her a strong stage presence making for a stellar performance, overall. She’s certainly one to watch in this production.

Final thought… The Mineola Twins is a quirky, entertaining look at how one particular set of twins, who happen to be opposites in personalities, have navigated through life and decades of female independence. From teens to middle-aged, we see how two people who share genes and a face can grow to think so differently but always have a certain connection. It’s a well put together production, the performances are top-notch, and it’s a fitting addition to Fells Point Corner Theatre’s current season. Get your tickets now, if you haven’t already.

This is what I thought of this production of The Mineola Twins at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

The Mineola Twins will play through March 15 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

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Phoenix Festival Theatre Makes the Cut with A Chorus Line

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours

A little before show time at Phoenix Festival Theatre, the cast of A Chorus Line (Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kelban, and Book by James Kirkwood, Jr.) slowly starts to enter the room. They set down their bags and waters. They stretch and practice combinations and otherwise get ready for the audition to resume. There is a subtle and gradual segue into the performance. The show just starts to happen around you. It is this acute level of verisimilitude that works so beautifully throughout the entire production. It definitely justifies running so long without intermission, which would have broken the mood.

Director and Choreographer Becky Titelman makes smart choices in the concept and the direction to focus on keeping things real and raw throughout. She finds ways to infuse an air of sophistication while focusing on keeping the choreography simple enough that it makes dancers of various levels all look good. The staging is simplistic, as is apropos to the show, and it allows the actors’ movements to look genuine and not forced. Similarly, the Lighting Design by Bill Price maintains the same careful design that ends up almost invisible, as the focus is on the characters and the moments that they are living.

The Cast of A Chorus Line. Photo: Matthew Peterson

Like any production, there are a few times that a note is missed or out-of-range or a performer is momentarily out-of-step, but it doesn’t even matter because these characters are so solid and strong that the audience is rooting for them in every moment – sometimes even more in the occasional moments of imperfection. This cast always gets what matters right – truly living out these moments in a way that draws the audience in. Never once do any of the performers appear to be “acting.” If you didn’t know any better, it would be easy to believe they were just spontaneously sharing their own experiences.

Additionally, the cast is incredibly well-balanced. They know when to take their own moments and when to support each other. It is almost impossible to pull out individual performances, as they truly meld and connect as an ensemble. Every actor has a moment that belongs to them, and none of them let that moment go to waste. Even the little details and moments are reflective of the focus on character, such as the way that arms are held and the selection of facial expressions.

The Cast of A Chorus Line. Photo: Matthew Peterson

Stephen Deininger (Zach) is the powerful presence presiding over everything and shows careful nuance in just how much he does and doesn’t reveal what he is feeling in dramatic moments. Leslie Perry (Lori) is a captivating dancer. Liz Marion (Cassie) oozes with raw emotion in “The Music and the Mirror” but then shows great control in becoming one with the line. Emily Machovec (Sheila) has stellar deadpan delivery and embodies the physicality of her character – right down to the way she walks. Angie Sokolov (Val) brims with crazy personality and excellent comedic timing. Ally Morris (Diana) tells every story with her eyes in a way that draws in the audience to hang on her every word. Samantha Jednorski (Judy) is truly delightful with her bursts of spunk and spontaneity. Stephanie (Kristine) and Matt Peterson (Al) are just adorable and their real-life chemistry sparkles in their duet. Sophia Williams (Maggie) has an angelic innocence and the voice to match. Eric Bray (Richie) sizzles with electric energy and stellar vocals. Aaron Knight (Mark) shows strong storytelling chops in his hysterical monologue. Not only does Tyler White (Paul) have the advantage of getting some of the best material in the show, he takes that advantage and runs with it. His monologue was heartbreaking and raw and relevant.

The Cast of A Chorus Line. Photo: LIVE at Harford Community College Facebook

A Chorus Line is a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theater, and you should definitely go and check it out this coming weekend (if you can find any tickets left!).

This is what I thought of Phoenix Theatre Festival’s production of A Chorus Line… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Chorus Line will play through March 15 at Phoenix Theatre Festival at Harford Community College, 401 Thomas Run Road, Bel Air, MD. Purchase tickets by calling 443-412-2211 or purchase them online.

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All is Preferable in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

There certain phrases or words we hear that we’ll equate with a celebrity or someone of the like and when I hear the word blonde, my mind immediately goes to Miss Marilyn Monroe (even though she wasn’t a natural blonde), and the films she starred in during her short time on this planet. One of her most popular was and is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), but some may not know it was a best-selling novel by Anita Loos in 1925 and brought to the Broadway stage in 1949 with Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Leo Robin, and Book by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields. Today, it’s on the Heritage Players stage in concert, Directed by Tommy Malel, with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler, and Choreography by Tommy Malek and Loiri-Struss-Weatherly. It’s a step back into a time when anything goes and ladies did what they could to get by, without batting an eyelash.

Ensemble of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert at Heritage Players. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

In a nutshell, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert concerns itself with Loreli Lee and Dorothy Shaw, two carefree young women sailing across the Atlantic to Paris while running into various men who might be able to help them along the way, including an old noblemen, a zipper king, a Philadelphia society type, and a button manufacturer with a big heart and short temper, who is hot on the tails of Miss Loreli Lee.

Though no name is given for Set Design, it’s worth mentioning the effective and appropriate unit design and the use of set pieces to create various locations help move the story along without clunky scene changes and over the top gaudiness. Whomever is responsible for this design is to be commended. In tandem, Sound Design by Stuart Kazanow and Lighting Design by Atticus Boidy are both spot on. This is probably the clearest sound design I’ve heard outside of an equity house and every performer was crystal clear, even over the 30+ piece orchestra, kudos to Kazaow for a job quite well done. Lighting was inconsistent, at times, but not enough to deter from the production as a whole, Heritage Players stage is a lot of space to light and at points, it gets a little too dim, but overall, Boidy creates a splendid design.

Tommy Malek gives us a superb costume design that is authentic and detailed and completely takes us back to this decadent era in our history. His attention to the details in style is second to none with fringe and sequins and low waists – it’s all flawless. His Wig Design is pure magic, transforming these performers into their characters, it’s like wrapping the already well put together package up in a nice silk bow. Malek is to be commended on his exquisite Costume and Wig designs.

(l-r) Matt Wetzel, Beth Cohen, Justin Moe, Jeremy Goldman, and Maddie Bohrer. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

One of the other hats Tommy Malek puts on in this production, along with Lori Struss-Weatherly, is that of Choreographer. While taking care of the major tap number in the second act (“Maimie is Mimi”), Struss-Weatherly’s choreography is hands down remarkable. She has managed to keep this crew in step and looking good and has certainly given the audience a number to watch out for and enjoy. Malek has this ensemble moving graciously and efficiently with his choreography and every step works for this production making for a great showing.

Music Direction by Rachel Sander is on point and her work with the entire ensemble is tight and pristine. Sandler certainly knows her way around a score and it shows in this production. There are a few warbles within the choir, but overall, her work is to be commended. In the same vein, David Zajic’s work in conducting this amazing orchestra is superb.

The final hat Tommy Malek puts on is the hat of Director and he certainly has a good grasp on this material and his vision is clear. Directing a concert version of any how is a challenge, but Malek manages to make this production his own effortlessly. He keeps his staging engaging and the transitions are seamless making for a great pacing. It was an interesting choice to keep in the instrumental bits where absolutely nothing is happening on the stage and dim lighting, but, since it’s a concert version, one really can’t cut out the music, right? Well, maybe a few cuts would have helped this one an only criticism I have of this otherwise outstanding and polished production. Malek is to be applauded for his work and efforts.

Maddie Bohrer. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Moving to the performance aspect of this production, the ensemble work is wonderful and the chemistry between them is authentic and charming and each and every performer on the stage is giving 100% making for a stellar ensemble.

Heather Moe and Justin Moe. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Featured are Maddie Bohrer as Loreli Lee and Heather Moe as Dorothy Shaw and both of these performers are cast exactly as they should be. Both have a strong, confident presence that is required to lead this ensemble. Bohrer embodies her character and seems to have a tight grasp on her mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Vocally both are powerhouses as shown in the famous “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” performed by Bohrer and Moe is a standout in her renditions of “It’s High Time,” that sets the bar high for the rest of the production and “I Love What I’m Doing” is a sensation.

Matt Wetzel and Beth Cohen. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Justin Moe as Henry Spofford, Matt Wetzel as Josephus Gage, the Zipper King, and Jeremy Goldman as Gus Semond, Jr. and Adam Abruzzo as Pierre and Robert (pronounced Ro-bear) are stellar in their individual roles and fill out this ensemble nicely. Moe portrays just the right temperament, and has a beautiful vocal tone as shown in his featured numbers such as “Just a Kiss Apart” while Goldman does a splendid portrayal of his short tempered and knee-jerk reactor character, but also contrasts that with a soft side with a smooth rendition of “Bye, Bye Baby.” The definite comedians of this bunch are Wetzel and Abruzzo who both have impeccable comedic timing and Wetzel shines vocally as in his featured number “I’m A’Tingle, I’m A’Glow.”

Rick Robertson and Maddie Bohrer. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Rounding out the featured ensemble is Beth Cohen as Mrs. Ella Spofford, Rick Roberston as Sir Beekman, and Robyn Bloom as Lady Beekman. Beth Cohen pulls off a flawless Philadelphia socialite who like to have a drink more often than not and her delivery of the dialogue is spot on. Likewise, Rick Robertson is hilarious as Sir Beekman and he has this character down pat that is apparent in his performance of the funny “It’s Delightful Down in Chile.” Bloom gives a solid showing as the prudish, dominating Lady Beekman and the chemistry between her and Roberston is delightful.

Final Thought… Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert is a fun, raucous jaunt through a bygone era where everyone was simply out to have a good time and it shows this ensemble is having a blast. With a phenomenal orchestra, able players, concise and well placed choreography, this production is polished and raring to go. It feels like it runs a little long, but you’ll be engaged and entertained every minute. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Heritage Players’ production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert  will play through March 1 at Heritage Players at The Thomas Rice Auditorium of the Spring Grove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

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Family Matters with Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

No matter how you cut it, family is like nothing else in the world. Each family is crazy in their own way and we never know what another group of related people are doing behind closed doors, but Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Rickard & Jane & Dick & Sally by Noah Diaz, Directed by Taylor Reynolds, gives us a glimpse into the lives of a seemingly ordinary family with extraordinary circumstances. With a Eugene O’Neill meets Tennessee Williams feel, it makes for an engaging and entertaining evening at the theatre.

In a nutshell, Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally concerns itself with a seemingly normal family headed by a widowed father, Richard, who’s trying to keep everything in control while raising two young kids, Dick and Sally, one of whom is deaf, and who seems to be stuck in the past and tradition, so much so as to living in his dead parents’ house. Enter the sister, Jane, who left to make her own way and is bringing in outside influences that shake the fragile hold Richard has on his life and family. Throw in a family pet who just wants to belong and bits and pieces from the old Fun with Dick and Jane book series, you have a story that is funny, poignant, irritating, and caring all at once… you know, all the feelings you get with family.

There is a lot going on in this completely original, fresh 90-minute roller coaster of humor, sadness, realism, and absurdity, but, believe me, it’s well worth it. It’s heavy, make no mistake. You will have a whirlwind of emotion and it’s a rare story that almost everyone on this earth can relate making it a phenomenal piece of theatre. Diaz gives us a lot of information in this short time, touching on the bonds we have with people both present and absent, as well as those who may not be human, and it’s all played out on a phenomenal set designed by Stephanie Osin Cohen. Her use of levels and open space is spot on and moves the story along beautifully and effectively.

Along with Cohen’s Scenic Design, Reza Behjat’s Lighting and Frederick Kennedy’s Sound work in tandem to transport the audience to various times and locations flawlessly. Kennedy’s efforts are especially noticeable as the sound and action move along together, hand in hand, sometimes unsettling so, with a rich original score that hits you, when you’re not expecting it, masked in an upbeat, bright sound with a creepy undertone. Hats off to Kennedy for his work.

Costume Design by Alicia J. Austin is spot on and effective adding to the story and not distracting from it, as should be. Each character has his or her own style and Austin’s attention to detail is to be commended.

 

Direction by Taylor Reynolds is superb as she presents this story in snapshots and vignettes with smooth transitions that are easy to follow and she seems to have a deep comprehension of this text and a clear vision. Taylor’s understanding of the more linear parts contrasting with the surreal parts of this text is clear and her presentation of both is clean and concise making for a solid showing.

Performance-wise, highlights of this production are Noah Averbach-Katz as Spot and Treshelle Edmond as Sally. Edmond pulls us in with her character and we’re rooting for her from the moment she sets foot on stage playing Sally with an innocence and coming-of-age that is impeccably balanced. Averbach-Katz as the family pet, gives such a natural delivery of the text and completely embodies this role, he has the opportunity to outshine the rest of this ensemble, but does not, making his performance an absolute standout. He is s certainly one to watch in this production.

Neimah Djourabchi takes on the role Richard and Michelle Beck tackles the role of Jane, the estranged, but loving brother and sister who are trying to reconcile the past, present, and future with each other. Djourabchi, at first, seems scripted and stiff, but it’s clear this character choice is the genius of his character choice. Once you get into the rhythm of his performance, you realize it’s a beautiful, poignant performance that makes you feel for the character. In the same vein, Beck portrays Jane as a hard-nosed bitch at first, but then the gradual transition Beck masterfully undergoes is brilliant. Her character’s at-arms-length attitude slowly strips away and she ends up being a character to which the audience can relate. Kudos to both for strong, solid performances.

Jay Cobián as Dick Jr., at times, is hard to connect with as he seems to be playing this character over the top, but his handling of this character is careful enough that you feel for him and want  to help and Vanessa Kai as Mother is elegant and purposeful as she glides across the stage seemingly effortlessly.

Final Thought… Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally is a poignant, thoughtful look at a family in crisis and it shows the difficulty of moving on as well as the clash of the old and the new. I cried. It’s not something I do often, but I did with this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hard ass and I can get all the feels, but I pride myself on being able to keep my composure, but this is the first piece in a long time that had me straight up crying in my seat. The performances are spot on, the Set Design, Lighting Design, and Sound Design all enhance the story and the staging is on point. This is seriously not a production you want to miss this season so get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally will play through March 1 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-332-0033 or you can purchase them online.

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Legally Blonde Gives Us Delightful Loopholes at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

Most of us are taught, at an early age, to not judge a book by it’s cover… I guess now-a-days, it would be don’t judge a site by its homepage? Regardless, what’s on the outside may not tell the entire story of what’s on the inside and in Third Wall Production’s latest offering, Legally Blonde the Musical, with Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and Book by Heather Hach, Direction by Henry Cyr, Music Direction by Patty DeLisle, and Choreography by Cecila and Lucy DeBaugh, we are treated to a story of overcoming adversity and redemption all wrapped up with a pink, stylish bow.

For those who may not be in the know… Based on the 2001 film of the same name, starring the perfectly cast Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde the Musical follows true California blonde, Elle Woods, who beats the odds and surprises everyone by getting herself a spot at Harvard Law School, for no other reason than to follow the boy who dumped her for being what she was. At Harvard, she surpasses all limited expectations of others and learns she’s more than what people see and think of her.

Scenic Design by Jordan Hollett, Amy Rudai, and Pat Rudai is on point with a unit set in the background at all times and set pieces that are brought on and off to represent various locations. Simple, but effective, Hollett and the Rudais should be commended for their work and efforts. In the same vein, Lighting Design by Jim Shomo is stellar and absolutely fitting for this production. He keeps the already high energy up with his fast moving, varied design and keeps the action engaging. Another great job from Shomo. Anyone who is involved in community or small theatre will most likely tell you that sound is a curse and one of the most difficult aspects of a production to overcome. Unfortunately, if there is a criticism of this production, it is Sound Design by Charles Hirsch. That’s not to say that it is completely Hirsch’s fault as many factors go into how good or bad a sound is, including space, number of people in the venue, volume of the live pit orchestra, etc., etc. I’m glad I know this show well and could follow along, but there are many times, with and without music where sound is a problem, and those who may not be familiar may lose some of the dialogue and story points. That being said, Hirsch does his best and it’s still a strong showing.

Jenifer Hollet’s Costume Design is spot on for this particular production and each character has their own, individual style that fits in with everyone else, our main character stands out, as she should. My only complaint, if it can be called one, is the blonde wig thrown onto the actress playing Elle Woods. This wig, unfortunately, looks like it belongs on a certain HBO show on a woman who deals with dragons, and seemed just a bit out of place on this actress. It worked, but I imagine there may have been better options. Regardless of this one small detail, with great attention to detail and creative styling, Hollet is to be applauded for her efforts and work on this production.

Music Direction by Patty DeLisle and Choreography by Cecilia and Lucy DeBaugh are definite highlights of this production. This is some of the best vocal work and choreography I’ve seen at Third Wall Productions in recent years. DeLisle’s skill is apparent as every group number is in perfect or near perfect harmony and strong voices are brought out in each featured number showing her superb direction. The DeBaugh’s choreography is stellar, high-energy, and upbeat keeping everyone on their toes, literally, at times. They really seem to understand this style of dancing and have created choreography that is well-fitting, fun, and a joy to watch. Major kudos to DeLisle for her Music Direction and the DeBaughs for their creative choreography.

Henry Cyr takes the helm of this production and does an outstanding job. It’s always tough to transfer a popular film to the stage, but Cyr seems to have it all under control. His staging is concise and the pacing is on point, making for an enjoyable telling of this heartfelt story. He knows his way around the stage, has a good grasp on the material, and gives us a great presentation of this popular, modern story.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, it’s absolutely worth stating that this entire ensemble is giving 100% effort with high-energy and gusto and are having a blast performing this material. The chemistry within the entire ensemble is apparent and makes the performance all the better. This transfers to the audience and we have just a good a time as they are making for a quite enjoyable evening of theatre.

To name a few, our leading lady, Maggie Mellott as Elle Woods, our bouncy, optimistic, and common sense heroine, is well cast though, at times, she may seem scripted and more subdued than I would like Elle, but she holds her own and gives a solid performance. Vocally, she has the perfect voice for this score and her beautiful performances of featured numbers such as “Positive” and “Legally Blonde” proves she knows this character well. Equally as impressive is Johnny Dunkerly as Emmett Forest, the fellow fish-out-of-water Harvard student who has a big heart and feet planted firmly on the ground. Dunkerly holds his own on stage, giving a strong performance and, vocally, he gives a commendable showing, especially in his featured numbers such as “Chip on My Shoulder” and “Legally Blonde.” Their chemistry is spot on and believable helping their already wonderful performances.

Emily Wesselhoff takes on the physically taxing role of Brooke Wyndham, the high profile client on trial for murder who is a fitness whiz and, let me say… Wesselhoff does not disappoint with her performance in the choreographed jump-rope number, “Whipped Into Shape” and, vocally, she’s a powerhouse giving a strong, confident performance. Also, Christopher Kabara as Professor Callahan, the brilliant, if not sketchy high-priced attorney who doubles as a Harvard professor, seems to have been made for this role. Cabara’s has a strong presence and intensity and makes this role his own. He gives an impressive vocal performance as well, as he shows in his performance of “Blood in the Water.”

Rounding out the featured cast is Lizzy Jackson Fleischmann as Vivienne Kensington, the snobby, uptight current girlfriend of Warner Huntington III and Andy Collins as Warner Huntington III, the well-bred, but douchey guy who thinks he has his future all figured out. Fleischmann embodies this role and presents her as a complete opposite to Elle Woods, as she should and it’s a notable performance. Collins has his role down pat and is nicely cast. He seems to have a good grasp on this character and vocally, he shines, especially in his featured number, the funny, but important “Serious.” Hats off to Fleischmann and Collins for jobs well done.

Honorable mention has to go to a few supporting players such as Mike Zellhofer as Dad/Winthrop/Dewy, Alex Pecas as Kyle, the sexy UPS guy, and Delta Nu Sisters, especially the Greek Chorus of Margot (Katelyn Clay), Serena (Bailey Wolf),  Pilar (Patricia Anderson), Gaelen (Kayla Szczybor), and Kate (Kelsey Albert). Though they play supporting roles, these few ensemble members give strong, confident performances that move the story along beautifully.

One of the supporting players, the aforementioned Katelyn Clay, as Margo, is a highlight of this production as her presence is one of the strongest and she seems to glow in every featured piece of dialogue or vocal bit causing the eye to move to her. Her efforts don’t go unnoticed and she’s certainly one to watch in this production. The standout in this, though, is Amy Haynes Rapnicki as Paulette Buonufonte, the unexpected friend to Elle and down-to-earth, positive stylist. Haynes is a pro who knows her way around the stage and knows this character inside and out. She becomes this character and her natural delivery and authenticity shine through. Vocally, this woman has pipes! Her solid performance of her featured number, “Ireland” is stellar and one you won’t easily forget. You really don’t want to miss her performance in this role.

Final thought… This production is high energy and every single member of the ensemble is giving 100% which always makes for a great showing. They’re dedicated to their roles and are having a blast which, in turn, hypes up the audience to make for a great evening of theatre. The performances are solid, the Set Design is effective and aesthetically pleasing, the pacing is on point, and, so far, this production has the best Music Direction and Choreography I’ve seen at Third Wall Productions with phenomenal vocals and dancing, making this a production you won’t want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Legally Blonde the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Legally Blonde the Musical will play through February 23 at Third Wall ProductionsSt. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 1108 Providence Road in Towson, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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Footloose and Fancy Free at Suburban Players

By Jennifer Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with 25-minute intermission

Walking into Saint Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church for The Suburban Players of St. Demetrios‘ production of Footloose with music by Tom Snow (among others), the lyrics by Dean Pitchford (with additional lyrics by Kenny Loggins), and the book by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, it is clear that you are stepping into a well-oiled machine Directed by Lauren Spencer-Harris, with Music Direction by Steven Soltow, and Choreography by Amie Bell. Ambience takes center stage during the lovely dinner portion of the evening, complete with exceptional service and a wide variety of food and drink selections. The food and atmosphere are definitely comparable to any of the professional dinner theaters in the area. Things only get better once those familiar opening strains of “Footloose” fill the room, as the audience is transported into a production filled with energy, fun, and a lot of heart.

The live orchestra is becoming more of a rarity in the age of digital tracks, and it was refreshing to hear an excellent live orchestra under the direction of Musical Director/Conductor Steven Soltow. Soltow’s skill as a leader of music was clear throughout the entire production. Often times, harmonies in musicals fall to the wayside when the cast becomes preoccupied with dance moves and other concerns, but, in this production, the harmonies were strong and often the star of the large musical numbers. Better yet, the top-notch focus on vocal competency didn’t slow the cast for a second in their synchronized delivery of the energetic and exciting choreography of Amie Bell. While sometimes in a musical, the acting scenes can see like the things to “get through,” it is clear that Director Lauren Spencer-Harris spent time with actors on timing, pace, and emotional delivery in those scenes. Spencer-Harris also makes a wise decision to keep the momentum moving at all times. The scene changes are quick and seamless, and there is always some action going on during the change to keep the audience engaged in the moment.  Even with a large and diverse ensemble, the production team has everyone knowing what they are doing and living each moment of the show with passionate engagement.

Footloose is the story of teenager Ren McCormack (Eric Bray Jr.), whose mother (Caitlyn Soltow) packs him up and moves him from a big city to a small town. Bray is perfectly suited to be the heart of the production with his natural charisma and believability on stage. Bray always seems to live in the moment of the performance with natural reactions to everything that is happening around him. Bray’s beautiful and consistent vocal performance sells the emotional center of the piece. Soltow possess similar strengths, and there is a lovely moment towards the end of the show when Ethel encourages Ren to keep fighting.

What Ren is fighting is a law in town that prohibits dancing. That law was enacted and is held onto fiercely by the town’s preacher, Reverend Shaw Moore (Perry Alexion). Alexion is sometimes inconsistent in his performance. He focuses too much on what and how he is singing without allowing himself to connect with the message behind the words. However, when Alexion allows himself to be in the moment – especially in his final, explosive scene with Ren – he has a powerful presence that can move the audience to tears. As his wife Vi, Tammy Oppel is also similarly inconsistent; however, it sounded as if she may have been fighting illness during this particular performance.

As the reverend’s daughter Ariel, Marina Yiannouris is enchanting. She mixes sweet and mischievous with a perfect balance and carefully plays the subtext between her lines. Yiannouris has a gorgeous and powerful voice. She blends well with Bray, both musically and in their scene work. They have a very easy and natural chemistry on stage.

When Yiannouris joins with Ariel’s three friends – Rusty (Mia Coulbourne), Urleen (Jamie White), and Wendy Jo (Katie Pendergast) – for “Holding Out for a Hero,” it is sheer magic. All four young women are excellent vocalists with commanding stage presence. Throughout the show, the trio of friends brings great moments of hilarity as well as powerful moments of intensity. “Somebody’s Eyes” is several minutes of sheer perfection with their vocal prowess, Bray’s relatable acting, and an intricate blend of staging and choreography. Even within this group of talented actresses, Coulbourne is able to really stand out with one of the most perfect performances ever. Everything she does comes across effortless and exceptional. Her comedic delivery flows off the tongue, and her voice is beyond incredible.

Coulbourne’s counterpart, Willard (Jordan Baumiller) is another role to watch for. Willard is one of those characters written to steal a show, and Baumiller milks that opportunity for all of its potential. He creates a loveable character. His realistic delivery of the lines makes them hilarious. Both Coulbourne and Baumiller effortless avoid the pitfall of overplaying the silliness of their characters. The raw realism is what makes the characters funny, and they both clearly understand that. Baumiller also shines in his rendition of “Mamma Says,” getting a chance to show off his beautiful and powerful classical musical theater sound.

The only slight concerns with this production were technical. There seemed to be some issues with the microphones at first, although the worst of the issues seemed to get fixed after the first few numbers. So, hopefully, they figured out the problem and have it resolved now. The other issue was the lighting at the end of “Almost Paradise.” There were bright flashing lights at the top of the stage, so close to the performances on the platform and so bright, that I actually had to look away during the end section of that number because it was hurting my eyes. Other than that, the lighting was effective throughout.

If you don’t have your tickets yet, you should get them quickly. Because it is a dinner theater, tickets are not sold at the door for most performances. If you are looking for a fun time and a fantastic meal, Saint Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church is the place to be this weekend. The Suburban Players and their Footloose will not disappoint.

This is what I thought of Footloose the Musical at Suburban Players… what did you think? Feel free to drop a comment!

Footloose will play through February 23 at The Suburban Players of St. Demetrios, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 2504 Cub HIll Road, Parkville, MD 21234. For tickets, contact Eleni Libertini at 443-390-2981 (text/voicemail) or via email at Suburbanplayers2504@gmail.com.

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Give Me Moonlight Shines in the Night at Rapid Lemon Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Sometimes there are circumstances that are so very painful but we feel as though we have to bear them alone. We put up walls and even facades to the outside world and, most of the time, we don’t think our problems are sufficient enough to be talked about outside of our own bubbles. We get a peek into this type of thinking in Rapid Lemon Productions’ latest offering, Give Me Moonlight by Ariel Mitchell, Directed by Noah Silas, and we get a glimpse into what can happen when those walls and facades crumble.

In a nutshell, Give Me Moonlight concerns itself with Bessie and Albert, a well-to-do married couple in Chicago who seem to have everything nicely put together. When Bessie welcomes a pregnant stranger into their home, the cracks begin to show in Bessie and Albert’s perfect lives and along with the pregnant stranger, a con-artist finds his way into the mix and all of a sudden, a castle is built in the middle of Death Valley with everyone quite okay with how things panned out.

Bruce Kapplin’s Scenic Design is top-notch and he uses his space exquisitely. He has created a simple, minimal design, but it works perfectly for this piece and his work with sand and desert-looking plants (branches, really) take this set to the next level. It’s a creative and effective design and Kapplin is to be commended for his brilliant efforts. Along with Kapplin’s Scenic Design, another honorable mention goes to Costume Design by Deana Fisher Brill. Set at the turn of the 20th century, Brill’s design transports the audience to the era flawlessly. Each character is costumed  beautifully with period styles and her attention to detail is on point. Kudos to Brill for a design well thought-out and executed.

Noah Silas takes the helm of this production and his understanding of the text is clear and his staging keeps the story flowing which keeps the audience engaged. The subtly of the period is nicely presented and the character work with the performers is spot on making for a superb showing on Silas’ part as guide and head of this solid, polished production.

Flynn Harne and Whitley Cargill. Photo: Rapid Lemon Productions

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, this small quartet of performers give strong, solid performances are work splendidly together as a team. They give and take with each other making for robust performances that hit all the buttons of this poignant and thoughtful story. Sean Coe takes on the role of crippled and frustrated husband Albert and thought he seems to go over the top at times, especially physically, in such an intimate space, he’s believable enough. His delivery is a bit stiff but, he seems to have a good grasp of the character and plays him well. Whitely Cargill, as Jack, the pregnant woman taken in by Bessie, gives an admirable performance and she seems to get the story and her character, but her portrayal leaves much to the imagination and it mostly has to do with her delivery. She’s monotone, at best, and scripted as if she’s just going through the motions. She does, however, work quite will with her cast mates and the chemistry with all of them is sincere.

A highlight of this production is Flynn Harne as Scotty, the fast talking con-man who is a good balance of looking out for oneself but meaning no real harm. Harne takes this character and makes it his own giving a confident showing and clear understanding of the role. His delivery is natural and he keeps the audience engaged with his energy. Hats off to Harne for a robust and convincing performance.

Out of the four, Holly Gibbs is the standout in this production, taking on the role of Bessie, the turn of the century housewife trying to keep it all together. Gibbs gives a heartfelt, emotional performance and it is completely authentic in both delivery of the dialogue and actions. She embodies this character and pulls the audience in with her sincerity and passion to the character and the story. She has a natural chemistry with her cast mates which enhances her already stellar performance. Gibbs is certainly one to watch in this production and should be commended for her efforts.

Final thought… Give Me Moonlight is a poignant, real story of how people deal with crisis differently. Some fold into themselves, some keep themselves busy, some run, and some run after, but either way, life has a crazy way of throwing curveballs right to your face. The story is engaging and the performances are superb making this one production you don’t want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Give Me Moonlight at Rapid Lemon Productions… what did you think? Feel free to drop a comment!

Give Me Moonlight will play through February 16 at Motorhouse120 W North Avenue, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

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Learning How to Be Yourself with Loserville at Fredericktowne Players

By Mike Zellhofer

Approx Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

Every year there is a hot, new musical released for production. And every year reviewers are forced to write about a different theatre company’s version of said musical.  Ask any reviewer about the six times they saw Shrek, the eight times they saw Newsies, or how many times they think they’ll see Kinky Boots this year. The Fredericktowne Players (FtP) are an oasis in desert of monotony. They take a chance on a little-known show called Loserville.

Loserville, (book, music & lyrics by Elliot Davis and James Bourne), is directed by Matthew Bannister, with musical direction by Matthew Dohm, and choreographed by Laurie Newton. Bannister bravely tackles the challenge of presenting a show that almost no one has heard of and delivers an interesting production. His staging and use of the space are to be commended. He clearly shared his vision with set designer Tyler Brust who produced a clever, aesthetically place to perform. The moving staircase and punch cards were a nice touch. Newton keeps things moving and fills the stage with dancers. Overall, I enjoyed the choreography and was impressed at times with the lifts and spins performed by the cast. Dohm does a nice job with his cast and gets the most out of them vocally. There are a few good voices that stand out but where Dohm really excels is with the band. As someone who prefers live music over the recorded accompaniment, I applaud their effort. The band was tight, in sync and crisp. Live music does sometimes come with a disadvantage though and to quote the great Adrian Monk, “It’s a blessing and a curse.”

The biggest flaw in the production is sound designer Matthew Moore’s inability to come up with a proper balance. The blame should not fall entirely into Moore’s lap because sometimes the building’s acoustics may make maintaining a balance difficult. Bannister should have recognized this and instead of forcing the issue of having the band on stage, they should have been in the pit or back stage. I got the gist of what was going on, and thankfully the program provided a two page synopsis of the show, because once the band started playing I could not make out what was being sung. The slower ballads were clear but most of the show was lost to me.

The cast of Loserville. Photo: Stephanie Zacharia Hatmaker.

Despite the overpowering music there were several stand out performances. Tori Shemer (Susie Alpine) is a ball of energy that keeps the stage charged with her electricity. Shemer doesn’t have many speaking lines but her time on stage does not go unnoticed. She is a dancer that looks like she enjoys performing. She also sings a few solo lines and when she does, she is spot on.

Justin Patterson (Francis Wier) and Noah Haren (Marvin Camden) will keep you laughing. These two play well against one another and are a bright spot whenever they are on stage. Alyx Greer (Lucas Llyod) is the best friend everyone wants to have.  He perfectly communicates the pain that we all experience when you are best friends with someone and then he/she discovers boys/girls.

No musical is complete without a young ingenue and Delaney White (Holly Madison) does not disappoint. White has a beautiful voice with the ability to go from ballad to belt. Her performance showed that she is a gifted actor willing to put in the work to develop her character.

In my opinion Jake Schwartz (Michael Dork) is the glue that held this production together. Schwartz is the embodiment of every bad high school memory. From the opening number he commands the stage. He flows fluently from the geek that the cool kids pick on to the geek that is, well head of the geeks. He knows when he is outmatched and also when he rules over his fellow loser subjects. His zingy one liners are hysterical and delivered with precise comedic timing. His character work is his strength but, in this production, his vocal chops are not to be overlooked. Both he and White make this a show worth seeing.

One final shout out. Thank you, thank you, thank you stage manager Aimee Penn and your amazing run crew. The scene changes were fast, smooth and flawless. Your expertise kept the show moving and this audience member certainly appreciated it.

Don’t be a loser. Go see the show. This is what I thought of Loserville at Fredericktowne Players… what did you think? Feel free to drop a comment!

Loserville will play through February 9 at Fredericktowne Players, Frederick Community College, 7932 Opossumtown Pike, Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 240-315-3855 or you can purchase them online.

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