Scottfield Theatre Company Gets in the Spirit (or Three) of Christmas with Scrooge! The Musical

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

Well, it’s about that time of year again, and holiday shows are abound. Some new, some old, some fresh looks at old stories, and so on and so forth. I’m sure at one time or another, we’ve all heard the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts of Christmas (past, present, and future), and the story finds its way into our lives, even if we don’t know it by heart. This season, Scottfield Theatre Company has decided to join the fray and present Scrooge! The Musical, by Leslie Bricusse, based on and taken directly from the 1970 film Scrooge. This production is Directed by William Price, with Music Direction by Dominic LaFrancesca, and Choreography by Becky Titleman. It’s a delightful telling of the classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens that should hit the spot during the holiday season.

Scrooge! The Musical. Photo: @machpe

I’ve got to admit, Bricusse’s adaptation isn’t really my cup of tea. For being such a classic story, the book just drones along and the music is, in a word, uninspiring with sing-songy nursery rhyme melodies and lyrics that are a bit too on the nose, limiting the songs. Little jokes peppered in fall flat and the attempts of humor and updating the dialogue a bit end up just being annoying. However, this is by no means a reflection on the ensemble. This ensemble gives an admirable performance and they are dedicated to the material, however droll it is. Kudos to the entire ensemble for pushing through and giving a wonderful performance.

Set Design by Director William Price is simple, but exquisite. The backdrops and unit set pieces are well designed and executed and puts the audience smack dab in the middle of Victorian London and Price is to be commended for his design as well as kudos to Jimmy O’Burrill for his Set Painting and Construction. It’s authentic design with attention to detail that is quite impressive.

Another challenge for period pieces is wardrobe but Gay Lynn Price has tackled and overcome that challenge with her impeccable Costume Design. Price has managed to wardrobe every character, featured or ensemble, with period fitting clothes that adds great value to the production, overall.

Music Direction by Dominic LaFrancesca is impressive and he’s worked quite well with this ensemble. The music, as stated, is nothing spectacular, but LaFrancesa has this ensemble on point with near perfect harmonies soaring throughout the theater. Each featured number is well-rehearsed and even with recorded music, the performances are on spot on. Kudos to LaFrancesca for his efforts in this production.

The Cratchets. Photo: @machpe

Becky Titleman tackles Choreography for this piece and there are a lot of upbeat, fun numbers that require choreography, but unfortunately the dancing, overall, seems a bit lackluster. The ensemble seems to be having a blast with the dancing and they are superb in their performance, but from the audience, it just fell a little flat. There is a lot of unison moving without a lot of variety but, again, the ensemble’s performance keeps it entertaining and Titleman seems to know her cast and creates choreography that helps them shine.

William Price, who takes the helm of this production, seems to have a clear vision and a tight grasp on the material, and though the production as a whole is entertaining, it is stagnant at times with bouts of what I call “stand and bark” with not a lot going on, especially during the music numbers where there are opportunities for choreography. There are points when there the stage is a little too full, but at least the actors have something to do, however, sometimes, less is more. Transitions are smooth and simple, keeping the pacing up nicely. Price’s understanding of the material is clear and his staging, if at times a bit tedious, is charming and makes for a good showing.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Photo: @machpe

The entire ensemble is into this production and it definitely shows that that are enjoying themselves, which is really what it’s all about. To mention a few Ariel Edler as The Ghost of Christmas Past makes a fantastic showing with good character work and a beautiful voice that resonates through the theater, especially on her featured number, “Love While You Can.” In the same vein, Elizabeth Marion shines as The Ghost of Christmas Present with a great command of the stage and good comprehension of her role. She has a natural delivery of the dialogue and embodies this role and her featured vocal parts in “Finale Act I” keep the audience interested and engaged. Finally, Josh Hannas, portraying The Ghost of Christmas Future, didn’t have much to do but appear and point, he still gives off a sinister air and the costume is on point (high-five, Gay Lynn Price)! A few honorable mentions include Phil Hansel who plays a ghostly Jacob Marley with a strong vocal performance of his featured number, “Make the Most of This World.” Also, Charlie Johnson as Nephew and Young Scrooge gives a good showing, but can be a little scripted at times, but overall gives a strong performance. We mustn’t forget the Cratchets, played beautifully by Hayden Floros and Lisa Rigsby, who have great chemistry and work quite well together.

A highlight in this production is a young Erin Acerno, who takes on the role of Kathy, Bob Cratchet’s daughter and seemingly closest sibling to Tiny Tim. This young lady hits the ground running with this role and knows her way around the stage. She takes this character and makes it her own and, vocally, she’s a powerhouse. Her clear, strong vocals rings throughout the theater and her featured vocal parts makes one stand up and take notice. I’m looking forward to seeing what this young lady is going to accomplish, theatrically.

The standout in this production of Scrooge! The Musical is James Fitzpatrick, who takes on the titular role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Fitzpatrick was born for this role. He completely embodies this character and it’s a good fit for him. It’s clear to see he’s giving 100% and then some for his performance and it pays off. He’s a joy to watch as the crotchety old miser and his transition to the kindly, enlightened man at the end of the story is clean and believable. His comedic timing is spot on and his grasp of this character makes for a brilliant performance. Vocally, Fitzpatrick shines, especially in his featured numbers such as the humorous, “I Hate People,” and poignant “I’ll Begin Again.” Fitzpatrick is certainly the one to watch in this production.

Final thought… Though this particular adaptation was not my cup of tea, it’s still a good presentation of the timeless Dicken’s story. It stays in the time period and the story itself is a classic but the book, music, and lyrics just fall flat in this telling, and the recorded music takes away from the energy of live theatre that may have helped give this adaptation a boost. That’s not to say that the performances aren’t spectacular, because they certainly are. Every ensemble member gives 100% effort and the production, overall, is polished and very entertaining, but there’s only so much you can do with lackluster material. However, ‘tis the season for this lasting tale and Scottfield gave their all making for a delightful evening of theatre.

This is what I thought of Scottfield Theatre Company’s Scrooge the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Scrooge the Musical played through November 10 at Scottfield Theatre Company at The Cultural Center at The Opera House, 121 N. Union Avenue, Havre de Grace, MD.

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Review: Carrie the Musical is on at Stand Up for Theatre

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 2hr 15 minutes with intermission

Carrie the Musical starts with a glimpse at the way that it will end. Sue is covered in blood, under an interrogation light, and bodies are strewn across the stage or hanging in the back corners. Stand Up for Theatre pulls the audience right into the scene of devastation and into caring about Sue and her story. Making the audience care about the characters is what this production of Carrie the Musical, Directed by Ed Higgins with Music Direction by Brandon Seehofer and Choreography by Lenore Florez, does the best. There is an incredible amount of heart on display in this production, with each performer truly giving it their all and embodying this world. Unfortunately, the production does suffer from some technical missteps that can be jarring. However, overall, what the end product lacks in polish, it makes up for in passion.

Because Carrie discovers her telekinetic powers in the course of this story, Carrie the Musical calls for some technical tricks that don’t quite deliver in this production. When Carrie moves a stool, an arm is scene pulling the wire from behind the platform. A falling cross doesn’t really translate as being telekinesis. Although Billy is shown hanging in the beginning scene, that never actually happens during the prom massacre. The cabinet in which Carrie is pushed doesn’t have a back, which really pulls away from the intense scene with her mother. Some other tricks, like the cup on the table, do work well – but, when the technical falters, it does lessen the impact of what are some pivotal moments.

The other technical issue that is the most troubling is the sound balance. Modern scores, like Carrie, were written for an age in which performers use microphones. They were not written to be belted at all times. Sometimes, in a small space and with softer backing tracks, this can still be pulled off. However, between the complexity of the score, the acoustics of the room, and the volume of the backing tracks, the performers in this production should have been using microphones. The end result was often one of two things. In some cases, the soloists were hard to hear over the music. In other cases, pushing too hard to go over the music sounded like screaming or just went flat.

Despite the technical mishaps, this was still an overall compelling evening of theatre due to the strong acting performances of the cast. Every member of the ensemble created a unique and different character and stayed consistently in the moment. Director Ed Higgins did a good job in creating staging that gave life to classroom and crowd scenes by having realistic, but not distracting action, going on across the stage. The reactions of the teenagers in these situations was so spot-on that is seemed spontaneous and genuine.

The story is told by Sue Snell (Sarah Mackin). Mackin is one of the performers that is best able to navigate around the sound issues in order to showcase her beautiful voice. She does an excellent job of bringing Sue’s conflicting emotions to life in both her line delivery and her subtle nonverbal reactions. As her boyfriend Tommy Ross, Anthony Case has a lovely quality to his voice and a genuine likeability that showcases the softer side of Tommy. As her mean-spirited and spoiled best friend, Chris Hargensen, Triana McCorkle oozes with viciousness and plays the perfect mean girl. A truly standout performance comes from Jake Schwartz as Billy Nolan. He really commands attention on the stage and demonstrates a real skill at adding comedic moments. Schwartz brings a level of polished nuance to his performance that is next level.

As Carrie White, Michaela Saul definitely has the hardest vocal challenge. Navigating the sound issues and the score ultimately proves difficult for her in places. That being said, her acting performance is absolutely top notch. Even when she comes out for her curtain call, she is still sobbing and emotionally drained from literally giving every inch of her inner self to Carrie’s intense breakdown. Saul is able to capture both Carrie’s naïve innocence and her deep pain as she immerses herself in the role. Causing much of Carrie’s pain is her mother, Margaret White (Jenifer Hollett). Hollett gives an unnerving performance. She says and does horrible things with an innocent and wide-eyed look on her face. It is a very effective character choice that really ups the intended unease felt in her scenes.

In the midst of all the crazy, the true heart of the show is Lenore Florez as Lynn Gardner. Her performance is absolutely captivating. She knows how to command attention, make the audience fall in love with her, and then push the scene’s attention to another performer. She demonstrates a sophisticated level of technique in both her acting and vocal performance. She is both inspiring and genuine. “Unsuspecting Hearts” is easily the perfect embodiment of the level of real emotional connection that is what worked best in this production.

While Stand Up For…Theatre may have some technical issues to polish and perfect as they move forward, they are definitely not lacking in talented and passionate performers. Carrie the Musical tells a story that, although larger-than-life, is largely relatable. These actors, with their relatable performances, find and bring to life the people in the story – and, ultimately, it is caring about these people that matters most.

This is what I thought of Stand Up for Theatre’s Carrie the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Carrie the Musical will play through November 9 at Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park, MD 21225. For tickets, call the box office at 410-636-6597 or you can purchase them online.

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Radio Golf is a Hole in One at Everyman Theatre

By Mike Zellhofer

Approx. Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

Radio Golf, directed by Carl Cofield, now playing at Everyman Theatre, is the final installment of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle. This is a series of ten plays, each set in a different decade, that depicts the African American experience in the twentieth century. All of them are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District except for one. 

Jamil A.C. Mangan. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

The play follows successful real estate developer Harmond Wilkes (Jamil A.C. Mangan) in his bid to become the first Black Mayor of Pittsburgh. The entire play is set in Harmond’s campaign office in the Hill District, where he is involved in a neighborhood revitalization project. Set Designers Christopher & Justin Swader have captured the feel and look of the office as though it were transported from the Hill in 1997. They capture every detail from the hanging lights and block glass windows to the combination of brick and distress plaster walls. I especially like the open ceiling displaying the steel girders, paying a nice homage to the Steel City.

Anton Floyd, Jamil A.C. Mangan. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

Wilkes is joined by his business partner Roosevelt Hicks (Jason B. McIntosh) and his wife and campaign manager Mame Wilks (Dawm Ursula). Hicks is his high school friend and the Vice President of Mellon Bank, as well as his primary investor. There plan is to raze a block to build a high-rise apartment complex with upscale shops. His plans quickly go awry when he discovers that he does not own all of the property on the block. Additionally, he is met with some neighborhood resistance from Sterling (Anton Floyd) and Elder Joseph Barlow (Charles Dumas). Harmond is left with the dilemma to tell his partner and stop the project, or to move forward and become the neighborhood savior thus helping his campaign.

Chalrles Dumas, Jamil A.C. Mangan. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

Cofield was a perfect choice to direct this production. He has a thorough knowledge and understanding of the material and his actors have embraced his vision. Cofield brilliantly brings to life both the comedy and the drama that Wilson has penned and makes his characters real and believable. “Although Radio Golf is set in 1997, August Wilson saw into the future and started this conversation around life in America for upper-class Black folk,” says Director Carl Cofield. “How important is success if you’re denying and destroying your family’s history and culture in order to get it? It’s a modern examination of what the American Dream means today and has huge resonance in Baltimore and other urban centers.”

Dawn Ursula, Jamil A.C. Mangan. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

Resident Company Member Dawn Ursula was fun to watch as Mame Wilks. She proved that behind every great man is a great woman. She stands by her man and you can feel the love she has. She is also not afraid to remind him that she is a strong independent woman who is destined for greater things. Ursula does a wonderful job acting both sides of her character.  

My two favorite characters were Sterling Johnson (Anton Floyd) and Elder Barlow (Charles Dumas). Floyd is that slap in the face that brings you back to reality that we all need. While he may have fractured a law or two (he just wanted to know what it was like to have some money), he has a clear sense of right and wrong. His delivery is fresh, pointed and he is a joy to experience. Floyd gives the attitude needed to play Sterling. I can’t wait to see him in another production. Dumas gives a performance you don’t want to miss. He is the paternal, soft, loving sage that we all have somewhere in our families. He reminded me of my own mentor. I would ask him a question and he would talk for twenty minutes, the whole time never answering my question. Then, two or three days later, a light would come on and I’d realize what he meant. Dumas’ performance is that way. As much as I enjoyed watching him, it was days later that I finally appreciated him. He is slow, steady, and powerful and will keep you thinking about him days after the show. I challenge you to follow him closely. There is wisdom behind what he says and does. Pay close attention to his reaction to other performers.  

Dawn Ursula, Jamil A.C. Mangan. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

Jason B. McIntosh (Roosevelt Hicks) and Jamil A.C. Mangan (Harmond Wilks) are perfectly cast to play against each other. McIntosh does an excellent job as the comic relief as well as the man on the rise. His performance is focused and crisp. He sees an opportunity and he goes for it. One of the underlying questions in the play is whether or not Hicks is being used. McIntosh does an excellent job keeping the question unanswered. He goes with the flow, yet you can see him pause to think when challenged. I thought he gave a compelling performance to support either side without giving a definitive answer. From the opening scene Mangan shows that the stage is his. His deep, loud voice grabs your attention and keeps you entranced throughout the production. You firmly believe that he has worked his way to the top and he is a man to respect. Mangan takes you along with him as he experiences a myriad of emotions. His acting has you quickly feeling for him and going through his struggle together with him. Mangan has the ability to make you feel as though you have been in his shoes. A truly phenomenal performance.

This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s Radio Golf… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Radio Golf will play through November 17 at Everyman Theatre315 W Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

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Lizzie Borden Took an Axe in Lizzie: The Musical at Guerrilla Theatre Front

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

Picture it: Fall River, MA, August of 1892. Most say, “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.” We’ve all heard it at one point in our lives and when we got older, we may have delved more into the story. Along with writing reviews for theatre, and participating in theatre in most of my free time, I am an admitted and proud true-crime junkie, and the story of Lizzie Borden up there with the handful of stories and events I (and many others) cannot get enough of. My head exploded a little (in a good way) when I heard the Lizzie Borden story had been turned into a musical, and not just a regular musical, but a rock opera with a modern twist and I was even more ecstatic when I was invited to a performance from Guerrilla Theatre Front earlier this month. Directed by Greg Bell, with Music Direction by Megann Baldwin, Lizzie: The Musical, is an instant hit and one show you need to put on your calendar.

The Cast of Lizzie: The Musical. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Set Design by Aaron Elson is nothing short of perfection. His design incorporates the space at Creative Labs (which one might call a warehouse basement, if that’s a thing), and it blends in so naturally with its surroundings. The raw material look of the entire set sets the mood the moment the audience walks in and the grunge works wonderfully with the production as a whole. Kudos to Elson for his creative design.

Amy Bell, Marie Bankerd, and Maggie Flannigan’s Costume Design is on point in bringing this 100+ year old story to life as well as dragging it into the 21st century. It’s a kind of “Modern Victorian,” if you will with corsets and lacy gloves, high-top boots, and floor-length dresses, all in dark and dank colors that set the mood of this grizzly but infatuating tale. The wardrobe choices for this production are suited nicely to the cast and they seem comfortable and confident in every garment making this a truly successful design from Bell, Bankerd, and Flannigan.

Lighting Design by Jim Shomo and Sound Design by Charles Hirsch work in tandem to create the feel for the entire production… ROCK. The intense light show puts you in a legit rock concert and the audience is encouraged to dance around, cheer, and whatever else mood takes them! Shomo seems to have a good grasp on this material and has created a design that fits in perfectly with strobe effects, flashes of light, blackouts when necessary and it’s easy to see he’s no stranger to this Lighting Design game. Hirsch had some challenges to deal with, including a non-traditional space, but he seems to have overcome the challenge and given us a good design, overall. Both Shomo and Hirsch are to be commended and applauded for their efforts on this production.

The Cast of Lizzie: The Musical. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Blending in perfectly with the lights and sound, but also making a splash are the Projections by Christopher Uehlinger. His choices were impeccable and fit in with ever scene. The split screen and background projections kept the action moving onstage, but didn’t hinder it or get in the way. More and more projections are being used in theatrical productions and Uehlinger seems to be ahead of the game and I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work in other productions in the area and beyond.

Music Direction by Megann Baldwin is top notch with a top notch pit orchestra to boot! Her comprehension of this score translates beautifully to her cast and the melodies and harmonies soar throughout the theatre. The heavy rock style is not lost on Baldwin, either, as she navigates through this non-traditional musical with ease like a light in the darkness.

JacQuan Knox as Alice. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Greg Bell takes the helm of this production and his Direction of this piece exemplifies his grasp not only on this story, but the style of the piece, and his work is spot on. His staging is simple, but effective and his casting is just about perfect. His vision is presented clearly and the mix of rock concert and traditional theatre mesh effortlessly making for a fresh, engaging production that will have you interested from beginning to end. Bell is to be commended for his impeccable work on this production.

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, this quartet is nothing to mess with, Each and every lady in this cast has come ready to smash it with their A-game and that just adds to the beauty of this production. Not only do they smash it musically, they each seem to have a tight grasp on their respective character and play them to the hilt.

Caitlin Weaver as Emma. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

JacQuan Knox as Alice, the reserved friend and secret lover of Lizzie, is a joy to watch and with her honeyed vocals that seemed to be reserved until she let it all out with bursts of intensity that drove the song and sentiment home. This character, Alice, seems to be the one who has the steadiest grasp on real life and Knox portrays that authentically and confidently.

Caitlin Weaver, as Emma, the elder Borden sister, is a highlight in this piece as she navigates her way through this crazy story and she does it with a great confidence and presence that does not falter throughout. Every time she stepped onto the stage, she had a mission and accomplished it through her passionate portrayal of this character. Vocally, Weaver knocks it out of the park, especially in featured numbers such as “Sweet Little Sister.”

Parker Bailey Steven as Lizzie. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

In the titiular role of Lizzie, Parker Bailey Steven is a powerhouse and left me wanting more. She effortlessly transitions from the shy, awkward young lady of domineering parental figures to a strong, confident woman with just a look, a gesture, and voice inflection. Her take on the infamous, complex Lizzie Borden is not a performance to be missed and she pulls it off with ease. With a hint of Stevie Nicks mixed with Janis Joplin, and Ann Wilson, Parker Bailey Steven effortlessly rocks the stage and makes this part her own.

The standout, however, in this production is Siobhan Beckett as Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan, the sulky, scheming maid of the Borden household and sometimes narrator. I can’t say enough of about how much life Beckett gave me in her portrayal of this character. The character was spot on and she seems to embody this sly character with natural delivery of dialogue and movement and gesturing that has purpose. Vocally this woman can wail and makes the audience stand up and take notice. Her pure, distinct voice resonates throughout the space and gave me chills at points (which is not small feat). She takes this part, chews it up, spits it out, and gives a strong, heartfelt performance that sticks with you long after the show is over.

Siohhan Beckett as Bridget Sullivan. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Final thought…  Lizzie: The Musical is a high-energy, modern, engaging success that looks at one of the most enthralling true-crime events in this country’s history. Pulled right into the 21st century with rocking, in-your-face music, this isn’t your run of the mill musical theatre experience but it is an experience you do not want to miss, especially if you like your music loud and hard. With wailing actresses reminiscent of the Wilson sisters (Heart), Grace Slick, and Stevie Nicks, who will melt your face with their amazing vocals, staging that keeps you in the story, and a score that tells the story well with a modern twist, this is the show to see. Do yourself a favor and get out to see this show. You won’t regret it in the least and will leave thoroughly satisfied.

This is what I thought of Guerrilla Theatre Front’s Lizzie: The Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Lizzie: The Musical will play through October 25 (8pm & 11pm) and Oct 26 (8pm & 11pm) at Guerrilla Theatre Front, at Creative Labs, 1786 B Union Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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Go Go Go Just Off Broadway with Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

By Kara M. Bauer

Approx. Running Time: 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

*DISCLAIMERPlease note, one or more persons directly involved in this production are members of the staff of Backstage Baltimore. This individual or persons directly involved with the production did not write or participate in writing this review. The only editing performed on this piece was for grammar, punctuation, and organization. No content editing (adding, changing, or omitting words) were completed without the expressed permission of the author.*

In all my years in theatre I have seen countless theatre companies produce Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I myself have been involved in numerous productions of Joseph and each time I am amazed at the creativity that directors and actors bring to the stage. Each production that I have seen and  been a part of has attempted to spruce up the familiar tunes, scenes, and characters, usually without success. Fortunately for us, Just Off Broadway’s production, Directed by Tammy Oppel, with Music Direction by Patty Delisle and Choreography by Katie Gerstmyer, brought something new that I have never seen before.

When you attend the show, I encourage you to spot the absolutely hilarious props! See if you can find the cheeseburger beret and the razor scooter. The creative team really came together and provided the Baltimore theatre scene with a great production of Joseph. That being said, no show will ever be perfect– as a professional theatre teacher and director I know this. All we can do is ask that the actors put their everything into a role and hope that it works out. Despite some minor criticism, I would consider this production a success. This is definitely a production that you would not want to miss.

The moment I walked into the theatre, something felt different. I’ve been to several productions at Just Off Broadway and the first thing I noticed was that the pit had been moved. When the overture began, I immediately knew that the creative team had made the right call. Under the direction of Patty Delisle, the orchestra’s first notes brought back so many memories for me of waiting anxiously behind the curtain for an entrance. Andrew Vida is also to be commended for his creative light design. I can say with confidence that I have not met a more professional high school student (and I teach high school). He attends Calvert Hall College High School and hopes to pursue technical theatre once he graduates this coming year. Unfortunately, the issues with the microphones took me out of the performance at times. No theatre company is immune to technical difficulties. I recall a time when the microphones completely stopped working during a production that I was involved with. Due to the microphone issues, it was hard to hear every single line and note.

Unless you are familiar with the story of Joseph, it is somewhat hard to follow. The person I came with had never seen Joseph before and was constantly asking me to clarify what was happening on the stage. The chorus was too overpowering when a soloist was taking the lead and the orchestra volume was too intense during certain scenes. One thing that I enjoyed was the ability of the actors to blend their voices together. The harmonies during “Close Every Door” were perfect to the point of giving me goosebumps. I can look past the technical errors to a degree because the entire cast was not only vocally capable, but proved itself able to pull me back into the story with their intoxicating harmonies. While preserving the professionalism and style of the original work, Just Off Broadway has preserved its meaning as well. “Close Every Door”, while Joseph, played by Josh Schoff, is singing the famous lyrics of Tim Rice, “I do not matter. I’m only one person”, words that certainly resonate with anyone who has ever felt alone,  cast members turn their back to him, symbolizing his complete neglect and loneliness.

As the cast made their way onto the stage during the overture, it was easy to see which actors were genuinely invested in their role. Most of them were, but a few actors seemed distracted. One great challenge as an actor is to be completely immersed in their character. Jason Crawford Samios-Uy, Chris Thomas,  B. Ever Hanna, and Kate Forton were a few of my favorites throughout the performance. Their facial expressions, crisp clear vocals, ability to harmonize, and overall pizzazz on stage kept me engaged and entertained throughout the performance. I legitimately laughed out loud when Hanna and Forton were performing “One More Angel”, they are truly a dynamic duo. Also worth a “ention is the falsetto voice from Micah Rufsvold, which was used both for comedic relief as well as musical entertainment. There are lots of reasons to see this show, but the “One More Angel” number really takes the cake. It’s also worth mentioning and the effervescence of Elton Knupp as the Narrator, who skillfully and beautifully keeps the action moving on stage while telling the story with confidence and on point vocal ability.

One thing that confused me at first was the costume choices. There were hardly any costume changes and most actors were in street clothes the entire time. I have never seen that done before. My one criticism is that I would have loved to have seen a few more costume pieces used to help the audience understand when the brothers took on various roles like the Baker and Butler. This was also the first production of Joseph that I have seen where there were no set changes. Props and various benches were moved by the cast seamlessly and allowed the flow from one scene to the next without too much interruption.

Despite the small stage, the choreography was effective, creative, and enjoyable. Katie Gertsmeyer is to be commended for her fantastic skill as a choreographer. Each movement appeared natural for the characters, easy enough for all cast members to perform, and yet still appeared complex. The cast obviously worked extremely hard to pull off some of the choreography. One dancer in particular stands out in my mind. Samantha Jednorski, featured as Mrs. Potiphar, was one of the highlights of the performance. Jednorski has been involved in theatre for years; her expertise in the theatre realm shines through. Her facial expressions, reactions, and vibrant attitude was a true pleasure to witness. Speaking of cast members talent, I was extremely impressed by B’Jion Wright, Naphtali and the Butler, As someone who directs shows at a high school level, the first thought that ran through my mind when I saw her take the stage was, “Wow! This is a perfect example of an actress who has all the essential components to be successful! I wish my students could see her on stage!” Wright has the presence about her; total investment in her character and the skills to make it happen. I was also extremely impressed by Patrick Jay Golden’s performance as Pharaoh. Despite the simple costume, his characterization is what sold me on his solo. I even had the privilege of touching the hand of Ramessess *swoon* when he came into the audience to keep theatre goers on their toes.

I am very much looking forward to the Just Off Broadway’s 2020 Season. Their theme for the upcoming season is #RunningAway. I am very curious to see if they run away with their imagination or if they end up with their heads in the clouds. No matter what, I know the next shows they produce will be a real treat, just like Joseph.

This is what I thought of Just Off Broadway’s production of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will play through November 3 at Just Off Broadway at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 4301 Raspe Avenue, Baltimore, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

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Things Get Crazy at Milburn Stone Theatre with American Psycho

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

American Psycho at Milburn Stone Theater was truly one of the strangest and most fascinating theatrical experiences. From beginning to end, it was a surreal and gripping journey that is still bouncing around in my mind as I work through of all of the complex plot points and the detailed production points that brought this interesting story to life. For fans of something out-of-the-ordinary, risqué, and thought-provoking, this is the perfect production to immerse yourself in and then dissect afterwards.

Josh O’Donnell and the Cast of American Psycho. Photo: Thomas Amorin/Amorin Photography

The entire show rests in a world that is part dream, part 80s music video, and part bad trip. The entire production team melds their contributions seamlessly together, so that it is hard to know where one ends, and one begins. Under the helm of the artistic vision of Director Andrew Mitchell, staging, choreography, lights, costumes, and sets become one. Set Designers William Bryant and Brandon Gorin have constructed a perfect blank canvas that continually melds into representations of a variety of locations, both real and imagined. It is a white stage with white walls (patterned right out of an 80s set) and white floors that are ready to be painted upon. There is also the occasional, well-planned use of the scrim at the front of the stage. The giant side walls open up slightly, which allows scenes to slide easily in and out of use, so that entire show continues to flow in a constant and appropriate stream of consciousness. 

That very consciousness is displayed across the stage through a masterful use of projections and lighting. Lighting & Projection Designer Patrick Yarrington’s design is easily the most stunning and breathtaking use of lighting ever. At times, the projections create the flying feel of an IMAX movie. Other times, the racing lights take over, so that the characters are floating within. In the beginning of Act Two, the frenzied race of the night club scene and murder come together in a brilliant use of flashing strobe and shadows on the walls. Sometimes, the red of the stage is almost blindly with the characters’ desperations. Blood splatters and spills down walls. And, then sometimes, it all goes stark white again as a brilliant contrast and shift in the scene. Each cue, each color is clearly carefully selected to echo the emotional core of the show. Complimenting the lighting design and the careful attention to color is the costume and prop design by Dann Combs and Eddie Hurley. Characters and scenes display intentional color patterns that add to the visual lushness of the production.

Heather Bounds and Josh O’Donnell. Photo: Thomas Amorin/Amorin Photography

The dreamy, trippy, 80s vibe spills over into the sleek choreography by Tommy Fisher-Klein. The perfectly synchronized ensemble tumbles through a fluid escapade of various dance techniques used to push forward the thematic conceptions of the show while also including some fun throwbacks to decade-appropriate moves. Adding to the continued fluidity and constant moving and tumbling of the script and the emotions is staging by Andrew Mitchell that feels choreographed, in the best way possible, as each moment transitions seamlessly into the next. All of this visual beauty is then augmented by the auditory beauty of the harmonies of the cast under the musical direction of Charlie Hannagan.

Bringing this complex vision to life is a powerful cast of performers. The ensemble works well together and mostly exists as a cohesive unit. A particular standout in the ensemble is Liz Hamill. Her vocals at the beginning of “In the Air Tonight” are stellar. Several others do a good job of making quirky side characters have authentic life, such as Alex Vanderlak (Luis Carruthers), Ry Miliner (Tim Price), and Emily Elborn (Courtney Lawrence).

A strong and memorable performance comes in the hands of Alex Quigley as Paul Owen. He is naturally at-ease and charismatic onstage. The perfect amount of grating and self-absorbed brings to life the character of Evelyn Williams, played by Evelyn Schiavone. She is the ideal contrast to the sweet and unassuming Jean, played by Heather Bounds. Bounds has an especially lovely voice, as showcased in “A Girl Before,” and really has some meaty moments to show the strength of her dramatic acting abilities.

However, really, this experience is all about being Patrick Bateman. That is exactly what Josh O’Donnell does with incredible skill. It becomes increasingly harder to take your eyes off of his frenetic performance. He becomes increasingly more lovable, charismatic, and charming, while, in the same moments, becoming increasingly more terrifying and unhinged. He walks this electrifying tightrope of an existence that is riveting to watch. O’Donnell is also a natural dancer, which allows his movement in musical numbers to be effortlessly creepy. 

American Psycho is a dark and twisting thrill ride. The complex plot is filled with things to think about and discuss. The production value at Milburn Stone is top notch. This is definitely worth checking out.

This is what I thought of Milburn Stone Theatre’s production of American Psycho… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

American Psycho will play through October 20 at Milburn Stone Theatre at Cecil College, 1 Seahawk Drive, North East, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

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A Few Good Men (And a Woman) Are Abound at Tidewater Players

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

A Few Good Men is definitely an understatement. The current Tidewater Players’ production, written by Aaron Sorkin and running at the Havre de Grace Opera House has many exceptionally good men and one exceptionally good woman. Under the masterful direction of Todd Starkey, this is a brilliant and compelling production that is not to be missed. Gorgeous staging and lighting combined with powerhouse performance after powerhouse performance, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Starkey makes the first of many excellent decisions with his set design and the corresponding staging. By creating different scenes in different portions of the stage, he is able to avoid complex set changes and create minimal time spent in blackout. This allows the action to flow and segue quickly. Starkey also intentionally blocks scene within in those sections to allow for varied and interested movement, even in smaller staging areas. The set and staging are enhanced beautifully by the gorgeous and artistic lighting design of Moises Estrada. Powerful use of red, white, and blue, a subtle flag background, and the shadows of prison bars are just a few of the transcendent ways in which the lights become an intricate part of the production. The perfectly designed look of the show is furthered by the precise costuming of Eva Grove.

Within those uniforms, there is a host of characters that are brought to life by a group of talented performers. The audience is first introduced to Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Lamar Leonard) and Pfc. Louden Downey (Jordan Baumiller). Leonard and Baumiller use their body language and posture to show the dedication of their characters to the Marine Corp from moment one. As the audience gets to know the two characters better, the two actors create characters that feel real. Leonard manages to let us see the heart of his character without ever losing the precision to duty that is so essential to Dawson. Downey plays a character that is incredibly naïve and is able to do this so realistically that performance doesn’t look forced or over-the-top.

The rest of the cast follows in their footsteps. Shining appearances are made by Tim Hartley (Capt. Isaac Whitaker) and Phil Hansel (Col. Julius Alexander Randolph). As Lt. Jack Ross, Aaron Dalton makes the opposing counsel warm and respectable. In a truly top-notch portrayal of duty turned sadistic, Leif McCurry stands out as Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick.

Of course, it is the defense team that compromises the protagonists of the piece, and all three create distinct, nuanced, and lovable characters. As Lt. j.g. Sam Weinberg, Jake Stuart masters deadpan comedy and projecting complex emotions with appropriate restraint. As Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway, Samantha Murray absolutely dazzles. She is so feisty and passionate and raw. She makes you want to stand up and cheer with her victories. At the center of it all, Lt. j.g. Daniel A. Kaffee is truly the heart of the piece. In the hands of charismatic Joe Weinhoffer, it is truly enjoyable to watch the character mature and acquire depth as he becomes a lawyer.

Good guys aside, though, it is Brian Ruff’s performance as Col. Nathan Jessep that has chins falling to the floor. With flawless rage and believable conviction, he brings a true egomaniacal monster to life. His performance alone would make the production worth seeing. However, in this particularly well-crafted production, Ruff’s performance is just the icing on the already masterful cake.

Everyone should find a way to see Tidewater Players’ A Few Good Men before it closes on Sunday.

This is what I thought of Tidewater Players’ production of A Few Good Men… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Few Good Men will play through September 29 at Tidewater Players at The Cultural Center at the Opera House121 N. Union Street, Havre de Grace, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

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If You Miss Miss You Like Hell, You’re Missing Out

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission

In today’s political climate, immigration is a hot topic and there are two sides to the story whether we like one side or the other, they’re there. We get a look at one side of immigration and family in Baltimore Center Stage‘s latest offering, Miss You Like Hell with Book and Lyrics by Quiara Alegria Hudes & Music and Lyrics by Erin McKeown, with Direction by Rebecca Martinez, Music Direction by Tiffany Underwood-Holmes, and Choreography by Alex Perez. Sometimes we must be open minded and ask questions rather than make knee jerk reactions and assumptions.

Briefly, Miss You Like Hell concerns itself with Olivia, a smart, acidic teenager who agrees to drive across the country with her Latina mother, Beatriz. The two have been separated for several years and neither are sure where this trip will take them. They meet all sorts of characters along the way and seem to be slipping further away from each other, or closer together. It’s main story is about a complex mother-daughter relationship that is challenged by current immigration policy – one that may or may not send Beatriz back to her home country.

The Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes flows nicely and keeps the chronology of a few days with natural, unforced dialogue. The smooth timeline makes it easy to follow and the dialogue keeps the action engaging. Music by Erin McKeown is appealing and contemporary with good hooks that will have you humming as you leave the theater. Great arrangements and an apt ensemble enhances an already great score.  Lyrics by both Hudes and McKeown are good, in general, but are a bit too on the nose for my liking at times. Some of the lyrics could have been regular dialogue, but we would have missed out on the beautiful music McKeown has created, so, it’s a compromise, in a way. Overall, the entire piece, Book, Music, and Lyrics is constructed splendidly and is an important, polished, work that makes the audience think, and that can never be a bad thing in theatre.

Reid Thompson’s Set Design fits perfectly with this material. Simple and minimal, but effective use of space and ease of transition make this design successful and adds great value to the production, as a whole. Scaffolding and movable set pieces make up this set but still transport the audience to each location easily and seamlessly, not hindering any of the action, but working in tandem with it. Kudos to Thompson for a well-designed, modern set.

Choreography by Alex Perez is frenetic, but once you get used to the style, it begins to make more sense. This piece doesn’t strike me as a piece that needs heavy choreography, but Perez seems to be trying to make the best of it, to a fault. Simply put, there’s just too much going on at one time in certain parts of this production and the ensemble, doesn’t seem 100% comfortable with the choreography choices, but… as it goes in theatre, not everyone is a dancer. However, this isn’t to say Perez’s work was bad, because it wasn’t, maybe just misplaced. I’m wondering what a less choreographed production would look like – not void of choreography (it’s a musical for God’s sake), but maybe minimal choreography might be more beneficial.

Music Direction by Tiffany Underwood-Holmes is impeccable. Working with an already wonderful score, Underwood-Holmes has presented this material beautifully. She has a tight grasp on the modern style of this piece and has guided her musicians and ensemble confidently into superb performances and presentations of this score. The orchestra should be applauded as well, for their efforts in bringing this story to life through the music. The orchestra is consisted of: Daphne Benichou (Viola); Zack Branch (Basses); Frank Carrol (Drums/Percussion); Soojin Chang (Violin); Mary Ann Perkel (Cello); Diego Retana (Guitars); and Tiffany Underwood-Holmes (Conductor/Keyboards). Hats off to Underwood-Holmes for a job quite well done.

Taking the reins of this production is Rebecca Martinez and her Direction of this piece is outstanding. The staging is well-thought out and polished, making for a solid presentation. She has a deep comprehension of the material and understands its importance in current thought and actions, and each scene is handled exquisitely. The character work is just as splendid and Martinez’s presentation is easy to follow, thought-provoking, and refined.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth noting that the entire ensemble working together makes this and magnificent production. Each, in his or her own way, help tell this story and each are needed. This is truly an ensemble piece and in the end, all have given 100% effort and taken their part in making this a superb production.

To name a few, Michael Mediros as Mo, a gay veteran, and Raphael Nash Thompson as Higgins, his long-time lover and companion are a sort of comedic relief, and boy, do they know their roles. Both actors have a tight grasp on their characters and the humor that is required of them. Mediros’ portrayal of Mo, a gruff Vietnam veteran with a heart of gold, is authentic and charming making him likable from the start. In the same vein, Thompson’s portrayal of Higgins, an equally gruff, old-timer with a big heart, is also believable and his stage presence is strong. Both are confident in their roles and their chemistry makes the experience all the more authentic and both Mediros and Thompson are to be applauded for their work.

Taking on the supporting, but important role of Pearl is Jaela Cheeks-Lomax and she is certainly a highlight of this production. Portraying an awkward, but confident and true-to-herself teen, Cheeks-Lomax embodies this character and makes it her own. Vocally, she’s a powerhouse and her rendition of her featured number, “Yellowstone,” a soulful, slow-jam style song is phenomenal. She’s got a strong voice that resonates throughout the theater and makes one stand up and take notice.

Ceasar F. Barajas takes on the charming role of Manuel, a gentlemen that Olivia and Beatriz happen to encounter on their journey who happens to sell tamales out of a cooler. Barajas makes this character absolutely likable and you feel for him instantly. He portrays the role with a delicacy and gentleness that pulls the audience in. He knows his character and the things he’s gone through and emotes that with every gesture and word. His vocal stylings are impressive, as well, especially his stylings of featured numbers, the reminiscing “Tamales” and the New Orlean’s inspired “The Dirtiest Dead.”

Stephanie Gomerez takes on the complex role of Olivia, the angsty teenager who hasn’t seen her mother in years but is thrown into cross-country road trip with her. Gomerez, too, is a highlight in this role. She seems to have a great understanding of this role and of an angsty teen. Her portrayal of this character is extraordinary and she becomes this character. Her mannerisms, gestures, and overall take on Olivia is thought out and polished and she is a joy to watch. Her vocal performance is stellar in this production with a beautiful, strong range, and her performances of her featured numbers like, “Sundays” and the titular and poignant “Miss You Like Hell” will give you all the feels.

Lastly (but not least), Lorraine Velez takes on the role of Beatriz, the loving, if not flawed mother of Olivia, who is trying to do the best she can with her circumstances and she is the standout in this production.. At first glance, you might think you recognize Lorraine Velez… I most certainly did. Being a huge fan of the television show Dexter, my eyebrow definitely raised my eyebrow, but… after a closer look at the program, I realized I wasn’t looking at the actress who played one of my favorite characters on one of my favorite television shows, but… I was looking at her twin sister and, I’ve got to say, I’m just as enthralled with Lorainne Velez as I was with her sister a few years back. Velez can certainly carry her own and she plays this role divinely and skillfully. From the moment she walks onto the stage, she becomes this woman and doesn’t falter once. She’s confident and comfortable in this role and has no hesitation in any part of her performance. Her delivery of the dialogue is natural and authentic and every move she makes just makes this character more believable. When it comes to vocals, Velez does not disappoint. Her performances of her featured numbers such as the opening “(Prayer) Lioness” is inspiring, “Over My Shoulder,” is thoughtful, and the fun, energetic “Dance With Me” will have you toe tapping at your seat. Beatriz is a tough character in the way that you don’t know if you like her or dislike her, but you seem to be rooting for her and Velez has this understanding and portrays her near perfectly.

Final thought…  Miss You Like Hell is a relevant, poignant, thoughtful story that fits right into current events of the country and it really gets you thinking. It doesn’t throw politics in your face, which I really liked, but it opens your mind to the human aspect of deportation and family dynamics. The script is well written and thought out with natural dialogue and the music is contemporary with tunes that have good hooks, even when the lyrics are a bit too on the nose. The production value is top notch and the performances are on point so, if you are still deciding on whether or not to see this production. Do it. Get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s Miss You Like Hell… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Miss You Like Hell will play through October 13 at Baltimore Center Stage700 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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Magic is in Abundance at Matilda at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

Children’s Playhouse of Maryland always seems to be increasing the challenge of the pieces that they select for their young performers, and they always seem to be providing those performers with the exactly the right skills to meet the challenge. Once again, with Matilda, they have selected a difficult score with complicated characters. Presenting the full version, rather than a truncated Junior version, these young people mastered complex songs, scenes, harmonies, and even monologues. They truly show that “even though you’re little, you can do a lot,” and are blessed to work with an adult team of directors that believe just that. Director Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, Music Director Charlotte Evans, and Choreographer James Hunnicutt never shy away from giving the young performers intricate skills to learn and opportunities to shine.

Boyer Hunnicutt’s staging is incredibly strong. Even with a lot of moving pieces and people, she keeps scenes and transitions seamless. The pace is excellent, which is key for a long show. The lighting design of Ed Lake is also a real star of the show. He really uses color in intentional ways to reflect the mood and dynamics of the scene. The lighting is the perfect complement to the beautiful set design of Diane M. Smith. A representational background with set pieces to create changing locations brings the world to life without slowing down the flow. Simple set pieces also move easily in and out to aid in the swirling, magical feel of the movement.

Matilda’s magic is furthered by number after number of complex rhythms and harmonies, mastered by the cast under Evans’ direction. Each of those numbers is brought to life with interesting and varied choreography by Hunnicutt. He brings out precision and energy in each performer, and each song has unique qualities to make it more fun and exciting than the last number.

Of course, none of this would be anything without the amazing children performers, and they are quite amazing. The entire group works as a cohesive unit, and there is not one member of the ensemble that lacks excitement. Even in some the smaller, featured roles, children take their moment and shine. Sam Izzo as the Doctor has a beautiful voice that soars over the opening number. Pierce Elliott is funny and flashy as Rudolpho. Soren Lange’s Nigel is as cute as can be as he hides from certain punishment in Chokey. Bella Pollara (Amanda) and Evelyn Acerno (Alice) are alight with energy in the children’s scenes and dance numbers. Even in a talented group, they both stand out with that extra star quality.

Perfect examples of taking featured roles and making them memorable by milking the comedic material for every ounce are Myles Taylor (Michael) and Bella Comotto (Lavender). Michael is not a man of many words, but Taylor’s facial expressions are the constant reminder that a picture is worth a million words. He creates a believable and loveable character while barely opening his mouth. It is a very impressive and nuanced performance from such a young performer. Comotto, on the other hand, shows the beauty of over-the-top and comedic delivery as the larger-than-life Lavender. Her exaggerated energy is just perfect in this role.

Speaking of exaggerated, two brilliant performances come at the hands of Dylan Morrison (Mr. Harry Wormwood) and Kathyrn Schudel (Mrs. Zinnia Wormwood). The Wormwoods are just about the worst people that you could ever meet, but it’s hard not to like them with these two in the roles. They both possess strong instincts about how to be funny without going too far over the top. In contrast to the Wormwoods, Miss Honey (Emily Signor) is kind and sweet and good. Signor has a beautiful soprano voice and a natural sweetness that really does justice to the role.

At the center of all of these crazy characters is Matilda (Maeve Acerno). In many respects, Matilda is the “straight man” of the piece which can make it difficult to play. She has to retain a calm, strength in the storms of exaggeration all around her. Acerno does just that. Her performance is grounded, and it brings real heart to the crazy tale. She radiates maturity and strength and is the perfect glue to hold it all together.

Despite not being the title character, it seems that the best material is reserved for Miss Agatha Trunchbull, and Ethan Holler’s performance never lets the audience forget that. Holler takes each and every word and squeezes every ounce of comedic evil out. His Trunchbull is deliberate and horrifying, just as she should be.

Matilda is a delightful story with nonstop laughter and fun. Everyone should get a chance to check out these young performers while they have the chance.

This is what I thought of Children’s Playhouse of Maryland’s production of Matilda.… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Matilda will play through September 29 at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland at CCBCEssex Campus, Administration Building. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Bright Half Life is Living Well at The Strand Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Love is love. No matter who it happens to or how it happens, love is love, plain and simple. I’ve heard it said that there’s someone for everyone in this crazy world and you never know when and where you’ll find them. Sometimes it comes as quite a shock to those who do. Regardless, when that “one” is found, what does that do to us as individuals? The Strand Theatre’s latest offering, Bright Half Life by Tanya Barfield and Directed by K. Tony Korol-Evans gives us a glimpse into one love story that spans the years and asks us to think about our own relationships and what we’re willing to sacrifice and compromise for someone else.

In a nutshell, Bright Half Life concerns itself with Vicky and Erica, a couple who meet when they’re young, working for some corporation, Vicky a supervisor and Erica a temp. They move on from a professional relationship to a personal one and begin a forming a life together. Both seem to have different views of the world and of themselves. Vicky is stable, but her idea of a good time is spinning around a Ferris wheel and jumping out of planes while Erica is afraid of heights. When marriage, kids, and half a life together are thrown into the mix, where does that leave them?

Katherine Vary and Ayesis Clay. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Director K. Tony Korol-Evans took on double duty of Set Designer and this design fits the bill perfectly. Since the story is told in chunks that ping-pong through time, it needed to be simple and simple it was, not dull, but minimal and it worked nicely for this production. Locations and props were more insinuated rather than physical and it’s a wise choice considering how quickly the scenes change in time and space. A kitchen table and chairs, a few bar stools, a futon in the corner and a couple of wooden boxes is all that is needed to simply allude to where and when these characters are and it all flows together nicely.

Lighting Design by Robert Brooks and Sound Design by Brad J. Ranno work beautifully, in tandem, to set the mood for each scene for audience and we are transported transported to each location and time seamlessly. Neither design hinders the action going on onstage but enhances it sometimes subtly and sometimes in a flash making for a well put-together design from both. Kudos to Brooks and Ranno for their efforts.

Direction by K. Tony Korol-Evans is on point, especially with this type of text that bounces back and forth throughout the piece. She has a tight grasp on this material and the story that is being told. Her vision is clear and her staging is precise making for great pacing and audience engagement. It’s an intimate space, but she’s managed to use this intimacy in her staging. The character work is impeccable, as well, and her presentation of this material is entertaining and thoughtful.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, the two actors chosen to portray these characters, Katharine Vary as Erica and Ayesis Clay as Vicky, give polished, dedicated performances and each have their individual character and both play their parts splendidly. Unfortunately, the intimacy and connection between the two characters doesn’t seem to be 100% believable. Both work well together, but the chemistry is more friendly than romantic, which is tough on an actor, and I just wish it had been a bit more authentic. However, I reiterate… both actors play their parts quite well.

Vary is comfortable in her role as Erica and she plays her confidently and energetically. She understands the turmoil and conflict of her character and her portrayal is heart wrenching and delightful at the same time. Within the drama, her comedic timing is spot on as she knows the line of playing it straight enough to be funny. Kudos to Vary on a wonderful portrayal.

Likewise, Clay is phenomenal as Vicky and gives a standout performance. Her natural delivery and confident stage presence makes this character believable and likable. Clay understands her character and the compromises Vicky makes as she navigates through a tough relationship not only with her partner but with her family and Clay doesn’t miss a beat. Overall, her performance is strong, confident and she should be commended for her outstanding efforts.

Final thought… Bright Half Life is a quirky but poignant love story. It jumps around, but after a few minutes, you get the rhythm of the piece and it’s not so jarring. The story is well told and the ability of the writer to fit practically a lifetime (or half a lifetime) into 90 minutes is no small feat and quite impressive. The performances are top notch and the staging is spot on. The two actors have a tight grasp on the material and the Director seems to have a deep understanding of the material making for an entertaining, thoughtful evening of theatre that is not to be missed.

This is what I thought of The Strand Theatre’s production of Bright Half Life… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Bright Half Life will play through September 29 at The Strand Theatre, 5426 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-874-4917 or you can purchase them online.

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