Review: Disney’s Newsies at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

In the spring of 1992 a young Christian Bale was starring in this little Disney motion picture called Newsies and, for being a Disney production, it didn’t get much fanfare or response. However, there were quite a number of die-hard Disney fans who loved it making it a success… not a blockbuster hit, but a success none the less. Fast-forward 20 years to 2012, almost exactly 20 years later, to the date (give or take a month) Disney’s Newsies with Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman, and Book by Harvey Fierstein opens on Broadway and is an instant success with a hefty run of 1004 performances. Disney’s Newsies closed it’s Broadway run in August of 2014 but, fear not, Baltimore! Third Wall Productions have picked up the torch and are presenting it as their latest offering, Directed by Henry Cyr, with Music Direction by W. William Zellhofer and Choreoraphed by Mother-Daughter team Cecelia DeBaugh, Lucy DeBaugh, and Maia DeBaugh, and it’s a quite enjoyable evening of theatre.

The Cast of Disney’s Newsies at Third Wall Productions. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Briefly, Disney’s Newsies concerns itself with the “newsies” or newspaper sellers on the streets of New York City near the turn of the 20th century. Work conditions are horrible (not only for newsies, but for children all over the city) and the newsies have to buy the papers they sell. When Mr. Pulizter, owner of most of the newspapers in the city, decide to raise prices for the newsies, with the help of an unbeknownst highly placed friend, they newsies decide to go on strike, making the front page and practically crippling the entire city when other children from other professions decide to join.

This production takes place in a sanctuary of a church, but with the splendid Set Design by Pat Rudai and Jordan Hollett, the audience is transported back to the summer of 1899 in New York City. The design is a clean unit set with levels and balconies that keep the staging interesting and moving nicely. Simple set pieces are brought in to represent various locations and this design is a good example of less is more. A special shout out has to go to the full-sized, moving printing press that I found out was created from scraps, a found broken wheelchair, and a broken recliner, showing this design team knows how to use their resources.

Andy Collins and Jamie Williams. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

It’s worth mentioning Costume Design by Amy Rudia that also takes us back to 1899 New York. This design is hands down perfect for this production and Rudai’s attention to detail is superb and her ability to wardrobe such a large cast is commendable. A round of applause should go to Rudai for her work and authenticity in design.

Henry Cyr takes the helm of this production and his Direction is exemplary. The pacing is on point and Cyr has a tight grasp on this material. For such a large cast, his staging is near flawless, getting folks on and off stage smoothly, as well as near-seamless transitions that are quick, keeping up with the pace of the entire show. Kudos to Cyr for a job well done.

Commenting on the performance of this piece, I’d love to mention every ensemble member, but with it being an extraordinarily large ensemble, you’d be here reading all night, however… I’d like to mention that this is a tight ensemble and every single member held his or her own making for a terrific performance, overall. They kept up nicely with ballet-heavy choreography by Cecelia, Lucy, and Maia DeBaugh which is intense and energized and absolutely required for this piece. Bottom line – the DeBaughs have hit the nail directly on the head with this production.

The Cast of Disney’s Newsies at Third Wall Productions. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Along with the choreography and staging, Music Director W. William Zellhofer is outstanding. Honestly, this is some of the best vocalization I’ve heard on the Third Wall Productions stage to date. He has familiarized himself with this score and has his cast sounding phenomenal, especially in group numbers such as the fun “King of New York,” and the inspiring “Seize the Day.” Zellhoffer should be applauded for his work and efforts.

Speaking of music, a special mention must be made for the musical stylings of the superb orchestra consisting of Andrew Zile (Conductor), Ed Berlett (Piano), W. William Zellhofer (Keyboard), Jonathan Goren (Violin), Alice Brown and Sharon Aldouby (Cello), Kevin Jones (Bass), Winfield Clasing (Drum Set), merrell Weiss and Matt Elky (Reeds), Matt Elky and Dan Longo (Clarinet), Liam Slowey (Percussion), Richard Sigwald (Trumpet), and tony Settineri (Trombone). Congratulations to this entire orchestra for a job very well done.

Andy Collins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

To mention a few, there are definite “adult” and “child” characters, Joel Signor takes on the role of Pulizter, the villain in this particular piece, and though he gives a good portrayal, he seems a bit stiff and, vocally, he could use a little more umph, but a good performance, overall. His cronies, including H. Ray Lawson as Seitz, Kirsten Mackin as Hannah, and Forest Deal as Bunsen, are adequate, but seem a little lackluster in their performances as a group. Their featured number “The Bottom Line” left a little to the imagination, but they seemed to know their roles and are comfortable in them.

Lizzy Jackson Fleischmann. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Lizzy Jackson Fleishmann is charming as Miss Medda Larkin, one of the only adult characters who cares for the newsies, and she shines in her performance of “That’s Rich.” Her comprehension of this character shows in her portrayal of this kind-hearted character.

Logan Snyder takes on the role of Davey and Bailey Gomes portrays his little brother, Les. Snyder’s portrayal is spot on and he gives a solid, confident performance. Gomes, too, gives an admirable performance as the “cute little brother” with a lot of one-liners that are hit with good comedic timing for an actor so young.

Taking on the role of Jack Kelly, the hero, is Andy Collins and his performance is near perfect. He knows this character and keeps him consistent throughout. Vocally, Collins stays strong, but does seem to lose some steam by Act II. Regardless, his character work and vocal skills are showcased and delightful to experience, especially his renditions of the popular “Santa Fe” and the poignant “Something to Believe In,” a duet with Jamie Williams, who takes on the role of the staunch, but caring Katherine. Williams is well suited for this role and plays the role well, though it seems a bit stiff in some scenes. Vocally, Williams holds her own quite nicely, but her belt is exceptional and makes up for any minor issues she may have with, otherwise, when a belt is not required. Both Collins and Williams have great chemistry that makes it easy to believe these characters and their relationship and makes their performances highlights of this production.

Sarah Mackin. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

A standout in this presentation is Sarah Mackin, who takes on the role of Crutchie. The audience is supposed to feel for this poor character and Mackin seems to be able to get this reaction naturally. Her delivery of the dialogue is fantastic, carrying a stero-typical New York accent consistent throughout and her physical work, though minimal, is brilliant and consistent, as well. In her featured number “Letter from the Refuge” is emotion-filled with bits of humor, and her performance is top-notch. Vocally, Mackin is strong and her voice rings out throughout the theatre making the audience take notice. Her interaction with the rest of the cast, especially Andy Collins, is authentic and she gives a solid and assured performance. I’m looking forward to seeing more from this young actress.

Final thought…  Disney’s Newsies is a fun, high-energy production that is full of great music and fine performances. Though it’s a lesser known Disney feature, as compared to most, it’s got quite a following and the musical version is a definite recent theatrical hit and Third Wall Productions has taken on the daunting cast of presenting such a popular piece, but they make good… strike that… very good on their successful attempt. The entire ensemble gives 100% effort and the staging keeps the audience engaged. It’s polished and well-put together production that is not to be missed!

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Disney’s Newsies… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Disney’s Newsies will play through February 17 at Third Wall Productions, St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 1108 Providence Road in Towson, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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Review: [title of show] at Harford Community College

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission

I am one of those nine people. This is the only way you start a review about [title of show] while making an obscure reference to [title of show], which is Harford Community College Actor’s Guild’s latest offering, Directed by Lizzie Detar, Choreographed by Jessica Auguste, with Music Direction by Dominic LaFrancesca. [title of show] is definitely a unique experience that takes a different twist on the original musical. It is “a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.” There is something absurdist about the construct and yet the characters are real, compelling, and relatable. There are also a lot of really cool inside jokes and inside references for true theatre geeks laced throughout.

The intimate black box space is ideal for this show. You feel like you are there in the living room, hanging out and experiencing the creative process with these characters. By the end, you really feel as if they are old friends. For the most part, the decision to not use microphones also works with creating this mood; however, there are a few times when soloists are lost under the keyboard and a better sound balance could have been achieved. The most noticeable incidences are in “An Original Musical” (where Hunter should be powering above the music) and “A Way Back to Then” (in which it would nice to see the keyboard softer to match Heidi’s intimacy). Overall, especially when the cast members unite in the many harmonies of the score, the sound balance works well for the space.

What is so engaging and endearing about this production is the way that everything really feels spontaneous. Director Lizzie Detar and Choreographer Jessica Auguste have done an impressive job of creating staging and choreography that looks beautiful and is clearly carefully designed and yet also appears spontaneous and like it is being improvised in the moment. This script just wouldn’t work if anything came across too canned or too rehearsed or too much like “acting,” and Detar clearly recognizes that and keeps it at the forefront of her vision.

The actors have also clearly internalized this necessity. As a group, their reactions and interactions always feel genuine and spontaneous. The chemistry and the unity of the performers is also solid, as it is almost difficult to talk about each of them individually. The characters and the scenes are so interconnected, and none of them are ever pulling focus from the others. Still, each of them creates a unique and individual character.

Morgan Tacka gives a brilliant performance, even as she is playing an actress playing this character of herself who is self-admittedly not really much of an actress. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is; still Tacka makes all of those realities come to life at once in a well-developed and very real performance. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the always over-the-top Heidi, and yet Katie Pendergast makes her also very genuine without losing any of the pizzazz. These two women complement each other perfectly in these two contrasting roles.

The same is true of the very believable friendship and partnership between Hunter (Samuel Walton) and Jeff (Justin Strittmatter). Walton gives an incredibly endearing performance with subtle ease, while Strittmatter emotionally connects with the audience in a more playful manner. With Walton, genuine delivery garners laughter, and, for Strittmatter, it is impeccable timing. Together, their voices blend beautifully and their personalities mesh seamlessly.

Even with these four amazing performances, there are moments when it seems like Larry (Dominic LaFrancesca) might just steal the show with his fabulous one-liners delivered from behind the onstage keyboard. The stellar harmonies and vocal stylings of the cast throughout also show LaFrancesca’s excellent work as the Musical Director of this production.

[title of show] is a strong and cohesive production. The cast is dynamic and genuine. The concept is fun and funny and original. The space is perfect. The characters?/cast?/ both? ultimately decide that they would “rather be nine people’s favorite thing/Than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” With a production as wonderful as the current offering at HCC Actor’s Guild, it is more than worth deciding for yourself if you are also part of the nine.

This is what I thought of Harford Community College Actor’s Guild’s [title of show]… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

[title of show] will play through February 17 at Harford Community College, 401 Thomas Run Rd, Bel Air, MD 21015, Joppa Hall Black Box Theater. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Everything is Wonderful at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermissions

Different cultures have different ways of dealing with tragedy. Most will encourage looking to your faith to find a higher meaning than what we mere mortals can imagine. Some encourage forgiveness to those who have wronged you and, some go even further to encourage forgive and forget. How do you forgive and forget someone who has taken the lives of your loved ones, accident or not? Everyman Theatre’s latest production, Everything is Wonderful by Chelsea Marcantel, Directed by Noah Himmelstein, tries to answer this tough question as we see tragedy and loss through from the viewpoints of a family in crisis, a young man full of guilt, and a man who believes he’s near perfect because he’s practically been told so his whole life.

Bruce Randolph Nelson, Deborah Hazlett. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

In a nutshell, Everything is Wonderful concerns itself with an Amish family who lost two sons when a drunk driver smashed into their buggy, a daughter who doesn’t seem cut out for the Amish life, and a culture that forgives and forgets, but only on the surface. Ultimately, I gathered this piece is about following your own conscience to find forgiveness, regardless of what those around you may think or do.

Marcantel’s text is easy to follow and presents these complex problems in simple terms which is why I believe this script is so successful. The dialogue is natural and it flows as conversation between folks should. She has a good comprehension of the subject matter and creates a world into which we can step and be a part of the story making for an enjoyable evening of theatre.

L-R: Steve Polites, Bruce Randolph Nelson*, Tony Nam, Alex Spieth, Deborah Hazlett. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The story that Chelsea Marcantel weaves is flawless and Noah Himmelstein has given us simple, yet engaging presentation with the help Daniel Ettinger’s exquisite Set Design. Himmelstein and Ettinger use the space well and the action moves at a great pace working in tandem with a precise and effective Lighting Design by Cory Pattak that puts us in each appropriate location without a bunch of bells and whistles. Sometimes less is more and it is absolutely true for this production and both Ettinger and Pattak knock it out of the ballpark.

L-R: Alex Spieth, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Tony Nam, Deborah Hazlett, Hannah Kelly. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Himmelstein has a tight grasp on this material and his staging is immaculate. He keeps the audience interested in the story by using practically the entire theatre with the correct entrance and exit points while keeping a good flow without a lot of clunky scene changes, which is what I’ve come to love about theatre these days… not a lot of, if any, blackouts, unless they are absolutely appropriate. It’s the details that make this production so successful, as well. For instance, the slight accent of the Amish characters is so authentic, both Himmelstein and the performers are to be applauded for their efforts. Overall, Himmelstein hit the nail on the head with this and should be commended for his work.

Bruce Randolph Nelson, Deborah Hazlett. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The cast is simply amazing, and I mean every single one of them. Resident Company member Bruce Randolph Nelson portrays Jacob, the patriarch of the Amish family and, he completely embodies this character taking on all of his trials and troubles. He seems comfortable in this role and his performance is strong and confident making him a standout in this piece in both his authenticity with the role and his gentle handling of the character. Along with Nelson, another Resident Company member, Deborah Hazlett shines as Esther, the matriarch, and the mixed, bottled up emotions just spill out of her throughout this production. She has a deep understanding of this character and her portrayal of her, as a grieving, staunch mother is impeccable. Both Nelson and Hazlett, through their performances, bring home the message of forgiveness in their portrayals of these two characters, and not just surface forgiveness, but true and deep forgiveness, even in the hardest of situations.

Tony Nam, Alex Spieth. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Two highlights in this production are Alex Spieth, who tackles the role of Miri, a former Amish girl and estranged daughter to Jacob and Esther, and Tony Nam, who takes on the role of Eric, the driver of the car that hit the buggy, taking the lives of Jacob and Esther’s sons. Both Spieth and Nam are able actors who have a good comprehension of their characters and portray them naturally in both delivery of the dialogue and in manner. Eric wants to get in and Miri has gotten out, and is fine with her choices and the conflict between these two characters is beautifully presented by Speith and Nam and both give strong, confident, and poignant performances.

Steve Polite and Hannah Kelly. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Rounding out the small ensemble, the adorable Hannah Kelly takes on the role of Ruth, the good daughter, who is content with her Amish life and wants to be a good person and is a good person, and the dashing Steve Polites, tackles the role of Abram, the tall, handsome, boy next door who seems to be the apple of the community’s eye, but has a secret dark side. Kelly undoubtedly knows her character inside and out and her portrayal is authentic, and, because of her portrayal, you can’t help but like this character from the get. She invokes a gentleness that’s believable and gives a tender performance that is required of this young girl. Polites has a strong command of the stage (it doesn’t hurt that he’s a little over 6’ in height, or so it seems) and his voice is smooth and booming, which works very nicely with this character. He takes this character and makes it his own, walking the line between the perfect son and the devil among us, making for an intriguing and exciting performance.

Final thought…  Everything is Wonderful at Everyman Theatre is a poignant, thoughtful piece that makes us look into our own selves and question what we would do in a certain situation. From Set Design to Costumes Design to performance, this production is not one you want to miss this season. There’s not one performer who can’t hold his or her own and the material is through provoking with dashes of humor that take the audience on a roller coaster of all the feels. It enlightens us about a culture that is seemingly veiled in plain sight and puts us all on a level playing field. If you don’t have your tickets already, get them now. I reiterate… you do not want to miss this one.

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

Everything is Wonderful will play through February 24 at Everyman Theatre, 315 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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