Vaudeville Comes Back in The Last Call with Rogue Swan Theatre Company

By Jennifer L. Gusso

The Cast of The Last Call. Credit: Rogue Swan Theatre Company

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a rehearsal and sit down with the cast & crew of The Last Call, an original vaudeville that the Rogue Swan Theatre Company will be presenting at the Havre de Grace Opera House on May 24th & 25th at 8pm. Directed by Katie Gordon and musically directed by Nate Gordon, the presentation is an eclectic mixture of songs and scenes which is woven together through an original script by Katie Gordon and Lilli Burril. This is the group’s second vaudeville and is shaping up to be a unique and exciting evening.

The Cast of The Last Call. Credit: Rogue Swan Theatre Company

The script is so full of top-secret twists and turns that even I didn’t get the full scoop on all of the surprises. However, everything that I did get to see and hear about left me anxious to see this production. The group creates their own unique harmonies to songs that were impressive, and the snippets of choreography that I was able to preview were original and polished already.

During my time, I was able to talk with Katie Gordon and rest of the cast and crew about their expectations for this production and their hopes for the audience’s experience. Many of the cast and crew, like Katie, are Gordons. Much of the company is some member of her extended family.

Katie Gordon: We are Gordons. We are Hutchinsons. We are Burrils. Everyone else is now in that family as well, whether they wanted to be or not.

BB: What one thing will audiences not want to miss?

“Long-Haired” James Watkins (Rouge Swan President): I am going to have to say the finale. 

KG: The finale is going to be pretty cool. It’s two parts, and it is going to rock in every way.

Ed Gordon (Cast Member): “One Day More”

KG: “One Day More” has a definite different twist to it. It’s not your normal “One Day More.”

Jesse Gordon (Cast Member): “Don’t Tell Mama” will be hilarious, but we can’t say why.

Marion Jackson (Cast Member): “Parting Glass”

KG: “Parting Glass” is a Celtic pub song. It is written in 8-part harmony, and we are doing it in 8-part harmony. Accapella.

The Cast of The Last Call. Credit: Rogue Swan Theatre Company

BB: What do you hope that the audience will walk away with?

KG: One thing that was one of the best things said last year: [An audience member said], “The thing that I loved about the show is that, after I had seen about three or four numbers and realized that you had changed every song I knew, I got excited when the next chord played. Thinking: ‘What are they going to do? What are they going to do?’” When we are trying to create that, we ask ourselves, “How are we going to make it roguified?”

Tara Vin (Cast Member): That other forms of theater are still relevant. Just because we are not mainstream, doesn’t mean that we are not good.

Breonna Lewis (Cast Member): Katie takes talents of all different kinds. She finds a way to feature everyone’s specific talents and individualize them but still make it look like a collective, unified unit.

The Cast of The Last Call. Credit: Rogue Swan Theatre Company

Based on the rehearsal I was able to see and my conversations with the cast, this is a production that I can’t wait to see in its final format.

The Last Call from Rogue Swan Theatre Company will play through May 24 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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Heritage Players is Ready for Boarding with Boeing Boeing!

By TJ Lukacsina

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

Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti is helping fly The Heritage Players through to finish out their 43rd season. Directed by Ryan Geiger, this script of this French farce (translated into English) feels lost in translation in 2019. However, Geiger is determined to deliver a sixties authenticity in it’s treatment of women as objects and pawns to move around for the benefit of the American protagonist.

The Cast of Boeing Boeing at Heritage Players. Credit: Shealyn Jae

In short, the Heritage Players website surmises the show rather nicely. “American bachelor Bernard is living in Paris and couldn’t be happier. He has a flat in Paris and three gorgeous stewardesses, Gloria, Gabriella, and Gretchen, all engaged to him without knowing about each other. His live-in maid, Berthe, is the only person who knows about his deceptive life until his friend from Wisconsin, Robert, unexpectedly comes to stay. Suddenly, Boeing begins rolling out their new speedier jet planes to the airlines, throwing off all Bernard’s careful planning. So, all three stewardesses are in town simultaneously. However, the timid Robert begins to forget which lies to tell to whom, and catastrophe looms.”

Be begin with our in-flight instructions and the details of the production are showered with thematic puns from our Captain. The information covered is thorough (some information is duplicated from the program) and runs a bit long foreshadowing some pacing issues that arise during the show. Heritage Players has chosen two charities to donate part of their proceeds, which are the Spring Grove Hospital Patient Fund and The Air Charity Network. (www.aircharitynetwork.org)

The Cast of Boeing Boeing at Heritage Players. Credit: Heritage Players

Lights up on the living room of a simple bachelor pad with a color scheme that is flat enough to help the characters in costume really pop. Art on the wall from each of the stewardess’ respective countries is a very nice touch to show that Bernard (John Sheldon) has thought all of this through and doesn’t leave things to chance. Sheldon enters cool, calm, and collected assuring his maid Berthe (Claire Sherman) that everything will be fine and bending to the wind is easier than fighting it. Their conversation flows naturally and they feel as if they have had a good, albeit unnatural, working relationship. The place is clean, tidy and in good order though does not feel lived in. Some trim on the walls and a few practical lights could do wonders to finish the look of the apartment of the successful architect.

Geiger’s set design is built to be used and is sturdy enough to keep the walls from any movement while the doors continually open and close. Though the actors’ timing with the doors was solid and snappy, occasionally the joke in between was missed due to a slower comedic timing. The script calls for some out of date objectification of women, which is currently avoided or muted, but Geiger has boldly decided to stay true to the script allowing the audience the occasional laughter through awkward situation. The hard work that has been put into the show is evident and Geiger’s knowledge and love of the script is displayed well throughout the evening.

Claire Sherman as Berthe. Credit: Shealyn Jae

As Bernard, John Sheldon struts the stage and kicks back with an easy confidence that his plan is flawless. Watching him witch between calm and collected to panicked and lost is like flipping on the light switch. His routine is initially disturbed by a surprise visit from Robert (Richard Greenslit), a friend who has kept him to his word about visiting Paris. Greenslit’s interpretation of Robert is quite the opposite of Bernard: exact in his word choice, anxious and relentless in needing clarification. Greenslit’s execution is humorous and fun and also pays off well with Sherman, whose character is slowly getting fed up with changing meals and sheets for each of the three stewardesses.

Claire Sherman maintains Berthe’s professionalism while being able to toss in a line here and there at the other character’s expenses. Her delivery was strong and consistent and pleasant to watch on stage. Jessie Duggan as the American stewardess Gloria entered confidently and excitedly playing to the European stereotypes of Americans. Dressed all in red, she was certainly playing to her charms to seduce both men in order to get what she wants. Katie Sheldon played Gabriella, the Italian stewardess, is delightful to watch as she takes control of her scenes. Her chemistry with Bernard creates some shining moments throughout the show as she fights to have things go her way. Her exasperation with Bernard and Robert is clearly evident as they usher her to the guest bedroom and the audience can empathize her defeat when arriving from the restaurant. Making a grand entrance, Gretchen (Kate Crosby) is the German stewardess who makes her presence known on stage. Crosby grabs this character and shows her how to handle the two guys. We can see her wrestling with indecision throughout but is firm when she makes up her mind. All three women with accents stay in their general lane with some slight variations along the way but we’re able to get the region clear enough.

If the accents weren’t enough to tell the three stewardesses apart, Robin Trenner’s costume design certainly puts all three love interests in their primary corner. The intention is certainly clear, if not a bit overstated. Speaking of clear, sound design by Stuart Kazanow was never a problem and sitting halfway back I could hear every line very nicely. Be sure to fly over to Catonsville, home of The Heritage Players, for their show before it’s Boeing, Boeing, gone.

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

Boeing Boeing will play through May 19 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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Tidewater Players Bares All in The Full Monty!

By Jennifer L. Gusso

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

Every so often, a production comes around where every element works perfectly and transcends to a level of sheer theater magic. One of those productions is the Tidewater Players’ current production of The Full Monty with Book by Terrence McNally and Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek, Directed by Laurie Starkey, with Music Direction by R. Christopher Rose, and Choreography by Elise Starkey. If you don’t already have tickets to this hysterical and heartwarming delight, you should buy them immediately. This cast and production team consistently deliver in bringing to life one of the funniest scripts in Musical Theater.

The Cast of The Full Monty at Tidewater Players. Credit: Tidewater Players

Fair warning: This is the tale of a group of out-of-work steel workers who have decided to make some money by taking off all their clothes. There will be some skin, combined with language and other adult themes, that does make this production not appropriate for young audiences. However, mature teens and even the most conservative adults are unlikely to be offended, as this is not skin for the sake of skin – this is a story about loving yourself and about body acceptance. It has a strong moral foundation and excellent themes about what it means it be a “Man.”

Director Laurie Stentman Starkey’s curtain speech talked about her great love for this piece and her desire to really do justice to the message of this show. That love shows in every detail of this production. From assembling a dynamic cast to effective staging, quick scene changes, and seamless integration of technical aspects, a strong and skilled directorial hand is evident throughout. Her vision is furthered with strong musical leadership at the hands of R. Christopher Rose. Both soloists and ensembles shine consistently in their knowledge of the music and how to deliver the music for maximum impact. Another shining star is the choreography of Elise Starkey. Her choreography is not only eye-catching and delivered with stunning synchronicity, it also often tells the story and adds to the humor.

The technical aspects are also very well-designed and effective. Laurie Starkey & Todd Starkey create a set design that easily transforms into a variety of locales, ending in the amazing culmination of the “Full Monty” sign in the closing scenes. The lighting design by Thomas Gardner adds depth and character throughout and works perfectly in the most crucial of moments. Costume Design by Eva Grove is clever and detailed. Like the other aspects, it highlights the two key aspects of this production: character and humor.

With these things in place, the cast is set up for success, and they take that ball and run with it. There is truly not a weak link in the entire ensemble. The thing that works so brilliantly is that the production team and cast really got the characters and the theme of the piece. What makes this show both funny and touching is that these are real men stepping outside of their comfort zone. The characters are quirky and zany at times, but, above all else, they are real. It is only in playing these characters as real and complex and not over-the-top that this show can truly work. Starkey and her cast understand this and instead of trying to play for laughs or manipulate audience emotion, they allow themselves to be real characters who experience this story as it unfolds. The result is that the audience laughs and cries and falls in love with the vulnerability and reality on display in front of them.

The cast also melds together so well as an ensemble that is practically impossible to single out and talk about these performances as individuals. They are always working as a team, reacting and supporting as much as taking the spotlight. The supporting characters are just as real as the leads and played by some equally strong actors. With just a few small scenes, Matt Peterson allows the audience to see things from Teddy’s side, as much as we may be inclined to dislike him. The same is true of Angie Sokolov as Pam. It’s tough to play characters that are standing in opposition to the protagonist. Sokolov allows us to see Pam’s point of view in way that lets us feel OK about rooting for her happiness as well. Another strength in the supporting characters can be seen in Samantha Jednorski’s portrayal of Estelle. She finds ways to build layers and depths with her reactions that create a real person and not a one-dimensional cliché. Audiences will also definitely remember the supporting performance of Wayne Ivusich (Rev. Willoughby/Minister) who almost bares it all with zeal in one of his several standout comedic moments.

Two actresses that definitely deserve some individual attention are Barbara Snyder (Jeanette Burmeister) and Lisa Pastella (Georgie Bukatinsky). Snyder consistently brings joy and laughter to the audience with her feisty character and solid comedic delivery, and Pastella easily has one of the best female voices in the local theater community. Pastella also has incredible chemistry with her onstage husband and creates a character who is vibrant and believable.

However, at the end of the day, this show is truly about the six men who decide to bare it all. These six men forge an incredible bond on stage that is the foundation of this show, while each creating unique and loveable characters. Austin Barnes (Ethan Girard) sparkles with optimism and heart. Ethan is a character that could easily be overplayed, but Barnes finds the reality in his constant belief that he can do impossible things. Balancing Ethan’s often misguided optimism is Malcolm’s often misguided pessimism. As Malcolm, Josh Schoff finds the balance and the lightness in his conflicted character. The onstage chemistry between Barnes and Schoff is also impressive, as they say so much through simple looks and gestures and tiny moments that slowly build. During “You Walk With Me,” Barnes and Schoff, in beautiful harmony, make the audience’s hearts both break and swell with them.

Adding to the dynamic group of gentlemen is Steve Flickinger as Harold Nichols. Flickinger has stellar comedic timing and the most priceless facial reactions. Then, there is Lamar Leonard as Noah “Horse” Simmons with his smooth dance moves, sweet vocals, and comedic calisthenics. He lights up the entire room with his performance of “Big Black Man.”  Like so much of the cast, Flickinger and Leonard balance all of these crazy comedic moments with vulnerability. Both men have these touching, small moments in which we see the fears and real person inside. This group of men is so unafraid to be exposed on stage – emotionally and mentally as well as physically that the audience leaves feeling like it is a group of old friends.

The Cast of The Full Monty at Tidewater Players. Credit: Tidewater Players

The cornerstone of old friends, with such a believable onstage dynamic that you feel like they must truly be old friends, are Dave Bukatinsky (Mark Lloyd) and Jerry Lukowski (Jake Stuart). Everything that this production does well is crystallized in the amazing performances by these two gentlemen. Lloyd has these moments like “You Rule My World” or wrapped in Saran Wrap, where he shows the audience Dave’s fears and insecurities and pains despite the fact that everyone is laughing. He does an excellent job of living those moments rather than trying to chase the cheap humor. The audience laughs at him, but knowing that we are laughing at him also builds a deep empathy for everything that Dave struggles with. It is empowering and a testament to Lloyd’s strong character development to watch Dave slowly gain confidence and sense of self throughout the piece. Ultimately, though, the heart of the show is its unconventional protagonist Jerry, and Stuart gives the most impressively real portrayal. There is not a single moment where it feels like he is acting or pretending. Every line, every action, and every reaction feels real and genuine and in the moment. He creates the most believable, flawed, and loveable man, and it just feels natural. A beautiful example of Lloyd and Stuart together is “Big-Ass Rock.” The song is hilarious. The vocals are gorgeous. The harmonies are solid. Right beneath the surface, though, is real pain and real men. We get to know them. We get to love them. In many ways, we are them.

When Starkey talked in her curtain speech about the powerful and important theme of this show, she touched on something that was then brought to life for her audience. The Full Monty is about real people – people with insecurities and flaws and quirks and weaknesses – people who succeed sometimes and fail other times – people who are victims to external things they can’t control and internal things that they can control. The Full Monty shows how real people can learn to love themselves and each other despite all of that – despite our own flaws, despite others’ flaw, despite an imperfect world – an imperfect world which is perfectly represented in this flawless production that should top everyone’s to-do list within the next two weekends.

This is what I thought of Tidewater Players’ production of The Full Monty… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Full Monty will play through May 19 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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Extra! Extra! A Murder is Announced at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

A good murder-mystery is a staple of community theatre and you don’t get any better than a tried and true Agatha Christie tale. She had it down to a science and have had readers and audiences guessing and scratching their heads for the past nine decades (coming up on 100 years in 2020) and many have adapted her novels into stage plays, including Christie herself. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s latest production, A Murder is Announced by Leslie Darbon, Directed by Michael Crook and Assistant Director Lou Otero, brings one of those stories to life, having us scratching our heads and wondering… whodunnit?

(l-r) Jim Gerhardt, Donna Zubrowski, Chloe Scully, and Ashley Gerhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

A Murder is Announced, the novel, was first published in June of 1950 and both the novel and the play concern themselves with an announcement in the local paper of a murder to be committed at a planned birthday party at a local boarding house. The house is owned by Letitia, a staunch, soft spoken woman, who has an old friend living with her, Dora “Bunny” Bunner (the birthday girl), as well as her adult niece and nephew, Julia and Patrick, who she hasn’t seen since they were small children. Joining the fray are the maid/cook/housekeeper, Mitzi, a steely Russian, and three neighbors, Edmund Swettenham, his mother, and the famous and inquisitive Mrs. Marple. At the party, a fuse is blown momentarily, an intruder breaks in in the dark, scaring the party-goers, and when the lights come back up, the intruder is dead on the floor. Enter a patient Inspector Craddock, and you have the makings of a good old fashioned Christie mystery.

Donna Zubrowski and Ashley Gerhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Though no Set Designer is listed in the program, the design for this production uses the intimate space wisely. One is transported to a parlor room of a small English country house with not bells and whistles which is absolutely appropriate for this piece. Rachel DiGraizia and Joshua Perry (the two names listed as “Set Construction” and the only two names associated with the set in the program) have put together a sound set that helps the action of this mystery and assists the staging that the audience should be watching carefully.

Speaking of staging, Director Michael Crook and Assistant Director Lou Otero seem to have a strong vision and have executed it beautifully. Staging a murder-mystery is no small feat, one must understand the script, but also the action and has to work that out within the space he or she has. Crook and Otero’s staging is smooth and easy to follow and it shows they have a deep comprehension of this material and the presentation is praise-worthy, indeed.

Jim Fitzpatrick and Catherine Shinaberry. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, Jim Morgan pulls double duty in supporting, but important role as Rudi Sherz/Sergeant Mellors, the unfortunate intruder and a constable, respectively and he pulls both characters off nicely with decisive blocking and dedication to his roles. Claire Levine takes on the character of Mrs. Sweetenham, a neighbor, and though she seems stiff and scripted, she seems to understand the frailty of her character and makes a good showing.

Donna Zubrowski tackles the role of Dora Bunner, a childhood friend of Letitia’s and a woman who seems to be slipping slowing but surely into dementia, forgetting simple things and remembering things from the far past. Zubrowski has a tight grasp on this character, but gives a rigid performance with a deliberate delivery that makes it unnatural at times, but her chemistry with her cast mates is fantastic and she plays the character adequately enough to get the point across nicely. In the same vein, Chloe Scully takes on the role of Phillipa Haymes

Ann Marie Taglavore, Phill Vannoorbeeck, and Donna Zubrowski. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Phil Vannoorbeeck takes on the role of Patrick Simmons and Ann Marie Taglavore portrays Julia Simmons, the young brother-sister team who may or may not have ulterior motives for visiting their sweet, old aunt. Both Vannoorbeeck and Taglavore give strong, confident portrayals and know their characters well. Vannoorbeeck may be playing the character a bit larger than he should, at times, but still comes off as believable and natural. Taglavore is the stronger actor, giving a smooth, natural performance and delivery are both natural and effortless.

Catherine Shinaberry and Mel Tillery. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

A few highlights of this production are Jim Gerhardt as Edmund Sweetenham, Mel Tillery as Mitzi, and Catherine Shinaberry as Letitia Blacklock. Gerhardt is comfortable in his role and has a great presence on stage with natural delivery of the dialogue and a solid take on the character. Shinaberry is aptly cast in her role of Letitia, and, though she is too soft spoken at times, making it hard to make out what she is saying, she seems to embody this character nicely and has a strong comprehension of her character. Tillery is phenomenal as Mitzi and is the one to watch whenever she’s on stage. Her delivery, in a believable Russian accent, is impressive and her energy is second to none, making for one of the strongest showings in this production.

Jim Fitzpatrick, Catherine Shinaberry, and Ashley Gerhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Rounding out the cast we have the sleuths, Inspector Craddock played by Jim Fitzpatrick and the loveable, famously intuitive Mrs. Marple, portrayed by Ashley Gerhardt. These two are the definite standouts in this production and pull their characters off effortlessly. Fitzpatrick is near perfect in this role and he seems to completely embody this character. His delivery is flawless and his chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is on point and it makes for a strong, faultless performance. Gerhardt, who may be a bit young to play Mrs. Marble just yet, still gives an impeccable performance, regardless of this. She knows the character well, and she portrays her with a certain charm that makes you like her from the get. I’m a big fan of Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote (who is probably structured after Mrs. Marple), so I’m pretty hard on any character that resembles her, but Gerhardt hits it out of the park with this performance. She’s a wonderful character actress and seems to become this character making for a standout performance, overall.

Final thought…A Murder is Announced at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is well put-together presentation of a great Agatha Christie story with mostly solid performances and a solid vision from its Director and Assistant Director. Being it’s a murder-mystery, there are times when the dialogue seems to drag along, but, it’s the nature of the beast… things have to be explained thoroughly, so, the excessive exposition is a necessary evil. The story is dated, but definitely not stale, and is still relatable today. Murder and/or mystery really never go out of style. Get your tickets now. You wouldn’t want to miss this classic this season.

This is what I thought of Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s production of A Murder is Announced… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Murder is Announced will play through May 5 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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