Review: The Addams Family at Silhouette Stages

By Yosef Kuperman

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

The cast of The Addams Family. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

The Addams Family is a 2010 musical adaption by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elise, and Andrew Lippa of the venerable media property of the same name. As Silhouette Stages latest offering, Directed and Choreographed by Tommy Malek, with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler, it pays enough homage to the original to please the many fans snapping along with the theme song, but also remains open enough for the uninitiated to enjoy.

Expect the trappings of the modern musical genre: fast music, energetic choreography, one-liners interspersed into the dialogue, predictable crescendos in the songs, and some cracks in the fourth wall. But also expect an authentic entry in the Addams Family universe. I’m only loosely familiar with the characters, but I didn’t need a score card to recognize anyone.

(l-r) Heather Moe as Wednesday, Caitlin Grant as Grandma Addams, Vincent Musgrave as Gomez, Michael M. Crooke as Fester, and Santina Maiolatesi as Morticia. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

Silhouette Stage’s production values are up to snuff. Set Coordinator Becca Hanauer and Scenic Artist Jessie Krupkin have built a two-level stage that doubles (with different dressings) as the family crypt and the front room of the Adams house. These set changes don’t delay the show because they create scenes set outside those areas in front of the curtain, allowing seamless (at least from the audience perspective) transitions. (Central Park, for example, is outside the curtain.) The two levels allow the performers (including a ten-person ensemble dance team done up as Addams family ghosts) the space to create the show’s dance numbers.

Heather Moe as Wednesday Addams. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

All of the actors gave superb performances. Heather Moe’s Wednesday captures her character’s introversion and expressive-nonexpressiveness. Vincent Musgrave’s Gomez appears genuinely caught between his daughter and his wife. Sammy Greenslit, the kid who played Pugsley on opening night, not only captured his character’s fear of losing his sister but also carried his songs beautifully. I could go on, but with such a large ensemble and featured characters, I’d just like to make it clear that every actor on the stage gave 100% effort and added great value to the production, as a whole. Kudos to the entire cast!

Okay. Now the fun part… the script/story, itself.

I can imagine a lot of stories you could tell in The Addams Family. The writers chose to tell a romantic comedy. By scene 2, I expected a meet-the-parents romcom that turns on a scandalous/unacceptable/unexpected romantic partner. Fester (Michael Crook) literally enters in Scene 2, breaks the fourth wall, and explains the plot directly to the audience, thereby setting expectations.) But this isn’t a normal romcom. Instead of focusing on the people getting married, the play’s main character is Gomez. He’s a middle-aged father seeing his daughter Wednesday growing up and keeping his marriage with Morticia (Santina Maiolatesi) alive. The show then (in a super meta twist) closes with a conventional romcom ending. Everyone leaves happy in a world famous for embracing the macabre and depressing.

Michael M. Crooke as Fester and Ensemble. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

The Addams Family argues that the root of its character’s problem is their futile attempts to be normal, attempts that fail because nobody is really normal. The Addams refer to themselves as “crazy” and Wednesday’s fiancé Lucas’s (Drew Sharpe) family as “normal.” Lucas’s family is “normal” because they’re from the “real America.” (“Real America” is apparently not in New York City but rather in Ohio…) The two families spend the first act trying to convince the other family that they’re totally 100% normal Americans. But neither family is actually normal in any conventional sense of the word. Lucas in fact spends as much time trying to get his family to pretend to be “normal” as Wednesday spends lobbying hers.

In this universe of oddballs, normality becomes a shared illusion. Everyone knows the basic script and tries to perform it. Both Lucas and Wednesday make their families pretend to be normal. They think everything will go smoothly if they can just fool the other side for an evening. Neither side succeeds. But this mutual attempt at deception generates conflict only resolved by the characters embracing the unique “crazy” in each of them. The conformist desire for normality in fact caused the problems the characters thought their quest for normality would solve.

Drew Sharpe as Lucas, Ashley Gerhardt as Alice, and Richard Greenslit as Mal. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

Is this script perfect? I thought the plot suffers from a lack of focus. This show has four romantic plots running through it, plus other Addams family dynamics. This leaves some plot decisions rushed. There’s so much story that the show does not have time to develop everything as much as I would’ve liked but I’d like to make it clear this is not a production problem, just a script problem.

Like a few other modern Broadway shows, the Addams family has multiple versions. Silhouette Stages is producing the revised “Touring” version and, judging by my research, there are significant change from the original cast album. The original apparently included an assignation with a giant squid. (I am unclear on how that could even fit into the plot and a little scared to ask.) You can hear the original sound track on (at least) Google Play and decide based on that. Overall, however, this is a polished, well put-together production that you don’t want to miss!

This is what I thought of Silhouette Stage’s production of The Addams Family… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Addams Family will run through October 28 at Silhouette Stages, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

 

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at Just Off Broadway

By Kara Bauer

DISCLAIMERPlease note, one or more persons directly involved in this production are members of the staff of Backstage Baltimore. This individual or persons 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.

(l-r) Jim Gerhardt as Judas and Luis “Matty” Montes as Jesus of Nazareth. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Jesus Christ Superstar, a story that is familiar to some, while at the same time refreshing and new for a younger generation continues to tell the story about Christ’s final days before his death and resurrection. It’s message about the plight of the poor and underprivileged resonates just as strongly as it did when it first premiered on Broadway in 1971. Just Off Broadway’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical, Directed by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy and Patrick Jay Golden, with Music Direction by Patty Delisle, and Choreography by Katie Gerstmyer, comes alive on the Baltimore stage. Despite the small space and minimalistic set design, this show packs a punch for audiences of all ages. What it lacks in appearance, it certainly more than makes up for it with its talented cast of performers. This show truly had all the components of a strong performance: Strong vocals, imaginative choreography, and powerful acting.

As soon as the lights come up, the audience is very aware of the urgency that Caiaphas mentions when speaking about the dangers that Jesus poses to their Roman traditions and ideals. Five men emerge in darkness with masks and riot gear. The familiar chord progression reverberates in the ears of the audience as a fight begins over Jesus’ presence in Rome. Audience members get to meet Judas, played by Jim Gerhardt, for the first time in this scene. As an audience member, hearing Judas sing the first vocals of the song really drew me in. Gerhardt is extremely talented; his voice and acting are mutually impeccable. On the other side of the stage, we see Jesus, played by Luis “Matty” Montes, emerge from the crowd of believers. An overwhelming sense of foreboding fills the air of the theatre– The harmonizing voices, the presence of Caiaphas and the other High Priests, along with truly haunting accompaniment by Patty DeLisle and the orchestra sets the tone for the entire show in the first few moments.

Jennifer Lutz as Mary Magdalene and Luis “Matty” Montes as Jesus of Nazareth. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Throughout the show, the audience has the chance to see many different kinds of choreography under the direction of Katie Gerstmyer. I applaud Gerstmyer in her foresight and structure of the choreography– it was structured enough to look uniform but freestyle enough that each ensemble member was able to create their own character choices throughout the production. For instance, in the beginning of the show, the audience can clearly see that the cast is filled with strong dancers. Even those who are not the most skilled still had space to create a character that perfectly accompanied their artistic dance choices.

Soon enough, the audience gets to meet the highlight of the show, Mary Magdalene, played by Jennifer Lutz. Lutz’s voice provides a strong and clear contrast to her male counterparts. She carries the role with poise, gusto, and so much dedication. She is constantly engaged in her craft– no matter what is happening on stage she remains engaged and dedicated to the scene. It was refreshing to see such vibrant chemistry on stage between Jesus and Mary– you can clearly tell that both actors have put in the time to create dynamic and powerful relationships with each other.

The tones of Mary’s voice fade away and are replaced by the deep, smoky tones of Christ Thomas’ interpretation of Caiaphas, the High Priest. Thomas is a truly terrifying entity on stage with his band of not-so-merry men. The entire group of High Priests (Dave Gerstmyer, Nick Ruth, Randall Noppinger, and Lee Knox) take their role seriously which only adds to the ominous mood set by music.

Josh Leach as Simon with Ensemble in the back. Credit. Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

During the song “Hosanna”, the ensemble proves its true ability as vocalists. The harmonies that they create together on stage are extremely clear and crisp in their execution. Unfortunately, I was so distracted by the strange lighting choice during the second half of that song that I was not able to focus on the music or story. I felt that this lighting choice was very out of place– the song “Hosanna” is all about Christ being willing to fight and die for his followers. Meanwhile an upbeat style lighting was occurring above the stage; the shifting blue-yellow floral lighting was too upbeat, and took me out of the scene.

A refreshing voice came from Simon, played by Josh Leach, during “Simon Zealots / Poor Jerusalem” I was forced to stop taking notes just so that I could soak up Leach’s soulful voice. His spellbinding serenade to the audience combined with the vivacious music provides a clear contrast to Jesus’ foretelling of events in the second half of the song. Being only a Senior in Mt. Hebron High School, he still has a lot of time to perfect his vocal craft. I have no doubt that this young man will develop into a performer that is even more confident, capable and talented than he is now.

Luis “Matty” Montes as Jesus of Nazareth. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Throughout each interaction and glance, the audience witnesses the expansion of the void which continues to widen between Jesus and Judas. Both actors add to this conflict in their own unique way, whether it be stolen glances, interactions with other characters or face to face moments– it is obvious that both Gerhardt and Montes are dedicated to the storytelling that they began.

As the show continues on, we meet Pontius Pilate, portrayed by Mike Zellhofer. He emerges from the back of the theatre and walks forward to Jesus as he contemplates his dream that foretells his interaction with a Galilean. Zellhofer has a very unique voice; both soft and contemplative, while at the same time possessing a fervor that touches the audience in an emotional way.

Jim Gerhardt as Judas. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The temple scene was as fitting as it was haunting, the lighting enhanced Jesus’s reaction to the tide of humanity that even he seemed powerless to redeem. While the efforts made by the cast were very convincing in this scene, I was distracted by some cast-members who interacted with stage props in a less convincing way, such as when several actors hid underneath the stairs leading up to the stage. Despite this, the audience can still feel how overwhelmed Christ is when the sick come to visit the temple, and his reaction is both moving and palpable.

There is a sense of urgency when Mary dives to catch Jesus–she sings her familiar voice as the sick clear the stage. Lutz reaches the climax of her song with gusto, confidence and poise. She reaches notes with strength–truly serenading the audience. Meanwhile, Judas’s inner conflict is displayed clearly when he goes to the high priests. Here the lighting is both effective and immersive, as is the feeling of when Judas betrays Christ–here again his emotions are palpable. His sadness is a weight that is felt clearly by the audience, and is also enhanced by the eerie yet harmonious undertones of the ensemble’s “good old Judas” as the lights dim for intermission.

Mike Zellhofer as Pilate. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Overall the cast is enthusiastic, and while the costuming is simple it fits the punk and rockstar vibe that characterizes the show and distinguishes it from other adaptations. The talented vocal cast lends its hand in helping to bring the audience back in following the admission by delivering a beautiful chorus that tells the story of a people who drown their sorrows and grief in gentle pools of wine.

Judas and Jesus in this scene go back and forth, vocally competing, the clash of their worldviews acting out in person Jesus begins to doubt himself in his conversation with his Father. He is clearly troubled, and brings Jesus self-doubt and hate to life. It is here that Montes really displays his vocal range to the audience, and during this troubling monologue.

Following the arrest of Jesus at the hands of the Romans, King Herod, played by Atticus Emerson, provides a welcome comic relief to the conflict at hand. His performance is spirited, humorous, and lively, fitting the style and poise of the original piece. Following Herod’s performance, “Could we start again, please?” is by far the most beautifully simplistic and minimalistic piece in the second act. The harmony of Mary and Peter (played by Jeff Baker) was thoughtfully coordinated and stunningly done.

Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

For those who know the story, we know and feel the weight of Judas’s death. I was brought to tears as Judas asks, “Does he love me too?” Judas knows what he must do, stating “My mind is in darkness now” as the music swells as the ensemble members in black lead him away, towards suicide.

The flogging of Jesus was so creative–this is a very controversial to address, let alone depict–yet Katie Gerstmyer–covered in blood, “lashes” Jesus’s back, while dancing to symbolize the whipping–truly the most intuitive way to show the 39 lashes.

Judas comes back adorned in white with angels in tow, asking “Jesus Christ, who are you what have you sacrificed?”. His reaction to his old friend’s death is simultaneously sobering yet striking, and also provides the chance for his character to stun the audience one final time with his voice.

Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The final scene where Jesus is put to the cross is particularly striking, Montes’ interpretation of Jesus’s shock and desperation at his fate at the hands of the Romans is strikingly and starkly human. It is here that we see Jesus standing inside the cross, weeping in fear, set to the near-demonic tone of the audience. With the lights suddenly going out, we see Jesus taken away into oblivion, removing him from the stage, and by extension, from his connection to the living.

In summary, I’ve seen many different adaptations of Jesus Christ Superstar, but for me it is the cast that makes this show what it is; the actors are clearly passionate, the musical direction is superb, and the directors have proved their creative abilities. The show has three more performances. Be sure to catch this buzz before it’s gone.

This is what I thought of Just Off Broadway’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Jesus Christ Superstar will run through October 21 at Just Off Broadway @ Epiphany, Epiphany Lutheran Church, 4301 Raspe Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21206. For tickets email tickets@justoffbroadwaymd.com or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

Review: Miss Isabella Rainsong and Her traveling Companion: A One Man Guitar Show by Ross Martin

By Mike Zellhofer

Approx. Running Time: 90 minutes

My grandfather always told me that, “anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” While we are not connected familiarly, singer songwriter Ross Martin obviously agrees. Over twenty years went into the creation of Miss Isabella Rainsong and Her Traveling Companion, and it is well worth the wait.

For me, this was a unique experience because I had never seen much less covered a play about one man playing a guitar. From the very moment the light came up Martin shows his audience that this is not a concert. This is not a play. This may not even be entertainment, but what it is, is an immersion into a life experience that will run the gambit of emotions and hopefully leave you feeling human as you come out the other end. Martin is a living, breathing concept album that will leave you yearning for his next release.

Set inside a current day Amtrak passenger terminal in Anniston, Alabama we find a lowly traveler (Ross Martin) waiting for train service to resume. A brutal storm and tornado sightings have forced the suspension of service. The traveler views the audience as fellow travelers, and being the southern gentleman that he is, takes this time to introduce himself. He notes that it appears we are going to be sitting here for awhile and asks if he may share a story.

The story he shares is his. An average, every day person who is at a point in his life where he needs a helping hand. There is nothing special about this traveler. He could be any one of us in the audience or reading this and for me, that is what brought me into the story. Mr. Martin is not only a talented singer, but performer as well. His portrayal of the traveler is genuine. He does not try to make you feel sorry for him. He doesn’t even offer an explanation of circumstances as to how he got to this point. He doesn’t have to; he is us.

Unbeknownst to him, help is around the corner in the form of Miss Isabella Rainsong (Dolly Rainsong), in the form of a guitar. (To find out more about Dolly Rainsong, the companion CD, blog or more, please visit www.missrainsong.com) Our traveler finds an envelope, containing a note, clipped to Miss Rainsong by a capo. He reads the note and their journey together begins. Our traveler eloquently tells the story of how they spent a few years together riding the rails together. As not to give away the big reveal, I will leave the story here.

Throughout the storytelling Martin plays thirteen pieces of original music loosely linked to the story at hand. The genius behind Martin’s writing of Miss Isabella…Companion is that those songs can be replaced by songs from another storyteller without taking away from the overall production. Martin’s music combined with his story made this particular show special. However, it would be nice to hear someone like Anthony Kiedis perform this piece and use song that he wrote. The whole concept is brilliant and just works.

If there is one thing that I would change in the production, it would be the number of songs. The story its self is strong enough to stand on its own. For me, thirteen songs were a bit much and I would cut it down to ten; five in each act, but still add Isabella’s Rain Song at the end. Ten would keep the show moving and still provide a nice sample size of Mr. Martin’s work.

This show should not be missed. It is an evening of entertainment bliss. Unfortunately, at the time of this review there are no future events scheduled for Ross Martin or Dolly Rainsong. Please visit the website for future shows.

As Jason would say, “This is what I thought of Isabella Rainsong and Her Traveling Companion” … What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

You can find more information on YouTube or by going to www.missrainsong.com.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook  and Follow us out Twitter @BackstageBmoreand Instagram @backstagebaltimore

Review: ‘Night, Mother at The Strand Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

The relationship between a mother and her child is a complex one, not to understate it. Mom is the only person in this world who has really known us our entire life, and then some! As we grow, we may stray away from each other, but the bond is always there, no matter what – whether we like it or not. Mom is that one person we can never explain to anyone else and we are the only one who sees her in a particular way. Vice versa, Mom can only see us in a certain way unlike anyone else. The Strand Theatre’s latest production, ‘Night, Mother by Marsha Norman, Directed by Anne Hammontree, peeks behind the curtain into one strained and intricate relationship between an “it-is-what-it-is” kind of mother and a daughter who has managed to find herself in a deep, dark place with only one seemingly way out. It’s a 90-minute snapshot in the lives of two women that is chillingly, but poignantly real.

Briefly, ‘Night, Mother concerns itself with Jessie, the daughter, and Thelma, the mother as they go about a regular Saturday night with one twist… Jessie has announced that she has decided to commit suicide within the next hour or so. Through the dialogue, we discover more about these characters and Jessie’s reasoning for making such a decision, as well as a little family history and feelings that had not been discussed before. As Thelma tries to convince Jessie that she can’t go through with her plan, it’s clear that Jessie has thought it through and might not be convinced.

I’d seen the 1986 film version of ‘Night, Mother, starring Sissy Spacek and Ann Bancroft (which I highly recommend) but this stage production of this piece is my first venture to Strand Theatre (and I don’t know why I waited so long!) and the space is unique but absolutely charming. Set Design by TJ Lukasina is, without a doubt, superb. The details from the working sink in the kitchen, to the lit lamps, to the grandfather clock that actually chimes on the hour are impeccable and give an authentic feel to the piece. This design puts the audience right into the action and makes one feel as though he or she is sitting at the kitchen table with these two ladies which keeps the entire production appealing throughout. The interestingly shaped space was not match for Lukasina as he transforms it into a living space that is cozy and real that adds great value to this production.

Kathryn Falcone as Thelma Cates and Andrea Bush as Jessie Cates. Credit: Shealyn Jae

Anne Hammontree takes the reigns of this production of ‘Night, Mother, and it’s clear she has a great comprehension of this piece, overall, and the thoughtful dialogue. Her staging is on point and though this piece could very well be two people sitting at a table talking all evening, she keeps the action going and engaging for the audience. It’s a challenging piece, but her casting is spot on and the presentation is clear and concise making this a delightful and thoughtful evening of theatre.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, Kathryn Falconetakes on the role of Thelma (Mama) Cates and Andrea Bush tackles the role of Jessie Cates. Both of these actress give strong, confident performances and their chemistry is incredible. From time to time, I completely forget these are two actresses performing roles in a play rather than a mother and daughter on a regular Saturday night – that’s how good they work with and off of each other.

From the moment she steps onto the stage, Kathryn Falcone completely embodies this character. Her delivery of the text is natural and she’s quite comfortable in this role with a strong presence and purpose. Falcone’s understanding of this character is clear and the audience can feel her urgency throughout the production. Overall, a job well done and Falcone should be commended for her splendid performance.

As Jessie Cates, the totally capable and able Andrea Bush could not be better suited for this role. It’s clear that Bush pulls from a very deep place to pull out this interpretation of this character. She becomes this character from the moment we see her walking onto the stage carrying bath and beach towels. Her instincts are correct and her compassion for this character guides her hand. She has a good grasp of what her character is going through and presents it authentically and clearly with a confident presence with a delicate handling. Kudos to Bush for an outstanding performance.

Final thought… ‘Night Mother is a heart-wrenching look at strained mother-daughter relationship full of resentment and regrets, but with a deep love for each other. It’s also a redemption, of sorts, with new connections and positive self-realizations. It’s an emotional roller-coaster that brings out the best and worst in family relationships, especially between mothers and daughters, when they are seem to be so similar but are actually vastly different. This one hit home hard for me. TRIGGER WARNING: this piece deals with suicide. However, it presents this story exceedingly well with poignancy as well as with a pinch of humor, giving a well-blended mix of ups and downs that make for a good drama. The performances are authentic and natural, and the characters are extremely relatable. The staging and pacing is on point making for an impeccable evening of theatre. Do yourself a favor – grab your tissues and get out to experience this show! It’s not one you want to miss this season.

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

‘Night Mother will play through October 14 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.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook  and Follow us out Twitter @BackstageBmoreand Instagram @backstagebaltimore

Review: Sex With Strangers at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

In the world of billions of people, two sometimes come together whether by chance or a little planning and sparks fly. You only get one chance at a first impression and sometimes you find that the one you love is the one you hated at first sight. I’ve heard we’re drawn to people who help us grow and learn so, in a way, we are drawn to people we need. Sometimes we get what we need honestly and, in the real world, we sometimes get what we need with a little “arranging,” whether we like to admit it or not. In Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest production, Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason, Directed by Patrick Gorirossi, gives us a glimpse into a somewhat dysfunctional relationship between an older woman and younger man who both need something from the other whether they know it or not.

Matthew Lindsay Payne and Kathyrne Daniels in Sex With Strangers. Credit: David Iden

Sex With Strangers, in a nutshell, concerns a twenty-something blogger, Ethan who finds his writing hero, the older Olivia, in a secluded cabin and they realize they both want what the other has already. A flirty attraction turns to an intimate relationship and they slowly move closer to what each wants from each other. However, through twist and turns, each must go through some self-realization and the sleazy side of climbing the ladder (or falling off the ladder) as each reinvents him and herself to attain their ambitions.

The story, itself, is a good story, very relatable, and can be set in any era. The characters are fleshed out and I found myself liking one over the other then making a complete 180° turn by the end. The dialogue is natural and authentic with no major plot holes or, any plot holes at all. It’s an easy story to follow and the ending, which I won’t give away, of course, leaves the audience thinking, which is always the hallmark of a good, well-told story.

Fells Point Corner Theatre, with its more traditional space, never disappoints when it comes to their sets and David Shoemaker’s Set Design is no different. He knows the space well and uses it wisely, giving us an authentic space for this piece. Everything is strategically placed and natural putting the audience in the scenes making the production more engaging. It’s a simple design, but absolutely appropriate and, from the audience, I feel like I’m looking through the window into a living room of a secluded cabin or a New York City apartment. Kudos to Shoemaker for his impeccable design.

Patrick Gorirossi takes the helm of this production and his Direction and staging is superb and engaging. Having a two-person cast can be challenging but Gorirossi manages to keep the action moving and it’s clear he has a good grasp on the material and the movement on stage is authentic and natural. His casting is top-notch and the production is polished and paced perfectly. Kudos to Gorirossi on a job well done.

Kathryne Daniels as Olivia. Credit: David Iden

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, it’s worth noting that the two-person cast of Kathryne Daniels as Olivia and Matthew Lindsay Payne as Ethan couldn’t have been cast more perfectly. They both embody this characters completely and have a great comprehension of the text. Neither are merely going through the motions, but are feeling what their characters are feeling and their choices fit the piece flawlessly.

Matthew Lindsay Payne as Ethan. Credit: David Iden

Though it was a bit of a stretch to believe Daniels is a woman in her early forties, she plays the character splendidly. Her transition from obscure, self-doubting writer to confident and ambitious novelist is seamless and occurs naturally. The writing accomplishes this well already, but Daniels brings it to life. Her natural and purposeful delivery makes her performance believable and she has a strong stage presence that works well for this piece. The chemistry she has with Payne is quite good and makes for a solid and refined performance.

Payne, too, gives and honest and solid performance as the twenty-something brash and no-holds-barred blogger who is “plugged in” 90% of the day. He handles his character’s change from beginning to end delicately and smoothly making for a brilliant performance. His comprehension of this character and his conflicts is apparent and his presence is strong making for a terrific performance, overall.

Final thought… Sex with Strangers is a moving, poignant piece that makes one think about relationships and what we need and/or want out of them. It’s also about learning to trust people and learning, sometimes the hard way, about what it is to be betrayed. The production is unassuming but strong and the performances are on point filled with skill and a solid chemistry. The modern setting makes it relatable and the characters and story are timeless making for a show that will be relevant for years to come and makes for a charming, thoughtful evening of theatre. Get your tickets because you don’t want to miss this one.

This is what I thought of this production of Sex with Strangers.… what do you think?

Sex with Strangers will play through October 7 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

Review: Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) at Single Carrot Theatre/The Acme Corporation

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Vladimir Putin is a curious character. Working his way up from the ranks of the KGB all the way up to the presidency of Russia, we all have our own opinions of him and some are more vocal about them than others. In the media, he’s portrayed in many different ways and his antics are regularly reported such as his stints practicing Judo or donning an ice hockey uniform and skating around the rink. Whatever you think about him, Single Carrot Theatre’s (with The Acme Corporation) latest offering, Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) by Lola B. Pierson, Directed by Yury Urnov, with Lighting Design by Eric Nightengale, Sound Design by Steven Krigel, and Video Design by Nitsan Scarf, attempts to give a few facts and explanations about this complex, sometimes absurd man and through the style of Absurdist Theatre, actually makes for an charming, thought-provoking evening of theatre.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

I’ve got to admit. I do, in fact, have a strong dislike of Theatre of the Absurd, but… I can definitely appreciate it and this production is so tight and engaging, I’m able to appreciate it even more. From what I could gather, Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) is trying to send the message that Putin is everywhere, no matter what the situation may be. It’s absurd, of course, but stranger things are possible, right? Each actor takes on a persona of the president and the ensemble performs through different scenarios to explain how this is possible and if it weren’t for the energized, polished performance, I probably would have taken them up on their offer that I could leave at any time, but… I didn’t. I was enthralled with this performance and the technical aspects involved that I sat through the entire 90 minutes and was thoroughly entertained.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

Lighting and Sound Design by Eric Nightengale and Steven Krigel, respectively, are two aspects of this production that shine through and pull this piece together. I’d compare Nightengale’s design to any big professional theatre out there today. He creates a night-club like atmosphere, for most of the show, but also manages to tone it down for more “serious” parts and it all works seamlessly. He knows his space and the staging well and keeps everything moving along nicely, setting the mood for each scene. Working in tandem with Nightengale’s Lighting Design, Krigel’s Sound Design is on point and impeccable. With appropriate sound effects, and the use of a live mic, Krigel’s work adds great value to this production. Both Nightengale and Krigel should be applauded and commended for their work on this piece. Kudos for a job well done!

Another technical aspect for this production is Video Design by Nitasan Scharf. Video and images play a huge part in this production and Scharf has put together a perfect design to help tell the story and move it along. I can only imagine the hours put into programing text and finding images that coincide with the onstage action but Scharf has done a splendid job and it’s clear his hard work and efforts have paid off.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

Jarod Hanson serves has Movement Director of this production and, though most of his work it seems happens at the beginning and during transitions, it is stellar. The ensemble is tight and polished and… that beginning. The movement, lights, and sound really get this production started with a bang and it keeps going from there. I gotta say, I am thoroughly impressed with the movement and choreography that goes into this piece and keeps it high-energy. I tip my hat to Hanson for his work on this production.

Yury Urnov takes the helm of this production and his Direction is spot on in, not necessarily telling a story, which I’m sure he can do just fine, but in getting the message across in this crazy style of theatre. I usually see Theatre of the Absurd as an art installation with people moaning and rolling around on the floor, however, not so much the case with this production. I was able to follow along easily and his staging keeps the energy up and the audience engaged. It’s clear he understands the style and the material and presents it in a way that is not too far “out there” and the comedy is not buried under pretentiousness. Urnov seems to be able to take this piece seriously, but the comedic aspects are not lost to him, at all. His casting is on point and the production, as a whole, with so many different aspects, works perfectly.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

One of the aspects I enjoy most about this production is that it is truly and ensemble piece where everyone is working together with no lead or featured character. The entire cast works well with and off of each other making for a smooth flowing and sophisticated production. Tania Karpekina (as Herself) starts us off speaking only in Russian and it sets the mood for the entire piece. I don’t speak Russian, but that was OK as her performance and delivery of her dialogue was good enough to keep me in the loop (that’s to say, I understood what she was saying enough to follow along, of course). All of the Putins: Baby Putin (Molly Cohen), Hockey Putin (Paul Diem), Judo Putin (Alix Fenhagen), Military Putin (Sophie Hinderberger), Putin with the Animals (Ben Kleymeyer), Putin with the Birds Separately (Meghan Stanton), Party Putin (Matthew Shea), Religious Putin (Mohammad R. Suaidi), and Drag Putin (Kaya Vision) all work hand in hand to relay this message to the audience and they do it skillfully and honestly with superb delivery of the dialogue and appealing staging. There’s even an impressive musical number with Paul Diem on Bass, Meghan Stanton on Piano, Matthew Shea on Trumpet, and Mohammad R. Suaidi on percussion, with vocalists Molly Cohen and Kaya Vision that brings the house down and these actors are playing their own instruments and singing live.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

Overall, I may not have liked the style of theatre for this production, I cannot deny the impeccable performances and superb production and technical aspect that makes this a successful production.

Final thought…Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) isn’t my cup of tea but it is a very polished, well-put together production that Single Carrot Theatre should be proud of and applauded for. The performers are dedicated and have a solid grasp on Theatre of the Absurd. The mulit-media aspect keeps it engaging and interesting and the use of sound and light is enveloping keeping the audience in the heart of the piece. It’s a political driven work but the author is wise enough to let people know information is just being presented but, in the end,, the individual leaves with questions to think about and come up with his or her own opinions. It’s an innovative, creative experience that you should check out this season. Just remember… you are free to leave at any time.

This is what I thought of Single Carrot Theatre’s production of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show)… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) will play through October 7 at Single Carrot Theatre, 2600 North Howard Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 443-844-9253 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow Backstage Baltimore on Twitter (@backstagebmore) and Instagram (backstagebaltimore)

Review: Chess at Tidewater Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions

The Cold War, an international chess championship, political relations between The United States and The Soviet Union, spies, friends, enemies, lovers, enemies who become lovers… it’s all going on at Tidewater Players in their latest offering, Chess, with Music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Lyrics by Tim Rice. All this fodder and music by the dudes from ABBA can’t go wrong and, wherever you stand on Chess (some love it, some hate it), there’s no denying that Director Mark Briner, Music Director R. Christopher Rose and Stephanie Carlock Cvach, and Choreographer Bambi Johnson knocked it out of the ballpark with this better-flowing, energized concert version that tells the story completely and cuts out all the muddle.

Briefly, and according to the Guide to Musical Theatre (http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com), “This highly acclaimed musical develops the ancient and distinguished game of chess into a metaphor for romantic rivalries and East-West political intrigue. The principal pawns form a love triangle: the loutish American Grandmaster, the earnest Russian champion, and the Hungarian-American female chess second, who arrives at the international championships with the American but falls for the Russian. From Tyrol to Thailand the players, lovers, politicians, CIA and KGB make their moves to the pulse of this monumental rock score.”

Set Design by Director Mark Briner is smart and minimal and pulled this piece together nicely. As this production is more of a concert version, a large, lavish set was not needed, but a few levels and, some chairs and music stands did the job just fine and didn’t clutter the stage allowing for the superb staging and choreography to be showcased.

Thomas Gardner’s lighting design is, in a word, splendid. His use of colors, isolated lighting, and blend of cool and warm tones helped tell this story and kept the piece energized and interesting throughout. He knows his stage well and lights it beautifully, adding great value to this production.

Choreography by Bambi Johnson is impeccable. She knows her cast and the ensemble shined in each number. Upbeat, high-energy, and tight, the impressive choreography was engaging and kept the audience interested. From the smooth ballet to the rockin’ pop moves, this original choreography inspires.

Music Direction under R. Christopher Rose and Stephanie Cvach is superb and it seems quite easy with the exquisite voices with which they have to work. A small band including R. Christopher Rose on Piano, Stephanie Carlock Cvach on Keyboard, Will Poxon on Percussion, Helen Slaich on Reeds/Clarinet, and Greg Bell on Bass Guitar fill the theatre as adequately as a full orchestra and each number is polished and well-performed. Kudos to Rose and Cvach for an impeccable job.

Director Mark Briner is to be applauded for his efforts in bringing this production to the stage. As I stated, Chess is one of those shows that people love or people hate, for the most part. I’m in a small percentage that is in between where I love the music (how can you dislike anything from the dudes from ABBA?… don’t answer that), but I’m not very fond of the book. Since this is more of a concert version, the book has been cut to a minimum and the concentration is on the music which works brilliantly for this piece. Briner’s staging is tight and refined and the pacing is just about perfect. A mix of blocking and choreography brings it all together beautifully and makes for a very entertaining evening of theatre.

Moving on to the performance of this production, I’d be amiss not to mention that the entire ensemble of this piece give top notch performances and all should be commended for their work and effort to make this a stellar production, a whole.

To mention a few, Terry D’Onofrio as Alexander Molokov and Aaron Dalton as Walter de Courcey take on the roles of puppet masters, of sorts, guiding their chess champions for political gain. D’Onofrio is well suited for his role as Molokov and has a good grasp though his use of an accent may hinder his performance rather than enhance it, especially vocally in the numbers in which he is featured. However, his performance is strong and confident and he pulls it off nicely. Dalton gives a strong performance with a solid stage presence. Vocally, Dalton gives impressive renditions of the numbers he’s in, such as “Merchandisers.”

Eileen Aubele and Barbara Hartzell are marvelous Svetlana Sergievskaya and Florence Vassy, respectively. Hartzell excels in this conflicted character, portraying that conflict in delivery of dialogue and physical gestures and great chemistry with her cast mates while Aubele, who comes in later in the piece, makes the most of her stage time with a poised presence and good hold on her scorned, but seemingly forgiving character. Vocally, both actresses are powerhouses and fill the theatre with a smooth, booming sound and harmony as in numbers like the poignant “Someone Else’s Story” sung beautifully by Hartzell, and the powerful duet, “I Know Him So Well.” Aubele and Hartzell are to be celebrated for their performances.

Taking on the role of cocky International chess champion (and former champion) Frederick Trumper, Rob Tucker is a highlight and shines in this production. He embodies this character and portrays him with just as much pompousness as required and his transition in his character is seamless from beginning to end. Vocally, Tucker is superb which he showcases in his strong and confident performances in numbers such as the popular, high-energy “One Night in Bangkok” and the emotional “Pity the Child.” Tucker is certainly one to watch (and you can’t help but to) in this production.

Rounding out the featured cast is standout Shawn Doyle, taking on the multifaceted role of Anatoly Sergievsky. Doyle has performed this role numerous times but it’s as fresh as ever. He understands this role inside and out and he gives a consistent and exquisite performance. He portrays the conflict, confusion, and hurt that is required of this character and gives a vocal performance that is excellent, to say the least. His renditions of the duet “You and I” and the Broadway standard, “Anthem” is smooth, emotive, and resonates throughout the theatre making for a memorable and exquisite performance.

Final thought… Even the cold war is over, Chess is still as relevant today as when it was released. This production is well put together and cuts what needed to be cut and still told the story in its completion. The performances are spot on and the entire ensemble is giving 100% effort. Staging keeps the audience engaged and interested and the music is performed near flawlessly. Admittedly, Chess is not on the top of my list when it comes to musical theatre, but it’s mainly because of the book. The music has always been the driving force in this piece and in this production is more concert-like making for an absolutely joyous evening at the theatre. Get your tickets now because this is not one you want to miss this season.

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

Chess will play through October 1 at Tidewater Players at The Cultural Center at the Opera House, 121 N. Union Street, Havre de Grace, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

Review: Dancing at Lughnasa at Everyman Theatre

By Andrea Bush

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with a 10-minute intermission

“I know I had a sense of unease, some awareness of a widening breach between what seemed to be and what was, of things changing too quickly before my eyes, of becoming what they ought not to be.”

L-R: Katie Kleiger, Lahbahoise Magee,
and Megan Anderson.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel and Directed and Choreographed by Amber Paige McGinnis, is the story of a memory, told by Michael Evan’s as he looks back across a quarter-century, to August 1936 during the Festival of Lughnasa. The five unmarried Mundy sisters – Michael’s mother, Christina, and his aunts, Kate, Maggie, Agnes, and Rose – live together in a cottage outside the fictional village of Ballybeg, Ireland. Their brother, Father Jack, has returned after 25 years as a missionary on a leper colony in Uganda, with malaria, a spotty memory, and some contrary ideas. Before long, Michael’s charming but unreliable father, Gerry, resurfaces, as well. As the Industrial Revolution finally makes its way to Ireland, we find this family in transition, but between what? Old and new? Real and imagined? Together and apart? Restraint and abandon? Well…yes. Dancing at Lughnasa is a beautiful piece of theatre that may be an entirely different story for each patron.

L-R: Annie Grier, Bari Hochwald, Katie
Kleiger, and Labhaoise Magee.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

The action takes place in and around the Mundy sisters’ cottage, which is brilliantly realized by Set Designer Yu-Hsuan Chen. I am legitimately in such awe of her set that I struggle to find the words to praise it. Chen has so beautifully captured the line between reality and memory with a perfectly-appointed cottage kitchen (complete with smoke from the chimney of the wood-burning stove), the walls of which seem to have dissolved away so we may sneak a glimpse into the lives it contains. The cottage is surrounded by impressions of wind-swept trees and an abstract landscape. I truly felt like I was looking in on someone else’s memory and it made me uncomfortable in the best possible way. Chen’s set is nothing short of perfection.

L-R: Bruce Randolph Nelson, Bari Hochwald, Labhaoise
Magee, Annie Grier, Megan Anderson, Tim Getman, and
Katie Kleiger.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

Upon entering the theatre, patrons are greeted by Irish music, which foretells the wonderful sound design by Phillip Owen. Music (or the lack thereof) is almost another character in the play, and Owen’s design is spot on.

David Burdick’s costume design is excellent and appropriate for each character, and I appreciate Annie Nesmith’s almost-undetectable wig design.

For the most part, the actors seem to have taken well to the dialect coaching of Gary Logan and I was grateful that he chose diction over dialect without losing the authenticity of the accent.

Props Master Jillian Mathews may well deserve an unsung hero award for her work on this production. The sheer volume of “things” on the stage is overwhelming, giving the cottage and yard an authentic, lived-in feel. Kudos to Stage Manager Cat Wallis, as well – it seems like there are so many nearly imperceptible moving parts to this show that no one will ever know, thanks to Wallis.

L-R: Bari Hochwald, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Annie Grier,
Danny Gavigan, Labhaoise Magee, Tim Getman, Katie
Kleiger, and Megan Anderson.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

Jay Herzog’s lighting design is stunning, which is no surprise. I would honestly go see a production at Everyman Theatre just for his design work. In a production that transitions between past and present, we expect to see shifts in lighting to represent the time change, but it is all too often done with a heavy hand, which makes me feel disrespected as an audience member. Herzog takes a gentler approach and his subtle transitions enhance the story, rather than becoming the story. I also always love his use of pools of light, instead of a consistent spot, to track an actor across the stage.

L-R: Megan Anderson and Tim Getman.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

As the play begins, the adult Michael (Tim Getman) invites us into his memory and the lights come up on the rest of the characters in tableau. Getman adeptly breaks the fourth wall consistently throughout the play and his performance feels genuine, never forced or overly sentimental (In fact, none of the actors get weighed down in sentiment, which is a testament to Amber Paige McGinnis’ apt direction of this piece). As he stands outside the action, he also takes on the persona and delivers lines for his seven-year-old self – a challenge for him and his fellow actors to interact without interacting. I enjoyed this device immensely and it is well-handled by all.

L-R: Labhaoise Magee,
Katie Kleiger, Annie Grier,
and Bari Hochwald.
Photo Credit: Teresa
Castracane

The oldest sister, Kate (Bari Hochwald) is stern, but likeable. Toward the beginning of the evening, Hochwald seemed a little unsure of herself, but as the show went on, I thought it might be a character choice that she hasn’t fully settled into yet. I did, however, enjoy her performance. Kate is the practical sister and often has to play the “bad guy” to keep the household going. It would be easy to play the character as mean, but Hochwald finds beautiful layers within Kate and this may be my favorite role that I’ve seen her in.

Megan Anderson’s portrayal of Maggie is a delight. She is sassy and bold and I wanted to be her friend. Her interactions with young Michael, full of riddles and imagination, were some of the most beautiful moments of the show. Anderson’s absolute abandon as she danced and sang and tried to bring lightness to the home made me yearn to get up and dance with her.

L-R: Katie Kleiger, and
Danny Gavigan.
Photo Credit: Teresa
Castracane

Labhaoise Magee is a sweet, childlike Rose, the youngest sister. Her desire to embrace the world is palpable. Magee brings an unexpected combination of innocence and practicality to the role, which was interesting to watch.

Christina (Katie Kleiger) and Gerry (Danny Gavigan) are Michael’s unmarried parents. Kleiger plays the dichotomy between who Christina is on her own and who she is with Gerry with aplomb. Gavigan plays Gerry with just enough charm to make you want him to stay and just enough smarm to make you doubt he ever will, which makes Kleiger’s performance that much more heartbreaking.

Father Jack, played by Bruce Randolph Nelson, is my conundrum for this show. I have to say that I very much enjoyed seeing Bruce Randolph Nelson tell stories about Pagan rituals and be just a bit off his rocker – he really was captivating in his own right. But, in the context of the show, I’d have rather seen Father Jack. Unfortunately, Nelson’s authenticity in the role was lacking, right down to his on-again-off-again accent.

L-R: Bari Hochwald and Megan
Anderson.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

But, Annie Grier’s performance as Agnes is the one I can’t stop thinking about. Agnes is the most subtle sister and her performance is perfectly understated and gorgeous. I couldn’t stop watching her, even as she sat in the background of a scene, knitting. I don’t want to give away her story arc, but I will say that her masterful performance makes it all the more poignant.

Overall, Dancing at Lughnasa is another stunning production from Everyman Theatre. From design to direction to performance, it is a must-see this season. I hope to get back to see it again before it fades to nothing more than a memory.

Dancing at Lughnasa will play through October 7 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the Box Office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

Review: Rumors at Colonial Players of Annapolis

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions

Friends do crazy things for each other, even if it calls for fibbing once in a while, and those fibs just get bigger and bigger as time goes on making for some funny and/or awkward situations. Colonial Players of Annapolis’ latest offering, Rumors by Neil Simon, Directed by Atticus Cooper Boidy, gives us a glimpse into the lives of a group of friends who are trying to protect another friend (and themselves) from scandal with lies and deceit that turns one evening into a farcical comedy that will have you slapping your knee all night.

(l-r, seated) Shannon Benil, Dann Alagna (l-r, back) Mary C. Rogers, Kevin McConnell, Glenn Singer, Amy E. Haynes. Credit: Colonial Players of Annapolis

In a nutshell, Rumors is about a group of wealthy friends who are gathering to celebrate the 10th wedding anniversary of Charlie, the Deputy Mayor of New York City, who just happened to have shot himself, and Myra, his missing wife. The shot, however, was only a flesh wound, and only one couple, Chris and Ken Gorman, was there to hear the shot and lend aid. As the other three couples arrive, Claire and Lenny Ganz, Ernie and Cookie Cusack, and Glenn and Cassie Cooper, everyone is trying to get the real story of what happened to Charlie and run about in a sea of lies and mis-communication.

The only drawback of this production is the space. Set Design by Directory Atticus Cooper Boidy is, indeed, impeccable, but trying to stage a farce in the round is no small feat. There are doors to be slammed, and numerous entrances and exits and it can be daunting to design and stage all of this in the round. Boyd’s design does have all the doors, entrances, and exits and he has managed to stage this production nicely, but the wide space seems to hinder the quick action that’s required of a farce. An actor has to cross what seems like the Red Sea to get to his or her exit and it just takes away from the urgency of the action. Regardless, Boyd, with his Set Design has managed to put us in this upscale residence with a sleek, modern design and set pieces that work beautifully with this production.

Kirsti Dixon’s Costume Design is on point in this production, choosing attire that represents a wealthy group of folks coming together for an evening. Men in tuxedos and women in dresses and gowns give the feeling of a more formal gathering and it adds to the comedy when things start to go awry and the coats come off, sleeves get rolled up, and shoes come off. It’s a modern piece and Dixon has managed to create a terrific, authentic look for the characters in this piece.

(l-r) Stephanie Bernholz, Mary C. Rogers, and John Purnell. Credit: Colonial Players of Annapolis

Again, directing a farce is no easy task but Director Atticus Cooper Boidy has a good grasp on the material and how it is to be presented. To reiterate, the only drawback is the space and how it takes away from the frenzy that is needed for this type of show. He understands these characters and the comical situation and his staging, for the most part, is superb. His casting is near perfect and the story is told nicely without many hiccups. Overall, a job quite well done by Boyd.

Moving into the performance aspect of this piece, playing more supporting roles are Stephanie Bernholz as Officer Pudney and John Purnell as Officer Welch. Though these two enter toward the end of the story, they make a good impression on the audience. Purnell is believable and even likeable as the officer in charge trying to get the real story of what’s going on. Pudney, as the quiet, but observant partner, plays the role more suspicious and it works beautifully against Purnell’s more lax character.

(l-r) Dann Alagna as Ken, Kevin McConnell as Glenn, and Glenn Singer as Ernie. Credit: Colonial Players of Annapolis

Glenn Cooper, a rising political star, is portrayed by Kevin McConnell and, though he seems to have a good understanding of his character and his actions, the performance fell a bit flat and subdued. He doesn’t exude the kind of urgency that is called for and if he just loosens up, just a bit, his performance may not sound so scripted. However, Rosalie Daelemans takes on the role of  Cassie Cooper, a discontented wife and fan of mystical powers, and though she seems scripted much of the time, as well, she is more at ease with her character giving a good showing.

Glenn Singer takes on the role of Ernie Cusack, a kind hearted, calm analyst, and Amy E. Haynes portrays Cookie Cusak, a popular television chef. Singer does a terrific job portraying the calm side of Ernie, but when it comes to the frantic, frenzied side, Singer falls a little short, but he still gets the point across and has a good grasp of his character. Haynes is a standout in her portrayal of Cookie giving a natural delivery of the text and embodying the character. Haynes’ accent was a little confusing at first (going from what I heard was a “Jersey girl” to a “Southern belle”) but she evened it out quickly and gave a genuine and funny performance with great comedic timing.

(l-r) Mary C. Rogers as Claire, Amy E. Haynes as Cookie, and Shannon Benil as Chris. Credit: Colonial Players of Annapolis

We first meet the Gorman’s with Shannon Benil taking on the role of Chris Gorman and Dann Alagna portraying Ken Gorman and both of these actors set just the right mood for the entire piece. Dann Alagna understands the material well and gives an energized performance that sets the bar for the rest of the production. His timing is superb and his delivery is natural making him a highlight of this piece with a strong presence and performance. Benil works well off of and with Alagna but seems, at times, subdued giving us wide eyes and an agape mouth instead of frenzied movement, but that very well could be a directorial choice. She plays her character well and gives a strong, confident performance, overall.

Finally, we have the pleasure of meeting Clair and Lenny Ganz, played by Mary C. Rogers as and Brian Binney, respectively. Rogers is splendid as Mrs. Ganz, giving just enough shade and sassiness as the character requires and her comedic timing is near faultless, having a knack spitting out those famous Neil Simon one-liners without a wince.

Brian Binney, however, is the standout in this production with impeccable comedic timing and a total understanding of the material and style of this piece. His character work is impressive and consistent and he has a solid, assured presence on the stage that adds value to his performance and to the production as a whole. Kudos to Binney for a job well done.

Final thought… Rumors is  delightful, funny romp through an evening of miscommunication and straight up lies (all for the good of the whole, of course). Most of the performances are spot on and the staging is good, save a few spacing issues, that is of no fault to anyone. It’s a high energy show that will keep you engaged and interested throughout. The late, great Neil Simon gives us a script that is just as witty as ever and the production, as a whole, is not one you want to miss this season.

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

Rumors will play through September 29 at Colonial Players of Annapolis, 108 East Street, Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call 410-268-7373 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)

Review: Always, Patsy Cline at Free Range Humans

By Andrea Bush

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 10 minute intermission

Patsy Cline, a shooting star on the country music scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was the first woman to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Even if you aren’t a country music fan, you likely have at least a passing familiarity with some of her hits, such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” (notably, one of the first songs to crossover within the Country and Pop music charts). Free Range Humans‘ latest offering, Always…Patsy Cline, created by Ted Swindley and Directed by Elizabeth Lucas, with Music Direction by Marci Shegogue, is based on the true, but debated, story of Cline’s unlikely friendship with Louise Seger, a fan from Houston. The pair met in 1961 at a Texas honky-tonk where Cline was performing, became fast friends literally overnight, and maintained a correspondence until Patsy Cline’s death in 1963. A jukebox musical, Always…Patsy Cline includes 27 songs, combining Patsy’s unmistakable contralto with Louise’s somewhat wacky storytelling to send a love letter through time, both to and from Patsy Cline.

Christine Mosere as Louise Seger and Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

I may not recall the first time I heard Patsy Cline’s voice as vividly as Louise did, but her music is at the heart of some of my favorite memories of my dad. So I packed my nostalgia and love for all things Patsy, along with my absolute awe at Free Range Human’s inaugural production (a near-flawless Murder Ballad), in the car and made the trek from Baltimore to Frederick. My expectations were high and I was excited to check out the show at Sky Stage, an interesting outdoor theatre space.

Unfortunately, my expectations took a hit immediately upon my arrival as I got out of the car and peered into the empty Sky Stage. Alas, Mother Nature had other plans and heavy rain throughout the afternoon had rendered the venue unfit for the performance. A sign board out front confirmed that the performance had been moved to McClintock Distilling, so I headed down the road and pointed the way for a couple of wandering patrons (note to whomever made the signage: a right arrow would be a helpful addition to clarify “just over the bridge”).

I arrived at McClintock Distilling with just under 20 minutes to show time and things were a bit turbulent, to say the least. It was very clear that this production does not have a Producer on the team whose focus is the big-picture anticipation of Plans B-Z (Director Elizabeth Lucas pulls double-duty as Producer – this happens a lot in small theatre and this is the perfect example of why it shouldn’t). I have to applaud the perseverance of the production team with the last-minute move, getting the show underway with only about a 15-minute delay.

From a production-value perspective, I have to say the show was somewhat less than I expected from the same team that put together the stellar production of Murder Ballad in June. While some of the issues certainly stem from the venue change, some seem inherent to the production.

The staging of the show at the distillery faced challenges, as the actors and audience were on the same level, which I know is not the case at Sky Stage. They did their best to mitigate the problem with a simple set including a small platform, high pub tables, and bar stools.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

I enjoyed the use of period-appropriate pieces that served as both props and set dressing. Louise’s “kitchen table” was set with a radio, kettle, and coffee mugs that may well have come straight out of my grandmother’s house and Patsy’s dressing area was set simply with an appropriate stand mirror. My only qualm with the props was the metal water bottles used by both actors throughout the production where a simple carafe and water glass would have been more appropriate (if breakage was a concern, clear plastic would still have the right look). It may seem trivial, but it took me right out of the story every time.

Costume design by Heather C. Jackson was effective overall and she did a great job of capturing Patsy Cline’s look, especially the Western outfits that Cline’s mother made for her early appearances. I’d have liked to have seen a better-fitted costume on Louise, particularly given the several mentions in the script of her clothes fitting like a glove, but her denim-on-denim look was appropriate.

I commend Lighting Designer/Technical Director TJ Lukacsina for rigging up a couple of lighting instruments in the distillery to augment the existing lighting when others might have made do with just the ambient light in the time they had to set up. I know Lukacsina and his work well and I would have liked to have seen his actual design for the show at Sky Stage. While I can’t say that his work at the distillery was a lighting design, per se, I appreciate his effort to elevate the production as best he could given the constraints of time and space.

Sound design by Logan Waters was plagued with issues of balance between the actors and musicians. According to Waters’ bio, his background is in design for a concert setting. I am hopeful that Waters will continue to learn and grow as a theatre technician, but, for this production, I missed almost every bit of underscored dialogue, as well as much of the vocals sung in a lower register (hugely problematic in a show about a famous contralto).

Music Director Marci Shegogue has assembled an excellent music team for the production and Walter “Bobby” McCoy did a great job subbing in as conductor and keys the night I attended. McCoy and the rest of the band – Jimi Cupino (Guitar), Buddy Griffin (Pedal Steel), Justin Thomas (Drums), Andrew Nixon (Fiddle), and Ben Rikhoff (Bass) – were largely enjoyable throughout.

Christine Mosere as Louise Seger and Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

Always…Patsy Cline is a 2-woman show and is distinctly challenging in that both of the “characters” were real people – one of whom had one of the most recognizable voices in music history. It takes time for an actor to find a character and even more time to embody a real, recognizable person. It takes time to build relationships between actors and enable them to portray an immediate connection and enduring friendship on stage. It takes time to know a story well enough to break the fourth wall and tell it directly to an audience as if it’s your own. The Free Range Human’s model of an almost impossibly short rehearsal period may have worked against them this time around.

As Louise Seger, Christine Mosere becomes the narrator of the story when she should be the storyteller – a subtle distinction, but an important one. Nearly the entire plot, as it were, of the play consists of Mosere telling the audience perhaps the biggest story of Louise’s life: the night she met and befriended Patsy Cline. This is a story that Louise probably told to anyone who would listen until the words came as easily as breathing. While Mosere is funny and larger than life as Louise, much of her storytelling feels awkward and forced and she doesn’t seem quite settled into the material. Honestly, it’s a bit difficult to critique because, if she had been doing a one-woman show or a standup routine, I probably would have loved her. But in the context of this show, her performance made it difficult for me to believe the story and, therefore, believe the connection between the two women.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

Shelly Lynn Walsh was vocally on point as Patsy Cline. Despite false starts on a couple of numbers, Walsh captured Cline’s unique voice and style to a tee and powered through a remarkable 27 songs. I appreciate that she embodied Cline’s vocal stylings without coming off as an impersonator – although I equally appreciate the attention to detail on the more well-known songs, especially Crazy. For all the crowd-pleasing numbers in the show, I have to say that my absolute favorite was If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child), offered as a prayer from a homesick Cline. I don’t tend to like when jukebox musicals shoehorn songs into the plot, but I actually preferred Walsh’s performance during those moments over the numbers where Patsy was performing on stage, television, or radio, as Walsh seemed more invested in those scenes. For as fantastic as Walsh’s musical performance was, the storytelling was lacking for her, as well, particularly in relation to Mosere’s Louise. I simply did not believe the connection and friendship between the two, which is the heart of the entire show.

Taken individually, the performances in Free Range Human’s production of Always…Patsy Cline are each enjoyable in their own right. Christine Mosere is sassy and funny as Louise Seger. Shelly Lynn Walsh is a musical knockout as Patsy Cline. This is, overall, a decent production – it’s just not a complete one and it’s not the level I expected from this team. I am hopeful that the actors will settle in and find a connection as the run continues, and that the production team will work out the few snags they had. Free Range Humans is definitely a company to keep your eye on and I truly can’t wait to see what they do next.

Always… Patsy Cline (a Free Range Humans production) will play through September 2 at Sky Stage, 59 S. Carrol Street, Frederick, MD. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online.
Additional performances will be held September 13-16 at the BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown, MD. tickets may be purchased at the door or online.