War is Hell in Crusade at Rapid Lemon Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Flynn Harne (Mitch), Emma Hawthorn (Galen), Noah Silas (Hector). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

What would happen if policy and thought tipped one way or another in a country divided? We’re seeing more and more of this each day in real life America, but what would happen if it went to extremes? This question is explored in Rapid Lemon Productions’ latest offering, Crusade by Bruce Bonafede, Directed by Timoth David Copney. It’s a story of division and how humans, soldier or civilian, act in times of war and unrest.

Briefly, Crusade concerns itself with a country at war, civil war, really where the Christians have taken over government and have outlawed every other religion and anything they consider to be hedonistic. A small band of soldiers find themselves in a tucked away cabin lived in by a former professor of genetics who just wants to be left alone. The rag-tag group is then joined by a Christian prisoner and all of their morals and beliefs are tested in one way or another as each tries to find their way out of a desperate situation.

Emma Hawthorn (Galen), Flynn Harne (Mitch), Stephen Kime (Kershaw), Noah Silas (Hector), Lola Reign (Britt). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Lights and sound have major roles in this production and Lighting Design by Brad J. Ranno and Sound Design by Max Garner are spot on. Each subtle change of light sets the mood for each scene and adds value to the production, as a whole, while Garner’s impeccable Sound Design adds to the story and does not hinder it in any way. The designs blend perfectly into the staging and keeps the production engaging making for fantastic work from both Ranno and Garner.

Flynn Harne (Mitch). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

In tandem with the Light and Sound Design, Set Design by Sebastian Sears fits this production perfectly. It’s simple with no bells and whistles. Sears transports the audience into this little run down cabin in the woods and his set piece choices integrate flawlessly with the story with old furniture, dark colors, and simple pieces. I love the space at Baltimore Theatre Project but I can see how it might be tricky to create sets upon, but it didn’t hinder Sears and he should be applauded for his efforts.

Direction by Timoth David Copney is absolutel superb. It’s tough material, but Copney has a definite understanding of it and presents it beautifully. His staging is near flawless and he keeps the action moving and engaging for the audience. It’s clear he has a tight grasp on these characters as his guidance helps each actor make their characters personable and believable. Pacing is on point and Copney’s knowledge of the stage is clear. Kudos to Copney for a job quite well done.

Emma Hawthorn (Galen). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth mentioning that all six ensemble members bring their A-game to this production and all give strong, confident performances of this heavy material. Eric Boelsche as Josh, the communications man in this small group, is believable and natural in this role and the delivery of his monologue is touching and true. Flynn Harne as Mitch, the leader of this troop, has a great command of the stage and his presence is bold.

Flynn Harne (Mitch) Noah Silas (Hector). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Emma Hawthorn takes on the role of Galen, the civilian and former professor of genetics who is working on a scientific history of the world, and Stephen Kime tackles the role of Kershaw, the Christian soldier captured by one of the soldiers. Hawthorn is stupendous in this role. She takes it and makes it her own with all the emotion and mannerisms that are required. She works well with her cast mates and makes the character someone with whom one can empathize. Kime, who actually replaced the original actor late in production, knocks it out of the ball park. I would have thought he was with the production from the beginning, so, he was certainly a lucky find! Kime is consistent with his stoicism and is unshaken in his character. He is a highlight in this production with his strong presence and focused performance.

Lola Reign (Britt). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Rounding out the cast are standouts Lola Reign as Britt and Noah Silas as Hector, both weary soldiers in this small troop. Silas couldn’t have been better cast in his role, maybe it’s because of his great stage presence, but his was the most believable as a soldier and he certainly has the rugged look. But beyond that, his character and his character’s conflict is heart wrenching and he portrays it beautifully. He’s certainly one to watch in his characters climactic scene and his emotion is absolutely authentic. In the same vein, Reign is spot on as a young woman full of rage. Her delivery of the heavy dialogue oozes anger and wrought. Kudos to both Reign and Silas for outstanding performances and I hope to experience more performances in the future.

Eric Boelsche (Josh) and Noah Silas (Hector). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Final thought…  Crusade from Rapid Lemon Production was a Baltimore Playwrights Festival submission and is a heavy production that makes you think about faith, loyalty, and what you would do if you were caught in between. I, personally, was not offended by any of the content, but I can see where certain folks might be. I’m speaking on the portrayal and interpretations of the Christians and though only one is actually seen in the flesh, they are spoken of throughout the piece. Christians are made out to be Nazi-like figures who are blinded by their faith and, though, some are, many, in my experiences, are not. Then, again the portrayals of the soldiers aren’t any more flattering, making them out to be killers who have a grudge against anyone with faith, because of their own, personal reasons (some good, actually, in my opinion). Don’t get me wrong, the writing is stellar, if not (seemingly) a tad one-sided, but makes up for itself in the climax. The production value is superb in its simplicity and the performances are top notch. If you’re familiar with the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldier,” this piece gives it an entirely new meaning. Get your tickets because you’ll want to see this production.

Note: There is a content advisory stating “Crusade is a fictional story, but on whose themes are increasingly real to us today. It’s a violent story. Its characters deal with mental and physical torture, rape, mass murder, and other horrible things that happen in war. Our production addresses all of these; and specifically, employs very realistic-looking but nonfunctional prop weapons and a variety of lighting and sound effects which may be disturbing to some in our audience.”

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

Crusade will play through August 18 at Rapid Lemon Productions, Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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Nice Work If You Can Get It, and You Can Get it at Cockpit in Court!

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Chances are, somewhere in your life you’ve at least hear a George and Ira Gershwin tune, whether in a movie, a wedding, a gathering of some kind, or you may have even had a chance to experience an actual Gershwin show. Cockpit in Court’s latest offering, Nice Work if You Can Get It, with Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gerswhin, a Book by Joe DiPietro, and Inspired by Material by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, is a jukebox musical, of sorts, of songs by the Gershwin brothers and sets it in a cute, funny story of a bygone era. Under the charge of Director Eric J. Potter, Music Director Gerald Smith, and Choreographer Ilona Kessell, this is a production that takes you away for awhile and adds a little pizzazz to the everyday grind.

According to Broadway.com “Set in the 1920s, Nice Work If You Can Get It is the story of charming and wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter, who meets rough female bootlegger Billie Bendix the weekend of his wedding. Jimmy, who has been married three (or is it four?) times before, is preparing to marry Eileen Evergreen, a self-obsessed modern dancer. Thinking Jimmy and Eileen will be out of town, Billie and her gang hid cases of alcohol [in] the basement of Jimmy’s Long Island mansion. But when Jimmy, his wife-to-be, and her prohibitionist family show up at the mansion for the wedding, Billie and her cohorts pose as servants, causing hijinks galore.”

Lizzy Pease and J. Bradley Bowers. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Costume Design by Tracy Bird of Stage Garb, Inc. is on point with this production. Set in the decadence of the 1920s, Bird has hit the nail on the head with all of the fashions and her attention to detail. Her efforts transport the audience to this fashionable era with every gown and pinstriped suit that graces the stage and she is to be applauded and revered for her precise and well thought-out design.

Michael Raskinski’s Set Design, too, is beyond praise-worthy. With clever set pieces that fly in and out easily and quickly, the pacing is kept on point and the Art Deco style that Rasinski has chosen adds immense value to the production as a whole. The entire design from set pieces to the simple, but detailed proscenium façade, this design is top notch and Rasinski is to be commended for his well planned efforts.

A particular highlight of this production is, indeed, Choreography by Ilona Kessell. It is high-energy and engaging and this ensemble has the ability to pull it off. I am quite impressed with the precision in which Kessell’s fun and well-rehearsed choreography is executed. Kessell knows her cast and their abilities, which is probably the most important aspect of a Choreographer’s job, and her routines are filled with variety and traditional styles that keep the audience interested. Kudos to Kessell for this superb choreography.

Many, if not all of these Gershwin tunes are familiar to most, and Music Direction by Gerald Smith is splendid as this cast manages to breathe fresh life into each number. Harmonies are spot on and featured numbers emit the dynamics and emotions that the Gershwins intended. This production has also managed to round up a very impressive pit orchestra consisting of Tim Viets (Conductor), Michael DeVito (Keyboard 1), Michael Clark (Keyboard 2), Dieter Schodde (Percussion), Steve Haaser and Helen Schlaich (Reeds), Jay Ellis (Trombone), Tony Neenan and Ginger Turner (Trumpet), Matthew DeBeal (Violin), and Bob DeLisle (Bass).

The book for this piece is light and fluffy, and is, in a word, trite, but that’s to be expected with jukebox musicals, right? Maybe not, but this one is. Crazy For You, the other Gershwin musical, has a meatier book, and probably got dibs on most of the best George and Ira Gershwin songs, but this piece is not without it’s merits. The thing that helps this production Direction by Eric J. Potter and he really has a good grasp on this material. It’s an old-fashioned song-and-dance type show, happy ending and all that, but Potter has taken these songs and this book and weaved them into a well put-together, polished production with near perfect pacing and character work that is superb. Under his charge, the classic music is given a fresh coat of paint and it shines bright making for an entertaining, energetic evening of good theatre. Snaps to Potter for a job quite well done.

I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that this production of Nice Work If You Can Get It has an absolutely phenomenal Ensemble consisting of Mary Margaret McClurg, Olivia Aubele, Angela Boeren (Dance Captain), Sarah Jones, Emily Machovec, Rachel Verhaaren, J. Purnell Hargrove (Dance Captain), Ryan Christopher Holmes, Conner Kiss, Shane Lowry, and Josh Schoff. These folks dance and sing their way across this stage effortlessly, will grab you from the moment the curtain goes up, and bring you into the performance with them. Hands down, one of the best and able ensembles I’ve seen in community theatre in a good while. Kudos to all for their hard work and excellent abilities.

J. Bradley Bowers and Lynn Tallman. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Taking on the role of the seemingly bumbling, sensitive Chief Berry is Thomas “Toby” Hessenauer and he does quite well with the role, even if his accent or lack of accent is noticeable. Actually, I’m not sure if he was going for an accent or not, but one seems to be trying to peek out once in awhile, but I might be hearing things. Regardless, Hessenauer is a wonderful actor and understands this comical character and pulls him off nicely. Vocally, Hessenauer is not a powerhouse in this particular production, but he does hold his own and brings comedy into familiar numbers such as “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” In the same boat is Lynn Tallman as Eileen Evergreen, the snooty, oblivious fiancé who needs to be put in her place. Evergreen has a good grasp on what her character is about and portrays her beautifully. Again, the attempted accent, if that’s what it can be called, may hinder her witty dialogue, at times, but overall, she gives an admirable performance. She certainly makes you take notice with her charming featured number “Delichious,” on which she gives a strong delivery.

Patrick Martyn and Jane E. Brown. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Taking on the more non-savory characters in this story are Patrick Martyn as Cookie McGee, Gary Dieter as Duke Mahoney, and Casey Lane as Jeannie Muldoon. First off, these folks couldn’t have been cast better. Martyn and Dieter completely embody their characters and I believed them from the moment they stepped onto the stage. Both play the somewhat bumbling criminals well, with impeccable comedic timing, and had me laughing out loud throughout their performances. Lane, too, as the gold-digging, deceived young woman, is natural in this role and makes this supporting character something to take notice of. Dieter is definitely the stronger vocalist, shining in his humorous featured number, “Blah, Blah, Blah,” and Lane does very well, also, in the reprise of the same song and in the adorable “Do It Again.” Martyn, though not as strong, vocally, does give heartfelt and confident in his featured “Fascinating Rhythm,” and “Looking for a Boy.”

Highlights in this production are, hands down, John Amato as Senator Max Evergreen, the staunch, uptight father of the fiancé, Jane E. Brown as Duchess Estonia Dulworth, the self-righteous anti-liquor crusader, and Joan Crooks as Millicent Winter, the strong, confident mother of the leading man. As with the rest of this cast, these folks were cast perfectly in their roles. Amato exudes the rigidness this straight-man character needs, but his comedic timing is superb, getting befuddled when needed and trying to take charge of the situation. His booming, smooth voice just adds to this character and his natural delivery is like butter. In tandem with Amato’s performance, Brown’s portrayal of Duchess Estonia Dulworth is absolutely and completely on point. She has embodied this character and has made it her own. Her strong stage presence and thoughtful, though seemingly effortless portrayal of this character is make her one to watch in this production. Not only does she have the staunchness down, her comedic timing is just as wonderful. Vocally, Brown is a powerhouse and one can help but notice her powerful technique and know-how in her featured number, “Demon Rum” (with impeccable and superb back up from the ensemble), and the side-splitting “Looking for a Boy.” In the like, Crooks, who only shows up toward the end of the piece, makes her short time on stage well worth it. She, too, embodies this character of Millicent and takes charge of the stage from the moment she steps onto it. This trio of which I call the “previous generation” of this story, is well-cast, and well performed and I can’t give enough kudos to Amato, Brown, and Crooks.

J. Bradley Bowers and Lizzy Pease. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Rounding out this praise-worthy ensemble are standouts Lizzy Pease as Billie Bendix and J. Bradley Bowers as Jimmy Winter. It’s easy to see both of these actors are disciplined and hard working as it shows in their portrayal of these young lovers that carry the show. Pease knows her character well and portrays her with just the right balance of roughness and tenderness. Again, the story is fluffy, but Pease makes the most of her character and glides through her performance naturally, with a distinct delivery and ease. She comfortable on stage and gives a strong showing. Vocally, she’s top notch with a voice that soars throughout the theatre, especially in her featured numbers, the poignant “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and the cutesy duet, “S’wonderful.” Overall, her performance is grade-A and should not be missed.

In the same vein, Bowers knocks it completely out of the ball park into the next town in his performance. Completely at ease in this character and a definite knowledge of the stage, his performance leaves me wanting more. He’s not simply going through the motions of the script, but becomes this person, Jimmy Winter, and his performance alone is worth the price of admission. His natural talent, strong stage presence, and confidence drives his performance and he’s a fun to watch. He’s what folks might call a triple-threat… he can act, he can sing, and boy he dance. Who could ask for anything more? (See what I did there?) Vocally, Bowers is phenomenal with a smooth, silky baritone, with a great range that makes listening to all his numbers a joy, especially his renditions of “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” “I’ve Got to Be There,” “I Do, Do, Do” (with absolutely perfect backup and harmony from the gentlemen in the ensemble), and the aforementioned duet, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” I’m looking forward to seeing more stage work from Mr. Bowers in the future.

Final thought… Nice Work if You Can Get It is a high-energy, old-fashioned song-and-dance kind of show that will have you tapping your toes, feeling nostalgic, and take you a allow you to escape for just a couple of hours, at least. Casting is spot on, Set Design is brilliant, Choreography is engaging, and the talent and abilities of the entire ensemble are top notch. The production is polished and fun for the entire family. Though, the story and script can be a bit trite and fluffy, it’s still a fun piece with good message. Whether your familiar with the work of the Gershwins or not, you’ll be thoroughly entertained and humming as you leave the theatre.

This is what I thought of Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre’s production of Nice Work if You Can Get It… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Nice Work if You Can Get It will run through August 4 at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre, CCBC Essex, Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center, F. Scott Black Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Emma, A Pop Musical pops into Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Classics are called classics for many reasons: great stories, great characters, and timeless conflicts, to name a few. However, as each year passes, the original stories slip farther away from us, but there are those who can take those classic stories and give them a modern twist that’s fun for today’s audiences. Jane Austen’s Emma was and has been a very successful novel through the ages and has been adapted for film and television, most notably, for me, is my favorite, the 1995 film, Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone, but there have been many stage adaptations, as well, and one of those adaptations, Emma, A Pop Musical with Book and Concept by Eric Price, is being offered by Artistic Synergy of Baltimore. This production is Directed by Jake Schwartz, with Music Direction by Darwin Ray and Choreography by Jillian Paige and Joan Firestein.

The Cast of Emma, A Pop Musical. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

Briefly, Emma, A Pop Musical is based on Jane Austen’s very successful novel, Emma, in which a young girl fancies herself a match-maker, and actually does okay, but is blind to her own feelings and relationships. Being a jukebox musical, the story is told through a slew of hits from bygone eras with a few current hits thrown in, for fun.

Noticeably, Costume Design by Margret Ward (NDP) is precise and consistent, adding a certain flair to this production and bringing it together, as a whole. Every character was costumed appropriately and, though this piece is set in a prestigious, private high school where there is a strict uniform code, each character is able to play with their wardrobe to make it more their own.

Choreography by Jillian Paige and Co-Choreographer Joan Firestein is energetic and engaging and the ensemble performs it well. Paige and Firestein seem to have brought out the best in their cast and that’s not a small feat by any stretch of the imagination. More importantly, the cast seems to have fun with this choreography, transferring that enthusiasm to the audience. Though much of the choreography is the entire cast (or whomever is on the stage) performing the same choreography through each song in lines, variety might be a bit lacking, but the energy and skill from both the able Choreographers and apt ensemble are absolutely apparent. Kudos to Paige and Firestein for their efforts.

Olivia Winter and the cast of Emma, A Pop Musical. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

A jukebox musical can be tricky to work with, especially with familiar songs and famous versions of those songs. However, Music Direction by Darwin Ray is impeccable. He has managed to introduce these bygone era songs to those in the audience (and cast) who may be to young to have experienced these tunes the first time around in a new and fresh way. He has a good grasp on the various styles (mostly pop… it’s in the title) and his knowledge shines through in the performances of this young ensemble. It’s worth noting the brilliant pit orchestra, as well, as they were superb in their performance as well. The pit orchestra included Lisa Learman (Keyboards), Wes Freeman (Trumpet), Tina James (Alto Sax), Darwin Ray (Conductor/Tenor/Clarinet), Harry Swartz (Trombone), Peter Weitzman (Guitar), Ethan Hart (Bass), and Chip Traub (Drums/Percussion). Kudos to Ray and all pit orchestra members for their excellent work.

Jake Schwartz, a first-time director, has taken the helm of this production and, overall, has done an admirable job. He seems to have a good understanding of the piece and presents it in an easy to follow, entertaining way. Scenic design isn’t much but when you have a minimal stage, you have to keep the audience interested in blocking and characters. Again, taking into account this is a first for Schwartz, his staging is a little bland with a lot of standing center stage and delivering dialogue, but it doesn’t hinder the production at all. He made some interesting casting choices, but all-in-all, everything works out for him. He may have a few things to learn here and there, but he’s set a strong foundation for greater things as long as he’s open to learning them.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, let it be known that this entire ensemble gives 100% effort and all seem to be having a blast on the stage, which, sometimes, can make or break a performance, but all of these performers are here to give the audience a legit theatre experience.

(back, l-r) Terrell Chambers, Lexie Merrifield, Katie Sacco. (front, l-r) Olivia Winter, Louisa Davis. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

Lexie Merrifield as Harriet, they younger lovelorn friend that Emma takes under her wing, and Kyle LaPosta as Phillip, the egotistical, self-centered possible match for Harriet. Merrifield is a good fit for this character and she seems to understand what her character is going through, but her delivery is stiff, at points. However, her vocal stylings are one point. She has a strong, clear chest voice that soars throughout the theatre, but doesn’t seem as confident when she gets into her higher register. That being said, she shines in her featured numbers such as “Be My Baby” and the familiar Whitney Houston tunes, “How Will I know?” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” LaPosta does a fine job portraying the narcissistic Phillip and gives a natural delivery of his dialogue making for a strong, confident performance.

Terrell Chambers and the cast of Emma, A Pop Musical. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

The former student turned pop star, Frankie, is tackled by Terrell Chambers and he gives a phenomenal vocal performance as in Pat Benatar’s high-energy “Heartbreaker” and Lisa Loeb’s poignant “Stay.” His character work is solid and he is at ease on stage, giving a praiseworthy performance, overall. In tandem, Katie Sa­cco takes on the role of Jane, the new girl who is rough around the edges. Sacco is wonderful in this role and portrays the differences her character has from the other students nicely. Vocally, she holds her own and gives assured performances in her featured numbers such as “Bad, Bad Crush,” the only original song in the production.

Louisa Davis as Emma. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

Taking on the title role of Emma is Louisa Davis and Olivia Winter tackles the gender-bending role of Jeff, the seemingly smartest kid in school who, somehow, manages to get a substitute teaching position while still a student. Taking on the title role is a lot of responsibility for a young actor, but Davis has taken it in stride and gives a lovely performance. Her delivery of the text is natural and she seems to be comfortable in the role. Vocally, she could be a little stronger, especially in her higher register when she goes into head voice, but she understands the songs and that is clear in numbers such as Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Sarah Bareilles’ “Brave.”

Winter can always be counted on to give a great performance and this is not different. Though she may have been slightly miscast, vocally, she knows the character of Jeff and makes it her own. She definitely knows her way around stage and is confident in her performance. In this particular production, Winter’s vocal abilities were not highlighted, unfortunately. Many of her featured vocal parts were a bit too low for her and, I say it’s unfortunate, because I have the advantage of having heard her in previous productions where she has knocked it out of the park, vocally. She’s usually a powerhouse, but in this production, the music just doesn’t seem to fit her phenomenal abilities. Having said that, Winter’s performance is splendid, overall. She does her homework and brings her A-game to all of her performances and I, for one, can’t wait to experience more of her performances as she grows as a performer.

(r-l) Katie Sacco, Maddies Saldana, Olivia Winter, Louisa Davis, and Lexie Merrifield with the cast of Emma, A Pop Musical. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

Rounding out the featured characters, the standout in this production is Maddies Saldaña as Miss Bates. This actress takes a supporting role, chews it up, and spits it out, making for a superb performance. From the moment she stepped onto the stage, I believed her. I believed her character and saw the effort and work she put into this role. She completely embodies this woman and is a joy to watch. Not only is her character on point, she is a vocal powerhouse. Her featured part is in songs such as Salt-n-Pepa and Des’ree mash-up “Whatta Man/You Gotta Be” and Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around” will leave you wanting more.  Her strong, pristine vocals fill up the theatre and her outstanding stylings seem effortless. She’s certainly one to watch in this production and I’m looking forward to seeing more performances from this actress in the future.

Final thought…Emma, A Pop Musical at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is a fun, modern take on a classic to which most will be able to relate. The past song hits will having you feeling nostalgic but also discovering new meanings within the story. If you’re familiar with the story of Jane Austen’s Emma or not, you’ll be thoroughly entertained by this watered-down yet thoughtful take on the material. The song choices are spot on and the performances from this young cast are quite admirable. If you’re looking for a break from all the hustle that summer can bring (even though we should be relaxing), take a trip down to Artistic Synergy of Baltimore for a pleasant, entertaining night of theatre that will have you toe-tapping and dancing in your seat.

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

Emma, A Pop Musical will play through August 11 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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Local Artists Shine in 10x10x10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

10-minute play festivals are popping up all over the place these days. It’s become a little easier for authors to present their work to the public in both short form and feature length, but Baltimore just seems to have a knack for such things. Fells Point Corner Theatre has been presenting their 10x10x10 for a few years now, and have not disappointed. They choose relevant, entertaining pieces to produce and always acquire a superb cast of 10 actors to perform them. With no specific theme, they still manage to gather a group of plays together that fit nicely with each other and present the talents of the author, director, and performers.

Starting off the evening we have Harmony, Fix My Life, written and Directed by Christen Cromwell, with Grace O’Keefe as Kamryn, Shamire Casselle as Harmony, and Rob Vary as Simon. This was a fun way to start this 10-minute play presentation and Cromwell has written a light-hearted but serious piece about the responsibilities of men and women and newborns in today’s world. Rob Vary, though a bit subdued and scripted, pulls off the role of the young father nicely and seems to understand the message his character is trying to send. O’Keefe gives a natural performances as the young, tired mother, but the highlight of this piece is Shamire Casselle who shines as fairy godmother. Her high-energy and natural delivery of the dialogue keep the piece engaging and entertaining making for a great showing all around.

(l-r) Dana Woodson and Jenn Alexander. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Next, There is No More Left of Me After This by Jen Diamond, Directed by Betse Lyons with Karen Shantz as tina and Jenn Skarzynski as Kat is a surreal piece about coming to terms with death and whatever fate has in store for you. It’s a downer, but well written and Lyons’ staging is simple with great character work. Shantz and Skarzynski tackle these two tough roles naturally and confidently tell the short story superbly. Diamond has crafted a relaxing, but thoughtful piece that leaves the audience thinking.

Shamire Casselle and Jared Michael Swain. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Easily, one of my top choices of the evening, Reasons for Separation by Isaiah Harvey, Directed by Christen Cromwell, with Shamire Casselle as Shay and Jared Michael Swain as Marc, is a fast-paced, well-crafted piece that smacks you in the face with no apologies. It’s a current, relative story of divorce and what people go through during it, with real characters that Casselle and Swaine seem to embody and bring to life effortlessly. They have great chemistry and it helps the material immensely.

Things We Talk About at 4:00 in the Morning by Erica Smith, Directed by Betse Lyons with Jenn Alexander as Spencer and Dana Woodson as Terry is an interesting and entertaining piece about a young couple dealing with an illness in on of the young women. The twist is quite interesting and Smith almost had me fooled, until I remembered the time in which we live and what’s big in popular culture these days. Alexander and Woodson have great chemistry and portray these characters with feeling and high emotion. Lyons’ staging is simple, but effective and makes for an all around good showing.

(l-r) Christian O’Neill, Karen Shantz, and Tom Piccin. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Ending out the first act, we are presented with UH: A Brief Musical by Utkarsh Rajawat, Directed by Donna Ibale with Tom Piccin as Demon, Christian O’Neill as Angel, and Karen Shantz as Person which, I have to say, is not on my list of favorites. However, Piccin, O’Neill, and Shantz give stellar performances and Ibale’s staging is on point, the script is lackluster. The concept isn’t exactly new and the script seems like a rush job. It’s unfortunate because I enjoyed previous work by Rajawat at the 10x10x10 (read that review here) but this piece just doesn’t seem up to par with the previous work. Great performances and staging save this piece and the performers and Director should be applauded for their efforts.

Starting off Act II we have I Saw This is Paducah by Rich Espey, Directed by Matthew Shea, with Jenn Skarzynski as Barb and Jenn Alexander as Alice, and Rob Vary as Announcer is in the list of my favorites of the evening. It’s an immersive piece about two friends who are regular theatre goers, especially of the short works festivals, such as 10x10x10. Shea’s staging is spot on including the audience but not getting in our faces, which is a perfect blend. Espy seems to be poking fun at more conservative, old fashioned views of the world, but he does so subtly and not facetiously. Skarzyski hits the nail on the head in her portrayal of Barb, the narrow-minded, dominant, outspoken patron who wants everyone to abide by the rules and Alexander performs her character, Alice, with just enough meekness to feel sorry for her, but also enough chutzpah that you know she can take care of herself. All around, it’s a great piece with a good production value. Kudos to all.

Dana Woodson. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Mira by Tatiana Nya Ford, Directed by Donna Ibale with Dana Woodson as Woman and Jared Michael Swain as Man is a poignant and thoughtful piece about a woman in a coma who is to reconcile her reality with her fantasy. It’s a 10-minute, fast-paced monologue that seems to be stream-of-consciousness and Woodson chews it up and spits it out marvelously. She has a good handle on the material and presents it confidently, making for a great showing. Ibale’s staging is simple, but effective and puts the audience in the mind of this woman. In Swain’s short stage time, he emotes the emotions of his character, the son of the woman in the coma, and brings the entire piece home. Kudos to all inovled.

Beer Bottle Bug by David J. Hills, Directed by Matthew Shea, with Karen Shantz as Carrie and Christian O’Neill as Ty is a fanciful, humorous piece about a woman who thinks she has certain supernatural powers and it’s delightful. Not one of my favorites, but certainly entertaining. Hills creates a world where the impossible seems possible and leaves the audience wondering, which any good book should do. Shantz and O’Neill portray their modern characters effortlessly and have a great chemistry adding to the production value. Shea’s staging is appropriate and easy to follow making it a well-rounded piece to be included in this production.

Grace O’Keefe and Tom Piccin. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

The Home for Retired Canadian Girlfriends by John Bavaso, Directed by Steve Goldklang, with Tom Piccin as Rupert and Grace O’Keefe as Tiffany is probably one of my favorites of the evening. Bavaso creates an imaginary world where imaginary girlfriends go when they are no longer needed. It’s relatable, current, and relevant with a solid script and concept. His dialogue is easy to follow and natural. Goldklang stages it simply but keeps it engaging all at the same time, which is no small feat for a short piece. Piccin and O’Keefe shine in their roles and bring out the comedy and tragedy of these characters and this piece as a whole.  Their effective and praise-worthy performances drive this play along with their natural delivery of the dialogue and spot on comedic timing. A major kudos to all involved in this piece.

Knock Knock by Rich Pauli, Directed by Steve Goldklang, with Christian O’Neill as Dave and Jenn Alexander as Francesca was a curious choice to end this production, but I can understand the reasoning. It concerns itself with the last man on earth and his Amazon Echo. Reminiscent of Stanly Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Amazon Echo takes the place of H.A.L., even stating “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that,” at one point. It’s well performed, Goldklang’s staging is superb, and Pauli’s script is current and well-written, but the concept has been done over and over again. It’s hard to freshen up an old concept such as “the last man on earth” but Pauli does his best and the piece is entertaining. O’Neill brings a certain urgency and panic to the character that is required and makes for a terrific showing and overall good presentation of the piece.

Final thought… 10x10x10, is a quirky menagerie of very original and fun 10-minute plays that keep the audience engaged and even thinking, at times, some are better than others, but all of them have heart. The performers are grasp the concepts of these short pieces nicely and the directors seems to have good comprehension of the material making for an enjoyable, entertaining, and even thought provoking evening. Kudos to the authors for putting themselves and their work out there and I’m very interested to see more of their work in the future.

This is what I thought of this production of 10x10x10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

10x10x10 will play through June 16 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

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Step Back in Time with Queens Girl in the World & Queens Girl in Africa at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Both productions approx. 2 hours with one intermission

I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era. The early 1960s fascinates me, from politics, to styles, to music… all of it! I grew up with a very nostalgic mother, so, I’m actually quite familiar with all of it and I love it! Shows like Everyman Theatre’s latest offering, Queens Girl in the World and Queens Girl in Africa, in repertory, by Caleen Sinnette Jennings, Directed by Paige Hernandez, always takes me back, even though I didn’t live it, but know enough about it to relate. Whether you experienced the era first hand or just learned about it from your elders, these shows will transport you right back to a time when things seemed simpler, but a mess of things was bubbling just under the surface.

Dawn Ursula. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Queens Girl in the World and Queens Girl in Africa is a multi-chapter memoir, of sorts, from Caleen Sinnette Jennings and both concern themselves with young Jacqueline Marie Butler, from Queens, New York, as she tells her story from her childhood to young adulthood. Through impressions of the people in her life, we watch her come of age both in America and Africa as she emotes the humor and poignancy of being a Queens girl in the world and in Africa.

Overall, both of these pieces are very, very well written and thought-out. It’s a refreshing, one woman piece that gives a glimpse into a the life of a young African-American girl who grew up in a practically all-white social circle, and her balancing between whites and blacks in the early 1960s. It’s original, engaging, and authentic with superb performances and staging.

Erika Rose. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Paige Hathway’s Set Design is minimal, but absolutely gorgeous. With a simple stoop and front door for Queens Girl in the World and practically blank stage with a simple chair, for the most part, for Queens Girl in Africa, it forces the audience to fill in the blanks, but that’s what makes this production so engaging. Hathaway has managed to transport us to early 60s Queens, New York and Nigeria with a simple design and she is to be applauded and commended for her efforts.

Lighting Design by Nancy Schertler and Sound Design by David Lamont Wilson is subtle but effective. Schertler’s design sets the mood for each “scene” seamlessly and follows the action as Jaqueline changes topics and explains her days and nights. Wilson’s Sound Design works in tandem with the production with well-chosen effects and music of the time. Though minimal, both of these designs do their jobs in moving the action forward and not hindering it and taking focus away, making for excellent Lighting and Sound Design.

Dawn Ursula. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Paige Hernandez, a resident company member, takes the reigns of this production and it’s clear she has a great comprehension of this material. Staging a one-person show can actually be challenging, but Hernandez has knocked it out of the park with this production. Her vision is clear and her character work is apparent working with these actresses to create this character from childhood into adulthood. She keeps the character engaging (with the help of the actresses, of course), and the seamless transition between actresses is impeccable and impressive. What I like is that she keeps it simple and lets the actresses do their thing without a bunch of bells and whistles. This brings the raw talent out of the actress and makes for a stellar production. Hats off and kudos to Hernandez for a job quite well done.

Dawn Ursula takes on the role of Jacqueline Marie Butler in Queens Girl in the World and she has this character down pat. She’s comfortable playing the childhood to teen Jaqueline and manages the impressions of all the other characters with ease. A large part of this piece is the impressions this character does when discussing the people in her life and Ursula does this seamlessly. She understands this character (and the ages she’s portraying), and makes this role her own. Overall, she gives a strong, confident, and commendable performance.

Tackling the role of Jacqueline in Queens Girl in Africa is the apt and able Ericka Rose and she is phenomenal in her portrayal. The first thing I noticed and loved about this actress is her smooth but resonating stage voice. I was engaged the moment she started speaking and stayed engaged through to the end. She, too, effortlessly performed the impressions of others in Jacqueline’s life with ease, embodying all of the characters discussed in this piece. She tackles Jacqueline’s later years and matches Ursula’s portrayal near perfectly, while adding her own twist and making the role hers, which is no small feat. She holds the entire piece on her shoulders and doesn’t falter once giving a strong and praiseworthy performance.

Erika Rose. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Both of these actresses, Dawn Ursula and Erika Rose, emote both the humor and poignancy this character and material calls for and it’s easy they can feel this character deeply, making for extraordinary performances from both.

Final thought…  Queens Girl in the World & Queens Girl in Africa at Everyman Theatre is a coming of age story that is original and immersive using nostalgia, pathos, humor, and everything in between to tell a simple story of a girl growing up. Real life may be boring, but when it’s put into a script and performed well, as both of these productions provide, it can be a wondrous experience and that’s what these shows are. Ursula and Rose perform this character well and it’s easy to see their understanding of this character and how they can relate to her, making it easy for an audience to relate. I’m looking forward to seeing the next installment next season, but until then, you don’t want to miss these productions running in repertory. Get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s Queens Girl in the World & Queens Girl in Africa… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Queens Girl in the World & Queens Girl in Africa will play in repertory through June 23 at Everyman Theatre315 W Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

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Life is a Cabaret at Silhouette Stages with Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret!

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

What good is sitting alone in your room? Come here the music play… at Silhouette Stages for their latest offering, Cabaret with a book by Joe Masteroff, Music by John Kander, and Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Directed by Stephen Foreman, with Music Direction by Michael Tan, and Choreography by Amie Bell. Whether your familiar with the original theatrical treatment or the film (which is way different), you’ll enjoy your time with these crazy but deep characters as they find their way through the beginnings of the Nazi regime in 1930s Berlin.

Tommy Malek as The Emcee with the Kit Kat Boys and Girls (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Cabaret, in short, concerns itself with Cliff Bradshaw, a young American man trying to find his footing in the world and has traveled to write. Questioning his sexuality and finding himself in a world of sketchy nightclubs and meetups, he finds himself sharing a room with Sally Bowles, a young, eccentric club performer originally from England. While he represents the ordinary, she represents the extraordinary and through song and dance, along with the mysterious Emcee of the Kit Kat club, they work their way through issues of antisemitism, sexuality, and living in the moment that is quite relevant in the world we live in today.

Stephen Foreman and Alex Porter have opted for a minimal Set Design, which works well with this production. The pit orchestra is incorporated into the set high above the action and two simple platforms and three doors make up the rest of the set and it’s a fantastic, practical design. The attention to detail is on point and the audience is transported to the different locations with various set pieces and props that are well chosen and bring the scenes together. My one (and only) complaint, if it can be called that, because it’s not a big deal, is the original German spelling of “Kabarett.” Thought I appreciate the authenticity and the idea, someone on the design team must think they’re very clever and it’s a bit high-brow for my tastes. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple. That aside, however, the overall Set Design is quite appropriate and well-fitting of this production and I give major kudos to Foreman and Porter for their efforts.

Tommy Malek as The Emcee (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina and Sound Design by Ben Kinder blend in nicely and add to rather than hinder the action going on up on the stage. Lukacsina separates the dark, seething nightclub scenes from the bright, daytime scenes nicely, giving us a great contrast in location and mood. There are no major sound issues, so Kinder has done his job in amplifying the cast and adding in the appropriate sound effects when needed. Both Lukacsina and Kinder are to be commended for their work on this production.

Period pieces are always challenging for wardrobe but Costume Design by Clare Kneebone and Tommy Malek knock it out of the park. They are spot on with their design, transporting us back to the 1930s with the fashions and styles of the era matched to a tee. From the day-wear to the slinky bustiers and heels, this Costume Design is spot on.

Megan Mostow as Sally Bowles with the Kit Kat Boys and Girls (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Cabaret is one of those shows where not only the songs are well-known, but there’s a certain amount of importance put on the dancing, and this, too, can be challenging. Though Choreography by Amie Bell is pleasant to watch and works well with the production as a whole, it seems a little uninspiring, at times. That’s not to say it’s not good, because it is very good, but in certain points, just doesn’t have the “oomph” I’d like to see. Now, this very well could be on the ensemble and not Bell’s choreography, but it all has to go hand in hand. I reiterate, it is good choreography. It’s tight and well-rehearsed, so, not all is lost. Bell has a tight comprehension on what the numbers are about and the movement is appropriate

Linda Roby as Fraulein Kost (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

making for a wonderful showing on her part.

Music Direction by Michael Tan is absolutely on point. All of the numbers are well sung and emote the feelings of each song. He has a good grasp of the material and has directed this ensemble to fun, poignant, and strong performances. The small orchestra consisting of Michael Tan (conductor/keyboard), Tina James (Reed 1), Mari Hill (Reed 2), Tony Neenan (Trumpet), Mike Allman (Trombone), Jeff Eckert (Bass), and Billy Georg (Drums) rocks the house and are well-rehearsed, sounding as clear and polished as a recording. I tip my hat to this stellar pit ensemble.

Direction by Stephen Foreman has put together a polished, meaningful production and certainly has a strong comprehension of the text. His casting is superb and his staging is smooth making the action and dialogue easy to follow. Pacing at the performance I saw was dragging a little, but it didn’t stop the exquisite performances. His characters are fleshed out and his vision is clear making for a brilliant production, overall.

Pamela Northrup as Fraulein Schneider (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

It’s worth mentioning that it’s clear to this reviewer that the ensemble are a tight bunch. They work well with and off of each other making for authentic and precise performances. The Kit Kat Girls and Boys, consisting of Felicia Howard, Briana Arielle Downs, Katie Jones, Miranda Austin Tharp, Linda Michele, Lauren Romano, Angel Duque, Chris Weaver, Rew Garner and Nick Carter, all give strong and natural performances, taking this production to the next level. I’ve always believed if you have a strong ensemble, aside from the main characters, you have a strong show, and this production proves my point with this amazing, dedicated ensemble.

Megan Mostow as Sally Bowles and Seth Fallon as Clifford Bradshaw (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

To mention a few main characters, Pamela Northrup as Fraulein Schneider and Christopher Kabara as Herr Schultz, Linda Michele as Fraulein Kost make up the owner and a couple residents of the boarding house in which some of the story takes place. Northup fits well into her character and her portrayal is heart-felt and she emotes the exhaustion and worry of this character, as well as her softer side. Vocally, Northup may not be the strongest performer, but she carries her songs well, such as “So What?” and “It Couldn’t Please Me More.” Kabara, too, portrays his character quite well, though, he struck me as someone more modern rather than a 1930s fruit seller, he still manages to play this character well and seems to understand the trials and tribulations this character is going through at the time. He shines in his featured vocal numbers like “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married.” Michele, playing double duty as a Kit Kat Girl, also manages to portray a believable young German girl trying to get by in 1930s Germany, using what she’s got (her body) to make a living. Michele has great chemistry with her fellow cast mates and knows her character well giving a strong, confident performance.

Seth Fallon takes on the role of Clifford Bradshaw, the young American writer, and Brad Davis portrays Ernst Ludwig, a loyal German who shows initial kindness to Cliff. Davis plays his role beautifully even though it’s a darker character. Davis’ courage to play such a character in this uber-politically correct theatre landscape these days is commendable and he plays this supporting character well. Seth Fallon has an absolutely beautiful, soothing bari-tenor voice that saturates the theatre in the small singing parts his character has, and it makes me want to hear more. His portrayal of Cliff, however, falls a little flat. He seems to have a good grasp of this character and what he’s going through, but his performance is a bit scripted and unnatural at times. He just needs to loosen up a bit and he’ll hit the nail on the head! His chemistry with his cast mates is very good, but could be a bit more, especially with Megan Mostow, who plays the fun-loving and free Sally Bowels. Overall, he gives a good, confident performance and is, for the most part, confident in the character.

Megan Mostow as Sally Bowles (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Speaking of Megan Mostow as Sally Bowles, let’s get into the highlights of this production. She  and Tommy Malek as the Emcee are the hands-down standouts in this production. Starting with Malek, though I’m not 100% onboard with his take on the Emcee (which very well could have been a directorial choice, it’s hard to tell sometimes) I still enjoyed his performance. I envision the Emcee to be an asexual, slithering, lurking character, who’s always in the shadows in the background, but I didn’t get that with this character. Not to say that it was wrong, because there is no denying Malek gave 100% effort and plays this character to the hilt. Though I like my Emcee to be different, that’s not to say I was not entertained and invested in Malek’s take. He took this role and hit the ground running. He has a great comprehension of this sleazy night club entertainer, who might have a big heart underneath all the makeup and sleaze, and he embodies him fully. He’s comfortable in the role and it helps to bring him to life. Vocally, Malek gives an impressive performance, especially in his featured numbers such as “Wilkommen,” which opens the entire show and sets the mood nicely, the high-energy, pulsating “The Money Song,” and the cute, “If You Could See Her,” all come off nicely with a tight performance from Malek. Overall, he gives a strong, praise-worthy performance that isn’t to missed.

Finally, we get to the iridescent Mostow, who has a deep and clear understanding of her character and, oh brother, does it show. She completely embodies this character and makes it her own. Vocally, Mostow is a powerhouse. She’s not belting and screeching through her songs, but using her amazing lower register and seemingly effortlessly sings through each other featured numbers as I get lost in her tone. She plays the fun and flirty “Don’t Tell Mama” with just as much feeling and enthusiasm as “Maybe This Time” down to the stellar performance of the ever popular “Cabaret”. Mostow truly becomes this character showing she’s done her homework and knows who this character I giving a strong, confident performance. Hats off and a heartfelt kudos to Mostow for a job very well done. You don’t want to miss her in this role.

Final thought… Cabaret is not a production you want to miss this season. It’s well put-together and each and every ensemble member gives 100% dedication and effort. The musical numbers are tight and engaging, performed by a top-notch cast. Whether you’re familiar with the piece or not, you will be entertained and maybe even learn a little something about compassion and acceptance along the way. It’s relevant to today’s goings on and it’s a relatable story to get into. Get your tickets now and come to the Cabaret, old chum! Life is a cabaret!

This is what I thought of Silhouette Stages’ production of Cabaret… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Cabaret will play through March 24 at Silhouette Stages10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

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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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