Review: Praise Be! Sister Act is making a joyful noise at Scottfield Theatre Company

By Jennifer L. Gusso

 

Running Time: 2hr 40min

Scottfield Theatre Company is currently wrapping up its second season at the Havre de Grace Opera House, and they once again have audiences clapping along and rolling on the floor with laughter in their current offering of Sister Act, Directed by Allan Herlinger, with Musical Direction by Niki Tart, and Choreography by Becky Titelman. If you didn’t get a chance to see the performance last weekend, you should definitely check out one of the remaining performances this coming weekend. There are more than a few can’t-miss songs and performances in this relatively new and not yet overdone musical.

(l-r) Anne Acerno and Tara Nicole Vinson. Credit: Scott Serio

Fair warning: the production does have a bit of a slow start and there are some places where the production drags a little. These are overall issues with the uneven script and a score that contains a few too many unnecessary ballads and not the fault of the production. Conversely, when the script and the music do pick up, there are scenes and songs that are just amazing. This is definitely a script that could benefit from a reworking, but Scottfield does a good job of capitalizing on what works and moving as quickly as possible through what doesn’t.

Based on the 1992 film of the same title, Sister Act centers around Deloris Van Cartier (Tara Nicole Vinson), a messed-up girl with a heart of gold and a powerful belt. Vinson lands easily and believably in the shoes of this character. She is at her strongest showing off her comedic timing and delivery but is also quiet of capable of getting serious, as her character develops inner strength throughout the production.

Forced into hiding, Deloris lands under the care and protection of Mother Superior, played flawlessly by Anne Acerno. Acerno is a masterful actress, who seems to know exactly how to capitalize on the humor of a line without making any of her delivery feel forced. Her beautiful vocals are the icing on the cake of her hysterical and touching performance.

(l-r) Sophia Williams and Elizabeth Marion. Credit: Scott Serio

Also part of Deloris’ new life are a crazy cast of nuns that fill that choir. The nuns, with their unique personalities and endless energy, also get to show off a lot of the careful design put into the production by Director Allan Herlinger and Choreographer Becky Titelman. Thrown in every scene and music number are entertaining bits and little touches, as the elder Sister Mary Theresa (Pam Provins) may need some help learning the steps or the choir infuses the sign of the cross into a sizzling dance move. The women in the habits take this direction and run with it, creating distinct personas. Sister Mary Patrick (Elizabeth Marion) with her nonstop jabber and Sister Mary Lazarus (Mary Guay Kramer) with her new gift for rapping especially standout among the group. As Sister Mary Robert (Sophia Williams), seemed to be battling with a voice about to fall to illness, but she persevered through with great energy and vigor.

Although the ladies are most of the predominant roles, it was three gentlemen who stole the show. Just to see “Lady in the Long Black Dress” is worth every penny of the admission price. As Joey, Eric Bray demonstrates what comedic perfection looks like. Every move, every facial expression, and every note is solid gold. Add in TJ (Chuck Hamrick) and Pablo (played in this performance by Terry D’Onofrio) with their smooth and ridiculous performances, and it is impossible to stop laughing long enough to breathe during this song.

The cast of Sister Act at Scottfield Theatre Company. Credit: Scott Serio

The other featured males in the production do struggle a little more to hit the mark. As Eddie Souther, Falan Laguerre is inconsistent in his performance. When his vocals hit the mark, he has a tone quality that can’t be beat, and, when he hits a spoken line just right, he lights up the stage with charisma. Unfortunately, Laguerre would alternate between this level of performance and seeming to retreat into himself. This may have been opening night jitters that hopefully resolved in subsequent performances, as he does have great potential. As far as Curtis (Chris Barsam), it is unclear what the vision or direction was supposed to be. Although Barsam looks the part, he consistently struggles with both the vocals and line delivery. Even with the phenomenal back-up and one of the better pieces of writing in the score, “When I Find My Baby” falls flat with Barsam at the helm.

Sister Act has some flaws, mostly unavoidable or easily fixable as the production goes along, but it has even more strengths. Everything taken into account, it is most definitely an enjoyable production and a fun evening. Luckily for all, there is still one more weekend to head to Havre de Grace and “Raise Your Voice” along with this stellar cast and production team.

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

Sister Act will run through April 14 at Scottfield Theatre Company, The Cultural Center at the Opera House121 N. Union Avenue, Havre de Grace, MD. For tickets, the box office is open one hour prior to performance but it is strongly encouraged to purchase tickets online.

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Review: Friends and Lovers hit Everyman Theatre with Dinner with Friends

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

(l-r) Beth Hylton, M. Scott McLean, Megan Anderson, Danny Gavigan. Credit: Teresa Castracane

I’ve often heard, in many turns of phrase, “you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends.” I’ve also found, through my experiences, you find friends who become family and those are cherished relationships throughout life.  However, what draws us to these people, these friends of ours? Is it who they are or who we think they are? Unique are the relationships between couples. There’s a different kind of dynamic when it comes to a foursome, especially two married couples. We forget that we often only see glimpses of the lives of our friends. What happens behind closed doors? Is it really our business? Everyman Theatre‘s latest production touches on these issues and questions in Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies, Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi and leaves us wondering what we would do if the friends we know are all of a sudden… different.

Megan Anderson, Beth Hylton, and M. Scott McLean. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Briefly, Dinner with Friends concerns itself with two married couples, Tom and Beth, and Gabe and Karen, who have known each other for many years. The foursome is the best of friends and everything seems to be status quo until Beth abruptly, over dinner with Gabe and Karen, spills the news that she and Tom are divorcing and that Tom is in love with another woman. Later, Tom discovers Beth has already told their best friends and is angry that she has the advantage and sympathy for telling them first, by herself. The feelings of Gabe and Karen do shift negatively for Tom and he tries to tell his side of the story. Flashback 12 years earlier when Tom and Beth first met, to show how it was between the two in the very beginning. Flash forward to present day and both Tom and Beth are moving on and evolving while Gabe and Beth, feeling they have to choose sides, at first, begin to see the meaning behind the friendship with Tom and Beth.

Megan Anderson, M. Scott McLean, and Beth Hylton. Credit: Teresa Castracane

The first thing you may notice walking into the theatre is the superb Set Design by Donald Eastman. Eastman has given us an authentic and clean design that pulls the audience into the story as if we are sitting at the dinner table with these couples. The use of a revolve that sections out each scene is resourceful, allowing for smooth, seamless transitions from scene to scene and keeping the momentum of the story intact. Eastman’s attention to detail and realism is spot on and he deserves accolades for his efforts on this production.

Speaking of momentum, Vincent M. Lancisi’s direction is on point and his staging is simple, but effective working in tandem with Eastman’s Set Design. Lancisi has a tight grasp on this story and its characters and he presents it well with an apt ensemble and a solid vision. It’s a human experience piece and he keeps the settings and characters relatable without the bells and whistles which makes this production successful.

M. Scott McLean and Beth Hylton. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Moving into the performance aspect, M. Scott McLean and Beth Hylton take on the roles of Gabe and Karen, a couple who seems to have their act together. McLean was a little scripted and stiff at first, but eventually found his grounding and portrayed Gabe as a charming, likeable character and he emoted the devotion his character has to his wife, making for a strong, confident performance. Hylton,  always a pro, seems to embody the character of Beth and makes it her own. Her delivery and mannerism fit the character perfectly and she’s comfortable in the role giving an assured and solid performance. The chemistry between these two actors is praiseworthy and their understanding of the complexities of the characters (looking good on the surface with uncertainty deeper inside), is commendable. McLean and Hylton play these character with a certain authenticity that makes for enjoyable and thoughtful performances all around.

Megan Anderson and Danny Gavigan. Credit: Teresa Castracane

Megan Anderson and Danny Gavigan take on the roles of the other, more difficult couple, Beth and Tom and they hit the nail on the head with both of these characters. Anderson, who rarely disappoints, has a good grasp on her character and plays her to the hilt. She understands the turmoil and confusion in her character and her portrayal is on point with a good blend of the expressions of hurt and anger, feelings to which we can all relate in one way or another. Her delivery is near flawless and her mannerisms and movement for Beth, a free spirit, makes for a delightful and moving performance. Gavigan, too, understands his character and plays him so well, you might end up rooting against him. Again, it’s a human experience piece and the author seemed to have it right when he assumed we (usually) take the side of the person who breaks the news first. I did. I took Beth’s side and sneered at Tom for the rest of the production. However, Gavigan doesn’t make it hard to sneer at him with his impeccable performance of a man who is trying to find happiness no matter who it hurts. It’s a double edged sword for this character. We want people to be happy, but we also want people to be responsible. Sometimes the two don’t match up and the consequences are vast. Gavigan has a solid grasp on the character and his issues and plays him superbly. Superbly enough that you want to hate him. That’s good acting! Together, Anderson and Gavigan have a natural chemistry that transcends the script and is authentic making for performances that give us all the feels and emotions that come along with this kind of issue. Kudos to both for durable, intense performances.

Final thought…  Dinner with Friends at Everyman Theatre is a poignant, thoughtful look at friendship and marriage with a well-written script and a tight, solid ensemble. It’s a human experience piece, without a lot of fluff and it has us walking away thinking and questioning, which any good theatre will do. The actors take the roles and make them their own and help us relate to these four complex souls. The production value is top-notch with an ingenious Set Design that is intricate but doesn’t overwhelm and staging that keeps the action flowing seamlessly. Get your tickets now. You won’t want to miss this one!

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

Dinner with Friends will play through April 7 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Nothing Indecent at Baltimore Center Stage with Paula Vogel’s Indecent

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 20 minutes with no intermission

What is and what is not indecent is really up to each individual but what is indecent in society changes as society grows and evolves. It’s interesting that what is looked on as no big deal today could throw a crowd of people into a rage a century ago. Much of what is on the stage today would send the previous generation reeling and Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Indecent by Paula Vogel, Directed by Eric Rosen, gives us a look at how early 20th century audiences reacted to racy material that we don’t even blink an eye at today. It also reminds us that, though we may generally agree, as a society, what is indecent… in the end, it is in the eye of the beholder.

Briefly, Indecent is a historical play with music about a playwright, Sholem Asch, and a troupe of actors producing a real Yiddish play entitled God of Vengeance, by Asch in 1907 that caused quite an uproar when it got to Broadway. The play itself is a love story between two young women and was a success all over Europe (seems they weren’t as stuffy with this kind of material as America was at the time). It had to be toned down for American and Broadway audiences and even then, it was too much and the entire troupe was arrested for indecency. Throughout, the artists question what they must sacrifice for their storytelling and presentation of their art.

I’ve got to start by stating this is just a beautiful piece of theatre, all around. From Set Design, to Costume Design, to staging, and performance. I was enthralled from the moment the lights went down in the theatre and stayed engaged throughout. Vogel has weaved a splendid story that spans from the early 20th century through post World War II and she does it seamlessly. The dialogue is natural and wel thought-out and, even for someone who doesn’t have a Jewish or Yiddish background can appreciate the story itself and relate to the characters within that story. Baltimore Center Stage’s production is aesthetically pleasing, as well. Through the beautifully organized clutter on stage, a simple, yet complex story is told and pristinely performed by an apt ensemble.

Set Design by Jack Magaw is splendid and he uses his space wisely. Looking more like the backstage of a theatre, which it should, it complements the story beautifully. Using set pieces to present different locales instead of changing the space makes for smooth transitions and doesn’t interfere with the action and staging of the production. Kudos to Magaw for a wonderful design. Running in tandem with Magaw’s design is a terrific Lighting Design by Josh Epstein that blends nicely with the production as a whole and precisely sets the mood for each scene with an overall dim look with appropriate splashes of light and emphasis.

Having a sharp eye for detail, Linda Roethke’s Costume Design is superb. She captures the time settings and is consistent as the setting moves forward in time. The design is authentic and makes these characters real, bringing the audience even more into the story.

Director Eric Rosen has really nailed it with this production. His comprehension of the material is clear and his vision is exquisite. He knows these characters and has guided this cast to weave an intriguing, enthralling story. The smooth transitions in his staging are on point and keep the audience engaged from start to finish. The omission of an intermission is wise as it would break up the beautiful momentum this piece has. Rosen’s casting is spot on and he should be applauded for his efforts in this production.

On the performance side, every single member of this ensemble gives a marvelous performance. The chemistry is fantastic and they work well with and off of each other. Victor Raider-Wexler and Susan Rome take on the “elder” roles and Raider-Wexler makes you instantly feel at ease with his smooth, clear delivery of the material and his embodiment of each character he plays such as Otto, the first producer of God of Vengeance. In the same vein, Susan Rome is brilliant in the other “elder” roles she takes on. She portrays her characters with a certain gracefulness one would expect an experienced actor to have and she transitions through her various characters seamlessly. Both Raider-Wexler and Rome give strong, confident performances that are a pleasure to experience.

Jake Walker as “The Middle,” the actor of the troupe who plays the characters who no spring chickens but not young, bright eyed and bushy-tailed gives a great showing in this. He portrays his roles confidently, especially the character of Mendel, who is cynical of this new play and its content. He looks good in the role and portrays it with the perfect balance of pretentiousness and humbleness.

Two of the folks we see most are Susan Lynskey as The Middle/Halina and Emily Shackelford as The Ingenue/Chana. Lynskey has a great command of the stage and completely embodies her character. She plays her roles with confidence and emotes the no-holds-barred personality of them, making for a striking, emotional performance. Alike, Shackelford holds her own and portrays her characters with just the right amount of gusto and calm. These two actresses have a pristine chemistry that makes the roles work so well. It’s impressive because of the various roles these two are playing but yet, the chemistry between them is consistent and absolute in the scenes that call for it. Kudos to both Lynskey and Shackleford for exquisite performances.

Another familiar face throughout the production is Max Wolkowitz as The Ingenue/Avram. Wolkowitz also takes on the role of the playwright, Sholem Asch and he plays him to the hilt. His authentic portrayal and confidence in the role makes for a hard-hitting performance. He seems to have a deep knowledge of this character and respectfully portrays him. The conflict within Sholem Asch is clear and Wolkowitz’s urgency and passion is a joy to watch as he brings this man back to life.

A definite highlight of this production is Ben Cherry as Lemml, or “Lou”, the Stage Manager of this troupe of actors. Cherry, from the beginning, makes this charming, simple character loveable. You can’t help but get a warm feeling when he speaks and the way he plays this character makes you think he is just the nice guy next door. The character itself is amazing because he’s supposed to be a simple tailor from a small town but he seems to be the only one, among more sophisticated, scholarly folks, who understands the beauty of this new, brash play called God of Vengeance. Cherry plays him with just the correct amount of charm and childish naiveté that makes you just want to hug him and protect him. The authenticity in his portrayal makes it an impeccable performance.

Finally, I would consider this a play with music and giving standout performances are The Musicians, John Milosich, Maryn Shaw, Alexander Sovronsky, with Sovronsky being the Music Director and, Composer of Original Music. These folks are seriously singing for their supper but they do it flawlessly. Their impressive technique and talent on their musical instruments add so much value to this production and they are well-rehearsed and polished. Though all of ensemble take on double, even triple duty, with various roles, there’s just that extra bit for Milosich, Shaw, and Sovronsky by adding in musical instruments and these three step up to the challenge and absolutely succeed. Kudos and commendations to these fine musicians and their efforts.

Final thought…  Indecent may be one of the best productions I’ve seen this season. It’s a beautifully written and performed piece and will leave you questioning your own morals and values. The performers are on point with their characters and give 100% effort to tell this engaging and poignant story that needs to be told. The fact that it’s based on true events makes it even more enthralling and Paula Vogel has knocked it out of the park with her script. The story is relevant and thought-provoking, technical designs are exquisite, staging is superb, and performance is splendid. You need to see this show this season. Get your tickets now and experience it for yourself.

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

Indecent will play through March 31 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-332-0033 or you can purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: All Aboard! Anything Goes Sails into Silhouette Stages

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

People do crazy things for love, especially young people, even if it means crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a luxury cruise ship, without a ticket and luggage, and bunking with a wanted criminal. In Silhouette Stages latest production, Anything Goes, with Music & Lyrics by the legendary Cole Porter and an Original Book by P.D. Wodehouse & Guy Crouse, and a New Book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman, we get a look at how that kind of story turns out. This production, the 1987 revival version, is Directed by Conni Ross with Music Direction by William Georg and Choreography by Tina Marie DeSimone.

(l-r) Triana McCorkle, Maddie Bohrer and Abby McDonough. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Anything Goes, in a nutshell, takes place aboard the S.S. American and brash Reno Sweeny, famous nightclub singer and evangelist, is on her way to England. Billy Crocker, an old friend has stowed away because he wants to be near his love interest, Hope Harcourt, how happens to be engaged to a wealthy and elderly gentleman, Evelyn Oakleigh. Throw in a loveable Public Enemy #13, a case of mistaken identity, and a handful of showgirls called Angels, and you have a triste worthy of witty and brash songs of Cole Porter.

The setting is a character of its own and when one mentions Anything Goes, usually, the first thought is “That show that takes place on the ship.” Set Design by Alex Porter is admirable with the distinct levels that make this setting interesting but other than the levels, the set seemed a bit sparse. It could be all the whitewashed walls/flats with very little color but other than being a little boring in the aesthetics, the design is classic and well-built. This is a good showing for Porter and he and his team are to be commended for their efforts.

Taps, taps, taps! That’s another thing one thinks of if one is familiar with Anything Goes and taps we have! Choreography by Tina De Simone is high energy and engaging… for the big, popular numbers, namely “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” The other numbers seem to be afterthoughts such as poor Bonnie’s featured numbers, “Heaven Hop” and “Let’s Step Out.” The savior of those numbers are the vocals and brilliant presentation of Bonnie by Maddie Bohrer, but we’ll get more into that later in this review. Looking to the bright side, DeSimone’s work shines and is precise and outstanding in the aforementioned “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” The energy is high and the ensemble is on point. DeSimone really gets these numbers and style and has created a fresh look that is a joy to watch.

(l-r) Miranda Snder, Abby McDonough, Robyn Bloom, Marcie Prince, Maggie Mellott and Lisa Rigsby. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Vocally, this ensemble is phenomenal. With the help of Sound Design by Alex Porter, this ensemble is spot on and kudos must go to William Georg for his Music Direction. Many of these songs are well-known, so any flaws are easily noticeable, but, there weren’t many to speak of. The music is canned (recorded), but this cast is well rehearsed and they have this score down pat making for an enjoyable and toe-tapping experience.

This production is helmed by Director Conni Ross and she gives us a charming presentation of this beloved piece and her staging is smooth but it loses momentum at times which effects the comedic timing. Overall, Ross has done a splendid job with this production – you work with the material you got, so, she has given us a strong showing. The presentation isn’t necessarily fresh and innovative, but it keeps the more traditional, old-fashioned presentation in-tact, and that’s always a good thing. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? My only issues with Ross’ work is her curious casting choices. Now, in community theatre, you work, first and foremost (or are supposed to) with the folks who come out for auditions and may the best man/woman land the role. I get that. But this cast seemed quilted together. Age ranges seem to be all over the place and there are actors who look to be playing characters younger or older than they actually are which throws off the entire feel of the production, for me. Regardless, Ross has given us a pleasant show that makes for a wonderful evening of theatre.

Jim Gross and Todd Hochkeppel. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Moving toward the performance aspect of this production, we have Jim Gross as Billy Crocker and Rebecca Hanauer as Hope Harcourt, the young lovebirds of this story. Gross seems to have a good grasp of this character, but I question his casting in this role. Again, he gets this character, knows his objectives, and follows staging nicely but… I didn’t buy it. His delivery of the material is good, if slightly scripted at times, and, occasionally, his comedic timing is a little off. Vocally, Gross can hold his own but he just doesn’t fully capture the energy and urgency the character requires. However, that being said, he’s comfortable in the role and gives a confident performance. Along the same vein, Hanauer seems a bit miscast, as well. She, too, understands her character well and goes through the motions, but I just didn’t buy it. Vocally, Hanauer has a beautiful soprano and performs her featured songs quite well, such as “De-Lovely” and “All Through the Night.” I think one of the main issues is the chemistry between Gross and Hanauer. It’s easy to see their great friends, but it would be a stretch to think they were anything more than that. In general, both give good performances and are consistent throughout the show.

Todd Hochkeppel, Ryan Geiger and Robyn Bloom. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Though this is a musical comedy in which all characters have a certain comedic value, Ryan Geiger as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh and Todd Hochkeppel as Moonface Martin have got the comedy down pat. These two are a pleasure to watch and their portrayals of these characters is top notch. Geiger embodies the role Evelyn Oakleigh and pulls off the pompousness mixed with charm that endears him to the audience. His comedic timing is spot on and he plays the character seriously enough to not take him over the top which makes for a solid, hilarious performance. Also, Hochkeppel seems to have been born for this role. His understanding of this character is clear and the way he portrays the loveable, but wanting-to-be-bad Moonface is quite enjoyable. There’s a tendency for actors to take this role over the top, but Hochkeppel keeps him reigned in just enough to be farcical but still charming and non-obnoxious. Kudos to both of Geiger and Hochkeppel for their efforts.

Lawrence Custis, Robyn Bloom and Doug Thomas. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Playing the role of Reno Sweeney, an actor has some pretty big shoes to fill but Robyn Bloom take the reigns and makes the role her own. Seemingly channeling the spirt of Mae West, Bloom is comfortable and confident in this role and it shows. She gives an assured performance and makes the character likeable from the moment she steps onto the stage. Her Angels (Lisa Rigsby, Marcie Prince, Maggie Mellott, Tirana McCorkle, Abby McDonough, and Miranda Snyder) impressively keep up as well, displaying their apt dance and tap skills throughout. Her delivery is natural and her timing is fantastic. She has a clear, smooth voice that resonates throughout the theatre, especially in her featured numbers such as the highly energized title song, “Anything Goes” and the hand-clapping-foot-tapping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” Though she doesn’t have the usual “belt” actresses who play this character have, her performances of the songs and her dance abilities are a joy to watch making for a superb performance, overall.

Jim Gross, Becca Hanauer and Ryan Geiger. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

The standout in this particular production is Maddie Bohrer as Bonnie (remember, I mentioned her earlier in this review). Now, Bonnie is more of a supporting character, but Bohrer has put her front and center in every scene she’s in. She knows this character well and portrays her as a street-wise, but caring girl who does what she can to help her friends. Bohrer has the perfect look for the character and her delivery of the dialogue is clear and authentic. The thing that sets her apart is that she is so expressive, and one can’t help but notice her even when the entire ensemble is on the stage. She keeps her performance consistent throughout the entire production and is an absolute joy to watch. Her renditions of “Heaven Hop” and “Let’s Step Out” have you wanting more from her character and she’s one to watch. Hats off to Bohrer for an outstanding showing.

Final thought… Anything Goes exists mainly to highlight the songs of Cole Porter. There’s not much to the Book and, it seems very haphazardly thrown together to work around the music. Production-wise, there are a few interesting casting choices, the Set Design is appropriate, but a bit flat, and the choreography seems more concentrated in the more popular numbers, which leaves the other dancing a little lackluster throughout. However, the vocal work of the entire ensemble is quite admirable and makes up for the minor flaws in this production. Overall, it is a good, solid production and the ensemble is giving 100% effort and, it is a favorite classic to which the audience responds well. If you’re in it for a good fluffy, entertaining show, this one’s for you and you will have a delightful evening of theatre.

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

Anything Goes will play through March 24 at Silhouette Stages, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

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Review: What’s the Buzz at the The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore?

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Growing up is difficult – there is no way around it, and it’s even more difficult for kids who realize they have something special about them, when their peers don’t. A lot of kids who compete in spelling bees across the nation probably feel this way. Some of us have a knack for spelling while others have a more, shall we say, challenging time, and sometimes, kids who are able to spell well are looked at differently by their contemporaries. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s (ASoB) latest production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, with Music & Lyrics by William Finn, and a Book by Rachel Sheinkin from a story conceived by Rebecca Feldman, gives us a peek into this world of spelling bees with a humorous, but poignant and authentic presentation to which we can relate in some way or another. This production is Directed and Choreographed by Atticus Boidy with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler.

In a nutshell, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee concerns itself with the trials and tribulations of 6 kids who happen to be great spellers, a former champion who revels in the bee, an unexpected comfort counselor out on parole, and a high-strung, odd vice-principal who all learn a little about themselves in the duration of an afternoon at a spelling bee.

The Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore.

The first thing you’ll notice in this production are the A-MAZING voices of this ensemble. Under the direction of Rachel Sandler, who has done a splendid job with this production, this ensemble is strong, tight in their harmonies and most give unforgettable performances. Even with recorded music instead of a live band, it’s easy to forget because of the phenomenal vocal work going on up on the stage.

Set Design by Atticus Cooper Boidy has got to be the cleanest, and most well thought-out design I’ve seen at ASoB. The space is intimate but Boidy has managed to use it wisely and transport the audience to an elementary school gymnasium without going overboard. It’s simple, precise, and appropriate for this piece.

Direction, also by Atticus Cooper Boidy, is interesting. He’s decided to change the look of the characters up a bit, which is refreshing, but in a way takes away from the original feel of the piece. His staging is a little clunky, which is a challenge when actors are playing more than one character, but because the actors are so apt, the staging that is slightly off, is pulled off nicely by them. Along with staging, Boidy puts on the hat of Choreographer, but, it seems he may have been spreading himself too thin and it’s the choreography that suffers the most. It’s a bit uninspiring, but this show isn’t about the choreography, it’d definitely not a show in which the choreography has to be stellar, but in this particular production, there are problems. It just seems haphazard, as if it were thrown together last minute, but again, the ensemble comes to the rescue with their performance and are bale to muddle through with what they have to work with and make it look good.

I’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint any standout performance in this production as they were all brilliant! There are a couple of performances that could have used some work, however, including Scott Sanders who takes on the role of Vice-Principal Douglas Panch. Sanders’ portrayal is a bit dry and stiff, but he pulls off the role nicely, though his comedic timing could use some work. The actor taking on this character has to be top-notch as it’s an acting role with no featured musical number to back it up. Again, Sanders does well, and I’m thinking he’ll grow into his character throughout the run of the production.

Ashley Gerhardt is on point with her portrayal of Rona Lisa Peretti and casting couldn’t have been better. Her vocal prowess is splendid and her character work is superb. Her renditions of “My Favorite Moment of the Bee” and the poignant “The I Love You Song” (in which she takes on the role of a spellers mother) are absolutely beautiful and makes for a strong performance all-round.

Mitch Mahoney, the out-on-parole Comfort Counselor is played by Jim Gerhardt, who takes this role and makes it his own. He has a good grasp on this character and plays him with the right amount of toughness and under-the-surface compassion – a blend that makes for a great character to play. Vocally, Gerhardt is in top form and his performance of “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” is inspiring.

When it comes to the kids in the bee (played by adults, of course, adding to the hilarity), all of these actors are spot on. Max Wolfe, being the youngest actor in the ensemble is a little scripted and unnatural in his role as Chip Tolentino, the Boy Scout who was last year’s champion, and he seems to be trying too hard to portray a child. Vocally, he seems to understand his songs like the hilarious “My Unfortunate Erection (Chip’s Lament)” but he pushes a bit hard to get the tune that might be a little out of his range out and it looks like he’s uncomfortable with the song, but… he does give it 100% and gives a good showing, keeps up nicely with the more experienced ensemble members.

Amy Haynes Rapnicki takes on the role of the uptight, youngest contestant, Logainne Schwartzandgrunenierre, and Matt Wetzel, an impressive character actor, tackles the role of the gentle, slightly-off Leaf Coneybear. Rapnicki is a trip as this character and she has a very good comprehension of this character and plays her appropriately. Using an over-exaggerated lisp for the character, she still manages to get her lines out clearly and her delivery is spot on. Vocally, Rapnicki is a powerhouse and not only belts out her featured number “Woe is Me,” but also knows how to act the song making for a delightful performance. Along with Rapnicki, Wetzel takes on a character that requires delicate handling and he does it flawlessly. His portrayal of a young man who has to wear a helmet, for reasons unknown to us, is warm and charming. He knows this character and embodies him and all his gentleness and innocence. His featured number, the funny and pleasant “I’m Not That Smart” is a joy to experience.

Olive Ostrovsky, the quiet, abandoned little girl, is played by Caitlin Grant and the straight-forward, obnoxious William Barfee is played by Tommy Malek. Both of these actors couldn’t have been casted better. Their chemistry is effortless and their portrayal of these characters are near perfect. Grant understands the turmoil of her character and her relationship with her absent parents and, though Olive is more the “straight-man” in this comedy, she plays the role well, holding her own against the comedy. Her vocal performance is notable, especially of the sad, haunting “The I Love You Song” and her impressive rendition of “My Friend, the Dictionary,” which kind of explains this character and why she does what she does. Malek, plays William Barfee just right. This character could be easy to over-play, and I’ve seen a few actors do it, but Malek keeps it natural while not losing the comedy of this character, which is a feat in itself. His vocal renditions of “Magic Foot” is humorous, but precise and his take on “Second” is controlled and direct making for an all-round strong and confident performance.

Lindsey Litka, who takes on the role of the stead-fast, monotone Marcy Park, is one to watch in this production. Litka’s look for this character is a bit different, but it doesn’t affect her performance in the least. She seems to have a deep comprehension of this character and she plays her to the hilt. Without much emoting of feelings, Litka is impressively able to portray this character in a way that we, the audience, feel the chaos that’s just under the surface. Vocally, Litka is a definite power-house and there are no-holds-barred when she belts out a tune that makes the entire theatre take notice. Her performance of “I Speak Six Languages” is phenomenal (all while dancing and running around across the stage), and she is even noticeable in the ensemble numbers, but not so much that it takes away from any number.

Final thought…The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is one of the best, if not the best production I’ve seen at this company. The cast is top-notch and filled with new folks not regularly seen on the ASoB stage which adds to the freshness of the experience. The set is precise and appropriate, using the space wisely, and the staging is engaging making for an all-round great theatrical experience. The story alone is a great story but this ensemble really takes this material and performs it exquisitely making the characters their own and breathing new life into an often produced show. You really don’t want to miss this production. Get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will play through March 17 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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Review: Fun in the Sun with Once On This Island Jr. at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes with intermission

High-quality theatre is always a “wow” moment. Achieving that effect with a cast of all young people is especially impressive, and Director Liz Boyer Hunnicutt has outdone herself again with Children Playhouse of Maryland’s current production of Once on This Island Jr. with Music by Stephen Flaherty and Lyrics and Book by Lynn Ahrens. From the moment that you arrive on property, meeting a real live goal and being welcomed to the island by young cast members, already in character, you are transported to another world. The bright and colorful costume design by Sharon Byrd sets the tone immediately that you have traveled off the campus and to a land faraway. The combined efforts of Diane M. Smith (Technical Director/Set Design & Construction), Tyrell Stanley (Lighting Designer), Laura Miller (Scenic Artist), and Donna Flaharty (Light Board Operator) really build on this vision with their excellent design work. There is a bubbling fountain on stage, and the show begins with sparks of special effects as the Gods enter from the back of the house. Even the traditional curtain speech is shortened and made into a recording to be certain not to break the spell of the transformation. The set, lighting, and technical choices continue throughout to be an intricate part of the action and the vision of the production.

Equally impressive are the vocals, under the Musical Direction of Charlotte Evans, and the choreography by James Hunnicutt. Hunnicutt does a particular impressive job of getting the young cast to master synchronicity in movement and creating interesting and varied visual images. These adults have truly provided an impressive framework in which these young performers are able to shine.

And shine, they do. The large ensemble is full of energy and takes little moments and little solo lines to show the wealth of talent among the cast. Several get to stand out in some featured roles as well. Zachary Byrd (Daniel’s Father) possesses such a strong stage presence that he seems older than his years. Ryann Nicole Reich also makes a memorable impression with her turn as The Gatekeeper. Creating the backbone of the show that move the story forward are the four storytellers (Bella Comotto, Molly Foggo, Rose Glennon, and Talia Lebowitz). Foggo especially stands out in the role with her mature poise and grace.

What makes the story so compelling, though, is the heart displayed by the characters in this world. Allyson Gray (Little Girl/Little Ti Moune) is likely bound for stardom with her beautiful vocals and believable characterization. Her natural innocence and optimism serves as a beacon for the entire tale. Surrounding her with love are the sweet and loveable Tonton Julian (Matthew Byrd) and Mama Euralie (Phyllis Wainaina). Wainaina also has a voice that is clear as a bell and conveys her warmth. As much as the audience might want to be mad at Andrea (Zoe Hammel) and Daniel (Kevin Franiak), it is hard when Hammel and Franiak do such a nice job of making them believable and likeable and showing clearly that they never meant to hurt anyone.

For this production to work, though, it is the Gods who must be larger than life as they manipulate the actions of the players within. All four of these young women rose to this challenge in interesting and different ways. Anna Sophia Claudio (Erzulie, God of Love) is grace and elegance personified with a legit Broadway belt. Catie Zimmer (Papa Ge, God of Death) is everything evil and manipulative with a hint of real emotion buried in the nuances of her characterization. Anderson Gray (Agwe, God of Water) is wisdom and strength and a powerful, mature vocal sound. Dersha Horrey (Asaka, God of Earth) is vibrant, hilarious, and fills the room with her soul.

Of course, none of this would mean anything without the perfect Ti Moune, our hero. Nyani Hawkins is indeed perfect in this role; she is the ideal leading lady. Hawkins draws the audience into her world and into her big, beautiful heart. We root for her, and we cry for her, because Hawkins makes Ti Moune real. Hawkins has a beautiful quality to her voice and demonstrates control throughout and she wows the audience with her compelling dance. Hawkins, like the entire production, is truly spot-on and then some more. Audiences should not miss their chance to catch this wonderful show in the next two weekends.

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

Once On This Island, Jr. will play through March 17 at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland at CCBC, Essex Campus, Administration Building. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Review: An American Dream Hits The Strand Theatre with Sojourners

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

The American Dream. I often wonder what people from other, less fortunate countries see and hear about America. Are they really told and believe the streets are paved in gold? Are they told you can be anything you want to be? Do they understand we have the right to pursue happiness but not outright happiness itself? The Strand Theatre‘s latest offering, Sojourners by Mfoniso Udofia and Directed by Cheryl J. Williams, touches on one young Nigerian family’s pursuit of happiness but also includes the obstacles and downfalls that come along with that pursuit.

(l-r) Ama Brown and Jenelle Brown. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography/The Strand Theatre

I sheepishly admit that I can’t tell you exactly what this piece is trying to accomplish. From what I gather, and with a little bit of research, Sojourners is the origin story in Udofia’s Ufot Family Cycle of plays. This story concerns itself with Abasiama (Ama) and Ukpong Ekpeyong, a young Nigerian couple expecting their first child and the father has gotten a little too comfortable in America, forgetting his purpose for being here, which is to acquire an education and degree then head back to the homeland. Conversely, Ama has her eye on the prize and is working hard to accomplish it while being very pregnant and working all at the same time. While Ukpong is selfishly having the time of his life, Ama is trying to obtain her goals and meets Moxie, a down-her-luck, streetwise young woman and Disciple Ufot, an astute student from the same area of her hometown. Ama’s new friends care deeply for her and she eventually opens up to both of them, while realizing it’s up to her to be the change she wants to see.

Set Design is always tricky in this space, but The Strand Theatre and their production teams always seem to pull it off nicely. This is no different in this production as Set Design by Gabriella Castillo manages to turn the space into many different locations with the use of a couple of simple set pieces and levels. The simple design is practical but presents the locations of each scene nicely and easily.

Director Cheryl J. Williams has a deep comprehension of this material and her staging in the intimate, unique space is superb. She has a good grasp on these characters and their conflicts and her casting is spot on. Aside from a couple of clunky scene changes, the action moves smoothly and the presentation is polished. As for time period, the setting is a bit unknown and there’s not a lot of help from costumes by Costume Designer Sharlene Clinton. The wardrobe is a mix of traditional designs with fashions that one would see on the street today. I believe it may be the late 60s or 70s, but don’t quote me on that. Don’t get me wrong, the Costume Design is good but doesn’t make one take much notice, which some could argue is just what a Costume Design is supposed to do.

Ama Brown takes on the role of the strong Abasima (Ama) Ekpeyong and she very much carries this entire piece. She is a standout with her exquisite, natural delivery and dialect work. She completely embodies this character and emotes all the feels within this woman and the one to watch in this piece. She seems to have a deep understanding of Ama (the character) and gives a strong, confident performance. In tandem with Brown’s Abasiama, her real life husband, Kenyon Parson takes on the role of Abasiama’s husband, Ukpong Ekpyeong and he, too, is a highlight in this production. Parson portrays a character we are supposed to hate, but his portrayal is so authentic and natural, he comes off as the friend you call to have a good time. In context, this character is having a good time when he’s not supposed to and seems quite selfish, but the dialogue and Parson’s presentation makes him a charming, if not loveable character who we seem to be able to forgive easily, against our better judgement.

Rounding out this small ensemble is Jenelle Brown who takes on the role of the savvy Moxie and Grant Emerson Harvey, who excellently portrays Disciple Ufot. Jenelle Brown does well with her character, but seems a little scripted at times and it throws off the flow, just a tad. She seems to get her character but her performance seems forced. Harvey, on the other hand gives a spot on performance and is believable and precise in character. He, too, completely embodies his character and has a tight comprehension of what his character is all about. His portrayal of a young man who is deeply grounded in his traditions but is able to look forward to the future is magnificent and he is confident in his movement and delivery. Overall, he gives an assured and praiseworthy performance.

Final thought… Sojourners at The Strand Theatre is a thoughtful and interesting tale of the human experience and keeps the audience entertained, even if it’s hard to pin-point exactly what the piece is about. The strong performances and relatable characters are what make this production extremely successful. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles with the set and other technical aspects, but the minimal approach works nicely with this piece. I may not get it completely but I can’t deny it’s damn entertaining. It’s definitely worth checking out and is a great addition to The Strand Theatre’s season.

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

Sojourners will play through March 10 at The Strand Theatre, 5426 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-874-4917 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Side Effects May Vary… The Effect at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

When one thinks about drug trials, rarely does theatre come up in the same thought. However, from my experience, anything, any topic, and any story can become theatre and, in this instance, the topic happens to be drug trials. In Fells Point Corner Theatre‘s latest offering, The Effect by Lucy Prebble, Directed by Andrew Porter, presents us with a sneak peek of what might happen in a drug trial for a nondescript drug that is going through human testing.

Nate Krimmel and Meghan Stanton. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

From what I could gather, in a nutshell, The Effect concerns itself with two volunteers, Tristan and Connie, and two doctors, Dr. Lorna James and Dr. Toby Sealey. They are all in the process of testing a new drug and all the while, a new relationship develops between the volunteers and an old relationship is reminisced between the doctors. Ethics are questioned and results are recorded but those results may not be what was intended.

I’m usually quite fond of the shows produced by Fells Point Corner Theatre but this particular production did not pique my interest in the least. I tried to be interested in the story and invested in the characters, but, alas, I was not. The production value and performance is superb, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sold on the script and characters. Also, it seems the whole drug trial story line is simply a backdrop for the real story, which is the complex relationships between the characters. Some of the trial process is presented but most of the action revolves around the relationships. Maybe that’s the point?

It’s worth mentioning a definite highlight of this production which is the impressive and superlative Set Design by Bruce Kapplin. This design is clean and modern and fits this production perfectly. Two levels and perfectly symmetrical, Kapplin has captured the sanitized look of a hospital with a couple of levels and a few set pieces and he should be applauded for his impeccable design.

(l-r) Nate Krimmel, Mia Robinson, and Meghan Stanton. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

I must say, though, Director Andrew Porter certainly has a deep comprehension of this material and he has given us a polished, well put-together production with precise staging (though, be prepared for loud, thumping dance/electronic music shaking the entire theatre), and his vision is clear. Porter can only work with what he has, text-wise, and he does a splendid job in presenting the piece.

Most of the performances are spot on and Megan Stanton is a standout, taking on the role of Connie, one of the volunteers, gives a brilliant performance. Her delivery is natural and smooth making her character believable. She seems to have a good grasp of her character’s conflict and presents her beautifully. Nate Krimmel, who takes on the role of Tristan, a volunteer with experience with taking part in these types of trials, seems to understand his character, but also seems to be trying a little too hard to portray his character’s quirks. He presents Tristan a little over the top at times that takes away from the naturality. Both work well together and the chemistry is there… but I don’t buy it lock, stock, and barrel. This probably is not so much a comment on Stanton and Krimmel’s performances, but they fact I just didn’t connect 100% with the characters as written. Regardless of my feelings or connection (or lack thereof) of these characters, Stanton and Krimmel give confident and commendable performances.

Nate Krimmel and Megan Stanton. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Another highlight of this piece is Mia Robinson, who tackles the role of Dr. Lorna James, who’s heading up the trial but is a licensed psychologist who seems to have needed a job, and this is in the medical field, after all. Robinson, like Stanton, has a natural flow to her performance that makes her character more believable. She makes good choices with her character and she’s one that I could find myself just the tiniest bit invested in, which is a good thing. Her delivery is authentic and she’s comfortable on stage which makes for a strong, assured performance. Her counterpart, Dr. Toby Sealey, portrayed by Gareth Kelley, is a little stiffer, as apparently written, but Kelley’s performance is a bit stiff as well. He seems scripted and, at times, uncomfortable in the role. He doesn’t completely falter and he seems to have a good comprehension of his character, but there’s no “oomph” behind his portrayal. The chemistry between the two is nil, at most, but they do get the idea across.

Again, my major beef is with the story and material itself, the performers did, for the most part, admirable jobs and, like I stated with Director Andrew Porter, you work with what you got and this ensemble’s presentation is commendable.

Final thought… The Effect, is a well put-together and polished piece and (most of) the performances are on point but it just couldn’t keep my interest. Staging was great and the message of ethics within drug trial testing is apparent but, it’s not something I think an entire show can be written around. So, I suppose it’s the subject matter itself is what didn’t capture my attention. Medical dramas are tricky and if you’re not into it, there’s not much that can happen to bring you in. Production-wise, this production is top notch from the Set Design to staging to performance and it’s definitely worth checking out!

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

The Effect will play through March 17 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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Review: Dear Diary, Heathers Comes to Tidewater Players

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Dear Diary: I know that Heathers is that kind of cult, fringe piece that true Theatre nerds are just supposed to adore. I don’t. I find the characters flat and confusing and unlikeable. I find the script filled with some major plot holes and raunchy humor for the sake of shock. Still, the current production of Heathers by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy at Tidewater Players almost changed my mind. Co-directors Laurie Starkey and Austin Barnes (along with Music Director R. Christopher Rose and Choreographer Leslie Perry) seemed to be very mindful of some of the concerns and limitations with the script and really found ways to appeal to a broader audience. Strong performance after strong performance worked to make this show appeal to a broad audience. So, if you are thinking about giving Heathers another chance, this is the production with which to make that happen. Conversely, if you are already a fan of the show, this production is certain to be the “Big Fun” that you are looking for; it has all the hallmark trades of the cult classic mixed with some new, multi-dimensional spins on the characters.

Some of the things that I was left wondering after some past productions of Heathers are: Why should I care about Veronica Sawyer? And why the heck does she care about Jason “J.D.” Dean? Rylynn Woods and Gabriel Webster provide those answers. Woods’ Veronica is multi-layered. Even as she becomes caught up in evil schemes from all directions, her heart and her human longing is vividly on display in this performance. Even when Veronica is making some major mistakes, the vulnerability and transparency that Woods lets hang out for display in front of the audience creates a compelling, raw performance. Her consistent and strong vocals also carry the show. Likewise, Webster makes J. D. more real and more layered than the character is frequently portrayed. There is a light-hearted and fun side to J. D.. There are times when he really seems to want to do more and better. Webster’s nuanced performance helps the audience understand why Veronica keeps standing by his side through other moments in which he is truly a cruel and ferocious monster. Webster convincingly alternates between madman, charmer, and tormented little boy with believability. His dynamic acting performance makes up for his occasional vocal imperfections. In the moment, where he nails before the vocals and acting, it is pure magic. Woods and Webster also have sizzling chemistry and a playful comfortability. This is evident in both “Dead Girl Walking” and “Our Love is God.”

Other characters who are often, in other productions, one-dimensional and provide little reason to like are the Heathers: Chandler (Holly Blondheim), McNamara (Mary Cate Carder), and Duke (Elise Starkey). Blondheim masters Queen of Ice, as she mocks and tortures everyone around her, and yet there are subtle moments that make the audience see that “The Me Inside of Me” may not just be a construct in Veronica’s head. She takes this caricatured villain and makes her a real, not-so-live, girl. Likewise, Starkey’s Heather Duke appears all evil, ruling with even greater cruelty when she gets the chance, but there is this moment at the end where she lets down her guard and joins the rest of ensemble. It is such a small moment played so authentically that it speaks volumes. Another one of the best moments in the show – when everything comes together (masterful acting, beautiful and haunting vocals, powerful staging and lighting) – is Heather McNamara’s “Lifeboat.” Carder seizes this opportunity and absolutely shines. Her performance is spectacular throughout the show with well-timed comedic one-liners paired with emotional depth. As good as they are all separately, the Heathers are also dynamic together. Tight harmonies and crisp synchronicity of choreography makes for a memorable “Candy Store.”

Another standout is Emily Caplan in the role of Martha Dunnstock. Once again, the directorial vision of this show is clear in her portrayal. This is the kind of script in which it can be so easy to leave the characters as one-dimensional caricatures. However, Starkey and Barnes clearly made sure to tease out the emotional depth of each character and to cast actors that were able to handle that level of complexity. Caplan is no exception. Her Martha is not just weak, not just a victim. There is strength and hope even in her darkest moments. Her rendition of “Kindergarten Boyfriend” is light on the surface and brimming with pain just underneath. Caplan gives a perfectly restrained performance. Rather then over-singing or over-acting, she lets the vocals and the heart flow effortlessly.

All that being said, sometimes a little – or a lot – over the top is necessary. There is honestly nothing in the script that provides Nick Castillo (Kurt) and Henry Jester (Ram) with emotional levels for their characters. These characters are pure id, pure unlikeable, and pure comic relief. Castillo and Jester definitely deliver on all fronts. Their timing, chemistry, and comic delivery is up there with any of the great comedic duos. They also show off great physical comedy skills especially in their slow-motion fight scene and their final moments on stage. Equally delightful are the pairs’ fathers: Brian Ruff (Ram’s Dad) and Phil Hansel (Kurt’s Dad). “My Dead Gay Son” is a big, fabulous, hysterical number, and Ruff takes his moment voraciously. He has a natural presence and charm on stage that lights up this number.

Overall, the ensemble was solid. They were especially strong as a vocal ensemble with the harmonies often being noticeable and accurate when they joined as group. At times, the choreography was a little muddied, but overall enthusiasm and energy made up for any missed steps. Two standouts in the ensemble were Elias Courtney (Hipster/Officer McCord) and Lamar Leonard (Preppy/Officer Milner). Their bit as the officers was extremely well-delivered and memorable. Courtney also made an impression with several perfect one-liners throughout the show, and Leonard was especially memorable in his standout 80’s dance moves.

The final star of the show was the lighting design by Thomas Gardner. Different colors were used with great intentionality to highlight emotions and mood in different scenes. This was just another layer of the strong design and vision in this production. Tidewater Players’ Heathers is a well-constructed performance with lots of strong and realistic character portrayals. Whether you love the show or weren’t a fan before today, take a step back to being “Seventeen” and check out this production.

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

Heathers the Musical will play through March 3 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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Review: It’s “Loverly” at Spotlighters Theatre with Pygmalion

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

In this day and age, there’s no real distinction between how a woman should look and act and how a man should look and act, and there shouldn’t be, but some folks think so and they certainly did think so in the early 20th century. Not only the way one looks, but how one should act was also a product of the precise class distinction that went on around that same time. However, Spotlighters Theatre latest offering, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, Directed by Sherrione Brown, breaks down that comfortable way of thinking and presents us with a opposing view that a person can indeed make changes to oneself to be whatever he or she wants to be, without losing those qualities that make them unique. Written in 1912, it’s a period piece, but, deep down, has a message that is timeless.

(l-r) Phil Gallagher, Randy Dalmas, and Linae’ C. Bullock. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Now, I’m sure most of you are familiar with the smash Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady and all the catchy songs that go along with it including “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” but… it all started with this play right here. Pygmalion, in a nutshell, takes us back to 1912 England where a brash flower seller is taken on by the sometimes harsh Dr. Henry Higgins and the gentle, caring Colonel Pickering to see if Higgins can transform her from a “gutter rat” into a duchess by simply changing the way she speaks.

Spotlighters always manages to impress me with their Set Designs and what they do with their intimate space, however, in this instance, Set Design by Director Sherrione Brown is a bit uninspired, but it is simple and works with the piece. However, in a piece such as Pygmalion where there is supposed to be a distinctive contrast between the streets of London and the parlors of high society, there’s not much change as this production uses simple but appropriate set pieces (as is the fashion at Spotlighters). To present locales and Brown has selected pieces that do this nicely, but the usual ambiance that presents any particular production throughout the theatre and immerses the audience in the story just seems to be missing.

(l-r) Phil Gallagher and Randy Dalmas. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Set Design aside, Costume Design by Jenifer Grundy Hollett is splendid. She has managed to capture the time period and gives the main character, Eliza Doolittle a definite and precise change in look to show her transition. Her attention to detail is exquisite and she should be applauded for her efforts. I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention Hollett is also a performing ensemble member taking on the role of Mrs. Pearce, Henry Higgins level headed housekeeper and she is definitely a standout in this production. Though taking on a supporting role with limited stage time, she makes the most of her character and gives a strong, solid performance with a natural delivery of the dialogue that make her performance a joy to watch.

Sherrione Brown, who has taken the helm of this production really knows her stuff when it comes to this story. She has a strong comprehension of this material and her staging is smooth (with only a few clunky and lengthy scene changes) and the pacing of this two-and-a-half hour period piece is on point. She handles this well known story nicely and presents it in an easy-to-follow manner. She guides this production with an assured hand and seems to get the best performances from her ensemble. Kudos to Brown for her Direction of this production.

(l-r) Melissa McGinley as Mrs. Eynsford Hill and Caelyn Sommerville as Calra Eynsford Hill. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Speech and accent are a huge aspect of this story; after all, it’s what Higgins thinks makes the difference between a poor girl and a duchess. Though the performances, overall, in this production are poised and polished, the accents do fall a bit short. They’re there… I can hear them, but I don’t buy them. The ensemble is working hard and their efforts are not for naught, but when it comes to dialect work, they probably would have been well served with a bit more rehearsal. The traditional cockney accent is a beast so, unless there is a certain amount of time to master it, which is just about impossible during any rehearsal schedule for a show, there will always be flaws but, again, that’s not to say the performances weren’t good, because they certainly were in other aspects.

Carlo Olivi as Freddy Eynsford Hill. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

In the way of supporting characters, portraying the upper-crust Eynsford Hills are Melissa McGinley as Mrs. Eynsford Hill, Caelyn Sommerville as Clara, and Carlo Olivi as Freddy, then there’s Sarah Weissman who takes on various roles such as a parlormaid and elegant hostess. Weissman fills out the ensemble well but her performance is scripted and stiff at times. She understands why her characters are there, but seems to be going through the motions for most of the production. McGinley seems to understand her character as the mother of young adults but her performance falls a little flat. She’s a bit scripted making for an unnatural delivery, but she does portray the gentleness and dignity the character requires. Sommerville, as Clara, a young woman of high society, does a terrific job of emoting the snobby, spoiled, holier-than-though attitude with slivers of politeness, especially with other members of the upper class. Sommerville is comfortable in this role though her speech seems to be off as if she’s speaking in a voice higher than her own natural voice, but other than that very minor flaw, her performance is delightful. Olivi, as the young and in love Freddy shines in this role. His authentic portrayal of this lovelorn character is believable and it’s easy to see he’s giving 100% effort in his character. He looks the part, he acts the part, and he gives a fine, sophisticated performance. An honorable mention goes out to Don Lampasone, who, a little birdy tells me, stepped into various small roles two nights before opening and gives an impressive, authentic performance as a Taximan, a Constable, and a lower class comrade of Eliza Doolittle’s. Though he keeps his script cleverly hidden in a newspaper, that doesn’t hinder his abilities and he gives a praise-worthy performance and I’m quite sure that script will be out of his hands quickly. My hat off to you, Mr. Lampasone, for stepping in and stepping up.

Rich Espy as Alfred Doolittle. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Rich Espy takes on the character of the lazy, living-in-the moment Alfred P. Doolittle, who, at heart, is a con-man that reluctantly comes into some money and is forced into being respectable. Espy’s portrayal is charming, as this character is naturally charming, if not sketchy at times, and his take causes the audience to dislike him then because of his transition riles up sympathy so, with good writing and a good performance, Espy pulls this character off nicely.

Rounding out the ensemble, Hillary Mazer who takes on the role of Mrs. Higgins, Randy Dalmas tackles the loveable and kind Colonel Pickering, and Phil Gallagher portrays the no-nonsense, logical Henry Higgins. Mazer is believable in her role as a matriarch who does care about her son, who embarrasses her every chance he gets, but has no qualms in telling him so and her chemistry with Gallagher is spot on. She plays this role with a certain finesse that makes her a likeable character and makes for an enjoyable performance.

Phil Gallagher and Hillary Mazer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Randy Dalmas seems to embody this character of Colonel Pickering and the way he plays this role makes Pickering endearing from the start. His work with and off of Gallagher’s Higgins is wonderful and he gives a strong, confident performance throughout. Speaking of Gallagher, his portrayal of the crotchety, straight forward Henry Higgins is outstanding. He really captures the stuffiness of the character with that hint of caring that he tries so hard to hide. Henry Higgins is such a complex character, he’s easy to play to heavily stern and it’s the balance an actor needs to find within him that Gallagher does near flawlessly. His comedic timing is on point and his calm chemistry with Linae’ C. Bullock helps make his performance that much more superb.

Linae’ C. Bullock. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Finally, we have a highlight of this production, Linae’ C. Bullock, who takes on the challenging role of Miss Eliza Doolittle. I don’t mind saying Bullock is truly marvelous in this role. She impressively spits out the cockney, not necessarily perfectly, but near perfect and it makes the transition this character makes all the more believable. She has a good grasp of this character and her portrayal gets across the message I think this piece wants to send which is we may change on the outside but we’ll always be who we are on the inside. She gives a high-energy performance that balances out her more subdued portrayal later that is required of the character. She manages to get the audience invested in Eliza early on and we’re rooting for her throughout. She works very well with and off of Gallagher, who makes it easy with his performance, as well as with Dalmas, and the sincerity of her different relationships with both shine through. She’s certainly one to watch in this production.

Final thought… Pygmalion can be interpreted very different ways. On one hand, it’s a story of trying to change someone to better their station in life, in the other, it’s a story of what matters is on the inside and not the outside. Seeing as though it was written in 1912, it was probably the former, but the latter still rings true. It’s always challenging to produce a 100+ year old piece for a modern audience, but Spotlighters has managed to do it with finesse and charm. The production is simple when it comes to Set Design, but it just makes the performers work harder and they’ve certainly stepped up to the task. The production, as a whole, is polished and well put together from Costume Design, staging, and performance, it’s a delightful triste to a bygone era that teaches us you can take the girl out of [insert city/town/area name] but you can’t take the [insert city/town/area name] outta the girl! Definitely worth checking out!

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

Pygmalion will play through March 10 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

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