Fells Point Corner Theatre Connects with Love & Information

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

Love is an emotion and information is tangible but both have so much to do with each other. People are weird and things are important and that’s just how it is in this world we live in. Both love and information are acquired and expressed differently by everyone and Fells Point Corner Theatre attempts to address this in their latest offering, Love & Information by Caryl Churchill, Directed by Deidre McAllister and what we get is an abstract, frenetic presentation of those different processes.

Deirdre McAllister takes the helm of this production and the staging is on point dealing with at least 40 small vignettes, ranging from 30 seconds to a few minutes, but McAllister is on top of it. The theme of human dealings and interaction with electronics and technology is clear and, though it all seems jumbled, McAllister seems to have a grasp on the material and presents it in a solid presentation. Helping McAllister’s vision is a simple, minimal but effective Set Design by Michael Vincent of just solid light color walls and a few set pieces such as a table and some chairs. Though sparse, the design works well with the piece and the very different stories each vignette tells and Vincent is to be commended for his keep-it-simple design.

Lighting and Sound Design by David Crandall is spot on making for smooth transitions and engaging visuals. His use of local music from Horse Lords, adds to the charm of this piece and fits perfectly with the production as a whole. Adding to the rich technical aspect of this production is Projection Design by Chris Uehlinger, who has yet to disappoint, and his design works in tandem with Crandall’s design adding interesting levels and textures.

The cast of Love & Information. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

For the performance aspect of this production, I’d be amiss if I didn’t say this ensemble of nine performers is stellar and giving 100% effort. I may not like the material, but these well apt actors keep the piece engaging and entertaining.

To name a few, Willard Brewington III is splendid as “The Child Who Didn’t Feel Pain” and Caitlin Weaver impresses in the same short as well as “Memory House.” Nina Kearin shines as a cynical bystander discussing God with Jess Rivera, who plays a convincing messenger wanting to “spread the word of God.” Isaiah Mason Harvey is superb in his shorts and works well with the material and with his fellow cast mates making him one to watch. Along with the aforementioned, Carolyn Koch, Autumn Koehnlein, Megan Livingston, and Michael Makar round out this phenomenal cast and all give fantastic showings.

Final thought… Love & Information is a frenetic, intense piece that requires your utmost attention because if you blink, you might miss something and, though it’s not my cup of tea, the production itself is well put-together. Being so fast-paced, it seems a bit jumbled, at times, and the saving grace is that it is broken up into vignettes; some a few minutes, some no more than 30 seconds, and you get a lot of information (and love) thrown at you in 90 minutes. Overall, the performers are top notch and the staging is superb. Though I don’t like the material, I was certainly entertained and the performance is well worth checking out.

This is what I thought of this production of Love & Information at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

Love & Information will play through February 2 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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It’s a Spooky Christmas With A Christmas Carol at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission

We all know the story or have heard it (or at least bits and pieces of it) throughout our lives and it’s a good story and a staple for the holiday season. Of course I’m talking about Charles DickensA Christmas Carol, which, incidentally, I didn’t learn until recently is the story they sing about in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in the lyric “there’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories from Christmases long, long ago!” In Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s latest production, A Christmas Carol, Adapted by Ian Gallanar and Directed by Scott Alan Small, we’re taken back, once again, to Victorian England to learn a lesson of compassion, love, and the Christmas spirit (or spirits).

Gregory Burgess (Ebenezer Scrooge) and Michael Toperzer (The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come). Photo: Brandon W. Vernon

For those unfamiliar, and I can’t imagine it’s many, A Christmas Carol concerns itself with Ebenezer Scrooge, an old curmudgeon miser who wants nothing to do with Christmas until his old partner, Jacob Marley, who has passed on before him, comes to him carrying heavy chains made from his horrible actions while he was alive and  a warning that three ghosts will visit him, The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, to teach him what the season is all about. Marley warns him to change his ways or else he’ll end up with the same fate and even heavier chains.

Scenic Designer Daniel O’Brien keeps it simple with a unit set and pieces that move in and out to create the spaces in which each scene is set. Kudos to O’Brien for the attention to detail in the pieces and the dark, Gothic color scheme that is most appropriate to the period. The set adds great value to the production, as a whole, and helps move the story along rather than hinder it and O’Brien is to be commended for his efforts.

Costumes are challenging for a period piece, even for a professional theatre company, but Costume Designer Kristina Lambdin and Hair, Wig, and Makeup Designer Sandra Spence are on point with every stitch and curl. No detail was too small and Lambdin and Spence transport the audience right back to Victorian England with their superb designs and they deserve their own round of applause for their work on this production.

Tamieka Chavis and Gregory Michael Atkin. Photo: Brandon W. Vernon

Some would consider this production a musical because of all the music provided pre-show, in-show, and pre-Act II, but I can’t help but think it more of a play with music. That being said, Music Direction by Grace Srinivasan is exquisite. Every song that was chosen is apropos and she guides her cast in to tight, harmonious performances that add that something extra special to this production. I couldn’t mention music without mentioning Donna Korn, credited as Musician, and she is phenomenal in her craft, though other very apt cast members join her in accompanying the cast in their songs, Korn takes the lead playing several instruments throughout, flawlessly. Hats off to Korn for her strong, delightful showing.

Along with music, Dance usually isn’t far behind and Choreographer Nellie K. Glover gives us engaging and enjoyable choreography that is in the style of Victorian England, so it’s clear she’s done her homework. Intricate group numbers are upbeat, sophisticated, and tight and are just a joy to watch from the audience.

Scott Alan Small takes the helm of this piece and it’s clear he has a tight grasp on the classic, well-known story from a bygone era. He puts his own seasoning on this yearly production and his staging is smooth, keeping up a steady pace that moves along nicely. Most, not all, know the story coming in, so Small isn’t trying to rewrite the story, but presents it in a charming manner rebooting the relatable characters, making them fit into his vision. Hats off to Small for a job well done.

Gregory Burgess and Bethany Mayo. Photo: Brandon W. Vernon

Moving to the performance aspect of the production, the adage that comes to mind is “you win some, you lose some.” Most of the performances are splendid with an apt ensemble that is giving 100% effort and thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage and with each other which makes the overall performance enjoyable.

One interesting performance, to be delicate, is that of Company Member Gregory Michael Atkin who takes on the dual role of Fezziwig, Scrooge’s former and jovial employer, and The Ghost of Christmas Present. Now, I’m all for camp and I usually enjoy it immensely, however, Atkin’s style of camp just stuck out like a sore thumb in this production. I can see what he and/or Director Scott Alan Small is going for, bringing a modern twist to an old story, but Atkin just seems to go over the top repeatedly. Seeing him portray both roles with no real contrast between the two, it’s just as if he’s disregarded the characters themselves with no real character work. The flamboyance, the overt sass, and needless ad lib is a bit too much for this reviewer, but, hey, everyone’s a critic, right?

Xander Martin and Steve Torres. Photo: Brandon W. Vernon

On the other end of the scale, however, there are many highlights and standout performances in this production. To mention a few, Tamieka Chavis is absolutely delightful and authentic as Mrs. Fezziwig, among other characters. Her portrayal of this bubbly character just makes you smile from the moment she steps on stage and she has a certain presence and air that is second to none. I’m looking forward to seeing more stage work from her. Also, Steve Torres gives a good showing as the meek but caring Bob Cratchit giving a lovely performance with a natural delivery and purpose, showing he has a good grasp on this character. Along side Torres, Molly Moores as Mrs. Cratchit (and a shining moment as Scrooge’s old teacher, Miss Winthrop), and all the Cratchit children, especially young Temperance Oppel, are charming as the down and out but still loving Cratchit family.

Other mentionable performances come from Michael Toperzer who takes on the role of the ever optimistic, only living relative of Ebenezer Scrooge, Fred. Toperzer gives a strong, confident performance and works well with his castmates, especially in scenes with Fred’s close friends, including Kate Forton who gives a humorous and warm presentation as Caroline, a tipsy and fun-loving young woman.

Bethany Mayo, as the Ghost of Christmas Past gives an admirable performance, if not a little stiff, at times, but walking around lit up like a Christmas tree (though an beautiful and elegant Christmas tree) can be a little distracting for anyone.

Scrooge himself is portrayed, once again, by Gregory Burgess and this performer seems to completely embody this character. After playing a role repeatedly for several years, one would think it would get stale, but if it is, you won’t know it watching Burgess as he masterfully navigates through the story with a confident and consistent performance that brings Ebenezer Scrooge right off the page and into the real world. His dedication and character work is clear and he has a deep comprehension of this character making for a near flawless showing. Kudos to Burgess for his efforts and hard work.

Gregory Burgess and Lance Bankerd. Photo: Brandon W. Vernon

A standout in this particular production is undoubtedly Lance Bankderd, tackling the role of Jacob Marley. Bankerd has this role down pat and from his facial expressions to the spooky character voice he uses, his stage movement – everything is superb. He brings this small, but significant character to life and is in your face with no bones about it. He has a tight grasp on what the purpose of this character is and what this character is saying, which makes his performance impeccable all around. I can say, arguably, his performance is almost worth the price of admission and you don’t want to miss it.

Final thought… A Christmas Carol is always a good bet around the holidays, albeit a common one. This script is part of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s annual holiday tradition and it suits them well. Every production is different and I actually saw one a couple of years ago and this current one happens to be much more entertaining and engaging so, it’s an evolving production with a revolving cast and different directors so, it doesn’t get stale. There are a few curious acting choices in this production, but overall, it’s a fun-filled, loving telling off the Dickens’ classic. The production is well put-together and polished and keeps it simple which is how it should be. Kudos to the cast, crew, and production team for a solid, entertaining production.

A Christmas Carol will play through December 24 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-244-8570 or you can purchase them online.

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Travel Can Be Murder with Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Murder mysteries pop up daily in hamlets all over the world in community theatres, church theatres, and small theatres and audiences can’t seem to get enough of them. It’s always pleasant to see when a professional theatre takes on the challenge of a classic and well-known piece and adds the polish it deserves. Everyman Theatre has done just this with their latest offering of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Adapted by Ken Ludwig, and Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi.

For those who may not know, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express concerns itself with a murder, of course, of an American tycoon and nine potential suspects on a luxury train with the world-famous Detective Hercule Poirot, who is on this particular passage by chance, to solve the case before the murderer can strike again.

Bruce Randolph Nelson (Detective Poirot), Danny Gavigan (Samuel Rachett), Deborah Hazlett (Helen Hubbard). Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

The technical aspect of this production is a tour-de-force for Everyman Theatre. Now, I have yet to be disappointed by any Set Design from this company and Daniel Ettinger always impresses, but this design is A+ top notch. Transforming from a small, elegant café to the Orient Express itself with sliding walls and set pieces takes this production to the hilt of good design. The art deco detail is remarkable, and the dark color scheme adds to the tension and mood of the entire piece. Ettinger is to be commended for his brilliant efforts for this production. In the same vein, Sound Design and Original Music by Pornchanok Kanchanabanca is just as inspiring, transporting the audience into the story with a period score and sound effects that blend in and enhance the production rather then take away from it. Kudos to Kanchanabanca, as well, for an exquisite design and score.

Period pieces are a challenge in themselves, but costuming a period piece takes a champ and Costume Design by David Burdick with Wig Design by Anne Nesmith is not only stunning but authentic, placing these actors in the time accurately and with exquisite detail. Hats off to Burdick and Nesmith for their superb designs.

The Cast of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

Vincent M. Lancisi, Founder and Artistic Director, takes the helm of this piece and he knocks it out of the park with a well-staged production that has great pacing, and a clear understanding of the material. Scene transitions are smooth (with help from Daniel Ettinger’s Set Design), and the character work is excellent. Agatha Christie’s work is, of course, well-known but this title is definitely one of her most well-known works but Lancisi has stepped up to the challenge and presents this story in a tight, polished production that makes for a thrilling night of theatre.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece Danny Gavigan gives a marvelous performance as Colonel Arbuthnot while doubling as Samuel Ratchett, though the contrast in appearance was nothing more than a wig and clothes, but still enough to be believable and he has a good grasp of both characters. He has a good chemistry with Hannah Kelly as Mary Debenham, and Kelly gives a charming, strong performance as a young woman who is both independent and wants to love and be loved at the same time. Kudos to both Gavigan and Kelly for solid, confident performances.

Taking on the role of the young, beautiful, and confident Countess Andrenyi is Lilian Oben. Though Oben’s delivery is a bit off, due to a curious accent she’s attempting, her character work is splendid and she seems to have a tight grasp on her character making for a robust and enjoyable performance, overall.

Bruce Randolph Nelson (Detective Poirot), Lilian Oben (Countess Andrenyi), Jefferson A. Russell (Monsieur Bouc). Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

Not all characters are guests on the Orient Express and taking on the roles of Monsieur Bouc, a type of executive for the company that owns the train is Jefferson A. Russell while M. Scott McLean takes on the role of Michel, the conductor, and doubling as the humorous Head Waiter. Both Russell and McLean have a comedic responsibility in this production and both pull it off beautifully with flawless timing and delivery. Even in the intense bits of this story, Russell manages to bring levity with his character and it’s worth mentioning the small, but hilarious run McLean has as the Head Waiter in the beginning of the story in which he embodies this snooty character who gets his comeuppance in the end.

Helen Hedman (Princess Dragomiroff), Beth Hylton (Greta Ohlsson). Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

Helen Hedman as Princess Dragomiroff, a set-in-her-ways curmudgeon Russian Princess who gives Poirot the run-around, and Beth Hylton as Greta Ohlsson, a delicate, but steadfast woman who isn’t really cut out for murder, or seems not to be anyway, have a good rapport and work well off of and with each other. Hedman takes on this role with gusto and embodies this character giving her just the right amount of slyness and secretiveness that is required while Hylton does not disappoint with her portrayal of Greta. Hylton has a good comprehension of this complex character and plays her with a fine balance of sensitivity and boldness that makes her interesting. Hedman and Hylton are to be commended for their efforts in their performances.

Highlights in this particular production are Tony Nam as Hector MacQueen, the personal secretary and Guy Friday of Rachett, and Deborah Hazlett as Helen Hubbard, an obnoxious, rambunctious American on holiday. Nam knows his character and plays him with purpose and confidence giving a sensational performance and blending an air of self-assuredness and delicacy in his character. Hazlett, too, knows her character through and through and plays her brilliantly with a sass and slight darkness that is absolutely appropriate. Hazlett is a calculated whirlwind portrayal and gives a top-notch performance. Both give strong, confident, and authentic performances making them the highlights of this production.

Bruce Randolph Nelson as Hercule Poirot. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

The standout in this production is, hands-down, Bruce Randolph Nelson as Hercule Poirot. Detective Poirot is the pivotal character in this piece and Nelson knows him inside and out. With the perfect balance of drama and comedy, Nelson makes Poirot, a quite fussy man, likeable and engaging at once. He plays the character with a no-nonsense but compassionate attitude that shines through in his stage movement and his delivery, of which he has a deep understanding. Nelson’s performance is not one you want to miss this season. Kudos to him for a job quite well done.

Final thought… Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a classic Agatha Christie story that will hold up through the ages. Murder and mystery are two topics that we, as humans, are fascinated by, whether we like to admit it or not. If it weren’t the O.J. Simpson case wouldn’t have gotten ten minutes of air time! But Agatha Christie has this genre down to a science and Ken Ludwig’s adaptation doesn’t stray to far from it making for successful material. The performances were strong, the staging was smooth and engaging, and, overall, it’s a polished, well put-together production. Technically, this production takes the cake and Set Design is top notch, worth the price of admission. This is a great addition to Everyman’s season and it’ll be a mystery to me if you don’t get your tickets ASAP.

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express will play through January 11 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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Baltimore Center Stage Traverses the Waters with Men on Boats

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Some could argue that adventure is in our nature. We want to know what’s around the bend and some even see it as a duty. Years after we became an independent nation, there were still many areas of this vast land that were uncharted but a handful of brave people decided it needed to be done. One of those stories is told in Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus, Directed by Jenny Koons. It’s a story of aforementioned adventure, the unknown, fighting spirits, and history that is told and sometimes skewed as the years go by.

In a nutshell, Men on Boats covers the Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869 where expedition leader Major John Wesley Powell, under the direction of the U.S. government, was to chart the Green and Colorado Rivers and was the first time anyone besides Native Americans traversed the entirety of the Grand Canyon. Through many trials and tribulations, the expedition was a success and settled into American history. Men on Boats is unique that there’s not one male to be seen and told with a humorous lean.

Scenic Design by Stephanie Osin Cohen is more of an insinuation and it works beautifully for this piece. Cohen uses a huge, beautifully painted backdrop of a canyon that transports the audience to the natural wonder and glory in which this story takes place and the use of simple but effective props and set pieces helps tell the story and keep it moving along. Just as with the Scenic Design, Lighting Design by Stacey Derosier and Sound Design by Elisheba Ittoop work in tandem to set the moods of each scene and the attention to detail from both Derosier and Ittoop transforms the space into the isolated, uncharted area and puts the audience smack-dab in the middle of it all. Kudos to all, Cohen, Derosier, and Ittoop for their splendid efforts for this production.

Hahnji Jang’s Costume Design is on point and adds authenticity to this humorous but true story. Each character has his (her) own individual style, but when all together, fits into a smooth and wonderful design.

Taking the helm of this production is Director Jenny Koons, who clearly has a deep comprehension of this material and has presented a polished production that is to be commended. Her staging is near flawless and the pacing is spot on, especially in the action bits where the group of adventurers are bravely forging the uncharted waters. The challenge of having women represent men may not be as challenging as it was in the past, but there’s still a certain challenge and Koons has stepped up to the plate and knocks it out of the park. With her guidance and understanding of the text, she presents this story with a seriousness that enhances the humor that’s weaved throughout making for a charming and enlightening evening of theatre. Koons should be applauded for her work on this production.

As for the performance aspect of this production, this entire ensemble brings this story to life with dedication and 100% effort making for a clean, polished production. They all have a tight grasp on their characters and make them their own with authentic portrayals and natural delivery. They all make the intense physicality of the staging seem effortless and all should be applauded and commended for their work on this production. Kai Heath as Hall, the group’s main cartographer with an air of optimism, and Sara Porkalob as Hawkins, the crew’s curmudgeon but caring cook, bring much of the humor with their curmudgeon but faithful, caring characters. Their comedic timing is splendid and they have a great chemistry between them for being such contrasting characters and both have a strong presence on stage making for delightful performances.

Bringing a certain wisdom, Haruna Lee as the reserved but observant Old Shady interjects with quips and song the keep the group moving forward and Lee seems to embody this character and makes him likable even though he doesn’t say much. She gives off a strong, silent type vibe and works perfectly for this role. Patrena Murray as John Colton Sumner, a brave and able adventurer who brings his own brand of wisdom, shines in this role. She plays him in a way that easily shows both his hardened personality as well as his gentler, kind side and Murray is to be applauded for her authentic portrayal. Elena Urdaneta takes on the role of Bradley, the youngest and most wide-eyed of the adventurers, and her performance is both charming and inspiring. She understands her character’s objectives and moves forward through the performance with purpose. Urdaneta’s portrayal puts you in Bradley’s corner from the start and, overall, she gives a strong, confident performance.

Ceci Fernandez as John Wesley Powell, the confident and optimistic leader of this expedition, and though her portrayal has a tendency to go over the top, at times, Fernandez has a tight grasp on what this man is about. Aside from the camp, which she is good at, she plays Powell with a balance of sincerity and comedy, that enhances the story and keeps it interesting and she should be commended for her efforts. In the same vein, Jessica Ranville tackles the role of William Dunn, the more practical and skeptical crew member who loses faith in the expedition that causes rifts. Ranville knows this character and understands the material well making for a praise-worthy performance overall. Her chemistry with the ensemble is top-notch and moves the action and story along nicely. Along with Powell, Dunn seems to be the heart of this expedition and both Fernandez and Ranville clearly understand this and should be applauded for their strong, solid performances.

Highlights of this production are Keren Lugo as O.G. Howland/Tsauwiat and Eileen Rivera as Seneca Howland/The Bishop. As the Howland brothers, these two are seemingly the antagonists of the story, but there’s a certain quality Lugo and Rivera put into these characters that bring out their considerate and caring sides. The chemistry with each other and their cast mates is spot on and they have a great understanding of the characters they are portraying. They are absolutely hilarious in their portrayal of the chill, level-headed Native Americans who help the adventurers along. The dialogue is funny enough, but their delivery and on point comedic timing had me laughing out-loud making for a delightful performance from both. Kudos to Lugo and Rivera for robust and confident performances, overall.

A standout in this production is Natalie Woolams-Torres as Frank Goodman/Mr. Asa. As one of the funnier characters in this piece, Woolams-Torres plays Frank Goodman brilliantly. Her grasp of the text and the comedy of this role is clear and her portrayal and timing is near flawless. What makes her a standout is the authenticity she brings to the role with a natural delivery of the text and understanding of the character. Hats off to Woolams-Torres for a superb performance.

Final thought… Men on Boats is fun look at a very real event in history and told from a very unique point of view. As with any theatrical telling (or any telling from anyone who doesn’t have first-hand experience), who knows what really happened on the Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869, but you don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy yourself with this production. With an apt ensemble comprised of all female performers taking on the roles of men it takes a minute to adjust you quickly get pulled into the story because of the talent and efforts of these fine performers. There are bits of hoke but it’s balanced with points of poignancy that makes for a delightful evening of theatre. From the Set Design, to Costume Design, to performance, this is a well put-together, polished production that settles nicely in Baltimore Center Stage’s season and one you won’t want to miss.

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

Men on Boats will play through December 22 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.

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Little Women Makes a Big Splash at Strand Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

(l-r) Surasree Das, Kay-Megan Washington, Elizabeth Ung, Katharine Vary, and Anabel Milton. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

The bond between sisters is a strong one that is not easily severed if at all possible. In Strand Theatre’s latest offering, Little Women adapted and Directed by Erin Riley, based on the novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott, this sentiment couldn’t be more true and it’s a production you won’t want to miss.

In a nutshell, if you are unfamiliar with the story of Little Women, it concerns itself with the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, and their loving mother, affectionately known as Marmee, and their next door neigbors. Through the years, each March sister finds her own way and in Riley’s adaptation, from sister Jo’s point of view, we see the effects each life has on the others. Reiley’s choice of having Jo March’s tell the story, her story, helps move the story along smoothly and keeps the audience engaged from beginning to end.

Surasree Das and Kathryn Falcone. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

With a brilliant Set Design by Laurie Brandon, the audience is placed smack dab in the middle of the story in the Victorian era. Strand Theatre never ceases to amaze me with what they can do with their space and Brandon’s design is no different. A splendid and detailed Costume Design from Amy Rawe Weimer completes the setting beautifully and the to designs work in tandem to transport the audience into the lives of these women easily. Kudos to Brandon and Weimer for their efforts on this production.

Erin Reily also takes the helm of this production with help from Assistant Director Ruta Douglas-Smith. Their staging is top notch and the pacing is on point. The character work makes each character an individual and their grasp and comprehension of this material is clear. The dialogue and scenes are easy to follow and smoothly played out. It’s easy to see the love Reily and Douglas-Smith have for this story and their presentation is spot on. Both should be commended for their work.

(l-r) Kathryn Falcone, Kay-Megan Washington, Surasree Das, Anabel Milton, Katharine Vary, and Elizabeth Ung. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

I can confidently say this is one of the tightest and dedicated casts I have come across this season and each pulls his or her own weight making for a charming production, as a whole.

The ensemble is led by Surasree Das, as Jo March, and she hits the groung running, embodying this character with ease. Her natural portrayal of this strong-minded young woman is superb and pulls the audience in and has you rooting for her throughout. She has a deep understanding of this character and gives a solid, confident performance.

In the same vein, her sisters, Meg, Beth, and Amy, played by Elizabeth Ung, Katharine Vary, and Anabel Milton, are equally excellent in their portrayals and the chemistry between these women is natural and strong. Ung plays the older sister Meg with a gentleness that captures your heart while Vary shines as the fragile Beth while Milton, in contrast, is brash and confident as the youngest sister Amy. All together, they form a formidable troupe that makes one stand up and take notice.

Bill Brekke and JC Payne. Photo: Shaelyn Jae Photography

Joining the March women are Kay-Megan Washington as Marmee and Kathryn Falcone as Aunt March and Hannah (Falcone also tackles Hair Design and Styling and it is absolute brilliant). These women give strong, confident performances and are standouts in this particular telling. Washington portrays the matriarch of this family effortlessly and seems to have a great understanding of this character who is just trying to keep things together during times of strife. Falcone, in the same vein, is simply amazing in her portrayal of the old, crotchety Aunt March in both manner and delivery and the contrast in her portrayal of the loving and sweet Hannah, the March’s maid, is flawless. Hats off to Washington and Falcone for their beautiful, dedicated, and strong performances.

Alexander Scally and Elizabeth Ung. Photo: Shaelyn Jae Photography

The male characters in this story, Mr. March, Mr. Laurence, Laurie, Brooke, and Bhare are taken on marvelously by Bill Brekke, JC Payne, and Alexander Scally, with Brekke and Scally taking on dual roles. Bill Brekke is believable enough as Mr. March and Mr. Laurence but at times seems a little stiff and scripted, but his chemistry with his cast mates is top notch and he holds his own. JC Payne as the young, energetic, fun Laurie, knows his way around the stage and gives a wonderful, seamless portrayal as his character grows from childish young man to responsible adult. Scally, too, shines in his portrayal of Brooke, family friend and tutor who finds his way into the heart of the eldest March sister. He plays Brooke with a nice balance of straight-forwardness and gentleness that makes for a superb performance and his contrast in playing Bahre, a seemingly rough and gruff German professor, is spot on making for an impressive performance overall. In short, Brekke, Payne, and Scally should be applauded and commended for their efforts and work on this production.

Final thought… Little Women is a tour-de-force for Strand Theatre and is a beautiful adaptation of Lousia May Alcott’s classic that pulls it nicely into the 21st century. The script is splendidly put together, the staging is on point, and the performances are top notch. All should be commended for their efforts on this production and you don’t want to miss this production this season. Get your tickets now because they will probably be hard to come by the longer you wait.

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

 Little Women will play through December 22 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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Fells Point Corner Theatre Rises with She Stoops to Conquer

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

In today’s climate, the empowerment of women is of the utmost importance (along with the empowerment of many other under-represented communities), but we mustn’t forget that folks have been talking and writing about this sort of thing for centuries. In Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest offering, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, Directed by Lance Bankerd and Barbara Madison Hauck, we are reminded of the struggles and ingenuity of woman through the ages.

Briefly, in She Stoops to Conquer, Mr. Hardcastle wishes for his daughter, Kate, to marry Sir Charles Marlow, a shy but attractive young man. Marlow and his friend Hastings travel from London, but are tricked by Tony Lumpkin, Hardcastle’s step-son, that Hardcastle’s home is an inn. Hastings is involved with Constance, who is being pushed by her aunt, Mrs. Hardcastle to marry Tony, whom she is not keen on. While thinking Hardcastle’s home is an inn, Marlow and Hastings behave badly, but when Marlow meets Kate, he is shy and awkward. Kate disguises herself as a barmaid to see how Marlow really acts and he’s the complete opposite. When he learns her true identity, he is embarrassed. Eventually, after some slapstick and farce, the confusion is cleared up with a happy ending. Make sense?

I didn’t know much about this piece aside from recognizing the title, but have come to the conclusion it’s not my cup of tea, so to speak. The attempts to update this piece seem only to do with costuming which didn’t make much sense, at best. I wasn’t sure where Costume Designer Rache Austin was trying to go. It was a mix between 80s punk, 70s glam, and a dash of the Roaring 20s that was all over the place. The bold colors are nice to look at, and, in general, it’s a creative, bold, and consistent design, but since the dialogue stays pretty much in tack, this particular design doesn’t seem beneficial to the piece as a whole. It’s not a bad design (and I can tell Austin knows the craft well) just a bit ill-fitting for this production.

Set Design by David Shoemaker is spot on and he is to be commended for his use of the space. Being a farce, multiple entrances and exits are required and Shoemaker has managed to give us as many as we needed, no more, no less, and his base design helps move the piece along nicely adding and subtracting appropriate set pieces, when needed. Kudos to Shoemaker for a well thought out design.

Ari Juno and Corey Hennessey. Photo: Shaelyn Jae Photography

Taking the helm of this production are veteran Director Lance Bankerd and novice Director Barbara Madison Hauck. Now, Directing a period piece can be a challenge and updating a piece can be even more of a challenge and must be handled delicately. Overall, this production is a good production and everyone involved is giving 100% effort, but, with that said, it doesn’t seem to live up to its full potential. The staging is suitable and the pacing is on point, but the characters aren’t always fleshed out and believable, on the whole, save a few. Technically, Bankerd and Hauck do give a phenomenal showing with tight staging, but the character work is lacking. It seems these actors are simply reciting the dialogue without knowing exactly what it means. This could be an actor problem, but in the end, the Director(s) should be watching closely and guiding these actors. Regardless of these criticisms, the production value is terrific and Bankerd and Hauck should be proud of their efforts and they should be commended for tackling such a challenging piece and Hauck is to be applauded for her Directorial debut. I’m looking forward to seeing more from both of these fine Directors.

Moving on to the performance aspect, as stated, the entire ensemble gives a valiant and concerted effort and all are to be commended for their commitment to their roles. Gareth Kelly, Ari Juno, Christian O’Neill, and Thomas Peter work well in their supporting roles and help move the action along nicely with impeccable comedic timing and understanding of the quick entrances and exits of farce. They all work well with and off of each other and it’s easy to see they are enjoying every minute. All are to be commended for their work on this production.

Corey Hennnessey takes on the role of the impish, childish Tony Lumpkin who starts all the trouble with his mischief and though Hennessey has a tight grasp on his character, he plays him a little too nonchalantly with grand gestures and flamboyancy that, at times, can be a bit much for the intimate space. That being said, he does have a great presence on the stage and is absolutely dedicated to this role giving a strong, confident showing.

Elizabeth Norman tackles the role of the strong-willed, intelligent Kate Hardcastle and though she seems to understand the character, in her delivery of the dialogue, I must admit I’m not convinced she has a tight grasp of the text. Much of her performance seems to be simply reciting the text rather than a full understanding of what she’s saying and the connection and authenticity is lost. However, she does have a solid presence and is confident on stage making for a delightful performance.

Taking on the role of Constance, a ward of the Hardcastle’s who doesn’t seem to have say in what happens in her life, is Hannah Folger and she portrays this character beautifully. Her delivery is natural, and her comprehension of this character is clear. Folger knows her way around the stage and is comfortable in this role making for a robust and charming performance.

Elizabeth Norman and Ian Charles. Photo: Shaelyn Jae Photography

A couple of highlights in this production are Richard Peck and Lindsey Schott as Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle and these two actors shine in these roles. Peck plays Mr. Hardcastle as the straight man in this piece and he plays him seriously enough that it enhances the comedy and his chemistry with his cast mates is impeccable. He knows this character and plays him splendidly with subtle but spot on reactions and mannerisms. In the same vein, Schott is hilarious as Mrs. Hardcastle, a woman who is trying to stay on top of things and in control. She takes the role and makes it her own and balances Mrs. Hardcastle’s deviousness and tenderness nicely. Schott knows this character well and gives a durable and entertaining performance, overall.

The standouts in this production are, hands down, Albert Lolu Collins as George Hastings and Ian Charles as Young Marlow. From the moment these two step onto the stage, it’s clear they are believable and committed to their roles. Collins is a bit hard to understand at times in his British accent, but he plays this character in a way that makes him likable from the start, and his understanding of his character, his presence and assurance makes for a strong performance.

Ian Charles is exquisite in his portrayal of Young Marlow and he is to be applauded for his efforts. His comprehension of the role, comedy, and farce are spot on and he seems to embody this character. He does quite well with the staging and every movement has purpose and that, in tandem with a natural, easy delivery of the dialogue make for an outstanding performance.

Final thought… She Stoops to Conquer is a piece of theatre that should be experienced by all theater makers and lovers at one time or another. I’m glad I’ve finally been able to experience it myself and the story is well put together. For being over 200 years old, it still makes a point and holds its own. This particular production has its flaws, but, overall, is a tight production with a dedicated cast and production team. The language (or use of language) may be unfamiliar at first, but still easy to follow if you pay attention. This is an important show that seemed to be ahead of its time concerning women empowerment, but it’s still relevant and makes sense for today’s audience. Through comedy and farce, this piece shows that, after 200 years, some things never change. If you want a fun, delightful evening of theatre, you’ll want to check out She Stoops to Conquer at Fells Point Corner Theatre.

This is what I thought of this production of She Stoops to Conquer at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

She Stoops to Conquer will play through December 15 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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Lizzie Borden Took an Axe in Lizzie: The Musical at Guerrilla Theatre Front

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

Picture it: Fall River, MA, August of 1892. Most say, “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.” We’ve all heard it at one point in our lives and when we got older, we may have delved more into the story. Along with writing reviews for theatre, and participating in theatre in most of my free time, I am an admitted and proud true-crime junkie, and the story of Lizzie Borden up there with the handful of stories and events I (and many others) cannot get enough of. My head exploded a little (in a good way) when I heard the Lizzie Borden story had been turned into a musical, and not just a regular musical, but a rock opera with a modern twist and I was even more ecstatic when I was invited to a performance from Guerrilla Theatre Front earlier this month. Directed by Greg Bell, with Music Direction by Megann Baldwin, Lizzie: The Musical, is an instant hit and one show you need to put on your calendar.

The Cast of Lizzie: The Musical. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Set Design by Aaron Elson is nothing short of perfection. His design incorporates the space at Creative Labs (which one might call a warehouse basement, if that’s a thing), and it blends in so naturally with its surroundings. The raw material look of the entire set sets the mood the moment the audience walks in and the grunge works wonderfully with the production as a whole. Kudos to Elson for his creative design.

Amy Bell, Marie Bankerd, and Maggie Flannigan’s Costume Design is on point in bringing this 100+ year old story to life as well as dragging it into the 21st century. It’s a kind of “Modern Victorian,” if you will with corsets and lacy gloves, high-top boots, and floor-length dresses, all in dark and dank colors that set the mood of this grizzly but infatuating tale. The wardrobe choices for this production are suited nicely to the cast and they seem comfortable and confident in every garment making this a truly successful design from Bell, Bankerd, and Flannigan.

Lighting Design by Jim Shomo and Sound Design by Charles Hirsch work in tandem to create the feel for the entire production… ROCK. The intense light show puts you in a legit rock concert and the audience is encouraged to dance around, cheer, and whatever else mood takes them! Shomo seems to have a good grasp on this material and has created a design that fits in perfectly with strobe effects, flashes of light, blackouts when necessary and it’s easy to see he’s no stranger to this Lighting Design game. Hirsch had some challenges to deal with, including a non-traditional space, but he seems to have overcome the challenge and given us a good design, overall. Both Shomo and Hirsch are to be commended and applauded for their efforts on this production.

The Cast of Lizzie: The Musical. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Blending in perfectly with the lights and sound, but also making a splash are the Projections by Christopher Uehlinger. His choices were impeccable and fit in with ever scene. The split screen and background projections kept the action moving onstage, but didn’t hinder it or get in the way. More and more projections are being used in theatrical productions and Uehlinger seems to be ahead of the game and I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work in other productions in the area and beyond.

Music Direction by Megann Baldwin is top notch with a top notch pit orchestra to boot! Her comprehension of this score translates beautifully to her cast and the melodies and harmonies soar throughout the theatre. The heavy rock style is not lost on Baldwin, either, as she navigates through this non-traditional musical with ease like a light in the darkness.

JacQuan Knox as Alice. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Greg Bell takes the helm of this production and his Direction of this piece exemplifies his grasp not only on this story, but the style of the piece, and his work is spot on. His staging is simple, but effective and his casting is just about perfect. His vision is presented clearly and the mix of rock concert and traditional theatre mesh effortlessly making for a fresh, engaging production that will have you interested from beginning to end. Bell is to be commended for his impeccable work on this production.

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, this quartet is nothing to mess with, Each and every lady in this cast has come ready to smash it with their A-game and that just adds to the beauty of this production. Not only do they smash it musically, they each seem to have a tight grasp on their respective character and play them to the hilt.

Caitlin Weaver as Emma. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

JacQuan Knox as Alice, the reserved friend and secret lover of Lizzie, is a joy to watch and with her honeyed vocals that seemed to be reserved until she let it all out with bursts of intensity that drove the song and sentiment home. This character, Alice, seems to be the one who has the steadiest grasp on real life and Knox portrays that authentically and confidently.

Caitlin Weaver, as Emma, the elder Borden sister, is a highlight in this piece as she navigates her way through this crazy story and she does it with a great confidence and presence that does not falter throughout. Every time she stepped onto the stage, she had a mission and accomplished it through her passionate portrayal of this character. Vocally, Weaver knocks it out of the park, especially in featured numbers such as “Sweet Little Sister.”

Parker Bailey Steven as Lizzie. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

In the titiular role of Lizzie, Parker Bailey Steven is a powerhouse and left me wanting more. She effortlessly transitions from the shy, awkward young lady of domineering parental figures to a strong, confident woman with just a look, a gesture, and voice inflection. Her take on the infamous, complex Lizzie Borden is not a performance to be missed and she pulls it off with ease. With a hint of Stevie Nicks mixed with Janis Joplin, and Ann Wilson, Parker Bailey Steven effortlessly rocks the stage and makes this part her own.

The standout, however, in this production is Siobhan Beckett as Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan, the sulky, scheming maid of the Borden household and sometimes narrator. I can’t say enough of about how much life Beckett gave me in her portrayal of this character. The character was spot on and she seems to embody this sly character with natural delivery of dialogue and movement and gesturing that has purpose. Vocally this woman can wail and makes the audience stand up and take notice. Her pure, distinct voice resonates throughout the space and gave me chills at points (which is not small feat). She takes this part, chews it up, spits it out, and gives a strong, heartfelt performance that sticks with you long after the show is over.

Siohhan Beckett as Bridget Sullivan. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Final thought…  Lizzie: The Musical is a high-energy, modern, engaging success that looks at one of the most enthralling true-crime events in this country’s history. Pulled right into the 21st century with rocking, in-your-face music, this isn’t your run of the mill musical theatre experience but it is an experience you do not want to miss, especially if you like your music loud and hard. With wailing actresses reminiscent of the Wilson sisters (Heart), Grace Slick, and Stevie Nicks, who will melt your face with their amazing vocals, staging that keeps you in the story, and a score that tells the story well with a modern twist, this is the show to see. Do yourself a favor and get out to see this show. You won’t regret it in the least and will leave thoroughly satisfied.

This is what I thought of Guerrilla Theatre Front’s Lizzie: The Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Lizzie: The Musical will play through October 25 (8pm & 11pm) and Oct 26 (8pm & 11pm) at Guerrilla Theatre Front, at Creative Labs, 1786 B Union Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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Go Go Go Just Off Broadway with Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

By Kara M. Bauer

Approx. Running Time: 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

*DISCLAIMERPlease note, one or more persons directly involved in this production are members of the staff of Backstage Baltimore. This individual or persons directly involved with the production did not write or participate in writing this review. The only editing performed on this piece was for grammar, punctuation, and organization. No content editing (adding, changing, or omitting words) were completed without the expressed permission of the author.*

In all my years in theatre I have seen countless theatre companies produce Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I myself have been involved in numerous productions of Joseph and each time I am amazed at the creativity that directors and actors bring to the stage. Each production that I have seen and  been a part of has attempted to spruce up the familiar tunes, scenes, and characters, usually without success. Fortunately for us, Just Off Broadway’s production, Directed by Tammy Oppel, with Music Direction by Patty Delisle and Choreography by Katie Gerstmyer, brought something new that I have never seen before.

When you attend the show, I encourage you to spot the absolutely hilarious props! See if you can find the cheeseburger beret and the razor scooter. The creative team really came together and provided the Baltimore theatre scene with a great production of Joseph. That being said, no show will ever be perfect– as a professional theatre teacher and director I know this. All we can do is ask that the actors put their everything into a role and hope that it works out. Despite some minor criticism, I would consider this production a success. This is definitely a production that you would not want to miss.

The moment I walked into the theatre, something felt different. I’ve been to several productions at Just Off Broadway and the first thing I noticed was that the pit had been moved. When the overture began, I immediately knew that the creative team had made the right call. Under the direction of Patty Delisle, the orchestra’s first notes brought back so many memories for me of waiting anxiously behind the curtain for an entrance. Andrew Vida is also to be commended for his creative light design. I can say with confidence that I have not met a more professional high school student (and I teach high school). He attends Calvert Hall College High School and hopes to pursue technical theatre once he graduates this coming year. Unfortunately, the issues with the microphones took me out of the performance at times. No theatre company is immune to technical difficulties. I recall a time when the microphones completely stopped working during a production that I was involved with. Due to the microphone issues, it was hard to hear every single line and note.

Unless you are familiar with the story of Joseph, it is somewhat hard to follow. The person I came with had never seen Joseph before and was constantly asking me to clarify what was happening on the stage. The chorus was too overpowering when a soloist was taking the lead and the orchestra volume was too intense during certain scenes. One thing that I enjoyed was the ability of the actors to blend their voices together. The harmonies during “Close Every Door” were perfect to the point of giving me goosebumps. I can look past the technical errors to a degree because the entire cast was not only vocally capable, but proved itself able to pull me back into the story with their intoxicating harmonies. While preserving the professionalism and style of the original work, Just Off Broadway has preserved its meaning as well. “Close Every Door”, while Joseph, played by Josh Schoff, is singing the famous lyrics of Tim Rice, “I do not matter. I’m only one person”, words that certainly resonate with anyone who has ever felt alone,  cast members turn their back to him, symbolizing his complete neglect and loneliness.

As the cast made their way onto the stage during the overture, it was easy to see which actors were genuinely invested in their role. Most of them were, but a few actors seemed distracted. One great challenge as an actor is to be completely immersed in their character. Jason Crawford Samios-Uy, Chris Thomas,  B. Ever Hanna, and Kate Forton were a few of my favorites throughout the performance. Their facial expressions, crisp clear vocals, ability to harmonize, and overall pizzazz on stage kept me engaged and entertained throughout the performance. I legitimately laughed out loud when Hanna and Forton were performing “One More Angel”, they are truly a dynamic duo. Also worth a “ention is the falsetto voice from Micah Rufsvold, which was used both for comedic relief as well as musical entertainment. There are lots of reasons to see this show, but the “One More Angel” number really takes the cake. It’s also worth mentioning and the effervescence of Elton Knupp as the Narrator, who skillfully and beautifully keeps the action moving on stage while telling the story with confidence and on point vocal ability.

One thing that confused me at first was the costume choices. There were hardly any costume changes and most actors were in street clothes the entire time. I have never seen that done before. My one criticism is that I would have loved to have seen a few more costume pieces used to help the audience understand when the brothers took on various roles like the Baker and Butler. This was also the first production of Joseph that I have seen where there were no set changes. Props and various benches were moved by the cast seamlessly and allowed the flow from one scene to the next without too much interruption.

Despite the small stage, the choreography was effective, creative, and enjoyable. Katie Gertsmeyer is to be commended for her fantastic skill as a choreographer. Each movement appeared natural for the characters, easy enough for all cast members to perform, and yet still appeared complex. The cast obviously worked extremely hard to pull off some of the choreography. One dancer in particular stands out in my mind. Samantha Jednorski, featured as Mrs. Potiphar, was one of the highlights of the performance. Jednorski has been involved in theatre for years; her expertise in the theatre realm shines through. Her facial expressions, reactions, and vibrant attitude was a true pleasure to witness. Speaking of cast members talent, I was extremely impressed by B’Jion Wright, Naphtali and the Butler, As someone who directs shows at a high school level, the first thought that ran through my mind when I saw her take the stage was, “Wow! This is a perfect example of an actress who has all the essential components to be successful! I wish my students could see her on stage!” Wright has the presence about her; total investment in her character and the skills to make it happen. I was also extremely impressed by Patrick Jay Golden’s performance as Pharaoh. Despite the simple costume, his characterization is what sold me on his solo. I even had the privilege of touching the hand of Ramessess *swoon* when he came into the audience to keep theatre goers on their toes.

I am very much looking forward to the Just Off Broadway’s 2020 Season. Their theme for the upcoming season is #RunningAway. I am very curious to see if they run away with their imagination or if they end up with their heads in the clouds. No matter what, I know the next shows they produce will be a real treat, just like Joseph.

This is what I thought of Just Off Broadway’s production of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will play through November 3 at Just Off Broadway at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 4301 Raspe Avenue, Baltimore, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

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Magic is in Abundance at Matilda at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

Children’s Playhouse of Maryland always seems to be increasing the challenge of the pieces that they select for their young performers, and they always seem to be providing those performers with the exactly the right skills to meet the challenge. Once again, with Matilda, they have selected a difficult score with complicated characters. Presenting the full version, rather than a truncated Junior version, these young people mastered complex songs, scenes, harmonies, and even monologues. They truly show that “even though you’re little, you can do a lot,” and are blessed to work with an adult team of directors that believe just that. Director Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, Music Director Charlotte Evans, and Choreographer James Hunnicutt never shy away from giving the young performers intricate skills to learn and opportunities to shine.

Boyer Hunnicutt’s staging is incredibly strong. Even with a lot of moving pieces and people, she keeps scenes and transitions seamless. The pace is excellent, which is key for a long show. The lighting design of Ed Lake is also a real star of the show. He really uses color in intentional ways to reflect the mood and dynamics of the scene. The lighting is the perfect complement to the beautiful set design of Diane M. Smith. A representational background with set pieces to create changing locations brings the world to life without slowing down the flow. Simple set pieces also move easily in and out to aid in the swirling, magical feel of the movement.

Matilda’s magic is furthered by number after number of complex rhythms and harmonies, mastered by the cast under Evans’ direction. Each of those numbers is brought to life with interesting and varied choreography by Hunnicutt. He brings out precision and energy in each performer, and each song has unique qualities to make it more fun and exciting than the last number.

Of course, none of this would be anything without the amazing children performers, and they are quite amazing. The entire group works as a cohesive unit, and there is not one member of the ensemble that lacks excitement. Even in some the smaller, featured roles, children take their moment and shine. Sam Izzo as the Doctor has a beautiful voice that soars over the opening number. Pierce Elliott is funny and flashy as Rudolpho. Soren Lange’s Nigel is as cute as can be as he hides from certain punishment in Chokey. Bella Pollara (Amanda) and Evelyn Acerno (Alice) are alight with energy in the children’s scenes and dance numbers. Even in a talented group, they both stand out with that extra star quality.

Perfect examples of taking featured roles and making them memorable by milking the comedic material for every ounce are Myles Taylor (Michael) and Bella Comotto (Lavender). Michael is not a man of many words, but Taylor’s facial expressions are the constant reminder that a picture is worth a million words. He creates a believable and loveable character while barely opening his mouth. It is a very impressive and nuanced performance from such a young performer. Comotto, on the other hand, shows the beauty of over-the-top and comedic delivery as the larger-than-life Lavender. Her exaggerated energy is just perfect in this role.

Speaking of exaggerated, two brilliant performances come at the hands of Dylan Morrison (Mr. Harry Wormwood) and Kathyrn Schudel (Mrs. Zinnia Wormwood). The Wormwoods are just about the worst people that you could ever meet, but it’s hard not to like them with these two in the roles. They both possess strong instincts about how to be funny without going too far over the top. In contrast to the Wormwoods, Miss Honey (Emily Signor) is kind and sweet and good. Signor has a beautiful soprano voice and a natural sweetness that really does justice to the role.

At the center of all of these crazy characters is Matilda (Maeve Acerno). In many respects, Matilda is the “straight man” of the piece which can make it difficult to play. She has to retain a calm, strength in the storms of exaggeration all around her. Acerno does just that. Her performance is grounded, and it brings real heart to the crazy tale. She radiates maturity and strength and is the perfect glue to hold it all together.

Despite not being the title character, it seems that the best material is reserved for Miss Agatha Trunchbull, and Ethan Holler’s performance never lets the audience forget that. Holler takes each and every word and squeezes every ounce of comedic evil out. His Trunchbull is deliberate and horrifying, just as she should be.

Matilda is a delightful story with nonstop laughter and fun. Everyone should get a chance to check out these young performers while they have the chance.

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

Matilda will play through September 29 at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland at CCBCEssex Campus, Administration Building. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Bright Half Life is Living Well at The Strand Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Love is love. No matter who it happens to or how it happens, love is love, plain and simple. I’ve heard it said that there’s someone for everyone in this crazy world and you never know when and where you’ll find them. Sometimes it comes as quite a shock to those who do. Regardless, when that “one” is found, what does that do to us as individuals? The Strand Theatre’s latest offering, Bright Half Life by Tanya Barfield and Directed by K. Tony Korol-Evans gives us a glimpse into one love story that spans the years and asks us to think about our own relationships and what we’re willing to sacrifice and compromise for someone else.

In a nutshell, Bright Half Life concerns itself with Vicky and Erica, a couple who meet when they’re young, working for some corporation, Vicky a supervisor and Erica a temp. They move on from a professional relationship to a personal one and begin a forming a life together. Both seem to have different views of the world and of themselves. Vicky is stable, but her idea of a good time is spinning around a Ferris wheel and jumping out of planes while Erica is afraid of heights. When marriage, kids, and half a life together are thrown into the mix, where does that leave them?

Katherine Vary and Ayesis Clay. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Director K. Tony Korol-Evans took on double duty of Set Designer and this design fits the bill perfectly. Since the story is told in chunks that ping-pong through time, it needed to be simple and simple it was, not dull, but minimal and it worked nicely for this production. Locations and props were more insinuated rather than physical and it’s a wise choice considering how quickly the scenes change in time and space. A kitchen table and chairs, a few bar stools, a futon in the corner and a couple of wooden boxes is all that is needed to simply allude to where and when these characters are and it all flows together nicely.

Lighting Design by Robert Brooks and Sound Design by Brad J. Ranno work beautifully, in tandem, to set the mood for each scene for audience and we are transported transported to each location and time seamlessly. Neither design hinders the action going on onstage but enhances it sometimes subtly and sometimes in a flash making for a well put-together design from both. Kudos to Brooks and Ranno for their efforts.

Direction by K. Tony Korol-Evans is on point, especially with this type of text that bounces back and forth throughout the piece. She has a tight grasp on this material and the story that is being told. Her vision is clear and her staging is precise making for great pacing and audience engagement. It’s an intimate space, but she’s managed to use this intimacy in her staging. The character work is impeccable, as well, and her presentation of this material is entertaining and thoughtful.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, the two actors chosen to portray these characters, Katharine Vary as Erica and Ayesis Clay as Vicky, give polished, dedicated performances and each have their individual character and both play their parts splendidly. Unfortunately, the intimacy and connection between the two characters doesn’t seem to be 100% believable. Both work well together, but the chemistry is more friendly than romantic, which is tough on an actor, and I just wish it had been a bit more authentic. However, I reiterate… both actors play their parts quite well.

Vary is comfortable in her role as Erica and she plays her confidently and energetically. She understands the turmoil and conflict of her character and her portrayal is heart wrenching and delightful at the same time. Within the drama, her comedic timing is spot on as she knows the line of playing it straight enough to be funny. Kudos to Vary on a wonderful portrayal.

Likewise, Clay is phenomenal as Vicky and gives a standout performance. Her natural delivery and confident stage presence makes this character believable and likable. Clay understands her character and the compromises Vicky makes as she navigates through a tough relationship not only with her partner but with her family and Clay doesn’t miss a beat. Overall, her performance is strong, confident and she should be commended for her outstanding efforts.

Final thought… Bright Half Life is a quirky but poignant love story. It jumps around, but after a few minutes, you get the rhythm of the piece and it’s not so jarring. The story is well told and the ability of the writer to fit practically a lifetime (or half a lifetime) into 90 minutes is no small feat and quite impressive. The performances are top notch and the staging is spot on. The two actors have a tight grasp on the material and the Director seems to have a deep understanding of the material making for an entertaining, thoughtful evening of theatre that is not to be missed.

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

Bright Half Life will play through September 29 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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