Opposites Attract at The Mineola Twins at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

 

Approx. Running Time: 90-minutes with no intermission

Women have been fighting a fight for true independence for generations and in Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest offering, The Mineola Twins by Paula Vogel, Directed by Lindsey R. Barr, gives us a glimpse into how two mostly identical twins, handled this fight from Eisenhower Administration all the way through Regan and Bush Administrations. Of course, as many twins go, they may be mostly identical on the outside, but couldn’t be more different on the inside.

Ally Ibach. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

Cassandra (Casey) Dutt’s Scenic Design works well with this piece and the use of levels and set pieces on a unit set keep things simple. Though the scene changes were clunky at times because of so many loose parts, the overall design is intelligent with a certain flow that helps move the action along rather than impede it.

Along with a splendid Scenic Design, Lighting Design by Michael Logue and Sound Design by Heiko Spieker work in tandem with each other and with Dutt’s design to carry us through the decades and locations seamlessly. Both Logue and Spieker give us engaging, subtle designs that blend well into the action and transport the audience into each scene. Kudos to Dutt, Logue, and Spieker for their wonderful technical efforts for this production.

Costume Design by Taylor Keating is on point. Taking the characters through this long period between the 50s and the 80s, Keating nails the time period for each scene sometimes subtly and sometimes over the top (in a good way), and every bit of it works for this story and production. Keating should be commended for her thoughtful and detailed design.

Corey Hennessey and Ally Ibach. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

Lindsey E. Barr takes the reigns of this production and through her guidance and Direction, it’s clear she has a tight grasp on this material and presents it in humorous, but poignant way that is engaging and entertaining. You will be rooting for one of these characters, if not all, before the evening is through. The material can get a little pretentious and surreal, at points, but Barr presents it in an easy to follow fashion that stays true to the story but reflects her own vision. My hat’s off to Barr for a job quite well done.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, it’s safe to say this entire ensemble, though small in number, is big in heart and effort. All are giving their all to tell this twisted, funny story and all are to be applauded for their efforts.

Taking on more supporting roles is Rory Kennison and Kyla Tocopina as Psychiatric Aides/FBI Agents. These mostly silent characters create tension and conflict for the other characters and both Kennison and Tocopina are well versed in their roles, giving 100% effort. Both double as stage hands, helping move the set pieces on and off and in that, too, they do a bang up job.

Ally Ibach and Andy Belt. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography

Andy Belt takes on the duel role of Jim/Sarah and Corey Hennessey doubles as Kenny/Ben. Belt is well cast and takes these roles and makes them his own. He sees the tongue and cheek in Sarah and doesn’t try to play it over the top, which I very much appreciate when it comes to roles like this. As Jim, the older wandering fiancé, he’s level-headed but nervous and he portrays both beautifully. As Sarah, the same-sex partner of Myra, he’s a gem in a purposely horrible wig. Overall, he plays the contrast of comedy and drama wonderfully with a good grasp on both. Hennessey plays the younger male characters of Kenny, Myrna’s son, and Ben, Myra’s son, and both seem to have been born to the wrong mother and though Hennessey seems to have a good comprehension of this, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between both characters. His portrayal is authentic, just not very diverse with these two. That’s not to say he doesn’t do a terrific job with a great stage presence and confidence that is required.

Ally Ibach as Myrna/Myra, The Mineola Twins themselves, is the definite standout in this production. Not only does she take on two very different characters who look alike and are actually very similar, once she hits the stage, she keeps going until the end. She has a very tight grasp on this material, her characters, and the dialogue, which she delivers naturally and with ease. The contrast between the two twins is clear and consistent and her confidence a gives her a strong stage presence making for a stellar performance, overall. She’s certainly one to watch in this production.

Final thought… The Mineola Twins is a quirky, entertaining look at how one particular set of twins, who happen to be opposites in personalities, have navigated through life and decades of female independence. From teens to middle-aged, we see how two people who share genes and a face can grow to think so differently but always have a certain connection. It’s a well put together production, the performances are top-notch, and it’s a fitting addition to Fells Point Corner Theatre’s current season. Get your tickets now, if you haven’t already.

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

The Mineola Twins will play through March 15 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

All is Preferable in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

There certain phrases or words we hear that we’ll equate with a celebrity or someone of the like and when I hear the word blonde, my mind immediately goes to Miss Marilyn Monroe (even though she wasn’t a natural blonde), and the films she starred in during her short time on this planet. One of her most popular was and is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), but some may not know it was a best-selling novel by Anita Loos in 1925 and brought to the Broadway stage in 1949 with Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Leo Robin, and Book by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields. Today, it’s on the Heritage Players stage in concert, Directed by Tommy Malel, with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler, and Choreography by Tommy Malek and Loiri-Struss-Weatherly. It’s a step back into a time when anything goes and ladies did what they could to get by, without batting an eyelash.

Ensemble of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert at Heritage Players. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

In a nutshell, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert concerns itself with Loreli Lee and Dorothy Shaw, two carefree young women sailing across the Atlantic to Paris while running into various men who might be able to help them along the way, including an old noblemen, a zipper king, a Philadelphia society type, and a button manufacturer with a big heart and short temper, who is hot on the tails of Miss Loreli Lee.

Though no name is given for Set Design, it’s worth mentioning the effective and appropriate unit design and the use of set pieces to create various locations help move the story along without clunky scene changes and over the top gaudiness. Whomever is responsible for this design is to be commended. In tandem, Sound Design by Stuart Kazanow and Lighting Design by Atticus Boidy are both spot on. This is probably the clearest sound design I’ve heard outside of an equity house and every performer was crystal clear, even over the 30+ piece orchestra, kudos to Kazaow for a job quite well done. Lighting was inconsistent, at times, but not enough to deter from the production as a whole, Heritage Players stage is a lot of space to light and at points, it gets a little too dim, but overall, Boidy creates a splendid design.

Tommy Malek gives us a superb costume design that is authentic and detailed and completely takes us back to this decadent era in our history. His attention to the details in style is second to none with fringe and sequins and low waists – it’s all flawless. His Wig Design is pure magic, transforming these performers into their characters, it’s like wrapping the already well put together package up in a nice silk bow. Malek is to be commended on his exquisite Costume and Wig designs.

(l-r) Matt Wetzel, Beth Cohen, Justin Moe, Jeremy Goldman, and Maddie Bohrer. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

One of the other hats Tommy Malek puts on in this production, along with Lori Struss-Weatherly, is that of Choreographer. While taking care of the major tap number in the second act (“Maimie is Mimi”), Struss-Weatherly’s choreography is hands down remarkable. She has managed to keep this crew in step and looking good and has certainly given the audience a number to watch out for and enjoy. Malek has this ensemble moving graciously and efficiently with his choreography and every step works for this production making for a great showing.

Music Direction by Rachel Sander is on point and her work with the entire ensemble is tight and pristine. Sandler certainly knows her way around a score and it shows in this production. There are a few warbles within the choir, but overall, her work is to be commended. In the same vein, David Zajic’s work in conducting this amazing orchestra is superb.

The final hat Tommy Malek puts on is the hat of Director and he certainly has a good grasp on this material and his vision is clear. Directing a concert version of any how is a challenge, but Malek manages to make this production his own effortlessly. He keeps his staging engaging and the transitions are seamless making for a great pacing. It was an interesting choice to keep in the instrumental bits where absolutely nothing is happening on the stage and dim lighting, but, since it’s a concert version, one really can’t cut out the music, right? Well, maybe a few cuts would have helped this one an only criticism I have of this otherwise outstanding and polished production. Malek is to be applauded for his work and efforts.

Maddie Bohrer. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Moving to the performance aspect of this production, the ensemble work is wonderful and the chemistry between them is authentic and charming and each and every performer on the stage is giving 100% making for a stellar ensemble.

Heather Moe and Justin Moe. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Featured are Maddie Bohrer as Loreli Lee and Heather Moe as Dorothy Shaw and both of these performers are cast exactly as they should be. Both have a strong, confident presence that is required to lead this ensemble. Bohrer embodies her character and seems to have a tight grasp on her mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Vocally both are powerhouses as shown in the famous “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” performed by Bohrer and Moe is a standout in her renditions of “It’s High Time,” that sets the bar high for the rest of the production and “I Love What I’m Doing” is a sensation.

Matt Wetzel and Beth Cohen. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Justin Moe as Henry Spofford, Matt Wetzel as Josephus Gage, the Zipper King, and Jeremy Goldman as Gus Semond, Jr. and Adam Abruzzo as Pierre and Robert (pronounced Ro-bear) are stellar in their individual roles and fill out this ensemble nicely. Moe portrays just the right temperament, and has a beautiful vocal tone as shown in his featured numbers such as “Just a Kiss Apart” while Goldman does a splendid portrayal of his short tempered and knee-jerk reactor character, but also contrasts that with a soft side with a smooth rendition of “Bye, Bye Baby.” The definite comedians of this bunch are Wetzel and Abruzzo who both have impeccable comedic timing and Wetzel shines vocally as in his featured number “I’m A’Tingle, I’m A’Glow.”

Rick Robertson and Maddie Bohrer. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Rounding out the featured ensemble is Beth Cohen as Mrs. Ella Spofford, Rick Roberston as Sir Beekman, and Robyn Bloom as Lady Beekman. Beth Cohen pulls off a flawless Philadelphia socialite who like to have a drink more often than not and her delivery of the dialogue is spot on. Likewise, Rick Robertson is hilarious as Sir Beekman and he has this character down pat that is apparent in his performance of the funny “It’s Delightful Down in Chile.” Bloom gives a solid showing as the prudish, dominating Lady Beekman and the chemistry between her and Roberston is delightful.

Final Thought… Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert is a fun, raucous jaunt through a bygone era where everyone was simply out to have a good time and it shows this ensemble is having a blast. With a phenomenal orchestra, able players, concise and well placed choreography, this production is polished and raring to go. It feels like it runs a little long, but you’ll be engaged and entertained every minute. Get your tickets now!

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

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert  will play through March 1 at Heritage Players at The Thomas Rice Auditorium of the Spring Grove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram

Family Matters with Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

No matter how you cut it, family is like nothing else in the world. Each family is crazy in their own way and we never know what another group of related people are doing behind closed doors, but Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Rickard & Jane & Dick & Sally by Noah Diaz, Directed by Taylor Reynolds, gives us a glimpse into the lives of a seemingly ordinary family with extraordinary circumstances. With a Eugene O’Neill meets Tennessee Williams feel, it makes for an engaging and entertaining evening at the theatre.

In a nutshell, Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally concerns itself with a seemingly normal family headed by a widowed father, Richard, who’s trying to keep everything in control while raising two young kids, Dick and Sally, one of whom is deaf, and who seems to be stuck in the past and tradition, so much so as to living in his dead parents’ house. Enter the sister, Jane, who left to make her own way and is bringing in outside influences that shake the fragile hold Richard has on his life and family. Throw in a family pet who just wants to belong and bits and pieces from the old Fun with Dick and Jane book series, you have a story that is funny, poignant, irritating, and caring all at once… you know, all the feelings you get with family.

There is a lot going on in this completely original, fresh 90-minute roller coaster of humor, sadness, realism, and absurdity, but, believe me, it’s well worth it. It’s heavy, make no mistake. You will have a whirlwind of emotion and it’s a rare story that almost everyone on this earth can relate making it a phenomenal piece of theatre. Diaz gives us a lot of information in this short time, touching on the bonds we have with people both present and absent, as well as those who may not be human, and it’s all played out on a phenomenal set designed by Stephanie Osin Cohen. Her use of levels and open space is spot on and moves the story along beautifully and effectively.

Along with Cohen’s Scenic Design, Reza Behjat’s Lighting and Frederick Kennedy’s Sound work in tandem to transport the audience to various times and locations flawlessly. Kennedy’s efforts are especially noticeable as the sound and action move along together, hand in hand, sometimes unsettling so, with a rich original score that hits you, when you’re not expecting it, masked in an upbeat, bright sound with a creepy undertone. Hats off to Kennedy for his work.

Costume Design by Alicia J. Austin is spot on and effective adding to the story and not distracting from it, as should be. Each character has his or her own style and Austin’s attention to detail is to be commended.

 

Direction by Taylor Reynolds is superb as she presents this story in snapshots and vignettes with smooth transitions that are easy to follow and she seems to have a deep comprehension of this text and a clear vision. Taylor’s understanding of the more linear parts contrasting with the surreal parts of this text is clear and her presentation of both is clean and concise making for a solid showing.

Performance-wise, highlights of this production are Noah Averbach-Katz as Spot and Treshelle Edmond as Sally. Edmond pulls us in with her character and we’re rooting for her from the moment she sets foot on stage playing Sally with an innocence and coming-of-age that is impeccably balanced. Averbach-Katz as the family pet, gives such a natural delivery of the text and completely embodies this role, he has the opportunity to outshine the rest of this ensemble, but does not, making his performance an absolute standout. He is s certainly one to watch in this production.

Neimah Djourabchi takes on the role Richard and Michelle Beck tackles the role of Jane, the estranged, but loving brother and sister who are trying to reconcile the past, present, and future with each other. Djourabchi, at first, seems scripted and stiff, but it’s clear this character choice is the genius of his character choice. Once you get into the rhythm of his performance, you realize it’s a beautiful, poignant performance that makes you feel for the character. In the same vein, Beck portrays Jane as a hard-nosed bitch at first, but then the gradual transition Beck masterfully undergoes is brilliant. Her character’s at-arms-length attitude slowly strips away and she ends up being a character to which the audience can relate. Kudos to both for strong, solid performances.

Jay Cobián as Dick Jr., at times, is hard to connect with as he seems to be playing this character over the top, but his handling of this character is careful enough that you feel for him and want  to help and Vanessa Kai as Mother is elegant and purposeful as she glides across the stage seemingly effortlessly.

Final Thought… Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally is a poignant, thoughtful look at a family in crisis and it shows the difficulty of moving on as well as the clash of the old and the new. I cried. It’s not something I do often, but I did with this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hard ass and I can get all the feels, but I pride myself on being able to keep my composure, but this is the first piece in a long time that had me straight up crying in my seat. The performances are spot on, the Set Design, Lighting Design, and Sound Design all enhance the story and the staging is on point. This is seriously not a production you want to miss this season so get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally will play through March 1 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

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram

Legally Blonde Gives Us Delightful Loopholes at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Most of us are taught, at an early age, to not judge a book by it’s cover… I guess now-a-days, it would be don’t judge a site by its homepage? Regardless, what’s on the outside may not tell the entire story of what’s on the inside and in Third Wall Production’s latest offering, Legally Blonde the Musical, with Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and Book by Heather Hach, Direction by Henry Cyr, Music Direction by Patty DeLisle, and Choreography by Cecila and Lucy DeBaugh, we are treated to a story of overcoming adversity and redemption all wrapped up with a pink, stylish bow.

For those who may not be in the know… Based on the 2001 film of the same name, starring the perfectly cast Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde the Musical follows true California blonde, Elle Woods, who beats the odds and surprises everyone by getting herself a spot at Harvard Law School, for no other reason than to follow the boy who dumped her for being what she was. At Harvard, she surpasses all limited expectations of others and learns she’s more than what people see and think of her.

Scenic Design by Jordan Hollett, Amy Rudai, and Pat Rudai is on point with a unit set in the background at all times and set pieces that are brought on and off to represent various locations. Simple, but effective, Hollett and the Rudais should be commended for their work and efforts. In the same vein, Lighting Design by Jim Shomo is stellar and absolutely fitting for this production. He keeps the already high energy up with his fast moving, varied design and keeps the action engaging. Another great job from Shomo. Anyone who is involved in community or small theatre will most likely tell you that sound is a curse and one of the most difficult aspects of a production to overcome. Unfortunately, if there is a criticism of this production, it is Sound Design by Charles Hirsch. That’s not to say that it is completely Hirsch’s fault as many factors go into how good or bad a sound is, including space, number of people in the venue, volume of the live pit orchestra, etc., etc. I’m glad I know this show well and could follow along, but there are many times, with and without music where sound is a problem, and those who may not be familiar may lose some of the dialogue and story points. That being said, Hirsch does his best and it’s still a strong showing.

Jenifer Hollet’s Costume Design is spot on for this particular production and each character has their own, individual style that fits in with everyone else, our main character stands out, as she should. My only complaint, if it can be called one, is the blonde wig thrown onto the actress playing Elle Woods. This wig, unfortunately, looks like it belongs on a certain HBO show on a woman who deals with dragons, and seemed just a bit out of place on this actress. It worked, but I imagine there may have been better options. Regardless of this one small detail, with great attention to detail and creative styling, Hollet is to be applauded for her efforts and work on this production.

Music Direction by Patty DeLisle and Choreography by Cecilia and Lucy DeBaugh are definite highlights of this production. This is some of the best vocal work and choreography I’ve seen at Third Wall Productions in recent years. DeLisle’s skill is apparent as every group number is in perfect or near perfect harmony and strong voices are brought out in each featured number showing her superb direction. The DeBaugh’s choreography is stellar, high-energy, and upbeat keeping everyone on their toes, literally, at times. They really seem to understand this style of dancing and have created choreography that is well-fitting, fun, and a joy to watch. Major kudos to DeLisle for her Music Direction and the DeBaughs for their creative choreography.

Henry Cyr takes the helm of this production and does an outstanding job. It’s always tough to transfer a popular film to the stage, but Cyr seems to have it all under control. His staging is concise and the pacing is on point, making for an enjoyable telling of this heartfelt story. He knows his way around the stage, has a good grasp on the material, and gives us a great presentation of this popular, modern story.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, it’s absolutely worth stating that this entire ensemble is giving 100% effort with high-energy and gusto and are having a blast performing this material. The chemistry within the entire ensemble is apparent and makes the performance all the better. This transfers to the audience and we have just a good a time as they are making for a quite enjoyable evening of theatre.

To name a few, our leading lady, Maggie Mellott as Elle Woods, our bouncy, optimistic, and common sense heroine, is well cast though, at times, she may seem scripted and more subdued than I would like Elle, but she holds her own and gives a solid performance. Vocally, she has the perfect voice for this score and her beautiful performances of featured numbers such as “Positive” and “Legally Blonde” proves she knows this character well. Equally as impressive is Johnny Dunkerly as Emmett Forest, the fellow fish-out-of-water Harvard student who has a big heart and feet planted firmly on the ground. Dunkerly holds his own on stage, giving a strong performance and, vocally, he gives a commendable showing, especially in his featured numbers such as “Chip on My Shoulder” and “Legally Blonde.” Their chemistry is spot on and believable helping their already wonderful performances.

Emily Wesselhoff takes on the physically taxing role of Brooke Wyndham, the high profile client on trial for murder who is a fitness whiz and, let me say… Wesselhoff does not disappoint with her performance in the choreographed jump-rope number, “Whipped Into Shape” and, vocally, she’s a powerhouse giving a strong, confident performance. Also, Christopher Kabara as Professor Callahan, the brilliant, if not sketchy high-priced attorney who doubles as a Harvard professor, seems to have been made for this role. Cabara’s has a strong presence and intensity and makes this role his own. He gives an impressive vocal performance as well, as he shows in his performance of “Blood in the Water.”

Rounding out the featured cast is Lizzy Jackson Fleischmann as Vivienne Kensington, the snobby, uptight current girlfriend of Warner Huntington III and Andy Collins as Warner Huntington III, the well-bred, but douchey guy who thinks he has his future all figured out. Fleischmann embodies this role and presents her as a complete opposite to Elle Woods, as she should and it’s a notable performance. Collins has his role down pat and is nicely cast. He seems to have a good grasp on this character and vocally, he shines, especially in his featured number, the funny, but important “Serious.” Hats off to Fleischmann and Collins for jobs well done.

Honorable mention has to go to a few supporting players such as Mike Zellhofer as Dad/Winthrop/Dewy, Alex Pecas as Kyle, the sexy UPS guy, and Delta Nu Sisters, especially the Greek Chorus of Margot (Katelyn Clay), Serena (Bailey Wolf),  Pilar (Patricia Anderson), Gaelen (Kayla Szczybor), and Kate (Kelsey Albert). Though they play supporting roles, these few ensemble members give strong, confident performances that move the story along beautifully.

One of the supporting players, the aforementioned Katelyn Clay, as Margo, is a highlight of this production as her presence is one of the strongest and she seems to glow in every featured piece of dialogue or vocal bit causing the eye to move to her. Her efforts don’t go unnoticed and she’s certainly one to watch in this production. The standout in this, though, is Amy Haynes Rapnicki as Paulette Buonufonte, the unexpected friend to Elle and down-to-earth, positive stylist. Haynes is a pro who knows her way around the stage and knows this character inside and out. She becomes this character and her natural delivery and authenticity shine through. Vocally, this woman has pipes! Her solid performance of her featured number, “Ireland” is stellar and one you won’t easily forget. You really don’t want to miss her performance in this role.

Final thought… This production is high energy and every single member of the ensemble is giving 100% which always makes for a great showing. They’re dedicated to their roles and are having a blast which, in turn, hypes up the audience to make for a great evening of theatre. The performances are solid, the Set Design is effective and aesthetically pleasing, the pacing is on point, and, so far, this production has the best Music Direction and Choreography I’ve seen at Third Wall Productions with phenomenal vocals and dancing, making this a production you won’t want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Legally Blonde the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Legally Blonde the Musical will play through February 23 at Third Wall ProductionsSt. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 1108 Providence Road in Towson, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook!

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

Footloose and Fancy Free at Suburban Players

By Jennifer Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with 25-minute intermission

Walking into Saint Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church for The Suburban Players of St. Demetrios‘ production of Footloose with music by Tom Snow (among others), the lyrics by Dean Pitchford (with additional lyrics by Kenny Loggins), and the book by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, it is clear that you are stepping into a well-oiled machine Directed by Lauren Spencer-Harris, with Music Direction by Steven Soltow, and Choreography by Amie Bell. Ambience takes center stage during the lovely dinner portion of the evening, complete with exceptional service and a wide variety of food and drink selections. The food and atmosphere are definitely comparable to any of the professional dinner theaters in the area. Things only get better once those familiar opening strains of “Footloose” fill the room, as the audience is transported into a production filled with energy, fun, and a lot of heart.

The live orchestra is becoming more of a rarity in the age of digital tracks, and it was refreshing to hear an excellent live orchestra under the direction of Musical Director/Conductor Steven Soltow. Soltow’s skill as a leader of music was clear throughout the entire production. Often times, harmonies in musicals fall to the wayside when the cast becomes preoccupied with dance moves and other concerns, but, in this production, the harmonies were strong and often the star of the large musical numbers. Better yet, the top-notch focus on vocal competency didn’t slow the cast for a second in their synchronized delivery of the energetic and exciting choreography of Amie Bell. While sometimes in a musical, the acting scenes can see like the things to “get through,” it is clear that Director Lauren Spencer-Harris spent time with actors on timing, pace, and emotional delivery in those scenes. Spencer-Harris also makes a wise decision to keep the momentum moving at all times. The scene changes are quick and seamless, and there is always some action going on during the change to keep the audience engaged in the moment.  Even with a large and diverse ensemble, the production team has everyone knowing what they are doing and living each moment of the show with passionate engagement.

Footloose is the story of teenager Ren McCormack (Eric Bray Jr.), whose mother (Caitlyn Soltow) packs him up and moves him from a big city to a small town. Bray is perfectly suited to be the heart of the production with his natural charisma and believability on stage. Bray always seems to live in the moment of the performance with natural reactions to everything that is happening around him. Bray’s beautiful and consistent vocal performance sells the emotional center of the piece. Soltow possess similar strengths, and there is a lovely moment towards the end of the show when Ethel encourages Ren to keep fighting.

What Ren is fighting is a law in town that prohibits dancing. That law was enacted and is held onto fiercely by the town’s preacher, Reverend Shaw Moore (Perry Alexion). Alexion is sometimes inconsistent in his performance. He focuses too much on what and how he is singing without allowing himself to connect with the message behind the words. However, when Alexion allows himself to be in the moment – especially in his final, explosive scene with Ren – he has a powerful presence that can move the audience to tears. As his wife Vi, Tammy Oppel is also similarly inconsistent; however, it sounded as if she may have been fighting illness during this particular performance.

As the reverend’s daughter Ariel, Marina Yiannouris is enchanting. She mixes sweet and mischievous with a perfect balance and carefully plays the subtext between her lines. Yiannouris has a gorgeous and powerful voice. She blends well with Bray, both musically and in their scene work. They have a very easy and natural chemistry on stage.

When Yiannouris joins with Ariel’s three friends – Rusty (Mia Coulbourne), Urleen (Jamie White), and Wendy Jo (Katie Pendergast) – for “Holding Out for a Hero,” it is sheer magic. All four young women are excellent vocalists with commanding stage presence. Throughout the show, the trio of friends brings great moments of hilarity as well as powerful moments of intensity. “Somebody’s Eyes” is several minutes of sheer perfection with their vocal prowess, Bray’s relatable acting, and an intricate blend of staging and choreography. Even within this group of talented actresses, Coulbourne is able to really stand out with one of the most perfect performances ever. Everything she does comes across effortless and exceptional. Her comedic delivery flows off the tongue, and her voice is beyond incredible.

Coulbourne’s counterpart, Willard (Jordan Baumiller) is another role to watch for. Willard is one of those characters written to steal a show, and Baumiller milks that opportunity for all of its potential. He creates a loveable character. His realistic delivery of the lines makes them hilarious. Both Coulbourne and Baumiller effortless avoid the pitfall of overplaying the silliness of their characters. The raw realism is what makes the characters funny, and they both clearly understand that. Baumiller also shines in his rendition of “Mamma Says,” getting a chance to show off his beautiful and powerful classical musical theater sound.

The only slight concerns with this production were technical. There seemed to be some issues with the microphones at first, although the worst of the issues seemed to get fixed after the first few numbers. So, hopefully, they figured out the problem and have it resolved now. The other issue was the lighting at the end of “Almost Paradise.” There were bright flashing lights at the top of the stage, so close to the performances on the platform and so bright, that I actually had to look away during the end section of that number because it was hurting my eyes. Other than that, the lighting was effective throughout.

If you don’t have your tickets yet, you should get them quickly. Because it is a dinner theater, tickets are not sold at the door for most performances. If you are looking for a fun time and a fantastic meal, Saint Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church is the place to be this weekend. The Suburban Players and their Footloose will not disappoint.

This is what I thought of Footloose the Musical at Suburban Players… what did you think? Feel free to drop a comment!

Footloose will play through February 23 at The Suburban Players of St. Demetrios, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 2504 Cub HIll Road, Parkville, MD 21234. For tickets, contact Eleni Libertini at 443-390-2981 (text/voicemail) or via email at Suburbanplayers2504@gmail.com.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

Give Me Moonlight Shines in the Night at Rapid Lemon Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Sometimes there are circumstances that are so very painful but we feel as though we have to bear them alone. We put up walls and even facades to the outside world and, most of the time, we don’t think our problems are sufficient enough to be talked about outside of our own bubbles. We get a peek into this type of thinking in Rapid Lemon Productions’ latest offering, Give Me Moonlight by Ariel Mitchell, Directed by Noah Silas, and we get a glimpse into what can happen when those walls and facades crumble.

In a nutshell, Give Me Moonlight concerns itself with Bessie and Albert, a well-to-do married couple in Chicago who seem to have everything nicely put together. When Bessie welcomes a pregnant stranger into their home, the cracks begin to show in Bessie and Albert’s perfect lives and along with the pregnant stranger, a con-artist finds his way into the mix and all of a sudden, a castle is built in the middle of Death Valley with everyone quite okay with how things panned out.

Bruce Kapplin’s Scenic Design is top-notch and he uses his space exquisitely. He has created a simple, minimal design, but it works perfectly for this piece and his work with sand and desert-looking plants (branches, really) take this set to the next level. It’s a creative and effective design and Kapplin is to be commended for his brilliant efforts. Along with Kapplin’s Scenic Design, another honorable mention goes to Costume Design by Deana Fisher Brill. Set at the turn of the 20th century, Brill’s design transports the audience to the era flawlessly. Each character is costumed  beautifully with period styles and her attention to detail is on point. Kudos to Brill for a design well thought-out and executed.

Noah Silas takes the helm of this production and his understanding of the text is clear and his staging keeps the story flowing which keeps the audience engaged. The subtly of the period is nicely presented and the character work with the performers is spot on making for a superb showing on Silas’ part as guide and head of this solid, polished production.

Flynn Harne and Whitley Cargill. Photo: Rapid Lemon Productions

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, this small quartet of performers give strong, solid performances are work splendidly together as a team. They give and take with each other making for robust performances that hit all the buttons of this poignant and thoughtful story. Sean Coe takes on the role of crippled and frustrated husband Albert and thought he seems to go over the top at times, especially physically, in such an intimate space, he’s believable enough. His delivery is a bit stiff but, he seems to have a good grasp of the character and plays him well. Whitely Cargill, as Jack, the pregnant woman taken in by Bessie, gives an admirable performance and she seems to get the story and her character, but her portrayal leaves much to the imagination and it mostly has to do with her delivery. She’s monotone, at best, and scripted as if she’s just going through the motions. She does, however, work quite will with her cast mates and the chemistry with all of them is sincere.

A highlight of this production is Flynn Harne as Scotty, the fast talking con-man who is a good balance of looking out for oneself but meaning no real harm. Harne takes this character and makes it his own giving a confident showing and clear understanding of the role. His delivery is natural and he keeps the audience engaged with his energy. Hats off to Harne for a robust and convincing performance.

Out of the four, Holly Gibbs is the standout in this production, taking on the role of Bessie, the turn of the century housewife trying to keep it all together. Gibbs gives a heartfelt, emotional performance and it is completely authentic in both delivery of the dialogue and actions. She embodies this character and pulls the audience in with her sincerity and passion to the character and the story. She has a natural chemistry with her cast mates which enhances her already stellar performance. Gibbs is certainly one to watch in this production and should be commended for her efforts.

Final thought… Give Me Moonlight is a poignant, real story of how people deal with crisis differently. Some fold into themselves, some keep themselves busy, some run, and some run after, but either way, life has a crazy way of throwing curveballs right to your face. The story is engaging and the performances are superb making this one production you don’t want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Give Me Moonlight at Rapid Lemon Productions… what did you think? Feel free to drop a comment!

Give Me Moonlight will play through February 16 at Motorhouse120 W North Avenue, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

Live In the Moment with Be Here Now at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

At a certain time in our lives, well, for most of us, we get “set in our ways,” and nothing anyone says or does can make us budge. We dig our heels in and cross our arms and stamp our feet when our routine is upset. However, whether we like it or not, circumstances we can’t control arise that force us to step out of our comfortable routines and it’s usually jarring push. Life throws us curveballs and we have to deal with them as they come straight for our heads. This is explored in Everyman Theatre’s latest offering, Be Here Now by Deborah Zoe Laufer, who also puts on the hat of Director, and through relatable characters and thoughtful dialogue we take a peek into one woman’s journey of reconciling what she thought the world was, to the possibilities of what it can be.

(l-r) Shubhangi Kuchibhotla, Katy Carkuff, Beth Hylton, and Kyle Prue. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

In a nutshell, Be Here Now concerns itself with Bari, a cynical, unhappy woman who is struggling to find her place in the world while all the while working at a fulfillment center in a small middle-class town, writing a dissertation about how nothing matters and nothing has meaning… a dissertations she’s been working on for years. On the other side of that spectrum is the confident, optimistic Patty, and bright-eyed, naïve Luanne who care about Bari, but sometimes gets on her nerves by trying to help her. Bari then meets Mike, a quirky guy who makes art out of trash and all of a sudden Bari feels the need to help him out of a certain darkness. The question that arises is what lengths would we go to for a life of happiness, love, and meaning?

Situations in life can get awkward and people lose hope sometimes, but there are also folks who see the brighter side of things and that’s what this play is about. Sometimes we need help seeing that bright side and whether that helps comes from within us or from another person, we all need it once in awhile. And once we experience happiness and joy, what do we do or what would we do to keep it? Are we even willing to sacrifice ourselves? These are questions that arise in this piece and, overall, it’s a poignant, thoughtful piece that certainly has the drama needed to tell the story but also the slight, but deliberate comedy that keeps us from going completely over the edge.

Set Design by Daniel Ettinger is absolutely outstanding and Ettinger has yet to disappoint when it comes to his designs. His knowledge and use of the space is superb and his attention to detail is top notch. Creating three spaces (and more) with a simple revolve keeps the action of this piece moving and helps keep the pacing on track. Kudos to Ettinger for another job well done.

In tandem with Ettinger’s Set Design, Lighting Design by Harold F. Burgess II and Sound Design by Sarah O’Halloran go hand in hand to create moods for each scene and the subtle changes in levels of light and sound pull the audience into the scene keeping everything and everyone engaged.

Author Deborah Zoe Laufer takes the reigns as Director of this production and, obviously, she has a tight grasp on the material and presents it beautifully. Her guidance and knowledge of these characters and text bring the production to another level. Pacing is spot on, characters are fleshed out, and the action keeps the story is entertaining and thoughtful. Laufer knows her way around the stage making for a terrific showing as an Author/Director combo.

Kyle Prue and Beth Hylton. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

Moving to the performance aspect of this production, four magnificent actors take on these characters and make them their own, making them relatable and approachable. Shubhangi Kuchibhotla shines as Luanne Cooper, the young, naïve optimist, and seems to have a good comprehension of what this character is and how she operates. She makes her likable from the start and presents a nice blend of naiveté and cosmopolitan knowledge that makes her just quirky enough to be rooting for. Katy Carkuff tackles the role of Patty Cooper, the slightly older, rough-around-the-edges, confident woman who speaks her mind, but with good intentions, and Carkuff is the standout in this production. She certainly makes this role her own and from the moment she steps on stage, the authenticity completely sucks the audience in. Carkuff is certainly one to watch in this production. Kudos to both for strong, confident performances.

Rounding out the cast is Beth Hylton as Bari and Kyle Prue as Mike Cooper, the unlikely couple, if that’s what they are, and both Hylton and Prue bring out the idiosyncrasies of each character in a way that makes them both endearing. Hylton gives a solid performance of this cynical, no-holds-barred character and the subtle, gradual transition of Bari from the beginning to the end of the play is phenomenal. Hats off to Hylton for her efforts.

Prue is another highlight in this production and his portrayal of Mike, a man with a lot of demons following him, real or imagined, is authentic and sincere. He knows this character and plays him in a way that you just want to give him a hug and tell him everything’s going to be all right. His delivery of the dialogue natural and the mannerisms he gives to this character make him all the more real. He gives a strong, assured performance that is not to be overlooked.

Final thought… Be Here Now may not be a completely original story, but it is definitely entertaining and engaging as well as aesthetically pleasing. The very relatable characters and dialogue keep the audience interested and the performances are top-notch. It’s a story of finding the good in bad things, whatever they may be and how people are able to change as circumstances in their lives change. I would chalk this up as a bonafide success for Everyman Theatre and is not one to be missed this season.

This is what I thought of Be Here Now at Everyman Theatre… what did you think? Feel free to drop a comment!

Be Here Now will play through January 16 at Everyman Theatre315 W Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram!