War is Hell in Crusade at Rapid Lemon Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

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

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

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

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

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

Flynn Harne (Mitch). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lola Reign (Britt). Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emma, A Pop Musical pops into Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louisa Davis as Emma. Credit: Melissa Broy Forston

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma, A Pop Musical will play through August 11 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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Local Artists Shine in 10x10x10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

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

Dawn Ursula. Credit: Teresa Castracane

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

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

Erika Rose. Credit: Teresa Castracane

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

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

Dawn Ursula. Credit: Teresa Castracane

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

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

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

Erika Rose. Credit: Teresa Castracane

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

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

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

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

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Heritage Players is Ready for Boarding with Boeing Boeing!

By TJ Lukacsina

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

Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti is helping fly The Heritage Players through to finish out their 43rd season. Directed by Ryan Geiger, this script of this French farce (translated into English) feels lost in translation in 2019. However, Geiger is determined to deliver a sixties authenticity in it’s treatment of women as objects and pawns to move around for the benefit of the American protagonist.

The Cast of Boeing Boeing at Heritage Players. Credit: Shealyn Jae

In short, the Heritage Players website surmises the show rather nicely. “American bachelor Bernard is living in Paris and couldn’t be happier. He has a flat in Paris and three gorgeous stewardesses, Gloria, Gabriella, and Gretchen, all engaged to him without knowing about each other. His live-in maid, Berthe, is the only person who knows about his deceptive life until his friend from Wisconsin, Robert, unexpectedly comes to stay. Suddenly, Boeing begins rolling out their new speedier jet planes to the airlines, throwing off all Bernard’s careful planning. So, all three stewardesses are in town simultaneously. However, the timid Robert begins to forget which lies to tell to whom, and catastrophe looms.”

Be begin with our in-flight instructions and the details of the production are showered with thematic puns from our Captain. The information covered is thorough (some information is duplicated from the program) and runs a bit long foreshadowing some pacing issues that arise during the show. Heritage Players has chosen two charities to donate part of their proceeds, which are the Spring Grove Hospital Patient Fund and The Air Charity Network. (www.aircharitynetwork.org)

The Cast of Boeing Boeing at Heritage Players. Credit: Heritage Players

Lights up on the living room of a simple bachelor pad with a color scheme that is flat enough to help the characters in costume really pop. Art on the wall from each of the stewardess’ respective countries is a very nice touch to show that Bernard (John Sheldon) has thought all of this through and doesn’t leave things to chance. Sheldon enters cool, calm, and collected assuring his maid Berthe (Claire Sherman) that everything will be fine and bending to the wind is easier than fighting it. Their conversation flows naturally and they feel as if they have had a good, albeit unnatural, working relationship. The place is clean, tidy and in good order though does not feel lived in. Some trim on the walls and a few practical lights could do wonders to finish the look of the apartment of the successful architect.

Geiger’s set design is built to be used and is sturdy enough to keep the walls from any movement while the doors continually open and close. Though the actors’ timing with the doors was solid and snappy, occasionally the joke in between was missed due to a slower comedic timing. The script calls for some out of date objectification of women, which is currently avoided or muted, but Geiger has boldly decided to stay true to the script allowing the audience the occasional laughter through awkward situation. The hard work that has been put into the show is evident and Geiger’s knowledge and love of the script is displayed well throughout the evening.

Claire Sherman as Berthe. Credit: Shealyn Jae

As Bernard, John Sheldon struts the stage and kicks back with an easy confidence that his plan is flawless. Watching him witch between calm and collected to panicked and lost is like flipping on the light switch. His routine is initially disturbed by a surprise visit from Robert (Richard Greenslit), a friend who has kept him to his word about visiting Paris. Greenslit’s interpretation of Robert is quite the opposite of Bernard: exact in his word choice, anxious and relentless in needing clarification. Greenslit’s execution is humorous and fun and also pays off well with Sherman, whose character is slowly getting fed up with changing meals and sheets for each of the three stewardesses.

Claire Sherman maintains Berthe’s professionalism while being able to toss in a line here and there at the other character’s expenses. Her delivery was strong and consistent and pleasant to watch on stage. Jessie Duggan as the American stewardess Gloria entered confidently and excitedly playing to the European stereotypes of Americans. Dressed all in red, she was certainly playing to her charms to seduce both men in order to get what she wants. Katie Sheldon played Gabriella, the Italian stewardess, is delightful to watch as she takes control of her scenes. Her chemistry with Bernard creates some shining moments throughout the show as she fights to have things go her way. Her exasperation with Bernard and Robert is clearly evident as they usher her to the guest bedroom and the audience can empathize her defeat when arriving from the restaurant. Making a grand entrance, Gretchen (Kate Crosby) is the German stewardess who makes her presence known on stage. Crosby grabs this character and shows her how to handle the two guys. We can see her wrestling with indecision throughout but is firm when she makes up her mind. All three women with accents stay in their general lane with some slight variations along the way but we’re able to get the region clear enough.

If the accents weren’t enough to tell the three stewardesses apart, Robin Trenner’s costume design certainly puts all three love interests in their primary corner. The intention is certainly clear, if not a bit overstated. Speaking of clear, sound design by Stuart Kazanow was never a problem and sitting halfway back I could hear every line very nicely. Be sure to fly over to Catonsville, home of The Heritage Players, for their show before it’s Boeing, Boeing, gone.

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

Boeing Boeing will play through May 19 at Heritage Players at The Thomas Rice Auditorium of the Spring Grove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

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Six Characters and Three Actors Shine in And Baby Makes Seven at The Strand Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Young expecting parents may have strange ways of coping with the inevitable. Some research and read every book they can get their hands on or watch every video they can find on the Internet, and some just let it happen, taking advice from those who have gone through the same experience. Everyone has their own way of coping and preparing and in The Strand Theatre’s latest offering, And Baby Makes Seven by Paula Vogel, Directed by Emily Hall, gives us a glance into what could be called an unconventional coping and preparation mechanism from an expecting mother, her lesbian partner, and male friend/father. The trio works their way through the usual issues of expecting parents with humor and poignancy, which, in the end, is pretty much like everyone else.

(l-r) Grant Emerson Harvey, Jess Rivera, and Katherine Vary. Credit: The Strand Theatre

In a few words, And Baby Makes Seven concerns itself with a trio of folks expecting a baby, but realize they have to get rid of the three imaginary children in the house before the real baby comes. Sound a little off? Well, it is, but it all comes out in the wash.

Set Design by Kate Smith-Morse works just about perfectly for this piece. It’s an intimate space, but Smith-Morse has used her workspace wisely. There is a simple separation between the two main spaces, a bedroom and the kitchen area, but it’s just enough to be distinguishable. It is a realistic set that fits nicely with this production. Smith-Morse’s design doesn’t hinder any action and helps the action flow smoothly making for a well thought-out design.

Emily Hall takes the helm of this production and her Direction of this piece is superb. As I mentioned, this theatre is an intimate space and a show like this, with only three characters, is perfect for this stage. Hall seems to have a good comprehension of the characters and she has guided this apt cast into telling this story well. For such a quirky tale, Hall has presented it in an easy to follow fashion and her vision is clear… it’s a group of folks simply trying to cope with a pending birth, and doing what they feel is right, regardless of what anyone else may think about it. Hall is to be commended for her work on this production.

Moving to the performance aspect of this piece, this trio of actors work their way through this script superbly.

(l-r) Jess Rivera, Grant Emerson Harvey, and Katherine Vary. Credit: The Strand Theatre

Though Jess Rivera, as Ruth, the non-pregnant female in this trio, started off by annoying me with her over the top  portrayal of imaginary Henri, a young French boy, and imaginary Orphan, a dog of sorts, but I found myself getting used to it as the play progressed. Rivera certainly knows what she’s doing on stage, but it looked as though she was trying to hard as the imaginary kids. However, when she switched off to play the normal, everyday Ruth, she shined and portrayed her effortlessly, so, I can see this actress has an real talent. Overall, Rivera has a tight grasp on this character and gives a great showing and makes these characters endearing, making for a delightful performance.

Next up, Katherine Vary takes on the role of Anna, and the imaginary child genius, Cecil. Vary is well in tune with this character and her character’s imaginary counterpart. She plays Anna, the pregnant character, with ease. She seems to have a good understanding of this character, as well as with Cecil, making him just irritating enough, but charming a the same time, which is not small feat. Her delivery is smooth and natural and, overall, she gives a strong, confident performance.

Rounding out this stellar ensemble is Grand Emerson Harvey, who takes on the role of Peter, the father of the unborn child, and thought it’s eluded to him being a homosexual, it’s only really hinted at in a few lines toward the beginning of the play. Either way, Harvey pulled this role off beautifully and confidently. This character seems to be the only “normal” one in this trio, keeping his feet grounded in the real world, but he also understands that Ruth and Anna need to have these imaginary kids to cope and prepare themselves for what’s to come, and… maybe he does, too. Harvey was near flawless in his portrayal of this character. He made this character his own and seemed to embody him. His delivery is clear and concise and he really brings the character to life. Working in tandem with Rivera and Vary, this trio seems to naturally fit with brilliant chemistry and it just makes the characters more real and the story more believable.

Final thought… And Baby Makes Seven at The Strand Theatre is a quirky, comedic take of how people prepare themselves and cope with pregnancy and the inevitable addition of a new baby to the family. However, don’t let the imaginary children fool you. In the end, I really liked these characters because they knew the kids were imaginary and knew they were pretending and nothing more, adding a realism that was needed. Paula Vogel has weaved a poignant, off-center story about a blended family and their interpretation of the world around them. It may take a moment to get into the groove with this piece, but the small three-person ensemble presents these characters beautifully and truthfully, making for a delightful evening of theatre. You may have to pay extra attention to to keep up with the characters, but the ensemble does a good job keeping everything in place. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth checking out.

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

 And Baby Makes Seven will play through April 21 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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Boogie into the 60s at Spotlighters Theatre with Beehive, the 60s Musical

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 1 hour and 30 minutes with one intermission

The 1960s. It was quite a turbulent time in the country, as far as I can tell from research, history class, and stories my parents have told me. Everything and everyone was changing and though, it too was changing, one of the constants was music. New sounds, new voices, voices of different colors and creeds, and it was something everyone could turn to. Spotlighters Theatre latest offering, Beehive, the 60s Musical, by Larry Gallagher, Directed and Choreographed by Quae Simpson, with Music Direction by LaVar Betts, takes us back to that bygone era and brings back or introduces those tunes to today’s audience reminding us that music is always with us, no matter what.

(front, l-r) Marela Kay Minosa, Asia-Lige Arnold. (back, l-r) Quae Simpson, Karen Steelman, Timoth David Copney, Nicholas Miles, Danielle Harrow. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Beehive, the 60s Musical is a jukebox musical, so if you’re looking for a story line, don’t look too closely. There really isn’t one to speak of. There is a half-hearted attempt to introduce a reunion of sorts, but it really isn’t needed and would have done well to cut it completely and start with the opening number. The ensemble tries to keep up this reunion feel throughout the evening, but it just falls flat. It’s curious, also, that the first song we hear is a recording of “Welcome to the 60s” from another hit musical, Hairspray, but… why? Regardless, you’ll spend a delightful evening hearing the biggest hits from the 1960s (of course) and be treated to beautiful performances from this very able cast.

Again, I’m not sure direction Director Quae Simpson was going in with the “reunion” but, it really was not needed. The musical numbers would have stood on their own if we would have trusted them just a little more. I get it, some of these songs are unfamiliar to a younger audience, but they are good songs and can stand on their own. Another curious bit for this production is casting. The show is written for 6 females, supposedly giving it a 60s girl group atmosphere, but here we have two gentlemen joining the cast. I’m all for gender-blind casting, if it works for the production, go for it! However, it just seemed a little off for this production. It may have modernized the piece, but it comes off a little off. Also, I’m not saying the gentlemen in this cast gave subpar performances because they most certainly did not. All of the ensemble members are top notch and gave top notch performances. But including the men seems to take it over the top as if this piece is trying too hard to cover up with comedy and it comes off as hokey. Those minor flaws aside, it’s definitely a good showing for Spotlighters Theatre.

The cast of Beehive, the 60s Musical. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Alan Zemla’s Set Design is appropriate to the piece, and all the clichés are there, but they are needed for a piece like this. The intimate space is used wisely and, though I wasn’t blown away as I usually am by Zemla’s work, that’s no mark against him. This piece doesn’t call for much, and what he has created is superb and works well for the production.

Music Direction by LeVar Betts is stellar. This show is all about the music and Betts has guided this cast into beautiful, fun renditions of these old hits. He is even the featured performer in the poignant “Abraham, Martin, and John” and gives a heartfelt, sincere performance. As for the cast, they are in just about perfect harmony and well-rehearsed on the other numbers and Betts’ work is to be applauded.

Timoth David Copney. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Directions & Choreography by Quae Simpson has it’s flaws, but is, for the most part, commendable. Choreography is minimal and there is opportunity for more than what is presented, but any movement offered also depend on the ensemble and the choreography fits this ensemble nicely. It doesn’t take away from the performances but is enough to be engaging. Simpson’s use of audience participation and breaking the fourth wall, though probably required for this type of show, seems a bit forced, especially because of the intimate space at Spotlighters. The audience does seem to enjoy the participation, but it’s not my cup of tea, so, it could just be me. Aside from the interesting casting and the few aforementioned minor faults, Simpson’s staging is quite good and he keeps it interesting with seamless transitions from one song to the next. Overall, Simpson has done a fine job with this presentation.

Danielle Harrow. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, Nicholas Miles and Marela Kay Minosa are crowd pleasers, and it’s easy to see their energies are not for naught especially in Minosa’s fun and upbeat rendition the popular and timeless Lesley Gore song “It’s My Party” and the poignant “Baby, I Love You,” made popular by The Ronnettes. Meanwhile, Miles gives us a fun and humorous performance of “My Boyfriend’s Back,” originally released by The Angels, with all the schtick and tongue and cheek you can handle.

Highlights of this particular production are Timoth David Copney, who really seems to have a great comprehension of this music and style, especially with his near flawless performance of The Shirelles “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” which ends up being one of my favorite interpretations of this song, and his featured bit in Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacherman.”  Karen Steelman holds her own and makes the audience take notice taking on and belting out the intense and popular Janice Joplin hits, “Me and My Bobby McGee” and “Take a Little Piece of My Heart.”

Asia-Lige Arnold. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Rounding out this stellar cast are two definite stand outs, Danielle Harrow and Asia-Lige Arnold. These two ladies perform every one of the their numbers with heart and soul, and with superb, strong voices. Harrow, knocks it out of the park with her takes on Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” and Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” among other hits from The Ronnettes such as ”Walking in the Rain” and “Be My Baby.”  In the She is also featured in an Aretha Franklin medley, including songs such as “Chain of Fools,” “Never Loved a Man,” and “Natural Woman.” In the same vein, Arnold give splendid, memorable performances of Lulu’s “To Sir With Love” and is featured, as she should be, in the same Aretha Franklin medley in which she will knock you out with her strong, emotional vocals that are hard to forget.

Final thought… Beehive, the 60s Musical is a fun journey of nostalgia and great music that will take you back, even if you didn’t live them. It’s easy to at least recognize the tunes, and they are definitely the sounds that changed the world. Though the story line isn’t much to speak of, it doesn’t matter because the songs will keep you engaged and even singing along and tapping your foot. The ensemble gives 100% effort and their work is stupendous. The voices in this production are absolutely amazing and each performer is a powerhouse on his or her own, with a band to match. Really, the years will melt away as the both poignant and rockin’ songs are performed one after another. Though unplanned from Spotlighters Theatre original season, this is a perfect replacement and one you should not miss!

This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre’s production of Beehive, the 60s Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Beehive, the 60s Musical will play through April 21 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

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

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will play through March 17 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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