Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at Just Off Broadway

By Kara Bauer

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

(l-r) Jim Gerhardt as Judas and Luis “Matty” Montes as Jesus of Nazareth. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Jesus Christ Superstar, a story that is familiar to some, while at the same time refreshing and new for a younger generation continues to tell the story about Christ’s final days before his death and resurrection. It’s message about the plight of the poor and underprivileged resonates just as strongly as it did when it first premiered on Broadway in 1971. Just Off Broadway’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical, Directed by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy and Patrick Jay Golden, with Music Direction by Patty Delisle, and Choreography by Katie Gerstmyer, comes alive on the Baltimore stage. Despite the small space and minimalistic set design, this show packs a punch for audiences of all ages. What it lacks in appearance, it certainly more than makes up for it with its talented cast of performers. This show truly had all the components of a strong performance: Strong vocals, imaginative choreography, and powerful acting.

As soon as the lights come up, the audience is very aware of the urgency that Caiaphas mentions when speaking about the dangers that Jesus poses to their Roman traditions and ideals. Five men emerge in darkness with masks and riot gear. The familiar chord progression reverberates in the ears of the audience as a fight begins over Jesus’ presence in Rome. Audience members get to meet Judas, played by Jim Gerhardt, for the first time in this scene. As an audience member, hearing Judas sing the first vocals of the song really drew me in. Gerhardt is extremely talented; his voice and acting are mutually impeccable. On the other side of the stage, we see Jesus, played by Luis “Matty” Montes, emerge from the crowd of believers. An overwhelming sense of foreboding fills the air of the theatre– The harmonizing voices, the presence of Caiaphas and the other High Priests, along with truly haunting accompaniment by Patty DeLisle and the orchestra sets the tone for the entire show in the first few moments.

Jennifer Lutz as Mary Magdalene and Luis “Matty” Montes as Jesus of Nazareth. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Throughout the show, the audience has the chance to see many different kinds of choreography under the direction of Katie Gerstmyer. I applaud Gerstmyer in her foresight and structure of the choreography– it was structured enough to look uniform but freestyle enough that each ensemble member was able to create their own character choices throughout the production. For instance, in the beginning of the show, the audience can clearly see that the cast is filled with strong dancers. Even those who are not the most skilled still had space to create a character that perfectly accompanied their artistic dance choices.

Soon enough, the audience gets to meet the highlight of the show, Mary Magdalene, played by Jennifer Lutz. Lutz’s voice provides a strong and clear contrast to her male counterparts. She carries the role with poise, gusto, and so much dedication. She is constantly engaged in her craft– no matter what is happening on stage she remains engaged and dedicated to the scene. It was refreshing to see such vibrant chemistry on stage between Jesus and Mary– you can clearly tell that both actors have put in the time to create dynamic and powerful relationships with each other.

The tones of Mary’s voice fade away and are replaced by the deep, smoky tones of Christ Thomas’ interpretation of Caiaphas, the High Priest. Thomas is a truly terrifying entity on stage with his band of not-so-merry men. The entire group of High Priests (Dave Gerstmyer, Nick Ruth, Randall Noppinger, and Lee Knox) take their role seriously which only adds to the ominous mood set by music.

Josh Leach as Simon with Ensemble in the back. Credit. Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

During the song “Hosanna”, the ensemble proves its true ability as vocalists. The harmonies that they create together on stage are extremely clear and crisp in their execution. Unfortunately, I was so distracted by the strange lighting choice during the second half of that song that I was not able to focus on the music or story. I felt that this lighting choice was very out of place– the song “Hosanna” is all about Christ being willing to fight and die for his followers. Meanwhile an upbeat style lighting was occurring above the stage; the shifting blue-yellow floral lighting was too upbeat, and took me out of the scene.

A refreshing voice came from Simon, played by Josh Leach, during “Simon Zealots / Poor Jerusalem” I was forced to stop taking notes just so that I could soak up Leach’s soulful voice. His spellbinding serenade to the audience combined with the vivacious music provides a clear contrast to Jesus’ foretelling of events in the second half of the song. Being only a Senior in Mt. Hebron High School, he still has a lot of time to perfect his vocal craft. I have no doubt that this young man will develop into a performer that is even more confident, capable and talented than he is now.

Luis “Matty” Montes as Jesus of Nazareth. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Throughout each interaction and glance, the audience witnesses the expansion of the void which continues to widen between Jesus and Judas. Both actors add to this conflict in their own unique way, whether it be stolen glances, interactions with other characters or face to face moments– it is obvious that both Gerhardt and Montes are dedicated to the storytelling that they began.

As the show continues on, we meet Pontius Pilate, portrayed by Mike Zellhofer. He emerges from the back of the theatre and walks forward to Jesus as he contemplates his dream that foretells his interaction with a Galilean. Zellhofer has a very unique voice; both soft and contemplative, while at the same time possessing a fervor that touches the audience in an emotional way.

Jim Gerhardt as Judas. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The temple scene was as fitting as it was haunting, the lighting enhanced Jesus’s reaction to the tide of humanity that even he seemed powerless to redeem. While the efforts made by the cast were very convincing in this scene, I was distracted by some cast-members who interacted with stage props in a less convincing way, such as when several actors hid underneath the stairs leading up to the stage. Despite this, the audience can still feel how overwhelmed Christ is when the sick come to visit the temple, and his reaction is both moving and palpable.

There is a sense of urgency when Mary dives to catch Jesus–she sings her familiar voice as the sick clear the stage. Lutz reaches the climax of her song with gusto, confidence and poise. She reaches notes with strength–truly serenading the audience. Meanwhile, Judas’s inner conflict is displayed clearly when he goes to the high priests. Here the lighting is both effective and immersive, as is the feeling of when Judas betrays Christ–here again his emotions are palpable. His sadness is a weight that is felt clearly by the audience, and is also enhanced by the eerie yet harmonious undertones of the ensemble’s “good old Judas” as the lights dim for intermission.

Mike Zellhofer as Pilate. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Overall the cast is enthusiastic, and while the costuming is simple it fits the punk and rockstar vibe that characterizes the show and distinguishes it from other adaptations. The talented vocal cast lends its hand in helping to bring the audience back in following the admission by delivering a beautiful chorus that tells the story of a people who drown their sorrows and grief in gentle pools of wine.

Judas and Jesus in this scene go back and forth, vocally competing, the clash of their worldviews acting out in person Jesus begins to doubt himself in his conversation with his Father. He is clearly troubled, and brings Jesus self-doubt and hate to life. It is here that Montes really displays his vocal range to the audience, and during this troubling monologue.

Following the arrest of Jesus at the hands of the Romans, King Herod, played by Atticus Emerson, provides a welcome comic relief to the conflict at hand. His performance is spirited, humorous, and lively, fitting the style and poise of the original piece. Following Herod’s performance, “Could we start again, please?” is by far the most beautifully simplistic and minimalistic piece in the second act. The harmony of Mary and Peter (played by Jeff Baker) was thoughtfully coordinated and stunningly done.

Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

For those who know the story, we know and feel the weight of Judas’s death. I was brought to tears as Judas asks, “Does he love me too?” Judas knows what he must do, stating “My mind is in darkness now” as the music swells as the ensemble members in black lead him away, towards suicide.

The flogging of Jesus was so creative–this is a very controversial to address, let alone depict–yet Katie Gerstmyer–covered in blood, “lashes” Jesus’s back, while dancing to symbolize the whipping–truly the most intuitive way to show the 39 lashes.

Judas comes back adorned in white with angels in tow, asking “Jesus Christ, who are you what have you sacrificed?”. His reaction to his old friend’s death is simultaneously sobering yet striking, and also provides the chance for his character to stun the audience one final time with his voice.

Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The final scene where Jesus is put to the cross is particularly striking, Montes’ interpretation of Jesus’s shock and desperation at his fate at the hands of the Romans is strikingly and starkly human. It is here that we see Jesus standing inside the cross, weeping in fear, set to the near-demonic tone of the audience. With the lights suddenly going out, we see Jesus taken away into oblivion, removing him from the stage, and by extension, from his connection to the living.

In summary, I’ve seen many different adaptations of Jesus Christ Superstar, but for me it is the cast that makes this show what it is; the actors are clearly passionate, the musical direction is superb, and the directors have proved their creative abilities. The show has three more performances. Be sure to catch this buzz before it’s gone.

This is what I thought of Just Off Broadway’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Jesus Christ Superstar will run through October 21 at Just Off Broadway @ Epiphany, Epiphany Lutheran Church, 4301 Raspe Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21206. For tickets email tickets@justoffbroadwaymd.com or purchase them online.

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Review: Miss Isabella Rainsong and Her traveling Companion: A One Man Guitar Show by Ross Martin

By Mike Zellhofer

Approx. Running Time: 90 minutes

My grandfather always told me that, “anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” While we are not connected familiarly, singer songwriter Ross Martin obviously agrees. Over twenty years went into the creation of Miss Isabella Rainsong and Her Traveling Companion, and it is well worth the wait.

For me, this was a unique experience because I had never seen much less covered a play about one man playing a guitar. From the very moment the light came up Martin shows his audience that this is not a concert. This is not a play. This may not even be entertainment, but what it is, is an immersion into a life experience that will run the gambit of emotions and hopefully leave you feeling human as you come out the other end. Martin is a living, breathing concept album that will leave you yearning for his next release.

Set inside a current day Amtrak passenger terminal in Anniston, Alabama we find a lowly traveler (Ross Martin) waiting for train service to resume. A brutal storm and tornado sightings have forced the suspension of service. The traveler views the audience as fellow travelers, and being the southern gentleman that he is, takes this time to introduce himself. He notes that it appears we are going to be sitting here for awhile and asks if he may share a story.

The story he shares is his. An average, every day person who is at a point in his life where he needs a helping hand. There is nothing special about this traveler. He could be any one of us in the audience or reading this and for me, that is what brought me into the story. Mr. Martin is not only a talented singer, but performer as well. His portrayal of the traveler is genuine. He does not try to make you feel sorry for him. He doesn’t even offer an explanation of circumstances as to how he got to this point. He doesn’t have to; he is us.

Unbeknownst to him, help is around the corner in the form of Miss Isabella Rainsong (Dolly Rainsong), in the form of a guitar. (To find out more about Dolly Rainsong, the companion CD, blog or more, please visit www.missrainsong.com) Our traveler finds an envelope, containing a note, clipped to Miss Rainsong by a capo. He reads the note and their journey together begins. Our traveler eloquently tells the story of how they spent a few years together riding the rails together. As not to give away the big reveal, I will leave the story here.

Throughout the storytelling Martin plays thirteen pieces of original music loosely linked to the story at hand. The genius behind Martin’s writing of Miss Isabella…Companion is that those songs can be replaced by songs from another storyteller without taking away from the overall production. Martin’s music combined with his story made this particular show special. However, it would be nice to hear someone like Anthony Kiedis perform this piece and use song that he wrote. The whole concept is brilliant and just works.

If there is one thing that I would change in the production, it would be the number of songs. The story its self is strong enough to stand on its own. For me, thirteen songs were a bit much and I would cut it down to ten; five in each act, but still add Isabella’s Rain Song at the end. Ten would keep the show moving and still provide a nice sample size of Mr. Martin’s work.

This show should not be missed. It is an evening of entertainment bliss. Unfortunately, at the time of this review there are no future events scheduled for Ross Martin or Dolly Rainsong. Please visit the website for future shows.

As Jason would say, “This is what I thought of Isabella Rainsong and Her Traveling Companion” … What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

You can find more information on YouTube or by going to www.missrainsong.com.

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Review: ‘Night, Mother at The Strand Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

The relationship between a mother and her child is a complex one, not to understate it. Mom is the only person in this world who has really known us our entire life, and then some! As we grow, we may stray away from each other, but the bond is always there, no matter what – whether we like it or not. Mom is that one person we can never explain to anyone else and we are the only one who sees her in a particular way. Vice versa, Mom can only see us in a certain way unlike anyone else. The Strand Theatre’s latest production, ‘Night, Mother by Marsha Norman, Directed by Anne Hammontree, peeks behind the curtain into one strained and intricate relationship between an “it-is-what-it-is” kind of mother and a daughter who has managed to find herself in a deep, dark place with only one seemingly way out. It’s a 90-minute snapshot in the lives of two women that is chillingly, but poignantly real.

Briefly, ‘Night, Mother concerns itself with Jessie, the daughter, and Thelma, the mother as they go about a regular Saturday night with one twist… Jessie has announced that she has decided to commit suicide within the next hour or so. Through the dialogue, we discover more about these characters and Jessie’s reasoning for making such a decision, as well as a little family history and feelings that had not been discussed before. As Thelma tries to convince Jessie that she can’t go through with her plan, it’s clear that Jessie has thought it through and might not be convinced.

I’d seen the 1986 film version of ‘Night, Mother, starring Sissy Spacek and Ann Bancroft (which I highly recommend) but this stage production of this piece is my first venture to Strand Theatre (and I don’t know why I waited so long!) and the space is unique but absolutely charming. Set Design by TJ Lukasina is, without a doubt, superb. The details from the working sink in the kitchen, to the lit lamps, to the grandfather clock that actually chimes on the hour are impeccable and give an authentic feel to the piece. This design puts the audience right into the action and makes one feel as though he or she is sitting at the kitchen table with these two ladies which keeps the entire production appealing throughout. The interestingly shaped space was not match for Lukasina as he transforms it into a living space that is cozy and real that adds great value to this production.

Kathryn Falcone as Thelma Cates and Andrea Bush as Jessie Cates. Credit: Shealyn Jae

Anne Hammontree takes the reigns of this production of ‘Night, Mother, and it’s clear she has a great comprehension of this piece, overall, and the thoughtful dialogue. Her staging is on point and though this piece could very well be two people sitting at a table talking all evening, she keeps the action going and engaging for the audience. It’s a challenging piece, but her casting is spot on and the presentation is clear and concise making this a delightful and thoughtful evening of theatre.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, Kathryn Falconetakes on the role of Thelma (Mama) Cates and Andrea Bush tackles the role of Jessie Cates. Both of these actress give strong, confident performances and their chemistry is incredible. From time to time, I completely forget these are two actresses performing roles in a play rather than a mother and daughter on a regular Saturday night – that’s how good they work with and off of each other.

From the moment she steps onto the stage, Kathryn Falcone completely embodies this character. Her delivery of the text is natural and she’s quite comfortable in this role with a strong presence and purpose. Falcone’s understanding of this character is clear and the audience can feel her urgency throughout the production. Overall, a job well done and Falcone should be commended for her splendid performance.

As Jessie Cates, the totally capable and able Andrea Bush could not be better suited for this role. It’s clear that Bush pulls from a very deep place to pull out this interpretation of this character. She becomes this character from the moment we see her walking onto the stage carrying bath and beach towels. Her instincts are correct and her compassion for this character guides her hand. She has a good grasp of what her character is going through and presents it authentically and clearly with a confident presence with a delicate handling. Kudos to Bush for an outstanding performance.

Final thought… ‘Night Mother is a heart-wrenching look at strained mother-daughter relationship full of resentment and regrets, but with a deep love for each other. It’s also a redemption, of sorts, with new connections and positive self-realizations. It’s an emotional roller-coaster that brings out the best and worst in family relationships, especially between mothers and daughters, when they are seem to be so similar but are actually vastly different. This one hit home hard for me. TRIGGER WARNING: this piece deals with suicide. However, it presents this story exceedingly well with poignancy as well as with a pinch of humor, giving a well-blended mix of ups and downs that make for a good drama. The performances are authentic and natural, and the characters are extremely relatable. The staging and pacing is on point making for an impeccable evening of theatre. Do yourself a favor – grab your tissues and get out to experience this show! It’s not one you want to miss this season.

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

‘Night Mother will play through October 14 at The Strand Theatre, 5426 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-874-4917 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Sex With Strangers at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

In the world of billions of people, two sometimes come together whether by chance or a little planning and sparks fly. You only get one chance at a first impression and sometimes you find that the one you love is the one you hated at first sight. I’ve heard we’re drawn to people who help us grow and learn so, in a way, we are drawn to people we need. Sometimes we get what we need honestly and, in the real world, we sometimes get what we need with a little “arranging,” whether we like to admit it or not. In Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest production, Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason, Directed by Patrick Gorirossi, gives us a glimpse into a somewhat dysfunctional relationship between an older woman and younger man who both need something from the other whether they know it or not.

Matthew Lindsay Payne and Kathyrne Daniels in Sex With Strangers. Credit: David Iden

Sex With Strangers, in a nutshell, concerns a twenty-something blogger, Ethan who finds his writing hero, the older Olivia, in a secluded cabin and they realize they both want what the other has already. A flirty attraction turns to an intimate relationship and they slowly move closer to what each wants from each other. However, through twist and turns, each must go through some self-realization and the sleazy side of climbing the ladder (or falling off the ladder) as each reinvents him and herself to attain their ambitions.

The story, itself, is a good story, very relatable, and can be set in any era. The characters are fleshed out and I found myself liking one over the other then making a complete 180° turn by the end. The dialogue is natural and authentic with no major plot holes or, any plot holes at all. It’s an easy story to follow and the ending, which I won’t give away, of course, leaves the audience thinking, which is always the hallmark of a good, well-told story.

Fells Point Corner Theatre, with its more traditional space, never disappoints when it comes to their sets and David Shoemaker’s Set Design is no different. He knows the space well and uses it wisely, giving us an authentic space for this piece. Everything is strategically placed and natural putting the audience in the scenes making the production more engaging. It’s a simple design, but absolutely appropriate and, from the audience, I feel like I’m looking through the window into a living room of a secluded cabin or a New York City apartment. Kudos to Shoemaker for his impeccable design.

Patrick Gorirossi takes the helm of this production and his Direction and staging is superb and engaging. Having a two-person cast can be challenging but Gorirossi manages to keep the action moving and it’s clear he has a good grasp on the material and the movement on stage is authentic and natural. His casting is top-notch and the production is polished and paced perfectly. Kudos to Gorirossi on a job well done.

Kathryne Daniels as Olivia. Credit: David Iden

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, it’s worth noting that the two-person cast of Kathryne Daniels as Olivia and Matthew Lindsay Payne as Ethan couldn’t have been cast more perfectly. They both embody this characters completely and have a great comprehension of the text. Neither are merely going through the motions, but are feeling what their characters are feeling and their choices fit the piece flawlessly.

Matthew Lindsay Payne as Ethan. Credit: David Iden

Though it was a bit of a stretch to believe Daniels is a woman in her early forties, she plays the character splendidly. Her transition from obscure, self-doubting writer to confident and ambitious novelist is seamless and occurs naturally. The writing accomplishes this well already, but Daniels brings it to life. Her natural and purposeful delivery makes her performance believable and she has a strong stage presence that works well for this piece. The chemistry she has with Payne is quite good and makes for a solid and refined performance.

Payne, too, gives and honest and solid performance as the twenty-something brash and no-holds-barred blogger who is “plugged in” 90% of the day. He handles his character’s change from beginning to end delicately and smoothly making for a brilliant performance. His comprehension of this character and his conflicts is apparent and his presence is strong making for a terrific performance, overall.

Final thought… Sex with Strangers is a moving, poignant piece that makes one think about relationships and what we need and/or want out of them. It’s also about learning to trust people and learning, sometimes the hard way, about what it is to be betrayed. The production is unassuming but strong and the performances are on point filled with skill and a solid chemistry. The modern setting makes it relatable and the characters and story are timeless making for a show that will be relevant for years to come and makes for a charming, thoughtful evening of theatre. Get your tickets because you don’t want to miss this one.

This is what I thought of this production of Sex with Strangers.… what do you think?

Sex with Strangers will play through October 7 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

Review: Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) at Single Carrot Theatre/The Acme Corporation

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Vladimir Putin is a curious character. Working his way up from the ranks of the KGB all the way up to the presidency of Russia, we all have our own opinions of him and some are more vocal about them than others. In the media, he’s portrayed in many different ways and his antics are regularly reported such as his stints practicing Judo or donning an ice hockey uniform and skating around the rink. Whatever you think about him, Single Carrot Theatre’s (with The Acme Corporation) latest offering, Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) by Lola B. Pierson, Directed by Yury Urnov, with Lighting Design by Eric Nightengale, Sound Design by Steven Krigel, and Video Design by Nitsan Scarf, attempts to give a few facts and explanations about this complex, sometimes absurd man and through the style of Absurdist Theatre, actually makes for an charming, thought-provoking evening of theatre.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

I’ve got to admit. I do, in fact, have a strong dislike of Theatre of the Absurd, but… I can definitely appreciate it and this production is so tight and engaging, I’m able to appreciate it even more. From what I could gather, Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) is trying to send the message that Putin is everywhere, no matter what the situation may be. It’s absurd, of course, but stranger things are possible, right? Each actor takes on a persona of the president and the ensemble performs through different scenarios to explain how this is possible and if it weren’t for the energized, polished performance, I probably would have taken them up on their offer that I could leave at any time, but… I didn’t. I was enthralled with this performance and the technical aspects involved that I sat through the entire 90 minutes and was thoroughly entertained.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

Lighting and Sound Design by Eric Nightengale and Steven Krigel, respectively, are two aspects of this production that shine through and pull this piece together. I’d compare Nightengale’s design to any big professional theatre out there today. He creates a night-club like atmosphere, for most of the show, but also manages to tone it down for more “serious” parts and it all works seamlessly. He knows his space and the staging well and keeps everything moving along nicely, setting the mood for each scene. Working in tandem with Nightengale’s Lighting Design, Krigel’s Sound Design is on point and impeccable. With appropriate sound effects, and the use of a live mic, Krigel’s work adds great value to this production. Both Nightengale and Krigel should be applauded and commended for their work on this piece. Kudos for a job well done!

Another technical aspect for this production is Video Design by Nitasan Scharf. Video and images play a huge part in this production and Scharf has put together a perfect design to help tell the story and move it along. I can only imagine the hours put into programing text and finding images that coincide with the onstage action but Scharf has done a splendid job and it’s clear his hard work and efforts have paid off.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

Jarod Hanson serves has Movement Director of this production and, though most of his work it seems happens at the beginning and during transitions, it is stellar. The ensemble is tight and polished and… that beginning. The movement, lights, and sound really get this production started with a bang and it keeps going from there. I gotta say, I am thoroughly impressed with the movement and choreography that goes into this piece and keeps it high-energy. I tip my hat to Hanson for his work on this production.

Yury Urnov takes the helm of this production and his Direction is spot on in, not necessarily telling a story, which I’m sure he can do just fine, but in getting the message across in this crazy style of theatre. I usually see Theatre of the Absurd as an art installation with people moaning and rolling around on the floor, however, not so much the case with this production. I was able to follow along easily and his staging keeps the energy up and the audience engaged. It’s clear he understands the style and the material and presents it in a way that is not too far “out there” and the comedy is not buried under pretentiousness. Urnov seems to be able to take this piece seriously, but the comedic aspects are not lost to him, at all. His casting is on point and the production, as a whole, with so many different aspects, works perfectly.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

One of the aspects I enjoy most about this production is that it is truly and ensemble piece where everyone is working together with no lead or featured character. The entire cast works well with and off of each other making for a smooth flowing and sophisticated production. Tania Karpekina (as Herself) starts us off speaking only in Russian and it sets the mood for the entire piece. I don’t speak Russian, but that was OK as her performance and delivery of her dialogue was good enough to keep me in the loop (that’s to say, I understood what she was saying enough to follow along, of course). All of the Putins: Baby Putin (Molly Cohen), Hockey Putin (Paul Diem), Judo Putin (Alix Fenhagen), Military Putin (Sophie Hinderberger), Putin with the Animals (Ben Kleymeyer), Putin with the Birds Separately (Meghan Stanton), Party Putin (Matthew Shea), Religious Putin (Mohammad R. Suaidi), and Drag Putin (Kaya Vision) all work hand in hand to relay this message to the audience and they do it skillfully and honestly with superb delivery of the dialogue and appealing staging. There’s even an impressive musical number with Paul Diem on Bass, Meghan Stanton on Piano, Matthew Shea on Trumpet, and Mohammad R. Suaidi on percussion, with vocalists Molly Cohen and Kaya Vision that brings the house down and these actors are playing their own instruments and singing live.

The cast of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show). Credit: Single Carrot Theatre

Overall, I may not have liked the style of theatre for this production, I cannot deny the impeccable performances and superb production and technical aspect that makes this a successful production.

Final thought…Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) isn’t my cup of tea but it is a very polished, well-put together production that Single Carrot Theatre should be proud of and applauded for. The performers are dedicated and have a solid grasp on Theatre of the Absurd. The mulit-media aspect keeps it engaging and interesting and the use of sound and light is enveloping keeping the audience in the heart of the piece. It’s a political driven work but the author is wise enough to let people know information is just being presented but, in the end,, the individual leaves with questions to think about and come up with his or her own opinions. It’s an innovative, creative experience that you should check out this season. Just remember… you are free to leave at any time.

This is what I thought of Single Carrot Theatre’s production of Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show)… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Putin on Ice (This Isn’t the Real Title of This Show) will play through October 7 at Single Carrot Theatre, 2600 North Howard Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 443-844-9253 or purchase them online.

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Review: Dancing at Lughnasa at Everyman Theatre

By Andrea Bush

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with a 10-minute intermission

“I know I had a sense of unease, some awareness of a widening breach between what seemed to be and what was, of things changing too quickly before my eyes, of becoming what they ought not to be.”

L-R: Katie Kleiger, Lahbahoise Magee,
and Megan Anderson.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel and Directed and Choreographed by Amber Paige McGinnis, is the story of a memory, told by Michael Evan’s as he looks back across a quarter-century, to August 1936 during the Festival of Lughnasa. The five unmarried Mundy sisters – Michael’s mother, Christina, and his aunts, Kate, Maggie, Agnes, and Rose – live together in a cottage outside the fictional village of Ballybeg, Ireland. Their brother, Father Jack, has returned after 25 years as a missionary on a leper colony in Uganda, with malaria, a spotty memory, and some contrary ideas. Before long, Michael’s charming but unreliable father, Gerry, resurfaces, as well. As the Industrial Revolution finally makes its way to Ireland, we find this family in transition, but between what? Old and new? Real and imagined? Together and apart? Restraint and abandon? Well…yes. Dancing at Lughnasa is a beautiful piece of theatre that may be an entirely different story for each patron.

L-R: Annie Grier, Bari Hochwald, Katie
Kleiger, and Labhaoise Magee.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

The action takes place in and around the Mundy sisters’ cottage, which is brilliantly realized by Set Designer Yu-Hsuan Chen. I am legitimately in such awe of her set that I struggle to find the words to praise it. Chen has so beautifully captured the line between reality and memory with a perfectly-appointed cottage kitchen (complete with smoke from the chimney of the wood-burning stove), the walls of which seem to have dissolved away so we may sneak a glimpse into the lives it contains. The cottage is surrounded by impressions of wind-swept trees and an abstract landscape. I truly felt like I was looking in on someone else’s memory and it made me uncomfortable in the best possible way. Chen’s set is nothing short of perfection.

L-R: Bruce Randolph Nelson, Bari Hochwald, Labhaoise
Magee, Annie Grier, Megan Anderson, Tim Getman, and
Katie Kleiger.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

Upon entering the theatre, patrons are greeted by Irish music, which foretells the wonderful sound design by Phillip Owen. Music (or the lack thereof) is almost another character in the play, and Owen’s design is spot on.

David Burdick’s costume design is excellent and appropriate for each character, and I appreciate Annie Nesmith’s almost-undetectable wig design.

For the most part, the actors seem to have taken well to the dialect coaching of Gary Logan and I was grateful that he chose diction over dialect without losing the authenticity of the accent.

Props Master Jillian Mathews may well deserve an unsung hero award for her work on this production. The sheer volume of “things” on the stage is overwhelming, giving the cottage and yard an authentic, lived-in feel. Kudos to Stage Manager Cat Wallis, as well – it seems like there are so many nearly imperceptible moving parts to this show that no one will ever know, thanks to Wallis.

L-R: Bari Hochwald, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Annie Grier,
Danny Gavigan, Labhaoise Magee, Tim Getman, Katie
Kleiger, and Megan Anderson.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

Jay Herzog’s lighting design is stunning, which is no surprise. I would honestly go see a production at Everyman Theatre just for his design work. In a production that transitions between past and present, we expect to see shifts in lighting to represent the time change, but it is all too often done with a heavy hand, which makes me feel disrespected as an audience member. Herzog takes a gentler approach and his subtle transitions enhance the story, rather than becoming the story. I also always love his use of pools of light, instead of a consistent spot, to track an actor across the stage.

L-R: Megan Anderson and Tim Getman.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

As the play begins, the adult Michael (Tim Getman) invites us into his memory and the lights come up on the rest of the characters in tableau. Getman adeptly breaks the fourth wall consistently throughout the play and his performance feels genuine, never forced or overly sentimental (In fact, none of the actors get weighed down in sentiment, which is a testament to Amber Paige McGinnis’ apt direction of this piece). As he stands outside the action, he also takes on the persona and delivers lines for his seven-year-old self – a challenge for him and his fellow actors to interact without interacting. I enjoyed this device immensely and it is well-handled by all.

L-R: Labhaoise Magee,
Katie Kleiger, Annie Grier,
and Bari Hochwald.
Photo Credit: Teresa
Castracane

The oldest sister, Kate (Bari Hochwald) is stern, but likeable. Toward the beginning of the evening, Hochwald seemed a little unsure of herself, but as the show went on, I thought it might be a character choice that she hasn’t fully settled into yet. I did, however, enjoy her performance. Kate is the practical sister and often has to play the “bad guy” to keep the household going. It would be easy to play the character as mean, but Hochwald finds beautiful layers within Kate and this may be my favorite role that I’ve seen her in.

Megan Anderson’s portrayal of Maggie is a delight. She is sassy and bold and I wanted to be her friend. Her interactions with young Michael, full of riddles and imagination, were some of the most beautiful moments of the show. Anderson’s absolute abandon as she danced and sang and tried to bring lightness to the home made me yearn to get up and dance with her.

L-R: Katie Kleiger, and
Danny Gavigan.
Photo Credit: Teresa
Castracane

Labhaoise Magee is a sweet, childlike Rose, the youngest sister. Her desire to embrace the world is palpable. Magee brings an unexpected combination of innocence and practicality to the role, which was interesting to watch.

Christina (Katie Kleiger) and Gerry (Danny Gavigan) are Michael’s unmarried parents. Kleiger plays the dichotomy between who Christina is on her own and who she is with Gerry with aplomb. Gavigan plays Gerry with just enough charm to make you want him to stay and just enough smarm to make you doubt he ever will, which makes Kleiger’s performance that much more heartbreaking.

Father Jack, played by Bruce Randolph Nelson, is my conundrum for this show. I have to say that I very much enjoyed seeing Bruce Randolph Nelson tell stories about Pagan rituals and be just a bit off his rocker – he really was captivating in his own right. But, in the context of the show, I’d have rather seen Father Jack. Unfortunately, Nelson’s authenticity in the role was lacking, right down to his on-again-off-again accent.

L-R: Bari Hochwald and Megan
Anderson.
Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

But, Annie Grier’s performance as Agnes is the one I can’t stop thinking about. Agnes is the most subtle sister and her performance is perfectly understated and gorgeous. I couldn’t stop watching her, even as she sat in the background of a scene, knitting. I don’t want to give away her story arc, but I will say that her masterful performance makes it all the more poignant.

Overall, Dancing at Lughnasa is another stunning production from Everyman Theatre. From design to direction to performance, it is a must-see this season. I hope to get back to see it again before it fades to nothing more than a memory.

Dancing at Lughnasa will play through October 7 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the Box Office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.

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Review: Disney’s The Little Mermaid at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

By TJ Lukacsina

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

Under the Sea with Sebastian (Derek Cooper). Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

Sebastian is certainly onto something when he tells Airel that “the human world is a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there.” Especially if he’s referring to Cockpit in Court’s latest production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glen Slater. This production is Directed by Jillian Bauersfeld, with Music Direction by Andrew Worthington, and Choreography by Karli Burnham. Originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, this adaptation from Disney’s 1989 film has a book by Doug Wright which has had some unfortunate rewrites since the show closed on Broadway in 2009. I’ll be upfront in saying that the majority of my qualms for this production stem from these poor rewrites and cuts that Disney made before allowing it to be licensed to local theatre groups. In general the writing is watered down and presentational on a basic, at times insulting, level and makes you feel as if you’re watching the Wikipedia Summary instead of the show. Thankfully, Jillian Bauersfeld’s handling of the show not only makes it palatable but also an enjoyable experience for all ages.

Briefly, The Little Mermaid is about Ariel, King Triton’s youngest daughter, who wishes to pursue the human Prince Eric in the world above. She bargains with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to trade her tail for legs by giving up her voice. But the bargain is not what it seems, and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends, Flounder the fish, Scuttle the seagull and Sebastian the crab to restore order under the sea. (www.mtishows.com)

Under the Direction of Jillian Bauersfeld, Music Direction of Andrew Worthington and Stage Management of Robert W. Oppel, this production is highly entertaining and manages to allow the audience to drift from scene to scene without any pull from the undertow. The audience feeds off the energy flowing from the stage and one can’t help but enjoy being slightly distracted from little kids singing along to some of their favorite songs. That’s when you know you have tapped into the Disney magic and are encouraging future theatre lovers.

Allison Comotto as Ariel. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

Walking into the theatre you are treated with a projection of a beach and the sounds of waves and seagulls to help take you away from the pouring rain outside. Creating their magical world, Set Designer Michael Rasinski should be proud of the scene shop’s execution. These beautiful set pieces are large enough to maintain their presence while the cast dances on and around them. Corals in Ariel’s grotto and individual wood planks on Eric’s ship are the kinds of details that help transport you and are much appreciated. But even with the details, a little more attention to the destruction of the grotto would have helped the audience grieve with Ariel instead of wonder why she was so upset that her thingamabobs were moved a few feet away from her whatchamacallits. However, all of these set pieces would go unnoticed if it weren’t for Thomas Gardner’s Lighting Design. Overall, the lighting is aesthetically pleasing and appropriate. The heavy use of haze allowed the lighting to be seen to help fill the full stage space but allowed the lights to become distracting during the scenes on the apron where they obscured the projection heavily. Use of moving lights helped to create the underwater effect and while effective, would occasionally get lost due to similarities in the color pallette . Mr. Gardner certainly has an eye for key moments in songs and certainly knows when and how to highlight them for maximum effect.

Deanna Brill’s Costume Design walked the line between expectation and invention. I applaud the bold choice to tastefully show so much beautiful skin and the design of the mer-tales that were as practical as they were visually delightful. The ensemble were dressed vividly while the classic looks from the movie were still alluded to, from Prince Eric’s classic outfit to even the puffy sleeves on the wedding dress. From the fish, eels and even the birds, the costumes allowed the actor’s characters to come to life.  Although the designer is not listed in the program, make-up design was detailed and really helped to establish these characters as otherworldly. My main makeup concern was actually a lack of a certain makeup: the decision to not conceal actor’s tattoos. While appropriate in some shows, I found them to be a minor distraction for this production.

Gary Dieter as Scuttle. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

For a show that has a focus on story and is aided occasionally with dance, Karli Burnham’s Choreography helped to showcase the wonderful talent in the cast. With a working knowledge of the costumes, the choreography wasn’t limited to just foot movement but body and arm movements which allowed for a fluid movement from the actors. Some of the large ensemble numbers while portraying water felt repetitive and tedious in their attempt to fill the musical space. However, her work really shines with the small tap ensemble as well as the evolution of dance Eric teaches Ariel in “One Step Closer” was storytelling through dance.

The heavy lifting of Alan Menken’s score is in the capable hands of Andrew Worthington. The cast was well prepared and knowledgeable enough of their parts to make them their own and not rely on mimicking the original cast recordings. All voice parts were balanced and easily heard along with the pit thanks to the constant vigilance by sound designer Brent Tomchik. Following Mr. Worthington’s conducting was a competent orchestra consisting of established musicians in the area: Stephen Deninger, William Zellhofer, Christopher Rose, Stacey Antoine, Joseph Pipkin, William Georg, and Gregory Troy Bell. While proficient and accurate, the orchestra only suffered from a lack of actual brass and additional woodwinds. Even though those parts were covered in the keyboards, I found the patches were inconsistent among themselves and rarely compensates for the timbre from the actual instrument.

All these designers were able to achieve on a level which produced a thorough and consistent vision from Director Jillian Bauersfeld. With the aid of Assistant Director Jake Stuart, the cast is able to portray these fantasy characters with heart, believability and a recognizable humanity. While working under the shadow of a Disney title, it’s difficult to produce a show that allows artistic freedom with a vision while still giving the audience a dose of their expectations from the movie which kicked off the Disney animated renaissance. Ms. Bauersfeld was able to give us a cast worth watching and set up a show that ran smoothly. Small decisions to have the sea characters constantly moving arms or allowing several acting choices that were inconsistent to their characters are minor annoyances and never hurt the overall enjoyment. The true art of directing is assembling the right team to find the right cast and crew and allow everyone to do what they do while pushing them for more. Congrats to Ms. Bauersfeld on your ability to inspire everyone to give their best!

(l-r) Josh Schoff as Flostom, Holly Gibbs as Ursula, and Jonah Wolf as Jetsam. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

I have always felt that some of the hardest working actors seem to get lost in the ensemble. When asked to play several different characters, help shift set pieces, and often run off stage only to completely change costumes and makeup and run back on stage for two minutes of a three minute song, it’s hard to remember what is next let alone your name. Major kudos to Nicole Arrison, Olivia Aubele, Amy Bell, Lanoree Blake, Katelyn Blomquist, Karli Burnham, Kelsey Feeny, Shani Goloskov, Aaron Hancock, Mark Johnson Jr, Dorian Smith, Ian Smith and Jose Teneza for your energy, talent and being consistently in character. These actors jumped from the sailors steering the ship and winding the rope, to King Triton’s court, to the seagull ensemble, chefs and Ariel’s attendants in the castle and were always able to help establish the mood of the scene.

Featuring Ellen Manuel (Aquata), Elisabeth Johnson (Andrina), Malarie Zeeks (Arista), Kaitlyn Jones (Atina), Emily Caplan (Adella) and Hannah Bartlett (Allana), Ariel’s mer-sisters were a wonderful balance to Ariel’s positive and dreamy attitude. Using different hair styles and different shells while porting vastly different personalities and physical traits, each sister managed to be her own while presenting a unified front in their featured numbers “Daughters of Triton” and “She’s in Love.” Pulling double duty, they are a delight to see on land competing for Eric’s love in the vocal contest that plays up the fantastically poor vocals of these characters.

Brian Jacobs as Chef Louis. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

In supporting yet memorable roles, Brian Jacobs revels in playing Chef Louis during “Les Poissons” while Nicholas Pepersack’s dignified and proper Grimsby was always moving with purpose on stage. Mr. Jacobs clearly enjoys his song and slashes into his character to the breaking point of the cleaver. A fun cameo for sure that was able to get the giggles and laughs from the audience. Grimsby’s conversation with King Triton really gives Mr. Pepersack a moment to have a heartfelt moment and show how proud he is of Prince Eric.

My scene-stealing award goes to Gary Dieter who simply was Scuttle from the moment he flew in to his flawless tap dance in “Positoovity.” Scuttle was over the top and as endearingly annoying as I remember from the movie. It was hard not to smile when he was visible. Sharing the stage with him most of the time and impressively holding his own ground was Adrien Amrhein as Flounder. With sweet dance moves and a solid voice, this kid will secure more roles on stage and we will benefit from seeing him. Dutifully performing a poorly written character, his choices to not emphasize being friend-zoned and play up the best friend were appreciated.

Slithering onto the stage on their matching scooters were Josh Schoff as Flotsam and Jonah Wolf as Jetsam. The choice of scooters to maneuver them around stage was inventive and paid off in execution. Both actors were able to skillfully incorporate them in their character and not rely on them as a crutch. They were perfect henchmen to Holly Gibbs’ Ursula. Having arguably both the best and worst songs in the show, Ms. Gibb was able to make the most of her voice and complemented with acting ability that emanated from all eight limbs.

As ruler of the sea, Mark Lloyd’s King Triton managed to capture the softer side and showcased his mourning for his deceased wife and inability to properly communicate with Ariel. “If Only” is a great song to show that Triton is more than just a fierce ruler who banished his sister to a small part of the ocean but is also a parent who is sometimes unsure how to parent. He relies on Sebastian, played by Derek Cooper, to spy on Ariel and win her trust. With a clever costume and sublime vocals, Mr. Cooper is able to bring Sebastian into our lives with his own lovely interpretation. “Under the Sea” is his time to shine and when out in front singing he earns your attention with powerful falsettos and fantastic facial expressions.

The Daughters of Triton. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

Our leading man, Jim Baxter hits the stage as Prince Eric while taking charge of his ship. Mr. Baxter certainly looks every bit of what you’d expect from the cartoon and captures his love for adventure when on the ship and when courting Ariel in the second act. When beginning “Her Voice” he was oddly out of breath but managed to salvage some and really drive the second half of his number home with gusto and emotion. Not to be out-done by her new fiance, Allison Comotto’s Ariel is exactly what you could want from a Disney princess. Ms. Comotto is able to capture Ariel’s longing and desire to escape all while dealing with difficult family members. Allison really comes to life in Act two when her curiosity and excitement can only be communicated through her facial expressions. The joy Ariel finds in the new world is brilliantly shown during “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” where she sings her inner monologue to us. But however fantastic she is, she is at her prime when singing “Part of Your World.” Congratulations on your fairytale engagement and for inspiring a cast to follow your lead.

Disney’s Little Mermaid is a local theatre production that is able to rely on the community of actors, crew, musicians and artistic staff to bring its own magic to the stage. They should be proud of the work that they have poured into this show. The perfect escape from the summer heat, bring the family to see Cockpit in Court’s production where “it’s better down where it’s wetter.”

Disney’s The Little Mermaid will run through Auguest 5 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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Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

William Shakespeare is not everyone’s cup of tea, but his work has well outlasted him and is being produced regularly throughout the world so, he must have done something right. His stories are timeless and can relate to anyone in any era which is what, I think, helps the longevity of his work. The comedies are my personal favorite, but, that’s just me, and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s latest offering, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is on top of my list so, I went in with lofty expectations. However, this production, Directed by Gerrad Alex Taylor did not disappoint in any way.

Elana Michelle as Hippolyta and Michael Toperzer as Theseus. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Briefly, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fanciful triste through the city and wood of ancient Athens. A young woman, Hermia, is betrothed to one noble man, Demetrius, while in love with another, Lysander, who just so happens to be in love with her. Bring in Helena, who is in love with Demetrius, but the feelings are not mutual. Enter the Fairy King, Oberon, and Fairy Queen, Titania who are having their own lover’s quarrel, and a sort of practical joke including dew from a certain plant that makes a person fall in love with the first person they see after waking up. Throw a little troublemaking imp named Puck in the mix and you have a farcical comedy that has lasted hundreds of years… for good reason.

Designing a set for an outdoor setting can be challenging but Daniel O’Brien’s Set Design is impeccable as it is simple. Not calling for much in the way of scenery, O’Brien has managed to turn this small corner of space in the midst of “ruins” of a building at a historic park into the solid and larger than life Athens, as well as a blissful and fanciful forest in which fairies and imps romp, all with the opening and closing of two large canvases. It works beautifully with the piece and adds great value to the production as a whole.

Jose Guzman as Nick Bottom and Alana Michelle. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

For Costume Design, Heather C. Jackson chose to keep it traditional with colorful flowing robes and sashes that work extremely well for this traditional setting. Her design is well thought-out and the ensemble seems comfortable in their wardrobe which helps the overall performance of the piece. It’s apparent she’s familiar with the both the era and the fanciful theme and it shows in her impeccable design.

Gerrad Alex Taylor take the reins as Director of this production and it couldn’t be in better hands. His choice to use a traditional setting is wise and takes everything back to basics. So many companies like to adapt and modernize Shakespeare’s work (which I’m all for), but it’s good to see that the traditional setting still works and works brilliantly. Taylor has a strong comprehension of the material and his whimsical and fantastic vision is clear in every scene. The pacing is on point and the staging is engaging every step of the way. Taylor also takes on double duty as Fight Choreographer and he hits the nail on the head with this aspect, as well. Each fight is finely tuned and exciting making for an overall delightful experience. Kudos to Gerrad Alex Taylor for a superb production.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that the entire ensemble did their part and performed with 100% effort. It’s easy to see this cast is comfortable with each other and their chemistry is second to none.

Michael Toperzer as Oberon and Elana Michelle as Titania. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Michael Toperzer as Oberon and Elana Michelle as Titania shine in these roles, as well as their takes on the characters of Theseus and Hippolyta. Their interaction with and off of each other draw the audience in and Toperzer and Michelle portray the complex relationship between Oberon and Titania beautifully and with confidence making for intense and engaging performances from both.

Christine Watt as Peaseblossom, Abigail Funk as Cobweb, and Sydney Thomas as Mustardseed are the perfect complement to Elana Michelle’s Titania and these three play their characters to the hilt. They, too, work well with and off of each other to create a tight circle that moves the dialogue and story along nicely. All three actresses are well rehearsed and well suited for their roles.

The story revolves around two couples, mainly, and Nina Marti and Rafael Sebastian portray Hermia and Lysander, the two forbidden lovers. Marti is a firecracker and as the script states, “…she’s fierce, even though she’s little.” and that’s exactly what she is. Marti has a tight grasp on the text and performs it effortlessly while Sebastian, too, portrays Lysander with just the right amount of innocence and a young man’s lust making for commendable performances from both.

The Fairies Dance. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

The other unfortunate couple, Demetrius and Helena, are portrayed brilliantly by Nick Fruit and Kate Forton. Though their characters start out as anything but a couple, through a little bit of magic and luck, they end up happily joined. Fruit plays the uppity Demetrius well with confidence and grand gestures but also understands and does well with the slapstick that is required of the character. Likewise, Forton is stellar in this role. She completely embodies this character and it’s easy to see the love and passion she has for this character and the piece as a whole. She has a strong stage presence and gives a natural, seemingly unscripted performance that makes her a highlight in this production. Fruit and Forton work well off of each other and their timing is flawless making for a delightful and strong performance, overall.

Imani Turner as Puck. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Young Imani Turner, still in high school, tackles the role of Puck, the little trouble making imp who doubles, at times, as narrator of this story. This young actor is a true talent and his instincts and natural ability are apparent as he portrays this comedic character with just enough mischief for him to irritate but with a mix of a bigheartedness, one cannot help but like this character. His delivery and comedic timing is on point and I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

The Athens acting troupe, also known as The Rude Mechanicals consist of Colin Connor as Peter Quince, Brenden Edward Kennedy as Francis Flute, Tim Neil as Snug, Owen Halstad as Robin Starveling and the casting of these gents is superb. All of them comedians and the performance of their featured part, the play within a play called Pyramus and Thisby will have you rolling in the isles. It can be seen as the play that goes wrong, and it was one of the most enjoyable moments of theatre I’ve encountered this season. Connor, Kennedy, Neil, and Halstad show off their comedic timing and slapstick abilities impeccably and have the audience roaring with laughter. This crew is certainly a highlight of the production.

Iman Turner as Puck and Michael Toperzer as Oberon. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Another member of this troupe is standout Jose Guzman as Nick Bottom. Seemingly a vain and obtuse character, Guzman plays Nick Bottom to perfection. Guzman has a complete grasp of the text and plays it over the top, but not so over the top as to be annoying… just the right amount. Guzman is a force to be reckoned with onstage with a strong stage presence and a natural comedic ability. You can’t miss him in any scene he is in whether he is speaking or pantomiming in the back and his delivery is spot on. He’s certainly one to watch in this particular production and I can’t wait to see future performances from this actor.

Final thought…A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not a show you want to miss this season. The production is top-notch in every aspect and the setting couldn’t be more picturesque. From the scenery to the staging to the performances, this production of a Shakespeare favorite will not disappoint and makes for an absolutely delightful evening of theatre. The thought and care that went into this performance is apparent and the actors, who are giving 100% of their effort and passion, make this a successful retelling of this classic comedy that will have you doubled over, laughing, and engaged every step of the way. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will play through July 29 at The Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, 3655 Church Rd, Ellicott City, MD 21043. For tickets, call 410-244-8570 or purchase them online.

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Review: James and the Giant Peach at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

When it comes down to it, family is what matters, whether it’s by blood or by choice, we all need a place to belong, where we are loved for who and what we are with no questions asked. Some families look alike and some are a tapestry of colors and shapes and sizes but none of that matters when the love is there. This important message is clear in Heritage Players latest production of James and the Giant Peach with a Book by Timothy Allen McDonald and Words and Music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. This new production, based on the classic novel of the same name by Ronald Dahl, is Directed by Elizabeth Tane Kanner, with Music Direction by Emily Taylor and Chris Pinder, and Choreography by Malarie Zeeks.

(l-r) Rebecca Hanauer as Ladybug, Brandon Goldman as James, Jeremy Goldman as Grasshopper, Matt Scheer as Earthworm, Megan Mostow as Spider, and John “Gary” Pullen as Centipede. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

If you are not familiar with the story, briefly, it is about little orphan James who is sent to live with his horrible Aunts, Spiker and Sponge, who treat him badly. While performing some hard labor on the property, he runs into the mysterious Ladahlord, who gives him a magic potion that helps the old, dying peach tree produce a peach, but not just any old peach. This peach grows and grows until it’s as big as a house and James finds his way into this peach and meets a gaggle of insects, all his size, including a Spider, a Ladybug, an Earthworm, a Grasshopper, and a Centipede. All of them must get off the property before Spiker and Sponge destroy them in one way or another and they embark on a journey across the sea, all the while learning what it means to be loved and a part of a family.

Set Design by Elizabeth Tane Kanner and Atticus Copper Boidy is simple but effective for this piece. The decision for a unit set is wise and allows for set pieces to be rolled in to represent various locations, keeping it simple. The growth of the magic peach is clever, using various items at different stages of growth, so it’s easy to see a lot of thought went into this design. Some of the scenic painting is elementary, but it works for this fanciful piece and, overall, it’s easy for the actors to navigate and is appropriate for the production.

Costumer Lisa Chicarella had her work cut out for her with this whimsical tale but she has stepped up and created a wardrobe that works brilliantly with this piece. Each principle character is a different insect and the choice of wardrobe is flawless with elegant dresses and skirts for the French Spider and English Ladybug and the snazzy Grasshopper suit with a splash of green to get the point across. Not to mention the horrible Aunt costumes, which are over the top but absolutely fitting for this piece. The costumes were appropriate and the cast seems comfortable in them which adds great value to this production.

(l-r) Megan Mostow as Spider, Brandon Goldman as James, and Rebecca Hanauer as Ladybug. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Malarie Zeeks’ Choreography is impressive and entertaining making for fun and energized numbers. She seems to know her cast and works with the different levels of abilities to create dances and movement that complement the ensemble and produce tight, strong dance numbers making for a delightful production, all around. Kudos to Zeeks for her work on this piece.

Emily Taylor and Chris Pinder tackle Music Direction for this production and their efforts are to be applauded. Using recorded music can be challenging, but Taylor and Pinder have this ensemble performing near flawlessly and bring Pasek and Paul’s score to life, vocally, with ease. The ensemble and individual performers are on key and in rhythm making for a tight, on point performance.

Director, Elizabeth Tane Kanner, seems to have a good grasp of this material and it’s message and presents it in a well thought-out production. Those the sets leave a little to the imagination, the character work and staging is on point. The pacing is stellar and Kanner creates a production that engage both children and adults, which can be tricky. She hasn’t just put on a “kids show” but a show that the entire family will enjoy. Her vision is clear and she has gathered a superb ensemble to present it.

It’s worth stating that the entire ensemble of this piece is a joy to watch. Every single actor and actress on the stage is giving 100% effort and it shows in the group numbers and scenes in between those numbers. Kudos to this entire ensemble for their efforts and the production they’ve mounted.

Brandon Goldman as James. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Brandon Goldman takes on the titular character of James and it’s easy to see he enjoys portraying this role. For being a younger actor, he holds his own against the older, more experienced actors and portrays James near perfectly as the longing orphan, just looking for a family to love and to love him. Though little Goldman isn’t extremely strong vocally, yet, he’s young, has great potential. His featured numbers are poignant and he pulls in the audience, especially in numbers such as “Middle of a Moment” This reviewer thinks he’s going to make a big splash in the theatre community as time goes on. It’s tough being the youngest in an ensemble but Goldman shines in this role.

(l-r) Megan Mostow, Rebecca Hanauer, Brandon Goldman, Jeremy Goldman, Matt Scheer, and John “Gary” Pullen. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Stephen M. Deininger as Ladahlord, the mysterious storyteller with a flair for magic who pops in every now and again, completely embodies this role and his energy is infectious. He takes this role and runs with it making him a joy to watch. Deininger knows how to read his audience and roll with the punches making him one to watch. Two other principle players, John “Gary” Pullen as Centipede and Matt Scheer as Earthworm also know their characters well and play them to the hilt. Pullen’s curmudgeon Centipede is believable and balances out the rest of the Insect crew while Scheer’s plays the anxious and jumpy Earthworm in such a way, you’re rooting for him throughout the production. Vocally, he’s confident and performs his featured number, the hilarious “Plump and Juicy” without a hitch. Having a taller stature, the jumpiness seems a little clunky rather than light and airy, but this doesn’t affect his character and he plays it easily.

Highlights of this production are Jeremy Goldman as Grasshopper, Rebecca Hanauer as Ladybug, and Megan Mostow as Spider. These three actors superbly play these characters as the ones who seem to bond most closely with James and they’re portrayals are spot on. Goldman’s Grasshopper is polite and caring, and has beautiful chemistry with his cast mates. His strong vocals add to the Insect numbers such as “Floating Along.” He’s a joy to watch and it’s easy to see he’s having a blast in this role. Rebecca Hanauer has a great grasp on her character and plays her with the dignity and grace that is required and performs a pretty believable English accent. Vocally, she’s a powerhouse and shines in numbers such as “Everywhere That You Are.” Working in tandem with Goldman and Hanauer is Megan Mostow who radiates in the role of the Spider. Her French accent is on point as his her character work. Her confidence and comfort being on the stage shines through and her solid vocals make her, too, a vocal powerhouse, especially in numbers where she is featured like “Floating Along” and the heartfelt “Everywhere That You Are.” Hats off to these actors for jobs well done and for giving the utmost effort in their roles.

(l-r) Ashley Gerhardt as Spiker and Amy E. Haynes as Sponge. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Last but certainly not least, Ashley Gerhardt as Spiker and Amy E. Haynes as Sponge, the nasty, horrible aunts are absolute standouts in this piece. They’re chemistry seems effortless and they completely embody these roles. Haynes, who plays the less intelligent of the two, plays her seriously enough to get the job done but has enough fun to give the audience a great show. Her costumes are over the top and work perfectly for this story. Gerhardt, who is a brilliant character actress, chews this role up and spits it out making for a funny and unblemished performance. From her outfits to her English (Cockney) accent, she’s on point. Vocally, both Haynes and Gerhardt both give hearty performances and will have your ribs tickling with such featured numbers as “A Getaway for Spiker and Sponge” and the slapstick, and straight-up funny “I Got You.”

Final thought… James and the Giant Peach is a heartwarming, entertaining piece that is appropriate for the entire family. It teaches and spreads the message that family can be by blood or chosen and that there are all kinds of families out in the world. You don’t need to be from the same place or look the same way and this is absolutely relevant today. This important teaching is presented in a way that children will easily understand but engaging enough for adults to maybe learn a thing or two, as well. The production is well though-out and the casting is on point. Though only one more weekend to go, this is definitely a show you want to check out this season.

This is what I thought of Heritage Players production of James and the Giant Peach… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

James and the Giant Peach will run through July 14 at Heritage Players in the Thomas-Rice Auditorium on the Spring Gove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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Review: Judy and the General at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Kay-Megan Washington and Kellie Podsednik. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

It seems no matter what time or era, women have always been underestimated, especially in biblical times. Women were supposed to act a certain way, be accepting of everything men threw at them, and docile and obedient. However… there were a few “rouge” women who weren’t having it, whatsoever. One of those women is Judith from the biblical Book of Judith which we don’t hear much about (I wonder why?) but is a great story of strength, faith, and love. Spolighters Theatre latest offering, the World Premiere of Judy and the General, by Baltimore playwright Rosemary Frisino Toohey, Directed and Musically Directed by Michael Tan, presents this epic story in an accessible, humorous telling of this intriguing and important story.

Kellie Podsednik as Judy. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

As stated, we don’t hear much about Judith today but there are representations in paintings, monuments, and song all over the world. Briefly, Judy and the General tells the story of Judith, a young girl who lives in a small farming village with her father and they seem to be on the verge of bankruptcy. She meets the very rich and very tender Manasseh and the two fall madly in love. With her newfound riches, Judith becomes quite a pill for others, especially her maid. Unfortunately, Manasseh keels over soon after and Judith is left alone. Meanwhile, a neighboring Assyrian king wants to take over the land in which the village sits and sends his best general, Holofernes. All the while, Judith has put herself in solitary confinement and has seen the light and wants to be a better person by helping others. The Assyrians and the villagers are at a standoff and Judith realizes she can use her feminine wiles on Holofernes to help her village and be a better, more pious person.

Richard Greenslit as Soldier. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Alan Zemla’s Set Design is minimal but, as always, on point. The space at Spotlighters is intimate and in the round and Zemla knows it like the back of his hand. His use of the entire theatre is wise and opens up the production more than what the stage has to offer. His scenic art work is brilliant and he puts the audience smack dab in the middle of the ancient village and dwellings. Simple set pieces are used to represent locations and allow for smooth transitions. Kudos to Zemla for adding great value to the production.

Wayne Ivusich, Kellie Podsednik, and Rob Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Putting new work out can be frightening, but, someone has to do it and I’m glad those “someones” do. Rosemary Frisino Toohey has given us a strong piece to mull over. Her script is spot on in all aspects including dialogue, structure, and timing. It’s witty, engaging, and tells this epic story in an accessible, witty way that is entertaining and keeps the attention of the audience. My criticism is with the music aspect. It is a musical, so, music is half the deal, but with this particular production, the music just seemed to fall flat. Don’t get me wrong, the songs are simple and sing-able, but you won’t find yourself tapping your foot or humming any of the tunes when you walk out of the theatre. Some might, but most probably won’t. That being said, the music is appropriate for the piece and it yields some cute melodies, but overall, it doesn’t make a deep impression. Toohey’s lyrics may be the biggest problem. At times they are elementary and predictable and might work better as simple dialogue than in a song. Again, that’s not to say the music aspect of this piece is bad, but it’s the weakest, especially up against a strong, intelligent script.

Wayne Ivusich, Rob Wall, and Richard Greenslit. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Michael Tan takes the reigns of both Direction and Music Direction of this piece and he pulls it off flawlessly. His staging works well for the space and the pacing is near perfect. He seems to have a good comprehension of these characters and this story and has presented it clearly to an audience. Directing the first full production of any piece can be daunting, but Tan has stepped up nicely. His Music Direction, too, is top-notch keeping the cast in harmony and in tune while playing along as the lone musician! Tan is to be applauded for his efforts in this well put-together production.

Richard Greenslit as Servant. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, Wayne Ivusich and Richard Greenslit, who play multiple roles are quite an act together. Ivusich gives off such a jovial air, no matter which character he’s playing, making him a delight to watch and it works for all of his characters, including Dad, King, Head Man, and Captain. He has a good grasp on the material and presents it beautifully. Now, Greenslit… I could watch him onstage all day. He could have two lines or ten monologues in a row, it doesn’t matter because of his expressive face, it’s all a joy to watch. He’s a master of the subtle glances and side pantomimes as well as comedic timing which is required for his roles as Workman, Servant, Soldier, and Advisor. Vocally, both of these gentlemen are confident and not only sing their featured numbers, such as “The Guy in Charge” and “The Servent’s Lament, Why Can’t We Switch,” nicely, they also act them out which adds so much to the performance.

Rob Wall as General Holofernes. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Rob Wall takes on the roles of Manasseh and Hologernes; two completely different characters – one being tender, one being hard as nails, and he portrays them both superbly.  His switch between the characters is effortless and he plays them like night and day, which is required, and he does it without a hitch. Vocally, Wall is a pro with a rich, smooth voice that resonates and is filled with emotion making for a strong, confident performance all around, especially in his featured numbers sucha s “April” and “Plunder Pillage, and Loot.”

Tackling the role of Judith (rather, Judy) is a highlight of this production, Kellie Podsednik. She is on point in her portrayal of this complex, driven woman and her gradual change from poor farm girl to pain-in-the-ass rich girl, to the pious woman she ends up being is unbroken. Because of her skill, her character at the end of the piece is completely contrasting with the character at the beginning of the piece which makes her one to watch in this production. Her high, delicate soprano is a perfect fit for this role and she knocks it out of the park, vocally, as in her featured numbers, “Closer to My Heart” and the poignant “Gone Now.”

Kay-Megan Washington as Maid (Narrator). Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

The standout in this piece is Kay-Megan Washington, who portrays Maid (Narrator), though she is called Fallacia, it may not be her actual name, but that’s how it goes when you’re a servant in biblical times, right? Washington gives a confident, effortless performance and is absolutely natural on the stage and with the delivery of her dialogue. She has a deep understanding of this story and her character and it shows in her portrayal. Her vocal skills are strong and makes one take notice, especially in the opening number, “Tale to Tell” and her humorous “A Prayer”. She’s comfortable on stage and gives a strong, confident showing.

Kellie Podsednik as Judy. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Final thought… Judy and the General at Spotlighters Theatre is a fun, lighthearted take on an epic biblical story that is not well known, but should be. The subject matter is relevant and serious but Rosemary Frisino Toohey manages to make it accessible with a witty, humorous, and well-structured script. The score, on the other hand (or beginnings of the score as this is the world premiere), is quaint and, at times, lackluster, but appropriate for this piece. Production value for this particular production is top-notch with well thought-out staging and Music Direction, a minimal but clever Set Design, and superb performances from every member of this small 5-person ensemble. Premieres can be challenging and World Premieres can be downright difficult, but Spotlighters Theatre and everyone involved in this production should be applauded for their efforts and this is certainly a production you want to check out this season.

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

Judy and the General will play through July 29 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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