Review: A Christmas Story at Tidewater Players

By Jennifer L. Gusso

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

“You’ll shoot your eye.” A tongue stuck to a freezing pole. Ominous images of Santa while a young boy careens down a slide. For anyone who has seen and loved the iconic film A Christmas Story, all of those memorable moments find themselves brought to life on stage at the Havre de Grace Opera House in Tidewater Players‘ production of the musical of the same title, Directed by Laurie Starkey, with Music Direction by Stephanie Cvach, and Choreography by Amanda Poxon. In addition to the expected elements of the film, there is a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (of Dear Evan Hansen fame) and Book by Joseph Robinette that brings new nuances to the original story. With a multi-generational cast, a fun Christmas message, a lot of big dance numbers, and a few tender moments, this production is certain to warm the hearts of audiences both old and young.

The stage is set from the moment that audiences enter with a Christmas tree and lights hung all around the stage. While the set design is simple, there is a careful eye to detail in the set dressing that really makes the Parker home come to life. Set Designers Dickie Mahoney and Laurie Starkey have focused on the details with the pictures on the mantle and coats on the coat rack. It instantly feels like a home. Several simple and quick movements transform the entire space into a variety of other locations. Adding to the overall tone and mood set with each location is a Lighting Design by Thomas Gardner. He is especially able to demonstrate his creativity in moments like the slow-motion exchange with Santa. There are several instances in which the lights are the perfect accompaniment to Ralphie’s current emotional state. Carefully selected or designed props (like the leg lamp) and costumes (like the Elf costumes and the pink bunny suit) are more strong homages to the movie that are equally entertaining to new audiences.

However, the stage really comes to life when it is inhabited by the residents of Hohman, Indiana. The ensemble, both young and old, is full of life and energy. The script also allows for many of them to take scenes and make them their own. Stacey Bonds and Samantha Jednorski have an entertaining turn as Santa’s Chief Elves. Reagan McComas delights as he tries to sing with his tongue stuck to a pole. Sophia MacKinnon is adorable as she lists her wants to Santa and impresses in an early scene by freezing perfectly to give the illusion that her hand is pressed against a glass window. Carly Greaver is consistently alive with energy and really bring her choreography to life. Michael Maroney has the audience in stitches with his turn on Santa’s lap. He and Braeden Waugh shine in their slick dance routine in their suits. Chip Meister brings a chuckle with his portrayal of a tired department store Santa. As Miss Shields, Amanda Poxon provides a larger-than-life character and a stunning turn on the dance floor. All of these little bits and moments bring the world around the Parkers to life.

Right at the center, literally bringing the Parkers to life, is the narrator, Jean Shepherd. Tom Hartzell bring a genuine folksy warmth to the role. Especially strong are his physical reactions and facial expressions in the way that he sometimes squirms with the excitement of his child self and other times gazes at these younger versions of his parents with a longing that makes us wonder if they are still around. He looks upon the events in such way that the audience members feel like they really are seeing the events through his memory.

As his younger counterpart, Jamie LaManna gives a solid performance as Ralphie. It is a huge role and a huge score for a young actor, and he conveys himself with poise and has a lovely tone quality to his voice. LaManna really comes into his own as actor, just as his character matures, in the touching “Before the Old Man Comes Home.” His interactions with his brother Randy (played by the adorable Evan Christy) are warm and genuine.

What really makes this production though are Ralphie’s parents: The Old Man (Gary Dieter) and Mother (Eva Grove). Dieter brings just the right blend of loveable and curmudgeonly to his portrayal of Ralphie’s father. So much of the character’s material is subtext. There are clearly concerns about money and the pride that goes with that for a father, which Dieter brings to the front with just the right amount of subtlety.  It doesn’t hurt either that Dieter gets to show off his skill as a showman in two big dance numbers, walking over a chair and breaking out his tap shows. It is almost as if this role was written just for him.

Right over his shoulder though is the emotional heart of the entire production. Grove’s performance as Mother is practically flawless. She never appears to be performing. Every word and gesture is natural. She feels like your own mother or grandmother in the safety and warmth and joy that she brings to the Parker family and to the entire show. Nowhere is this more evident than in the beautiful moments of “Just Like That.” I can’t imagine that I was the only audience member with tears in my eyes. Grove commands the stage without ever trying to do so and, therein, creates the emotional center of everything.

Overall, there is a lot of energy and heart on display in this production. Even though there are a few spots in Act One where the script seems to drag a little, Director Laurie Starkey does an excellent job of planning transitions and moments that keep things moving along quickly to the next joke or large musical number. Choreographer Amanda Poxon keeps the cast moving throughout a significant amount of dance. When the cast comes together and all hit their marks, the choreography is fun. In a cast with a ton of big numbers and some members of the cast who may not be natural dancers, she really finds way to help them sell the choreography. Similarly, despite a few clear winter colds and a relative weakness in harmony, Musical Director Stephanie Carlock Cvach pulls out strong soloists and focuses the cast on signing mainly in a robust unison.

The strong work by the cast and production team was evident in the constant laughter, hooting, and applause by the audience. There were chuckles of appreciation from fans of the movie and gasps of delight from the children. My 8-year old daughter walked around all night singing “When You’re a Wimp,” clearly a fan of the score. Certainly, with the theme of the show resonating in my head, I appreciated it all the more, because “just like that the moment’s gone.” Young or old, fans or not fans of the movie, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this production. There is no doubt that you will leave ready to embrace some Christmas stories of your own.

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

A Christmas Story will play through December 2 at Tidewater Players at The Cultural Center at the Opera House, 121 N. Union Street, Havre de Grace, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

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Review: Without a Clue at Tidewater Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
It was Mrs. Peacock, in the Conservatory, with the Candlestick!… Or was it? If you understood that reference instantly, you, like many, many others, are familiar with a certain board game aptly named Clue in which one must use his or her powers of deduction to solve a murder. This board game has also spawned a highly successful and oft quoted 1985 film of the same name, and stage musical adaptation, and many parodies through the years. Included in these adaptations is Tidewater Players latest offering, the new and original Without a Clue by Mark Briner, who also puts on the hat of Director.

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The cast of Without a Clue. Credit: Tidewater Players


In a nutshell, Without a Clue is a parody based on the board game Clue! and cleverly incorporates pop culture both past and recent. Five guests, Mrs. Peacock, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Mr. Green, and Miss Scarlet are invited to the palatial home of Mr. Boddy for dinner and, what they are led to believe, a beneficial financial opportunity. Once settled in with the help of Mr. Boddy’s staff, Ashe, the able Butler, Mrs. White, the begrudged maid, and Violet, the not-so-bright French maid, Mr. Boddy wastes no time in revealing the actual reason of the invitation… blackmail. Mr. Boddy is planning on blackmailing each guest for certain indiscretions and makes no bones about it. The guest, fed up with Mr. Boddy, and his crazy plan decide to leave but, as they do, the power goes out and Mr. Boddy is quickly taken care of by the way of a gun and the search for the killer begins and every person in the house is considered a suspect. By the end, it’s up to the audience to point out the murderer… if they’ve been paying attention!
Set Design by Dickie Mahoney and Mark Briner is smart and simple rolling walls and individual set pieces. With only one level to work with in the new and improved space at The Cultural Center at the Opera House, and many different locals written in the script, Mahoney and Briner’s design is easy to transition and effectively represents each location within the story nicely, adding great value to the production as a whole.
Along with Set Design, Mahoney and Briner also take on the responsibility of Costume Design and this design, like their Set Design, is spot on. Each character is appropriately represented whether in full color (as is Miss Scarlet and Mrs. Peacock, which we find out is actually just blue), or a splash of color, as for Mr. Green with his green tie or Colonel Mustard with his yellow or mustard colored ascot. The staff is traditionally dressed in maid uniforms and a tuxedo for Ashe, the Butler. Mahoney and Briner clearly takes time with their design with attention to detail that makes it all the more aesthetically pleasing and authentic.
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(l-r) Phil Hansel, Chris Volker, Allyson Sands, and Denise Rogers Mylin. Credit: Austin Barnes


To round out the production team responsibilities, Mark Briner, who authored the piece, takes on the helm and places the Director hat on, as well. In some cases, it can be risky to have the author direct his or her own work, but in this case, it seems to have worked out beautifully. He keeps the pacing consistent with his staging and has guided these actors to delightful performances of the characters he has crafted. As the author, he has a complete comprehension of the story and the humor of one-liners and wise-cracks. His understanding of farce is well apparent in this upbeat and frenetic piece.
There is a bit at the end of the production when the audience is supposed to vote on who the murderer is and the actors are assigned a section of the theatre to collect votes but the way this is done is quite chaotic and haphazard. The actors simply yell out to the audience to vote by raising their hand when the character they believe to be the killer is called out. With six or seven actors yelling out names and trying to adlib, it can become a bit overwhelming a loud. I get the whole audience participation bit, but perhaps this can be tweaked for future performances.
However, screaming actors aside, Briner has done a superb job with this production and is to be commended and applauded for his hard and diligent work creating and bringing this slice of witty and clever theatre to life.
Moving into the performance aspect of Without a Clue, Eric Brooks takes on the role of Mr. Boddy, the host of the evening and not the most popular kid at the party. Brooks is a bit scripted and sounds more like he’s screaming rather than having a conversation, but he pulls the role off adequately. Where Brooks shines is in his performance as the fed-up, over-dramatic, and comedic Chef Bleu with this grand gestures and impressive French accent. Along the same lines of an actor performing an unnamed role a bit better than the named role (according to the program) is Allyson Sands who portrays Violet, the ditzy French maid who can’t seem to find her way to the kitchen, and the new, psychic neighbor, Madame Rose. Sands has a good grasp of comedic timing and her portrayal of Violet is on par, but it’s her turn as Madame Rose that adds value to her performance. Her timing is on point, as well as her accent for this character. Sands has a good command of the stage and seems comfortable in these roles making for a strong performance.
Tom Hartzell tackles the role of the seemingly perverted Professor Plum and, though he seems to have a good comprehension of his character, his performance falls a bit flat. He certainly has issues in his delivery of the material as he trips over most of his lines, losing the momentum of the fast-paced piece. He seems scripted and uncomfortable most of the time, but he is believable as this sorted character and has a good chemistry with his cast mates.
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(l-r) Chris Volker, Greg Guyton, Denise Rogers Myli, Michele Guyton, and Phil Hansel. Credit: Austin Barnes


Taking on the role of the suave Mr. Green, Chris Volker gives a respectable performance but also has some trouble with his delivery of the text. Scripted and a little stiff, Volker seems to be going through the motions of this funny, sleazy character. That being said, he does give a dedicated performance and keeps the energy up throughout. He works well with and off of his cast mates and makes the role of Mr. Green his own.
Rounding out this motley crew of guests is Phil Hansel as Colonel Mustard and Michele Guyton as Mrs. Peacock and Denise Rogers Mylin as Miss Scarlet and all give admirable portrayals of their characters. Hansel’s portrayal is a bit befuddled but that could very well be the way the character is written and he does have good comedic timing that makes his character almost charming, in a way.
Mylin’s Miss Scarlet is on point and, though a bit monotone in her delivery, it is natural and consistent and she has a smooth, velvety voice that matches perfectly with her character. She does well with the fast pace and gives an overall strong performance
Michele Guyton’s portrayal of Mrs. Peacock (my favorite character in most of the adaptations) is not without its flaws but is a commendable performance. Her southern accent comes and goes, which ends up being a distraction, but her comedic skills are spot on and she delivers some great zingers throughout the evening. It just seems as though Guyton is trying too hard to caricaturize Mrs. Peacock and portray her as the “funny, sassy drunk” and it all seems forced. The trick in a character like this is to play it seriously and trust the dialogue and situations will invoke all the comedy that is required. However, aside from these minor issues, Guyton gives a splendid showing and praiseworthy performance.
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Justine Quirk as Mrs. White. Credit: Austin Barnes.


Definite highlights of this production are Greg Guyton and Justine Quirk who tackle the roles of Ashe and Mrs. White, the poor senior staff of the manor and the ones who try to keep thing manageable. Greg Guyton is perfectly cast for the role of Ashe and he completely embodies this character, keeping him consistent throughout. His delivery is near perfect and his character choices are absolutely appropriate. He has a strong presence and a knack for improvisation, as demonstrated when he breaks the fourth wall to stall for time as the audience votes are being counted. His pacing is near flawless, notably, his recap of events at the beginning of Act II. Guyton’s instincts and dedication to the character make for an outstanding performance.
Justine Quirk, as Mrs. White, is absolutely believable and she is probably the keenest with comedic timing and crystal clear delivery. Because of her style, she reminds me of Jackie Hoffman (of Broadway and Feud: Bette and Joan fame), one of my favorite current actresses of stage and screen. Quirk has a complete grasp of the humor of this piece and her portrayal of the begrudged servant is impeccable as she is able to take the role seriously enough to up the comedy of the character. Her delivery and instincts even make the touch of unmitigated, over-the-top melodrama digestible and funny. Her skillful portrayal make for a standout performance and certainly a joy to watch.
Final thought… Without a Clue is a witty, cute, and nostalgic slice of theatre incorporating familiar games and pop culture into a delightful, zany evening of intrigue, comedy and fun for all! It’s very reference heavy, as all parodies should be, so you’ve got to pay close attention to catch them all, and though some references may be more obscure than others, it’s still a delightful evening of theatre. A majority of the performances are top-notch and the pacing and staging is on point and swift making the two and a half hour run time feel less than it actually is. With a little tweaking of the script, this piece is going to be near flawless and Mark Briner is to be applauded for his efforts in both script and direction of this world premiere production. Get your tickets for the weekend as you don’t want to miss this one.
This is what I thought of Tidewater Players’ production of Without a Clue… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Without a Clue will run through March 4 at Tidewater Players, The Cultural Center at the Opera House, 121 N. Union Avenue, Havre de Grace, MD. For tickets call the box office at 667-225-8433 or purchase them online.
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Review: Shrek the Musical at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Lately, within the last few years, either fortunately or unfortunately, a plethora of “new” musicals to hit the scene have been based on Hollywood films. There have been some doozies such as Ghost or The Toxic Avenger and even Evil Dead the Musical (which I actually adore… hey, we all have our vices) but, with that said, some actually lend well to the stage such as Hairspray, The Bodyguard, Anastasia, Newsies, and the like and Dundalk Community Theatre’s latest offering, Shrek the Musical, based on the Dream Works Animation Motion picture and the book by William Steig, with Music by Jeanine Tesori and Book & Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire Directed by John Desmone, with Music Direction by Nathan Christover Scavilla, and Choreography by Vincent Musgrave, is one of those that actually transfers nicely to the stage and fun for the entire family.

Gary Dieter, Dickie Mahoney, Sherry Benedek, and Peter N. Crews. Credit: DCT


In a nutshell, the story goes something like this: A bunch of fairy tale characters are banished from the town of Duloc by the Napoleon complex-ridden Lord Farquaad and they end up in the swamp that is already inhabited by a big green, solitary ogre, Shrek, and he wants nothing to do with any of it. To get them all off his claimed land, he goes to Duloc to try and reason with Lord Farquaad but along the way, Shrek meets and saves Donkey, a talking donkey, who is being chased by Lord Farquaad’s guards. Donkey takes a shine to Shrek and sticks to him like glue. Once in Duloc, Farquaad agrees to officially deed the land over to Shrek, but in return, sends Shrek on a mission, of sorts, to rescue Princess Fiona, who has been locked up in a tower for about 20 years, guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. Farquaad plans to marry Princess Fiona to rise in the ranks of monarchy and become a king. Shrek and Donkey succeed and escort Princess Fiona back to Duloc and along the way, something sparks between the princess and the Ogre, but Fiona is hiding a deep, dark secret and she wants to keep it that way. The princess is delivered to Lord Farquaad but, as in all good stories, there’s a twist that you’ll have to see, if you don’t know it already, that is.
Set Design by Marc W. Smith is simple, yet quite appropriate on this one. Being familiar with Smiths outstanding design work, he seems to have toned it down a bit for this production using backdrops and cutouts as opposed to his usual original complex and detailed design and construction. This isn’t to say the Set Design wasn’t amazing, because it was very polished with professional backdrops from Kenmark Scenic Backdrops that flew in and out with ease.

Dickie Mahoney, Peter N. Crews, and Gary Dieter. Credit: DCT


Costumes for a show like this can be challenging and downright difficult but Costume Design by Tracy Bird is spot on as all the fairy tale characters have appropriate wardrobes and each is easily distinguishable. Shrek, Donkey, Fiona, and Farquaad have near perfect wardrobes and each fairy tale character has his or her own unique look making for a vast and quite impressive Costume Design by Bird.
Vincent Musgrave hits the nail on the proverbial head with his choreography, especially for certain numbers such as “What’s Up Duloc?” and “Morning Person” and for as enthralling as these numbers were, dance-wise (and they were amazing… the ensemble members included in these numbers are on point!), it feels as though so much concentration was put into these couple of numbers that the others were a bit looser. Regardless, overall, the choreography is tight and the ensemble is dedicated and well-rehearsed giving 100% to each number.

Dickey Mahoney as Shrek and Sherry Benedek as Fiona. Credit: DCT


Musically, this production is top notch and Music Direction by Nathan Christopher Scavilla is absolutely on point. He already has an extremely able ensemble to work with so all the numbers were strong and confident. The pit orchestra is flawless in their efforts and though they are not listed in the program, I highly suggest an insert thrown in with all their names because this orchestra is well-rehearsed and polished, sounding like a CD playing or a professional Broadway theatre orchestra. Kudos to Scavilla for getting together such a great sounding orchestra and getting his cast to sound near perfect and in harmony in every number.
Baltimore theatre veteran John Desmone takes the helm of this production and his Direction stays true to the film almost everyone knows but still manages to put his mark on it and express his vision of acceptance, tolerance, and self discovery. Knowing a little bit of the history of Shrek the Musical in Baltimore theatre, I’m aware that the actors portraying Shrek and Donkey have a history playing the roles, opposite each other, in several other productions and it seems Desmone may have depended on that history a bit and left Shrek and Donkey to their own devices but it didn’t hinder the production value a lot. He tells the story in a well-cast, well-thought out production guiding this talented cast to a very entertaining and fun production.

Peter N. Crews as Lord Farquaad. Credit: DCT


Peter N. Crews takes on the role of Lord Farquaad, the small minded and statured villain of the story and, anyone who tackles this role has my applause and ovation because, physically, I couldn’t imagine spending an entire show crawling around on my knees. It may be easier than it looks, but, still… Crews has a good grasp of this character and gives an admirable performance but it falls a little flat. His portrayal seems a little more whiney than angry, though it could be a directorial choice. Vocally, Crews is OK and holds his own in numbers such as “What’s Up Duloc?” and “Ballad of Farquaad.” Overall, he gives a confident performance and, like I said, anyone who takes on this crazy role has my kudos for his bravery and physical prowess.

Gary Dieter as Donkey. Credit: DCT


Gary Dieter tackles the challenging role of the chatty, expert one-liner, loyal friend Donkey, who doesn’t leave Shrek’s side once they meet. Dieter is a terrific showman and absolutely makes this role his own and doesn’t give a carbon copy of the uber-successful portrayal Eddie Murphy gave in the film and he has my utmost respect and admiration for that aspect of his portrayal. He understands his audience and the audience loves him. However, though his asides and ad libs had the audiences eating out of his hands, I would have preferred he pulled it back a bit as it seems he’s trying too hard for the laugh. Again, the audience adores him and he had them laughing in the isles so, maybe it’s just me. Dieter is an accomplished dancer, but in this role dancing isn’t really showcased and his vocals are commendable in his featured numbers “Don’t Let Me Go” and the soulful “Make a Move,” in which he is accompanied by the titillating 3 Blind Mice (beautifully played by Lacy Comstock, Emily Morgan, and Sydney Phipps). Overall, his comprehension of the story and his character is apparent and he has a great command of the stage making for a strong, confident performance.

Dickie Mahoney as Shrek. Credit: DCT


Taking on the titular character of Shrek, Dickie Mahoney hits the ground running with this role. As stated before, Mahoney has a history with this character and he’s comfortable and confident in his portrayal. He gives us a brilliant portrayal but, at times, it seems he is going through the motions, but after performing the role so many times, it’s somewhat understandable and the audience, en masse, doesn’t seem to mind. He, too, makes the part his own and does not give us a copy of the Mike Meyers portrayal of the big green ogre and it’s refreshing to see. Vocally, Mahoney has a commanding smooth, clear voice that resonates throughout the theatre making the songs like “Bright Big Beautiful World,” “I Think I Got You Beat,” and the poignant “When Words Fail” sound effortless. He does utilize the Irish/Welsh/Scottish accent always associated with this character and he does lose it slightly every now and again, but all things considered, he’s got it down pat. Overall, Mahoney gives a praiseworthy performance that is filled with heart and dedication that is a joy to watch.
Two standouts in this production are Sherry Benedeck as Princess Fiona and Lisa Pastella as the Voice of Dragon who belt their way through songs and take command of not only the stage, but of the entire theatre.

Sherry Benedek as Fiona. Credit: DCT


Sherry Benedek as Princess Fiona is a powerhouse. She’s a triple threat, taking the role and putting her own twist on it, making it original and vocally, she is a powerhouse. I found myself absolutely enthralled in her singing in numbers such as “I Know It’s Today” (with the younger Fionas, Juliet Jones and Anna Adelstein, who both hold their own and blend nicely with Benedek) and “Morning Song” in which she gets a chance to show us her brilliant dancing/tapping abilities. Benedek is a joy to watch and I’m looking forward to seeing more from this actress.
Dragon, though a puppet, needs a heart and soul and Lisa Pastella gives her just that. We don’t see Pastella (except when she’s scurrying around as The Wicket Witch with the ensemble), but with her featured number, the soulful, heartfelt “Forever,” I didn’t need to see her because he voice did it for me. Vocally, she is crystal clear, smooth, and hits every note flawlessly making for an exciting and powerful performance.

Gingy and Lord Farquaad. Credit: DCT


The entire ensemble works well together and seem to be having a great time up on the stage together. Featured characters like the fed up activist, Pinocchio (Josh Schoff), The Big Bad Wolf in drag (Mark Lloyd), The Three Bears (Stacey Bonds, Vincent Musgrave, Sarah Jones) and, who could forget poor wounded/cracked Gingy (Veronica Lockett) round out the cast nicely and the actors bring an updated feel and humor to them, as required by the story. All around, the entire cast of this show deserves kudos for their dedication and effort for their outstanding chemistry and giving 100% to this production.
Final thought… Shrek: The Musical at Dundalk Community Theatre is a family friendly romp peppered slyly with a few adult-oriented jokes to keep it interesting, with fabulous voices, exciting choreography, colorful and fun costumes, and a stage full of familiar and new fairy tale characters that will keep you entertained and engaged throughout the evening. Beyond the great production value, the important message of this piece, which is acceptance, not only of others, but of yourself, is what you should take home. The performances are strong and confident and the entire ensemble works quite well together making for a charming, enjoyable, and toe-tapping evening of theatre that should not be missed!
This is what I thought of Dundalk Community Theatre’s production of Shrek the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Shrek the Musical will play through May 7 at Dundalk Community Theatre, The Ravekes Theatre, CCBC Dundalk, 7200 Sollers Point Road, Dundalk, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 443-840-2787 or purchase them online.
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