Review: Carrie the Musical is on at Stand Up for Theatre

By Jennifer L. Gusso

Running Time: 2hr 15 minutes with intermission

Carrie the Musical starts with a glimpse at the way that it will end. Sue is covered in blood, under an interrogation light, and bodies are strewn across the stage or hanging in the back corners. Stand Up for Theatre pulls the audience right into the scene of devastation and into caring about Sue and her story. Making the audience care about the characters is what this production of Carrie the Musical, Directed by Ed Higgins with Music Direction by Brandon Seehofer and Choreography by Lenore Florez, does the best. There is an incredible amount of heart on display in this production, with each performer truly giving it their all and embodying this world. Unfortunately, the production does suffer from some technical missteps that can be jarring. However, overall, what the end product lacks in polish, it makes up for in passion.

Because Carrie discovers her telekinetic powers in the course of this story, Carrie the Musical calls for some technical tricks that don’t quite deliver in this production. When Carrie moves a stool, an arm is scene pulling the wire from behind the platform. A falling cross doesn’t really translate as being telekinesis. Although Billy is shown hanging in the beginning scene, that never actually happens during the prom massacre. The cabinet in which Carrie is pushed doesn’t have a back, which really pulls away from the intense scene with her mother. Some other tricks, like the cup on the table, do work well – but, when the technical falters, it does lessen the impact of what are some pivotal moments.

The other technical issue that is the most troubling is the sound balance. Modern scores, like Carrie, were written for an age in which performers use microphones. They were not written to be belted at all times. Sometimes, in a small space and with softer backing tracks, this can still be pulled off. However, between the complexity of the score, the acoustics of the room, and the volume of the backing tracks, the performers in this production should have been using microphones. The end result was often one of two things. In some cases, the soloists were hard to hear over the music. In other cases, pushing too hard to go over the music sounded like screaming or just went flat.

Despite the technical mishaps, this was still an overall compelling evening of theatre due to the strong acting performances of the cast. Every member of the ensemble created a unique and different character and stayed consistently in the moment. Director Ed Higgins did a good job in creating staging that gave life to classroom and crowd scenes by having realistic, but not distracting action, going on across the stage. The reactions of the teenagers in these situations was so spot-on that is seemed spontaneous and genuine.

The story is told by Sue Snell (Sarah Mackin). Mackin is one of the performers that is best able to navigate around the sound issues in order to showcase her beautiful voice. She does an excellent job of bringing Sue’s conflicting emotions to life in both her line delivery and her subtle nonverbal reactions. As her boyfriend Tommy Ross, Anthony Case has a lovely quality to his voice and a genuine likeability that showcases the softer side of Tommy. As her mean-spirited and spoiled best friend, Chris Hargensen, Triana McCorkle oozes with viciousness and plays the perfect mean girl. A truly standout performance comes from Jake Schwartz as Billy Nolan. He really commands attention on the stage and demonstrates a real skill at adding comedic moments. Schwartz brings a level of polished nuance to his performance that is next level.

As Carrie White, Michaela Saul definitely has the hardest vocal challenge. Navigating the sound issues and the score ultimately proves difficult for her in places. That being said, her acting performance is absolutely top notch. Even when she comes out for her curtain call, she is still sobbing and emotionally drained from literally giving every inch of her inner self to Carrie’s intense breakdown. Saul is able to capture both Carrie’s naïve innocence and her deep pain as she immerses herself in the role. Causing much of Carrie’s pain is her mother, Margaret White (Jenifer Hollett). Hollett gives an unnerving performance. She says and does horrible things with an innocent and wide-eyed look on her face. It is a very effective character choice that really ups the intended unease felt in her scenes.

In the midst of all the crazy, the true heart of the show is Lenore Florez as Lynn Gardner. Her performance is absolutely captivating. She knows how to command attention, make the audience fall in love with her, and then push the scene’s attention to another performer. She demonstrates a sophisticated level of technique in both her acting and vocal performance. She is both inspiring and genuine. “Unsuspecting Hearts” is easily the perfect embodiment of the level of real emotional connection that is what worked best in this production.

While Stand Up For…Theatre may have some technical issues to polish and perfect as they move forward, they are definitely not lacking in talented and passionate performers. Carrie the Musical tells a story that, although larger-than-life, is largely relatable. These actors, with their relatable performances, find and bring to life the people in the story – and, ultimately, it is caring about these people that matters most.

This is what I thought of Stand Up for Theatre’s Carrie the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Carrie the Musical will play through November 9 at Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park, MD 21225. For tickets, call the box office at 410-636-6597 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Heathers the Musical at How Do You Like Me Now Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
***NOTE: Heathers the Musical at How Do You Like Me Now Productions ended its run on Sunday, October 29***
To ask the age old question of the wisest men… What’s your damage?! Well, How Do You Like Me Now (HDYLMN) Productions, in association with Erase the Hate Through Art, is trying to answer that question with their most recent production of Heathers the Musical with Book, Music, & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, Directed by Ed Higgins, Music Direction by Andrew Zile, and Choreography by Kristen Rigsby. Based on a quirky film from 1989 of the same name (minus the Musical) Heathers the Musical takes us through a journey of popularity, the repercussions of that popularity, teen angst, and all those crazy things and ups and downs that happen during our teenage years.
In a nutshell, Heathers the Musical is about Veronica Sawyer, a teen outcast turned popular kid who hooks up with the most popular kids in school, the Heathers, and learns that being at the top isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Enter Jason Dean (JD) an angsty, trench coat wearing, dark and brooding new kid who shows Veronica there’s more than one way to stop the bullies from bullying.

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(l-r) Ellie Parks, Bryce Gudelsky, and Emily Wesselhoff. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography


The Studio Theatre at Chesapeake Center for the Arts is a great space to see a show, it’s not too big and not too small, especially for a show like Heathers the Musical. Set/Technical Design by Josh Anderson is completely minimal with no real set to speak of, but his use of projections is clever and the set pieces are well thought-out and chosen wisely. Some of the scene transitions are a bit lengthy and clunky, but the crew gets the job done and are ready when the lights come up.
Costume Design by Grant Myers is on point for this production. It’s always fun to see the style of a bygone era and the 80s were a doozy! You never knew what you were going to see in the halls of a high school and everything was always so unique, even within cliques. One hiccup might be the repeated mention of JD’s trench coat but… no trench coat. Regardless, it’s a great design and Myers’ attention to detail is admirable and authentic, adding great value to this piece.
It’s worth saying that Choreography by Kristen Rigsby is certainly a highlight of this production. Every group number has variety, is well rehearsed, and tight making for some delightful moments. Rigsby seems to know her cast and the choreography emphasizes their strengths making every number look splendid. Her instincts to match her dances to the music are remarkable and the cast seems to be having a great time performing her choreography. Kudos to Rigsby for a job well done!
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Luis Mentes and Olivia Winter. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography


Music Director Andrew Zile should be commended for his work on this piece as he had his cast in harmony and singing strong. At no fault of Zile’s I wish I could have heard more of his work but, since the cast isn’t amplified with microphones and there is practically a full orchestra, I strained to hear the singers through much of the production. Speaking of the orchestra, there are many consisting of Andrew Zile as Conductor/Synthesizer, W. William Zellhoffer on Piano, Eric Allard on Violin, Ian Lyons on Reeds, Steven Bailey on Trumpet, David Kistler on Guitar, Kevin Jones on Bass, and Winfield Clasing on Drums, but they sound phenomenal! They are tight and spot on in every number. There are a few hiccups with pitch and timing but, overall, Zile has a great grasp of the score and guides this cast nicely.
Ed Higgins takes the reigns of this production and he does seem to have a good comprehension of the text and story and, though his space has its limitations, there are some curious choices for scene settings, such as the corner of the theatre where, depending on where you are sitting, you can’t see or hear much of what’s going on. He has assembled a good cast and they have a fantastic chemistry that is clear throughout the production. The quirkiness required of this piece wasn’t as apparent as it should have been, but it is a well put-together production that gives an enjoyable evening of theatre.
Concerning the performance of this piece, this ensemble is strong and committed. All in the ensemble give a praiseworthy performance and should be applauded.
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(l-r) Michael Leard and Zach Husak. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography


Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelley are played by Zach Husak and Michael Leard, respectively and give a hilarious portrayal of stereotypical jocks of the school. Their comedic timing is near perfect and they play well off each other. Vocally, they don’t give the strongest showing, especially with the higher register in the songs and lean more on the comedy of the absurd but, overall, give humorous, strong performances.
In this particular performance, Veronica Sawyer (who is usually portrayed by Olivia Winter) is portrayed by Linda Roby and she gives an admirable performance. As mentioned, no one is amplified with microphones and Roby didn’t project as well as she could have making her hard to hear, at times. Also, some of the songs may have been above her comfortable register as she seems to strain on the high notes, but she seems to understand the character very well and portrays the teenaged angst extremely well.
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Luis Mentes and Olivia Winter. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography


JD (Jason Dean), the brooding, dark new kid is played by Luis Montes and he gives a strong, confident performances but he seems to have a bit too much urgency than is called for this character who is usually laid back and cool. However, he makes the role his own and makes for a respectable presentation. Vocally, he does well, overall, with a few strains here and there, but nothing that spoils his performance as a whole.
The Heathers, the pinnacle of the Westerberg High School pyramid, are played flawlessly by Bryce Gudelsky as Heather Chandler, Ellie Parks as Heather McNamara, and Emily Wesselhoff as Heather Duke. All three of these ladies have a great chemistry and exude the bitchiness that is The Heathers. Gudelsky embodies Heather Chandler and all her power and wails on her featured number “Candy Store.” All the while Parks, as Heather McNamara, plays the follower near perfectly, portraying an insecurity and need to be accepted through her mannerisms and delivery and can almost bring the audience to tears in her poignant number, “Life Boat.” Last but not least, Wesselhoff as the bottom Heather on the totem pole, Heather Duke, portrays this Heater beautifully.  Her gradual change in position throughout the production is seamless and makes for a strong, poised performance that is to be commended. Vocally, Wesselhoff is a powerhouse and belts out her part in featured numbers such as “Candy Store,” “Big Fun,” and “Shine a Light (Reprise).”
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Jim Gross as Ram’s Dad. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography


A few highlights include Kristen Demers as Martha Dunstock (Dumptruck), Jim Gross as Ram’s Dad, and Jennifer Alexander as Ms. Flemming. All three of these supporting actors give strong and focused performances that are definitely worth mentioning. Jim Gross (who also plays the lurking Coach), gives a side-tickling performance as Ram’s Dad, confidently belting out his featured, gospel-inspired number, “My Dead Gay Son,” while Jennifer Alexander does the same, impeccably belting out her inspiring featured number, “Shine a Light.”
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Kristen Demers as Martha Dunstock. Photo: Shealyn Jae Photography


Kristen Demers tackles the role of Martha Dunstock, or Dumptruck, as the other kids call her, who is kind of the embodiment of all the outcasts and bullied kids at school. Her portrayal is funny, moving, and spot on, making the audience feel for her from the start. Demers is not afraid of the role and makes it her own, making for a strong, meaningful performance. Vocally, she starts out strong in her featured number, “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” but loses a bit of steam toward the end of the song. She does act out the song like a champ, but at the sacrifice of the music. Regardless, her performance is spot on and leaves a lasting impression.
Final thought…Heathers the Musical is a great piece of theatre when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Director Ed Higgins states it was chosen as it goes along with the mission of HDYLMN Productions to start a dialogue about bullying and suicide, which this piece presents humorously, but with a serious message. I can tell HDYLMN Productions are apt and able to put on some great shows but, though this production yields some very good qualities, overall, it falls a little flat whether it be because of sound issues, pacing, or directorial choices. The performances, for the most part, are commendable, the choreography is an absolute joy to watch, and the cast seems to be having a great time, giving 100% effort and dedication. That’s not to say this isn’t a good show, because it certainly is, but I’m looking forward to seeing what HDYLMN Productions can really do!
This is what I thought of How Do You Like Me Now’s production of Heathers the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Heathers the Musical has ENDED its run but played through October 29 at How Do You Like Me Now Productions in the Black Box Theatre space of The Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park, MD.
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Review: Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with one 10 minute intermission

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


In these crazy times since the election and recent swearing in of the new President of the United States, whether we want to admit it or not, there are definite divisions between races, political though, and fundamental beliefs. That being said, Third Wall Productions latest offer, Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, Directed by Grant Myers with Set Design by Jordan Hollett, Light and Sound Design by Jim Shomo, and Costume Design by Grant Myers, gives us a story of how people from different walks of life and beliefs can actually grow to understand each other and get along even though those differences are still present.
Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography

Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography


Superior Donuts, a local donut shop in downtown Chicago, isn’t much to look at but it is a respectable business owned by Arthur Przybyszewski (played by Ed Higgins) and is frequented by two beat cops (Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove), a bag lady (Emma Hawthorn), and the Russian businessman, Max) who runs the DVD shop next door (Michael Zellhofer). These characters, all from different walks of life, make up a delightful and diverse group of people who seem to care about Superior Donuts more than its proprietor until Franco Wicks (played by Isaiah Evans) enters, looking for a job. The older, white Arthur and younger African-American Franco have their differences, of course, but find common ground with the donut shop and actually grow to care about each other. The subplot of Franco’s past is intriguing and puts Arthur’s friendship to the test, which he passes with flying colors. The show doesn’t provide a lot of laughs or the happiest of endings (but I wouldn’t say it was a sad ending either), but it tells an important story.
Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


Among the talented ensemble, there are a few standout performances such as Isaiah Evans, as Franco, who gives a confident, authentic performance that makes his character very likable. His moves about with purpose and connects with his fellow actors and the audience making for a stellar performance.
Adding the only comedy to the piece are Michael Zellhofer and Emma Hawthorn who play their characters to the hilt. Zellhofer’s performance as Max Tarasov is commanding and believable and his skill in playing the character straight without working to hard for the laughs his character garners is brilliant. Emma Hawthorn as Lady, the friendly neighborhood bag lady, is outstanding in her role playing it with both humor and a touch of poignancy that really makes you feel for her.
Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


Ed Higgins tackles the role of Superior Donuts sole proprietor Arthur Pryzbyszewski and through he gives an admirable performance, it’s a bit shaky and unsure, at times. He has great chemistry with the rest of the ensemble, especially Isaiah Evans, and he carries the character well, albeit a bit monotone, notably during the out-of-nowhere monologues directed toward the audience. Aside from those minor observations, overall, he gives a commendable performance.
Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


The rest of the talented ensemble hold their own and add value to this production. Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove as Officers Randy Osteen and James Bailey, respectively, are charming as the beat cops and friends of Arthur, adding a bit of romance with Officer Randy and old Arthur. Bill Brisbee as Luther Flynn, the tough bookie could play the part a bit more intimidating but he has Chip Willett as Kevin Magee, Flynn’s goon, to pick up the gruff slack. Even William Zellhofer’s Russian is impressive in his brief appearance.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quaint set that was absolutely stellar and very befitting of this piece. Simple, yet detailed, Jordan Hollet’s design is authentic and well thought-out, putting the audience right smack dab in the middle of an old fashioned donut shop, adding an immersive feel to the entire production. Going along with the Set Design, Jim Shomo’s Light and Sound Design is minimal, at best, but to no real fault of Shomo. There really isn’t a lot going on with lights or sound but, then again, when it comes to plays, sometimes minimal is best. There’s not really a need for any fancy light show or sound so, in a way, it fits nicely. It’s interesting to note that it was decided to not use any music for this production, as well, but the use of music might have set the mood better for the scenes and helped with smoother transitions, which were a bit bungled.
The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


Director Grant Myers made some curious choices while taking the helm of this production. The transitions were a little unkempt, the frequent breaking of the fourth wall from one of the main characters seemed to come out of nowhere, and a certain fight scene was difficult in such an intimate space, but, overall, despite a some other minor issues, the piece is charming and, as a whole, is very good and well put together. It gets the point across that, with a little trying, anybody can get along, despite their differences. The ensemble gives a commendable performance and they all have great chemistry and work well together.
Final thought…in this time of uncertain race relations and division in current events, Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions is a light but through-provoking piece expressing how different generations and races can come together in friendship and love. There’s an old adage that “it takes all kinds” and this production demonstrates this very well with its beautifully diverse ensemble who works well together to tell this important story.
This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Superior DonutsWhat did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Superior Donuts will play through January 29 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to thirdwall.org for information or purchase them online.
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