Review: Chess at Tidewater Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions

The Cold War, an international chess championship, political relations between The United States and The Soviet Union, spies, friends, enemies, lovers, enemies who become lovers… it’s all going on at Tidewater Players in their latest offering, Chess, with Music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Lyrics by Tim Rice. All this fodder and music by the dudes from ABBA can’t go wrong and, wherever you stand on Chess (some love it, some hate it), there’s no denying that Director Mark Briner, Music Director R. Christopher Rose and Stephanie Carlock Cvach, and Choreographer Bambi Johnson knocked it out of the ballpark with this better-flowing, energized concert version that tells the story completely and cuts out all the muddle.

Briefly, and according to the Guide to Musical Theatre (http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com), “This highly acclaimed musical develops the ancient and distinguished game of chess into a metaphor for romantic rivalries and East-West political intrigue. The principal pawns form a love triangle: the loutish American Grandmaster, the earnest Russian champion, and the Hungarian-American female chess second, who arrives at the international championships with the American but falls for the Russian. From Tyrol to Thailand the players, lovers, politicians, CIA and KGB make their moves to the pulse of this monumental rock score.”

Set Design by Director Mark Briner is smart and minimal and pulled this piece together nicely. As this production is more of a concert version, a large, lavish set was not needed, but a few levels and, some chairs and music stands did the job just fine and didn’t clutter the stage allowing for the superb staging and choreography to be showcased.

Thomas Gardner’s lighting design is, in a word, splendid. His use of colors, isolated lighting, and blend of cool and warm tones helped tell this story and kept the piece energized and interesting throughout. He knows his stage well and lights it beautifully, adding great value to this production.

Choreography by Bambi Johnson is impeccable. She knows her cast and the ensemble shined in each number. Upbeat, high-energy, and tight, the impressive choreography was engaging and kept the audience interested. From the smooth ballet to the rockin’ pop moves, this original choreography inspires.

Music Direction under R. Christopher Rose and Stephanie Cvach is superb and it seems quite easy with the exquisite voices with which they have to work. A small band including R. Christopher Rose on Piano, Stephanie Carlock Cvach on Keyboard, Will Poxon on Percussion, Helen Slaich on Reeds/Clarinet, and Greg Bell on Bass Guitar fill the theatre as adequately as a full orchestra and each number is polished and well-performed. Kudos to Rose and Cvach for an impeccable job.

Director Mark Briner is to be applauded for his efforts in bringing this production to the stage. As I stated, Chess is one of those shows that people love or people hate, for the most part. I’m in a small percentage that is in between where I love the music (how can you dislike anything from the dudes from ABBA?… don’t answer that), but I’m not very fond of the book. Since this is more of a concert version, the book has been cut to a minimum and the concentration is on the music which works brilliantly for this piece. Briner’s staging is tight and refined and the pacing is just about perfect. A mix of blocking and choreography brings it all together beautifully and makes for a very entertaining evening of theatre.

Moving on to the performance of this production, I’d be amiss not to mention that the entire ensemble of this piece give top notch performances and all should be commended for their work and effort to make this a stellar production, a whole.

To mention a few, Terry D’Onofrio as Alexander Molokov and Aaron Dalton as Walter de Courcey take on the roles of puppet masters, of sorts, guiding their chess champions for political gain. D’Onofrio is well suited for his role as Molokov and has a good grasp though his use of an accent may hinder his performance rather than enhance it, especially vocally in the numbers in which he is featured. However, his performance is strong and confident and he pulls it off nicely. Dalton gives a strong performance with a solid stage presence. Vocally, Dalton gives impressive renditions of the numbers he’s in, such as “Merchandisers.”

Eileen Aubele and Barbara Hartzell are marvelous Svetlana Sergievskaya and Florence Vassy, respectively. Hartzell excels in this conflicted character, portraying that conflict in delivery of dialogue and physical gestures and great chemistry with her cast mates while Aubele, who comes in later in the piece, makes the most of her stage time with a poised presence and good hold on her scorned, but seemingly forgiving character. Vocally, both actresses are powerhouses and fill the theatre with a smooth, booming sound and harmony as in numbers like the poignant “Someone Else’s Story” sung beautifully by Hartzell, and the powerful duet, “I Know Him So Well.” Aubele and Hartzell are to be celebrated for their performances.

Taking on the role of cocky International chess champion (and former champion) Frederick Trumper, Rob Tucker is a highlight and shines in this production. He embodies this character and portrays him with just as much pompousness as required and his transition in his character is seamless from beginning to end. Vocally, Tucker is superb which he showcases in his strong and confident performances in numbers such as the popular, high-energy “One Night in Bangkok” and the emotional “Pity the Child.” Tucker is certainly one to watch (and you can’t help but to) in this production.

Rounding out the featured cast is standout Shawn Doyle, taking on the multifaceted role of Anatoly Sergievsky. Doyle has performed this role numerous times but it’s as fresh as ever. He understands this role inside and out and he gives a consistent and exquisite performance. He portrays the conflict, confusion, and hurt that is required of this character and gives a vocal performance that is excellent, to say the least. His renditions of the duet “You and I” and the Broadway standard, “Anthem” is smooth, emotive, and resonates throughout the theatre making for a memorable and exquisite performance.

Final thought… Even the cold war is over, Chess is still as relevant today as when it was released. This production is well put together and cuts what needed to be cut and still told the story in its completion. The performances are spot on and the entire ensemble is giving 100% effort. Staging keeps the audience engaged and interested and the music is performed near flawlessly. Admittedly, Chess is not on the top of my list when it comes to musical theatre, but it’s mainly because of the book. The music has always been the driving force in this piece and in this production is more concert-like making for an absolutely joyous evening at the theatre. Get your tickets now because this is not one you want to miss this season.

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

Chess will play through October 1 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: The Wiz at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

Approaching the Wizard. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


The Wizard of Oz holds a special place in many hearts the world over and rarely is a re-imagining or re-telling of a beloved story ever just as successful as the original but The Wiz, with Lyrics & Music by Charlie Smalls and Book by William F. Brown (which, incidentally had its FIRST showing here in Baltimore at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre) most definitely falls into the category of successes. Spotlighters Theatre has opened their production of The Wiz, Directed by Tracie M. Jiggetts, with Music Direction by Brandon Booth, Choreography by Traci M. Jiggetts, Timoth David Copney, and Aliyah Caldwell and it’s a joyous, entertaining sight to behold.

Ease on Down the Road. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Set Design by Alan S. Zemla is smart and simple considering the intimate space of Spotlighters, however, Zemla makes simple work nicely for this piece. Almost every inch of the theatre is used with each back corner dressed up as Dorothy’s Baltimore home (that’s right, Baltimore, not Kansas), The Emerald City Gate, and, in Act II, Evillene’s throne. The stages cleverly stays pretty clear throughout the production with set pieces and dressings insinuating the setting of each scene quite effectively.
Costume Design by Fuzz Roark is nothing short of stellar. The Wiz is a tricky one, but Roark has stepped up to the plate and hit a homerun. Word has it, he was practically sewing just until the the lights when up on opening night but his hard work has paid off. The attention to detail (especially the colorful and creative Munchkin costumes) and the overall design add great value to this piece. Working along side Roark were Karen Eske, who constructed The Wiz costume, Cheryl Robinson, who constructed the Addaperle and Glinda costumes, and Sarah Watson, who constructed the Evillene costume and all were spot on and grand, absolutely befitting of each character.

Tornado Dancers. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Choreography by Tracie M. Jiggetts, Timoth David Copney, and Aliyah Caldwell is a highlight of this production. This team seems to have understood the varying abilities of their cast, which is important in this area, and they’ve managed to come up with innovative and original choreography that fits well with the piece and moves it along nicely. Aliyah Caldwell (Lead Dancer), Stephanie Crockett (Dancer #2) , and Kimani Lee (Dancer #3) are exquisite and fluid as the Tornado, poppies, and Oz Ballet Dancers and give superb performances.

Renata Hammond and Amber Hooper. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Music Director Brandon Booth does a fine job with this piece as a whole. His work with the cast has produced a nice balance and brilliant performances from the entire ensemble. Working with music that is familiar is a challenge, but Booth, along with his actors and outstanding pit orchestra consisting of himself on Keyboard, Greg Bell on Bass Guitar, and William Georg on Percussion and 2nd Keyboard, has breathed new, fresh life into this already beautiful piece.

Timoth David Copney as The Wiz. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Taking the helm of this production, Director Tracie M. Jiggetts has created this alternate Oz in a small but adequate space beautifully. Aside from a lackluster death for the Wicked Witch of the West, which not soley the fault of Jiggetts as she certainly has limitations in the space, and curious omissions probably because of space and time constraints, she has a clear vision, moving Dorothy Gale to Baltimore and out of Kansas and giving gracious nods to the surrounding areas (even mentioning Dundalk, Ritchie Highway, and ArtScape), and her casting is extraordinary. Let me take a moment to discuss pacing, as well. According to the Spotlighters website, this show is supposed to run 2 hours and 45 minutes but, Jiggetts has managed to keep this piece moving and the pacing is on point! She manages to tell the entire story in 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission and that, my friends, is uber impressive for a show of this stature, so the cuts are absolutely forgiven.

Phoenix Averiyire, Neves R. Jones, and Sofia Raquel Esme D’Ambrosi. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Moving into the performance aspect of this production, I wouldn’t be doing any favors with this reivew if I didn’t mention Phoenix Averiyire, Neves R. Jones, and Sofia Raquel Esme D’Ambrosi as the Munchkins. Cuteness overload! These three very young actresses were spot on in their performances and held there own against their adult counterparts. For child actors, they are flawless and throw just enough shade to be adorable and not flippant. These young ladies are definitely a highlight of this production.
Darlene Harris takes on the role of Aunt Em and, unfortunately, must have been having some vocal issues for this particular performance as she spoke through her number “The Feeling We Once Had,” and the backup vocals were kept in, making it sound a bit awkward, but… Harris acts the hell out of the number, not losing the poignancy of the piece. I hope she feels better for the rest of the run because I have a feeling she wails this number. As The Wiz himself, Timoth David Copney works it and embodies The Wiz entirely with great comedic timing and a good grasp of the character. Vocally, he gives a great, confident performance in numbers such as “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard” and the gospel inspired “Y’all Got It!” Elaine Foster tackles the role of Glinda and this casting is superb. She brings the grace that is required for this character and, vocally, she handles her song “A Rested body is a Rested Mind” exceptionally with a delicate, but strong tone. DDm as Evillene is a powerhouse with instant command of the stage. DDm gives a strong, commendable performance vocally and in character. Rounding out the cast of characters other than the main four friends, Renata Hammond takes on the role of Addaperle and she is most certainly another highlight in this production. Her comedic timing is near perfect and her confident performance shows she’s comfortable in the role. Becasue of her portrayal, you will instantly like this character and her vocal performance is just as impressive as she belts out her number “He’s the Wiz.”

Amber Hooper as Dorothy Gale. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Amber Hooper as Dorothy Gale, the young lady whisked off to Oz with the help of a tornado. Sometimes it’s difficult to portray such an iconic character and Hooper does a fine job exuding the innocence and naivete of this young girl. She looks the part and seems to understand not only the character but the re-imagining of the character, as well. She’s comfortable on stage but seems to blend in, getting lost in the shuffle as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion join the journey. Vocally, she gives an admirable performance with a strong hint of classical training and she manages the material nicely.

Justin Johnson as The Scarecrow. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Justin Johnson as Scarecrow gives an outstanding performanc, making the part his own and bringing an lovable ignorance with a hidden intelligence, as is required for the character and making him a joy to watch. His choices are brilliant such as his nerdy laugh that got me every time. His comedic timing is down pat and his movement as the Scarecrow is spot on and Johnson makes the character likable from the get. Vocally, Johnson gives a fantastic performance with a smooth, but resonating tone that works well, especially with his main number “I Was Born the Day Before Yesterday,” and his movement in the number keeps it upbeat and entertaining to watch.

Shae Henry as The Tin Man. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


Next, we meet Shae Henry as Tin Man and he handles this role with a tranquil feel. He is lovable and gives a bang-up performance as the poor man searching for a heart. He has great chemistry with his cast mates, and his character is consistent throughout the production. Vocally, Henry gives an pleasing performance and shines in his number “Slide Some Oil to Me.”

J. Purnell Hargrove as The Lion. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com


J. Purnell Hargrove as Lion is the absolute standout in this production. He grasps not only the character but the humor, as well, giving an exemplary performance that has the entire audience belly laughing as soon as he hits the stage. He’s confident and milks this character for every laugh without becoming annoying, which is quite a feat. Vocally, Hargrove is strong and really sells his numbers such as “Mean Ol’ Lion” and his duet with Hooper, “Be a Lion.” He’s certainly one to watch in this particular production.
Final thought… The Wiz at Spotlighters Theatre is a fun, entertaining, and well put-together production that should not be missed this season. Though it is in an intimate space and limitations, Spotlighters still manages to give us a big show with all the bells and whistles expected from this show. The added humor and nods to our humble city of Baltimore engages the audience and adds a nice personal touch. Superb pacing, great casting, fantastic costumes, brilliant choreography, terrific performances, and familiar tunes take this production to the hilt and make for a very enjoyable evening of theatre. Get your tickets now! You won’t be disappointed with this one!
This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre’s production of The Wiz… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
The Wiz will play through April 30 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or them online.
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Review: Always Patsy Cline at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Jukebox musicals can be a tricky entity, but Dundalk Community Theatre’s current production, Always Patsy Cline, Directed by Eric Potter seamlessly stitches together old Patsy Cline songs to create a delightful piece of nostalgia. With Music Direction by Charlotte Evans, Costume design by Larry Munsey, and Set, Lighting, and Sound Design by Marc W. Smith this production is near flawless and brings the iconic Patsy Cline back to life for an evening of pure country music and a glimpse into a fan’s dream come true.
Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Walking into the John E. Ravekes Theatre, I was transported to a bygone era and the original Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. Veteran Technical Director Marc W. Smith’s Set Design is exquisite and downright accurate with a painted barn and bandstand. Smith’s attention to detail is also apparent in the other two smaller settings of a Texas dance hall with tables and a jukebox and a small 1960s kitchen with an old Frigidaire and pastel colored dishes. All of his sets are authentic and well designed adding great value to this production.
Smith also takes on the duties of Lighting & Sound Design which compliments the Set Design nicely. His Lighting Design is simple, yet sets the mood for each number and is antithetic for each setting, giving a clear separation. The design is well thought-out and executed beautifully.
Being a musical, Sound Design must always be handled delicately, finding a balance between the orchestra or band and the actors who are singing. Smith’s design finds this balance for a brilliant sound throughout the production.
Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Costume Design by Larry Munsey is superb, matching many well-known Patsy Cline costumes and style. Putting an actress up on the stage to play a real person is difficult, but Munsey’s costume choices are impressive. He not only costumes Ms. Cline well, his design for the other character, Lois, is also well-thought out, creating a down-to-earth, friendly 1960s Texas gal who likes to have a good time. Did I mention hair? Well, the hair was very authentic for both Patsy Cline and Lois, with their bouffants and high dos. Kudos to Munsey on his authentic and fun Costume Design.
Most of the songs presented in Always Patsy Cline are well known Cline hits, including “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Crazy.” Music Director Charlotte Evans does a superb job bringing these songs back to the stage and has the band swinging with the upbeat numbers and keeping a steady beat for the ballads and even providing vocal backup where needed. It’s always difficult with a jukebox musical because, these are the songs folks are accustomed to hearing certain way and Evans does not disappoint. All of the numbers sound like the original recordings and the band, consisting of Charlotte Evans on Piano, Corey Chubb on Electric Guitar, Randy Austin, Jr. on Sleep Lap Guitar, Greg Bell on Bass, Alani Sugar on Fiddle, and Joe Pipkin on Drums produce a good old fashioned honky tonk, rock-a-billy sound.
Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Directing a biographical piece can be challenging but Director Eric Potter seems to have tackled this challenge to create a successful and nostalgic piece giving a little insight into Cline through stories told by a fan-turned-friend in the late 50s through the rest of Cline’s life. Potter’s vision is clear as he presents Patsy Cline as the absolute star she was. He keeps the action moving nicely, giving the story a good flow, and the transitions from one song to the next is seamless. His understanding of the script and subject matter is apparent and his production does not mock, but celebrates the life of this gone-to-soon icon.
Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


As for the performance of this piece, Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Lois Seger are forces of nature on the stage and bring Patsy Cline back to life with gusto and respect.
Though portraying a once living, famous person can be quite difficult, Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows is a standout as Patsy Cline and really understands her character. Her voice is as impressive, smooth, and clear as the real Patsy Cline and she is comfortable and confident with each and every song. Though Cline was a country music superstar, it’s reported she was very down-to-earth, as well, and Burrows portrays this brilliantly in her scenes with Maribeth Vogel, with whom she has a great chemistry and ease. She gives a very strong performance and is believable with every step and every note she sings.
Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre

Maribeth Vogel as Louise Seger. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Maribeth Vogel as super-fan Lois Seger is likable from the moment she steps on stage. Vogel expresses her affection and love for Cline clearly and gives such a natural performance that makes me feel like she’s my next door neighbor telling me the story of her encounter with her idol. She is very comfortable interacting with the audience, as she does throughout the performance, and she sets the audience at ease. She has a strong presence onstage and her comedic timing is on point, making for a very successful and delightful performance.
Final thought… Patsy Cline is an undisputed icon in the entertainment industry and her legacy must be handled delicately but Dundalk Community Theatre manages to bring her back to life with grace, dignity, and a bit of humor. If you’re a Patsy Cline fan, as I am, you will not be disappointed and if you are unfamiliar with this velvet-voiced songstress, this production would be the perfect introduction.
Have a different viewpoint? What did you think? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below!
 Always, Patsy Cline will play through November 6 at The Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk Campus, John E. Ravekes Theatre. For tickets, call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

Review: Das Barbecu at Spotlighters

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

A series of Wagner operas and the great state of Texas?! Can the two mix? Sounds crazy, right? Well, Spotlighters Theatre‘s latest contribution to Baltimore theatre, Das Barbecu, with Book & Lyrics by Jim Luigs and Music by Scott Warrender, proves that it can be so. Directed by Greg Bell, with Music Direction by Michael Tan and Choreography by Jillian Bauersfeld and Greg Bell, Das Barbecu manages to take Wagner‘s complex four-part Ring Cycle opera and make it just a little more accessible and (some would argue) more interesting and fun for audiences not so versed with the classics. Now, this isn’t to say that Das Barbecu is a dumbed-down version of the Ring Cycle, but more contemporary and in-tune with today’s audiences. The story, characters, and message is still in tacked, only now it has a charming Texas drawl.

Rob Wall and Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Rob Wall and Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

The intimate, in-the-round space at Spotlighters would usually be a challenge for a show like this with its multiple locations and, well, they say everything is bigger in Texas, but Spotlighters has a lot of experience putting big shows up in this small space and Set Designer Alan Zemba used his space very wisely. With simple yet creative set pieces, Zemba manages to take the audience from the garden of a palatial mansion to a vast ranch, to bedrooms, then to a bar, then to the top of a mountain, then to a barbecue (whew!), all with minimal set pieces. Not only was the set creative, but it is easy and practical enough for the stage crew to get on and off quickly. I will say, however, there were a few scene changes that seemed a bit longer than usual, but all in all, the stage crew had razor sharp, rehearsed precision and the set worked beautifully with the piece and certainly helped tell the story.

The cast of Das Barbecue. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

The cast of Das Barbecue. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Adding great value to this production is Costume Design by Andrew Malone. There are so many characters in this piece played by only five actors, Malone does an impeccable job making each character absolutely individual and memorable with simple, yet noticeable wardrobe changes. An actor can play up to five characters, but, because of the character costumes, it is easy to distinguish each character, which is invaluable with this involved, twisting story. Major kudos to Andrew Malone for his creative and flawless design.

With the space being as intimate as it is, Light Design by Al Ramer is simple, yet very befitting to this production and did not impede but enhance the action onstage. The lighting is well thought-out and sets the proper mood for each scene helping move the story along.

Moving into the production aspect of this piece. Choreography by Jillian Bauersfeld and Greg Bell is fun and very appropriate for this piece and the space in which it is performed. The dancing is tight and entertaining and adds to the production rather than takes away from this piece. Also, the actors are comfortable with the choreography and perform it confidently and with high energy making it enjoyable to watch.

Allison Comotto and Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Allison Comotto and Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Baltimore theatre veteran Music Director Michael Tan does not disappoint in this production. He manages to take his small cast and have them harmonizing and blending beautifully to bring this story to life. Some songs are funny and some poignant, but whichever mood, under the direction of Tan, the actors seem to understand what these songs are about and perform them accordingly. It helps that the most of the ensemble is already strong, vocally, and Tan uses this to his advantage making for a very impressive showing.

Directing 5 actors to play 26 characters can be quite a challenge for any director, experienced or otherwise, but Greg Bell takes on this challenge and executes his impeccable skill. It is important for whomever takes the reigns of this piece to completely understand the story of Wagner’s complicated Ring Cycle and Bell seems to have a tight grasp and his vision for this piece is apparent and well put together. He excels in blocking his actors to keep the story moving smoothly and at a near perfect pace. Though, as an audience member, I did have to do my part by paying attention, but the story was presented to me clearly and I wasn’t scratching my head or asking questions during intermission or after the performance. Das Barbecü is another well-done project from Greg Bell.

Jim Gross. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Jim Gross. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Jim Gross, a.k.a. Actor 4, takes on the role of Woton, Gunther, Hagen, a Texas Ranger, and a Giant and, according to his bio, is back after a year hiatus from the stage. He gives an admirable performance having to take on so many characters and keeping each an individual through not only costumes, but mannerisms and physicality, as well. His Texan/Southern accent could use a bit more work as I don’t hear much of one throughout and his solo number “River of Fire” does fall a bit flat for being so early in the second act. However, he does hold his own commendably against the other strong actors in the ensemble and his performance is to be applauded.

Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Clare Kneebone. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Clare Kneebone was last seen at Spotlighters in Tick, Tick… Boom! and, in this production, she is known as Actor 3, taking on the roles of Brünnhilde, a Norn Triplet, a Texas Ranger, and a Rivermaiden. Kneebone is comfortable on this stage and takes strong command when she appears. Though this is a complete ensemble piece, she takes on what’s closest to the female lead in this piece and she gives a confident, natural performance. Her beautiful, strong vocals b
lend very nicely with the ensemble and shine through in her solo number “County Fair.” Kneebone is a joy to watch and I look forward to experiencing her future work.

Rob Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Rob Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Rob Wall is no stranger to the Spotlighters stage, also having been last seen in Tick, Tick… Boom! Wall takes on the responsibilities of Actor 5, performing the roles of Siegfried, a Norn Triplet, Milam Lamar, Alberich, and a Giant. Taking on what could be considered the lead male role, Wall gives a very enjoyable, strong performance. His gorgeous, booming voice resonates throughout the theatre but he blends well with the ensemble, filling out the sound beautifully. He is able to separate each character he plays and give them each their own respective lives. He understands his characters and works hard to bring them to life. He has a great command of the stage and seems quite comfortable and natural in his roles and this is another great performance from Rob Wall.

Allison Comotto is Actor 1 and takes on the roles of Gutrune, a Norn Triplet, Freia, Y-Vonne Duvall, a Rivermaiden, and a Valkyrie. She, too, is a veteran of the Spotlighters stage having been last seen in Zombie Prom.

Allison Comotto. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Allison Comotto. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Comotto is a busy bee in this production but she is certainly a highlight with her spot-on comedic timing and natural acting chops that make her characters very enjoyable to watch. Vocally, she’s strong and is able to hold her own in the harmonies and blends well. Not to beat a dead horse, but her comedic timing is absolutely flawless. Her character, Y-Vonne Duval (actually pronounced WHY-vonne), a high society Texas wife who knows all the gossip in town, is just plain hysterical. She’s comfortable on stage and has a very strong presence that makes one take notice. Her natural talents are a joy to watch and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Ms. Comotto in the future.

Andrea Bush. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Andrea Bush. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Lastly, but certainly not least, Andrea Bush, who is most decidedly another standout of this production. Bush is an absolute pleasure to watch as she navigates through her characters as Actor 2, taking on the roles of Narrator, Fricka, Erda, Needa Troutt, Back-Up Singer, Katsy Snapp, a Rivermaiden, and a Valkyrie. For as many characters as Bush had to play, she transitioned seamlessly and gave each character an individual personality, displaying her on-point acting skills. Vocally, this woman has some strong pipes and her booming voice is an asset to this piece. In both her comedic and more serious numbers, she gave a strong vocal showing and found the feeling in every song through her performance. Her comedic timing is outstanding and she seems to understand all her characters and the story, allowing her to give an assured performance that adds value to this production. She’s defintiely one to watch.

Andrea Bush and Allison Comotto. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre /  Shealyn Jae Photography  / Shealynjaephotography.com

Andrea Bush and Allison Comotto. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shealyn Jae Photography / Shealynjaephotography.com

Final thought… much like the Looney Tunes made Wagner much easier to swallow (and introduced children and a lot of adults to the opera genre), Spotlighters production of Das Barbecu takes a complex, classic piece and makes it more accessible and funny. Wagner’s Ring Cycle is not a piece I am entirely familiar with, but now, should I delve into a performance of it somewhere in my journeys, I’ll have a better understanding of the story and will probably appreciate more than I would have going in blind. Who knew Texas and a Wagner series of operas would mesh so well together?

Want another point of view? Check out what The Bad Oracle had to say!

Das Barbecu will play through October 30 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.