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: Sweet Charity at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Most of us just want to be loved, right? I say “most” because there are some folks out there who are content and happy (or claim they are) without the love of others. However, this is not the case with the title character of Heritage Players latest offering Sweet Charity, with a Book by Neil Simon and Music and Lyrics by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, respectively. This production is Directed and Choreographed by Timoth David Copney with Music Direction by Mari Hill.

Briefly, Sweet Charity concerns itself with the romantic goings on of Charity Hope Valentine, a taxi dancer (a profession that teeters precariously on the line of prostitution) in a seedy dance hall in New York City. Her surroundings may be drab but Charity’s optimism, romanticism, and upbeat attitude seem to get her through tough times. She’s been dumped, robbed, and insulted by lovers and boyfriends but she still sees a better life for herself. She meets Oscar, a neurotic, shy fellow, is it possible she has found true love at last… or is the other shoe just waiting to drop?

Bailey Wolf as Ursula, Daniel Douek as Vittorio Vidal, and Katherine Sheldon as Charity, and Kamryn Polastre Scott as Doorman. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Set Design by Ryan Geiger is minimal but absolutely appropriate, using moving set pieces to represent various locations on a simple black stage. I don’t mind the black stage, but the stage is a bit unkempt with the use of sheets or curtains of different shades of black and different, ununiformed lengths which is a bit of a distraction. Overall, however, the set worked for this piece as there is heavy choreography and you don’t want a bulky set in the way of that. Geiger used his space wisely and the unkemptness may very well be a part of the design as a lot of the action takes place in the seedier-looking parts of New York City.

Andrew Malone’s and Lanoree Blake’s Costume Design is on point for this period, 1960s piece. Every stich of clothing on this ensemble is well thought-out and authentic to the time. The bright color palate, the styles and crazy prints, the hair… everything just oozed the mid to late 60s and I love it. Kudos to Malone and Blake for their efforts and superb design.

Mari Hill’s Music Direction is concise and she has this cast and orchestra sounding tight. Since quite a few of these songs are standards, it’s a good chance most or at least some of the audience will at least be familiar with the tunes but Hill doesn’t let that deter her and she has guided this ensemble to perform these songs well and true to the original compositions. The orchestra that has convened for this production is led by the able and well-apt Patty DeLisle, who doubles as both Conductor and Keyboards, sounds sweet and strong. The orchestra consists of: Will Zellhofer on Keyboards, Mari Hill, Matt Elky, Dan Longo, Katie Marcotte, and David Booth on Reeds, Erica Bright and Jon Bright on Trombone, Randy Whittenberger, Kevin Shields, and Allyson Wessley on Trumpet, Billy Georg on Percussion, Maxwell Kazanow on Guitar, and Thomas Jackson on Bass Guitar.

“I’m a Brass Band” with Katherine Sheldon as Charity and the Cast of Sweet Charity. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

It’s worth mentioning that Sweet Charity was given a successful 1969 film adaptation (depending on who you talk to) staring Shirley McClain and Chita Rivera (not to mention Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ricardo Montalbán) and directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse. That being said it, it can be a challenge to recreate a well-known piece and present it in a fresh light. Timoth David Copney stepped up and took on this challenge not only as Director but doubling as Choreographer and his efforts are not in vain. Copney presented this piece in a more traditional setting, as written, and didn’t mess much with the original script/score. His choreography is impeccable and is prominent in moving the story along. For “Rich Man’s Frug,” it’s clear he makes an homage to the film adaptation with near exact chorography. On a side note, Libby Burgess (Lead Frug Dancer) tears up the stage with concise and tight movement that adds great value to this intricate dance number. He knows his cast and has created movement that makes them shine rather than hinder their performances. That being said, it seems Copney concentrated mainly on choreography (because it really is brilliant) and less on blocking and scene work. The pacing is a bit lagging, especially in lengthy scenes with most of the ensemble onstage, but still, the story is so cleverly written, the dialogue helps with the pacing. Handmade signs between scenes poking out of the side of the stage are a bit hokey and barely legible if you are more than three rows back, but, thankfully, their not too, too important to the production. Overall, Copney’s efforts are commendable are and are to be applauded as it seems he has a good comprehension of both the text and the story as a whole making for a good showing.

“The Richman’s Frug” with the Cast of Sweet Charity, featuring Libby Burgess. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, I’d be amiss not to mention that the entire ensemble of this piece gives 100% effort and is dedicated to this piece and all should be commended for their efforts, including Apollo, the beautiful and well-behaved canine who makes a couple of cameos and is an absolute natural!

Taking on role of Vittorio Vidal, the Italian movie star with whom Charity has a chance encounter, is Daniel Douek, and he fully embodies this suave, yet tender character very nicely and exudes that beautiful balance of debonair playboy and lovelorn schoolboy giving an authentic and thoughtful performance, especially in his featured number, “Too Many Tomorrows.” Oscar, Charity’s main love interest, is played by Adam Abruzzo who plays this neurotic, shy character near perfectly. Abruzzo may not be the strongest, vocally, but his portrayal is delightful and his comedic timing is spot on making for a charming performance.

Anwar Thomas takes on the challenging role of Daddy Brubeck, the charismatic leader of the cult-ish religion of the Rhythm of Life, but he pulls it off quite well. His performance is confident as he tackles the facets of this kooky character and though, vocally, he could be stronger, especially in his featured number, the high-energy “The Rhythm of Life,” what he lacks in vocalese, he absolutely makes up for and shines in his dancing. This man is no joke when it comes to a dance number and he makes each move look effortless making for a strong performance, overall.

Katherine Sheldon as Charity Hope valentine. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Katherine Sheldon takes on the title role of Sweet Charity, otherwise known as Charity Hope Valentine, our upbeat, hopeful heroine. Sheldon seems to have a tight grasp of this character and plays her to the hilt. She portrays a good blend of optimistic innocence and a lifetime of broken hearts very well and it’s that perfect blend that makes this character work. It’s easy to see she’s worked hard for this role and her solo dancing and comedic timing is on point. She gives a good showing, vocally, in such numbers as the standard “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “Where Am I Going?”, but struggles a bit with the higher notes. However, that could very well be the result of her intense concentration on choreography, which she nails. Overall, Sheldon is confident and dedicating, making for a strong performance.

One highlight of this production is Jim Gerhardt, who takes on the role of Herman, the proprietor of the seedy dance hall ii which Charity works. This character certainly has a rough exterior, but deep down, is a big softy who cares about the girls who work at the hall and Gerhardt knocks it out of the ballpark with his portrayal giving us that perfect character in his mannerisms, stereo-typical “New Yorker” dialect, and his authenticity. Vocally, he shines, both while speaking and his featured musical number, “I Love to Cry at Weddings.” Gerhardt is certainly one to watch in this show.

Megan Mostow as Helene, Ashley Gerhardt as Niki, and Katherine Sheldon as Charity. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Last but certainly not least, we have our hands down standouts Megan Mostow as Helene and Ashley Gerhardt as Nickie. These two ladies are superb in their roles and they work well off of each other making for a heartfelt and true performance that makes you want to be friends with both of them because you feel as though they’ll always have your back and that’s what makes a great portrayal. Mostow moves naturally onstage and embodies this character of Helene completely. Her delivery of the material is on point and it’s she’s comfortable with the character and has a strong presence making for a brilliant performance. Gerhardt, too, is confident and comfortable with and impeccable portrayal of this rough-around-the-edges character who has a heart of gold. Her dialect work is near perfect and she really has a good grasp on her character and her wants and needs.

Vocally, both actresses are powerhouses and their performances in numbers such as “There’s Got to Be Something Better Than This” and their featured parts in the popular and well-known “Big Spender” will make you stand up and take notice while the poignant “Baby Dream Your Dream” will have you near tears with their touching performance. Overall, Mostow and Gerhardt are two who bring this production to the apex and their dedication to their characters and the production as a whole is quite apparent. Kudos to both for jobs very well done.

Final thought…Sweet Charity is a fun romp through a colorful, jazzy bygone era of what seems like a simpler time with interesting fashion choices. The story is cute, but not extremely deep, but it’s witty and funny with a book by Neil Simon, so, you can’t go wrong! The music is damn catchy and a few of these tunes are recognizable standards and this production doesn’t skimp nor cut corners with the dancing. Most of the characters are relatable and it’s a piece with which anyone who has a love of theatre should be acquainted. I recommend checking it out! You won’t be sorry you did!

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

Sweet Charity will run through April 29 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: Into the Woods at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Title
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Fairy tales are probably some of the best fodder for stage adaptations because, after all, they’re entire stories that are already written and told. It’s up to the author and, if a musical, the lyricist and composer of that stage adaptation to put the story together with a script and songs. In the case of Heritage Players latest offering, Into the Woods with Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Book by James Lapine, Directed by TJ Lukacsina, with Music Direction by Chris Pinder and Choreography by Rikki Howie does something refreshingly different. By intertwining a bunch of different stories into one big story, we get a delightful, interesting spin on what happens in the life of these popular characters outside of the stories we all know and love.
Briefly, Into the Woods gathers together the title characters of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a few other popular tales and throws them together in a story of trying to our happy-ever-after in life, regardless of what it throws at you, and learning that life, in fact, is not a fairy tale. Through aspects of each story, we learn a little more about these characters and realize all is not always what it seems.
Set Design by Ryan Geiger, though simple, is fitting and quite effective. The unit set is good for different settings with a simple opening of a swinging panel and small props and set pieces. For a complex show like this, this set design is well-thought out and doesn’t hinder the action, but helps by not getting in the way. Kudos to Geiger for an inspiring design.
Andrew Malone, an established Costume Designer in the area, reveals his able talents in this production. Every character is fitted appropriately to character but unique enough that no one is the traditional image we know from the stories. This piece gives the costumer a chance to be fanciful as well as elegant and Malone hit the nail on the head in this production.
Sound Design by Brent Tomchick and Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina had some issues, but overall, the design worked for the prouduction. Whether it was a dependency on microphones or directorial neglect, there were many characters I couldn’t understand because I could not hear them. A few of the members of the ensemble didn’t project as they should and their lines were lost. Of course, the mics themselves had their own troubles of not being at the correct levels or even turned on at the correct times. Lighting Design is its own beast and can make or break a show. Now, Lukacsina’s design certainly did not break the show, but there were curious choices throughout. A favorite covering of light seems to represent some sort of light and shadows through leaves, as if in the woods, so, I get it, but it doesn’t do the ensemble any favors as most of them are lost in the shadows. It gets rather dark at times, as well. Yes, there are dark parts in this show… metaphorically, they don’t have to actually be IN the dark. Again, there were some technical issues with Sound and Lighting Design but, overall, it is suitable for this production and doesn’t take away from the story or the performance. In fact, it just might need a little tweaking or closer attention because for the most part, it works.
Choreography by Rikki Howie is minimal, at best. Not because Howie is lazy but the piece itself doesn’t call for a lot of dancing. There are a few moments when the cast gathers together to do what look like jazz squares (or box steps, depending on where you came up), and hand gestures but, that’s all that is required, really. Most of the songs simply need staging and not a lot of bouncing around. Howie does her best with the material she’s given and, all in all, the choreography is delightful. The cast is comfortable and that makes them look good, which is somewhat the point.
Chris Pinder tackles this piece as its Music Director and his work is to be applauded. Teaching and working on a Sondheim score is no easy feat and Pinder has succeeded. He seems to understand the music and its nuances and he has guided his cast to give a splendid performance. Not only does he have a strong ensemble, vocally, he has a phenomenal orchestra backing them up. Well-rehearsed, and spot on, the orchestra is near flawless with this score and adds great value to the production as a whole. Included in the orchestra are Chris Pinder, Conductor; David Booth, Flute; Matt Elky, Clarinet; Allyson Wessley, Horn; Kevin Shields, Trumpet; Lynn Graham, Piano; John Keister, Synthesizer; Zachary Sotelo, Percussion; Naomi Chang-Zajic and Susan Beck, Violins; David Zajic and Kyle Gilbert, Viola; Ina O’Ryan and Juliana Torres, Cello; and Joe Surkiewicz, Bass.
TJ Lukacsina takes the helm of this production as its Director and, as stated, taking on any Sondheim piece is a challenge but Lukacsina, with a few minor hiccups, seems to have stepped up to the challenge. Casting is superb and his staging is concise making for a good pace and tempo for a naturally long piece with smooth, quick transitions. Overall, the piece is focused with a clear vision from Lukacsina and it moves along nicely… in Act I. Act II in this production has its problems but it’s mainly in the staging of this fast-paced script. Actors seem to be coming and going haphazardly through the various entrances and exits on the stage and if one is not familiar with the piece already, it’s easy to see how one might get a little perplexed in Act II. With cleaner staging, Act II may run a bit more smoothly. Again, the hiccups are minor and, overall, Lukacsina seems to have a good comprehension of the piece and a good grasp on what the characters are about making for a well thought-out, delightful production.
Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, Todd Hochkeppel takes on the supporting role of the Narrator, the first character we encounter and Hochkeppel gives a respectable performance but, compared to the other characterizations, seems a bit over the top at times with grand, sweeping gestures that could be pulled back a bit. However, he has a great booming voice and fits well in the role.
A couple of other supporting but important roles that move the piece along are the Mysterious Man played by Richard Greenslit and the Steward to the royal family, played by Sean Miller. Both Greenslit and Miller give commendable performances and make the most of the stage time they have.
The princes, played by Josh Schoff (Rapunzel’s Prince) and John Carter (Cinderalla’s Prince), are well cast in the roles and give admirable performances but their rendition of “Agony” falls a little flat. This is one of the most well-known numbers in this piece and it’s a hilarious song. Schoff and Carter sing the song beautifully, but really just stood opposite each other and didn’t seem to capitalize on the physical humor and melodramatic presentation that makes this number so enjoyable. It’s as if they both took the roles too seriously. Though both give entertaining performances, the stronger of the two is John Carter whose interpretation of Cinderella’s Prince is absolutely befitting, if not a tad too soft spoken (which is a shame as his smooth, deep timber is perfect for the stage!), and his take on The Wolf is spot on.
Scott AuCoin tackles the role of the Baker, the unlikely hero of the piece and Mia Coulborne takes on the character of Red Riding Hood, the bratty little girl who has no choice but to grow up throughout the story. Both actors are confident and committed to their roles and with characters being so intricate to the plot, both carry the responsibility nicely. Vocally, both give superb performances as in Red Ridinghood’s number “I Know Things Now” and the Baker’s “No More” and both seem to have an easy go with the material. Their chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is believable and they give 100% to their parts. Their interpretations of the characters could use a little kick as the performances were a bit scripted and forced but, overall, they give an admirable showing.
Rapunzel (played by Kirsti Dixon), the hapless girl stuck in a tower by her “mother”, who happens to be a Witch (portrayed by Rowena Winkler), are a good match to play these complex characters who play a big part in the plotline. Dixon shines with her beautiful soprano and gives an authentic portrayal as the young girl who knows there’s more out in the world than what she knows of her small tower. Winkler gives a completely dedicated, high energy performance as the Witch and her transition from Act I to Act II is more subtle than it should be both in character and presentation, but it works for the most part. Vocally, she has a better go with her higher register rather than the lower, but, overall, she gives a praiseworthy performance.
Some of the most humorous bits of this production come from Cinderella’s stepmother (Traci Denhardt), and the Stepsisters Florinda (Jamie Pasquinelli) and  Lucinda (Danyelle Spaar). This trio of actresses understand the importance of these characters but don’t take the roles so seriously that they’re not having fun. Pasquinelli and Spaar have a stupendous chemistry and play their characters to the hilt making for delightful performances. Denhardt as the stern Stepmother is poised and elegant, as the character requires and all three performances are on point. Along with this trio, Jessa Sahl takes on the role of Cinderlla’s Mother, a guiding ghost in a tree in the woods, and she gives a strong showing, especially vocally, with a clear voice that resonates throughout the theatre.
Jack is portrayed by Atticus Boidy and Jacks’ Mother, played by Temple Forston are a befitting duo with a great chemistry that makes for a charming mother/son relationship. Boidy has a good grasp of his character and gives an impressive vocal performance, shining in his featured number “Giants in the Sky” while Forston is believable as the stern but loving mother who only wants what’s best for her son. She makes the role her own and, though her character’s demise could have been tweaked out a bit more, she gives a commendable, strong performance.
The absolute highlights of this production of Into the Woods are Sydney Phipps taking on the role of Cinderella and Alana Simone who tackles the role of The Baker’s Wife. These two powerhouses are the ones to watch. Phipps effortlessly sings through Cinderella’s numbers such as her bit in the opening of Act I and her featured number “On the Steps of the Palace.” Also, her portrayal of Cinderella is authentic and because of Phipps splendid portrayal, you feel for this girl and are rooting for her. She has a good comprehension of the character, has a good presence on stage, and gives a strong, confident performance.
Likewise, Alana Simone starts off strong and keeps up the energy and consistency throughout the production. She has a booming voice and good chemistry with her fellow ensemble members, especially with Scott AuCoin, who plays her character’s husband. Simone belts out her numbers such as “It Takes Two” (with AuCoin), and the poignant “Moments in the Woods” with just the right amount of intensity and gentleness that is required of each number. Major kudos to Phipps and Simone for jobs very well done.
Final thought…Into the Woods is a monumental feat for any theatre, especially community theatres. Heritage Players certainly gives it the old college try and though some aspects fall short, others absolutely thrive. The show is long, by nature, and though this production has terrific pacing with an energetic cast, plan on sticking around for near three hours. Most of the cast is absolutely able and committed making for some great performances but as the production moves along, it seems to lose a little steam. That’s not to say it is not a commendable performance, because it most certainly is. With an ensemble who works well together, a simple but effective set, an orchestra that is on point, and a few standout performances, it’s definitely worth checking out this interpretation of a Stephen Sondheim favorite.
This is what I thought of Heritage Players production of Into the Woods… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Into the Woods will run through November 19 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: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission
It’s been repeated through the ages – being a kid isn’t easy! If you can remember (and most of us can), the world is a completely different place for a kid and Heritage Players latest offering The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Directed by Ryan Geiger, with Music Direction by TJ Lukacsina and Robin Trenner and Choreography by Jose Reyes Teneza, takes us right back to that crazy time when changes in body, mind, and viewpoints were happening and every day was a struggle… then the bastards throw something like a spelling bee in the mix to pit us against each other!

Chip Tolentino (Charlie Roberts) at the mic as the rest of the cast looks on. Credit: Heritage Players

Chip Tolentino (Charlie Roberts) at the mic as the rest of the cast looks on. Credit: Heritage Players


Walking into the Rice Auditorium at Spring Grove is a treat! It’s bright, neat, and clean and it’s a space that lends itself nicely to community theatre! Ryan Geiger, who takes on double duty as Director and Set Designer uses the traditional setting (a school gymnasium) for this production and, liking traditional theatre as I do, I thought it worked very nicely. It was a minimal set but Geiger’s attention to detail is on point and large printouts of a scoreboard and sports banners are clever and give the set a neat, precise look. This is a unit set show with movable set pieces and every piece had a purpose and helped tell the story.
Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina and Sound Design by Stuart Kazanow is appropriate and sets the mood for this quirky piece. Notably, there is a very neat effect concerning the Taj Mahal that is very clever and quite effective.
Sound is always a challenge for small theatres depending on the space and what the space is originally intended for. Kazanow’s Sound Design for this production is good, but seems a bit muted, slowing down the action onstage. Again, this could be because of venue and, overall, Lighting and Sound are respectable.
William Barfee explains his "Magic Foot" as the rest of the cast joins in. Credit: Heritage Players

William Barfee explains his “Magic Foot” as the rest of the cast joins in. Credit: Heritage Players


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is an eccentric kind of show where there’s a lot of music but it doesn’t call for a ton of choreography. However, Choreography by Jose Reyes Teneza fits in nicely. There are only a few big group numbers including “Magic Foot” and “Pandemonium” but the choreography is creative and tight and the cast seems to be having a great time with it.
Music Direction by TJ Lukacsina and Robin Trenner is impressive with great solo numbers and harmonic ensemble numbers that are on point and well-rehearsed. For being a fun, breezy show, Spelling Bee does, in fact, have some complex harmonies, but these were handled beautifully under the direction of Lukascsina and Trenner.
Going along with Music Direction, the orchestra is worth mentioning, giving a commendable performance with Robin Trenner on Piano, Ellie Whittenberger on Synthesizer, David Booth on Reeds, Ina O’Ryan and Juliana Torres on Cello, and Mykel Allison on Drums.
The spellers take center stage. Credit: Heritage Players

The spellers take center stage. Credit: Heritage Players


Taking on double duty as both a character in the production and Costume Designer, Stephen Foreman hit the nail on the head with these costumes. The costume design follows the original Broadway production’s scheme, for the most part, and his eye for detail is impressive. All of this actors seems comfortable in their wardrobe and the well though-out, meticulous costumes definitely add great value to this production.
Being a first time director has its own set of challenges but being a first time director for a musical is something entirely different. However, Director Ryan Geiger does a fantastic job with this piece, understanding its humor and its poignancy in a very balanced production. His casting is superb and his vision is clear, seeing life through the eyes of some very anxious, over-achieving kids in competition with each other and trying to discover themselves in the process. Kudos to Geiger for a job well done on his inaugural production as a director.
The cast. Credit: Heritage Players

The cast. Credit: Heritage Players


Moving into the performance aspect of this piece, I have to say the ensemble, as a whole, is outstanding. Audience participation is the name of the game for this show and the ensemble works with the participants brilliantly. The seemingly random audience members who are asked to participate in the bee seem to have a great time with this ensemble and the ensemble assures each audience member is at ease during the performance. The chemistry is crystal clear, the harmonies are flawless, and the dancing is tight and concise. Every one of these actors is giving 100% and seem to be having a blast onstage, which, in turn, brightens the mood of the audience.
Marcy Parks (Kristi Dixon) explains her many talents, backed up by the girls. Credit: Heritage Players

Marcy Parks (Kristi Dixon) explains her many talents, backed up by the girls. Credit: Heritage Players


Kirsti Dixon’s Macy Park is staunch and uptight, as the character calls and her number was upbeat and energetic. Though Dixon may have slight issues with the higher register of her number, “I Speak Six Languages,” her character is near perfect and she gives a strong, confident performance.
Matt Scheer tackles the role of Mitch Mahoney, the rough and tough, ex-con Comfort Counselor who’s job it is to give the kids a hug and juice box when they’ve been eliminated. Scheer plays the role as more of an 80s metal-head throwback rather than the original gruff, leather jacket and chains wearing character. Still, this character works nicely and he’s comfortable in the part and has a strong, booming voice for his number “Prayer for the Comfort Counselor” that is a fitting finale for the first act.
Logainne Schwartzandgrubinierre (Libby Burgess) tries to describe her strife as her dads discuss behind her. Credit: Heritage Players

Logainne Schwartzandgrubinierre (Libby Burgess) tries to describe her strife as her dads discuss behind her. Credit: Heritage Players


Logainne Schwartzangrubenierre, played by Libby Burgess, is an over-over-achiever pushed by parents who want what’s best for her, but might not see the burden it puts on her young, frail shoulders. Burgess tackles this role beautifully and her character is strong. The anxiousness and nervousness come out in her performance and she seems to really understand this poor kid. She’s comfortable on stage and has great chemistry with Zach Roth and Richard Greenslit, who play her two fathers.
Charlie Roberts takes on the role of Chip Tolentino, the “alpha male” of the group and the winner of last year’s Spelling Bee. Roberts certainly looks the part in his clean cut Boy Scouts uniform but his portrayal of Tolentino falls a bit flat. Overall, he did a fine job with his performance, choreography, and songs, but I want his character to be a little more forceful and less delicate. His featured numbers “Pandemonium” and “Chip’s Lament” was performed nicely, but may have been a little too high for his register. However, he’s confident and comfortable onstage and gives a commendable performance.
William Barfee, the obnoxious, know-it-all, and probably the keenest speller in the Bee, is played by Stephen Foreman who does a good job pulling this character together. His comedic timing is very good, though some of the jokes could be milked just a tad bit more as he tends to skim by them at times and, dare I say it, he could be just a bit more obnoxious as it’s what’s funny about this character. His number, “Magic Foot” is performed well and confidently and he seems comfortable and his look is spot on for this role.
Kristen Zwobot as Olive Ostrovsky. Credit: Heritage Players

Kristen Zwobot as Olive Ostrovsky. Credit: Heritage Players


Kristen Zwobot as Olive Ostrovsky is definitely reaching in for her inner child for this role. She’s believable in the role and captures the awkwardness of a young girl with separated parents who may be too smart for her own good. She seems to get this character and doesn’t play her with pity but with compassion. Her numbers, “My Friend the Dictionary” and “The I Love You Song” (a trio with Rachel Weir and Matt Scheer), are touching and she performs them well with a strong, confident voice.
Zach Roth as Leaf Coneybear. Credit: Heritage Players

Zach Roth as Leaf Coneybear. Credit: Heritage Players


Among the “child” characters, Zach Roth as Leaf Coneybear is definitely a highlight. His character is different from the other characters in that he’s really in it for the fun, not the competition. His innocence and naiveté makes you feel for him and root for him and he pulls the character off with ease. He’s comfortable in the role and his comedic timing is top-notch. He keeps his character interesting and makes a connection with the audience. Kudos to Roth for an admirable performance.
Rachel Weir portrays Rona Lisa Peretti, one of the three adult characters in this show and one of the moderators of the Bee as well as a former winner. Weir is also a highlight in this production in this role as she embodies this character heart and soul. It isn’t hard to believe this woman is a adamant fan of spelling and of spelling bees and that, deep down, she does care for this kids and wants them to succeed because she had been in their shoes at one time. Weir has an absolutely beautiful voice that resonates throughout the auditorium in songs such as her “Favorite Moment” songs throughout the production explaining how the bee actually works. She acts this character flawlessly and has a strong confident presence making her a joy to watch.
Richard Greenslit as Douglas Panch is the standout in this production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. As Douglas Panch, Greenslit has impeccable comedic timing and doesn’t take his character too seriously making for a phenomenal performance. He had me at stitches with his delivery of some of the definitions and sentences for some of the words in the bee. His chemistry with his cast mates is excellent and he seems to have a grasp on the purpose of this character which makes him quite believable in this role. He’s comfortable with a very strong stage presence and gives a performance that knocks it out of the park.
Matt Scheer as Mitch Mahoney and the Cast. Credit: Heritage Players

Matt Scheer as Mitch Mahoney and the Cast. Credit: Heritage Players


Final thought… The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Heritage Players is an entertaining and funny show to which mostly everyone can relate. We’ve all had that crazy time in life where changes were happening and things we don’t find so important today were life or death situations. It’s easy to relate to these characters and see a little of ourselves in each of them. If you want a fun show to check out, get your tickets now!
This is what I thought of Heritage Players production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will play through November 20 at The Heritage Players, Rice Auditorium at Spring Grove Hospital Center, 55 Wade Avenue, Catonsville, MD. For Tickets, email heritageplayerslive@gmail.com or purchase them online.