Review: It’s “Loverly” at Spotlighters Theatre with Pygmalion

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

In this day and age, there’s no real distinction between how a woman should look and act and how a man should look and act, and there shouldn’t be, but some folks think so and they certainly did think so in the early 20th century. Not only the way one looks, but how one should act was also a product of the precise class distinction that went on around that same time. However, Spotlighters Theatre latest offering, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, Directed by Sherrione Brown, breaks down that comfortable way of thinking and presents us with a opposing view that a person can indeed make changes to oneself to be whatever he or she wants to be, without losing those qualities that make them unique. Written in 1912, it’s a period piece, but, deep down, has a message that is timeless.

(l-r) Phil Gallagher, Randy Dalmas, and Linae’ C. Bullock. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Now, I’m sure most of you are familiar with the smash Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady and all the catchy songs that go along with it including “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” but… it all started with this play right here. Pygmalion, in a nutshell, takes us back to 1912 England where a brash flower seller is taken on by the sometimes harsh Dr. Henry Higgins and the gentle, caring Colonel Pickering to see if Higgins can transform her from a “gutter rat” into a duchess by simply changing the way she speaks.

Spotlighters always manages to impress me with their Set Designs and what they do with their intimate space, however, in this instance, Set Design by Director Sherrione Brown is a bit uninspired, but it is simple and works with the piece. However, in a piece such as Pygmalion where there is supposed to be a distinctive contrast between the streets of London and the parlors of high society, there’s not much change as this production uses simple but appropriate set pieces (as is the fashion at Spotlighters). To present locales and Brown has selected pieces that do this nicely, but the usual ambiance that presents any particular production throughout the theatre and immerses the audience in the story just seems to be missing.

(l-r) Phil Gallagher and Randy Dalmas. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Set Design aside, Costume Design by Jenifer Grundy Hollett is splendid. She has managed to capture the time period and gives the main character, Eliza Doolittle a definite and precise change in look to show her transition. Her attention to detail is exquisite and she should be applauded for her efforts. I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention Hollett is also a performing ensemble member taking on the role of Mrs. Pearce, Henry Higgins level headed housekeeper and she is definitely a standout in this production. Though taking on a supporting role with limited stage time, she makes the most of her character and gives a strong, solid performance with a natural delivery of the dialogue that make her performance a joy to watch.

Sherrione Brown, who has taken the helm of this production really knows her stuff when it comes to this story. She has a strong comprehension of this material and her staging is smooth (with only a few clunky and lengthy scene changes) and the pacing of this two-and-a-half hour period piece is on point. She handles this well known story nicely and presents it in an easy-to-follow manner. She guides this production with an assured hand and seems to get the best performances from her ensemble. Kudos to Brown for her Direction of this production.

(l-r) Melissa McGinley as Mrs. Eynsford Hill and Caelyn Sommerville as Calra Eynsford Hill. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Speech and accent are a huge aspect of this story; after all, it’s what Higgins thinks makes the difference between a poor girl and a duchess. Though the performances, overall, in this production are poised and polished, the accents do fall a bit short. They’re there… I can hear them, but I don’t buy them. The ensemble is working hard and their efforts are not for naught, but when it comes to dialect work, they probably would have been well served with a bit more rehearsal. The traditional cockney accent is a beast so, unless there is a certain amount of time to master it, which is just about impossible during any rehearsal schedule for a show, there will always be flaws but, again, that’s not to say the performances weren’t good, because they certainly were in other aspects.

Carlo Olivi as Freddy Eynsford Hill. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

In the way of supporting characters, portraying the upper-crust Eynsford Hills are Melissa McGinley as Mrs. Eynsford Hill, Caelyn Sommerville as Clara, and Carlo Olivi as Freddy, then there’s Sarah Weissman who takes on various roles such as a parlormaid and elegant hostess. Weissman fills out the ensemble well but her performance is scripted and stiff at times. She understands why her characters are there, but seems to be going through the motions for most of the production. McGinley seems to understand her character as the mother of young adults but her performance falls a little flat. She’s a bit scripted making for an unnatural delivery, but she does portray the gentleness and dignity the character requires. Sommerville, as Clara, a young woman of high society, does a terrific job of emoting the snobby, spoiled, holier-than-though attitude with slivers of politeness, especially with other members of the upper class. Sommerville is comfortable in this role though her speech seems to be off as if she’s speaking in a voice higher than her own natural voice, but other than that very minor flaw, her performance is delightful. Olivi, as the young and in love Freddy shines in this role. His authentic portrayal of this lovelorn character is believable and it’s easy to see he’s giving 100% effort in his character. He looks the part, he acts the part, and he gives a fine, sophisticated performance. An honorable mention goes out to Don Lampasone, who, a little birdy tells me, stepped into various small roles two nights before opening and gives an impressive, authentic performance as a Taximan, a Constable, and a lower class comrade of Eliza Doolittle’s. Though he keeps his script cleverly hidden in a newspaper, that doesn’t hinder his abilities and he gives a praise-worthy performance and I’m quite sure that script will be out of his hands quickly. My hat off to you, Mr. Lampasone, for stepping in and stepping up.

Rich Espy as Alfred Doolittle. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Rich Espy takes on the character of the lazy, living-in-the moment Alfred P. Doolittle, who, at heart, is a con-man that reluctantly comes into some money and is forced into being respectable. Espy’s portrayal is charming, as this character is naturally charming, if not sketchy at times, and his take causes the audience to dislike him then because of his transition riles up sympathy so, with good writing and a good performance, Espy pulls this character off nicely.

Rounding out the ensemble, Hillary Mazer who takes on the role of Mrs. Higgins, Randy Dalmas tackles the loveable and kind Colonel Pickering, and Phil Gallagher portrays the no-nonsense, logical Henry Higgins. Mazer is believable in her role as a matriarch who does care about her son, who embarrasses her every chance he gets, but has no qualms in telling him so and her chemistry with Gallagher is spot on. She plays this role with a certain finesse that makes her a likeable character and makes for an enjoyable performance.

Phil Gallagher and Hillary Mazer. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Randy Dalmas seems to embody this character of Colonel Pickering and the way he plays this role makes Pickering endearing from the start. His work with and off of Gallagher’s Higgins is wonderful and he gives a strong, confident performance throughout. Speaking of Gallagher, his portrayal of the crotchety, straight forward Henry Higgins is outstanding. He really captures the stuffiness of the character with that hint of caring that he tries so hard to hide. Henry Higgins is such a complex character, he’s easy to play to heavily stern and it’s the balance an actor needs to find within him that Gallagher does near flawlessly. His comedic timing is on point and his calm chemistry with Linae’ C. Bullock helps make his performance that much more superb.

Linae’ C. Bullock. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Finally, we have a highlight of this production, Linae’ C. Bullock, who takes on the challenging role of Miss Eliza Doolittle. I don’t mind saying Bullock is truly marvelous in this role. She impressively spits out the cockney, not necessarily perfectly, but near perfect and it makes the transition this character makes all the more believable. She has a good grasp of this character and her portrayal gets across the message I think this piece wants to send which is we may change on the outside but we’ll always be who we are on the inside. She gives a high-energy performance that balances out her more subdued portrayal later that is required of the character. She manages to get the audience invested in Eliza early on and we’re rooting for her throughout. She works very well with and off of Gallagher, who makes it easy with his performance, as well as with Dalmas, and the sincerity of her different relationships with both shine through. She’s certainly one to watch in this production.

Final thought… Pygmalion can be interpreted very different ways. On one hand, it’s a story of trying to change someone to better their station in life, in the other, it’s a story of what matters is on the inside and not the outside. Seeing as though it was written in 1912, it was probably the former, but the latter still rings true. It’s always challenging to produce a 100+ year old piece for a modern audience, but Spotlighters has managed to do it with finesse and charm. The production is simple when it comes to Set Design, but it just makes the performers work harder and they’ve certainly stepped up to the task. The production, as a whole, is polished and well put together from Costume Design, staging, and performance, it’s a delightful triste to a bygone era that teaches us you can take the girl out of [insert city/town/area name] but you can’t take the [insert city/town/area name] outta the girl! Definitely worth checking out!

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

Pygmalion will play through March 10 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

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Review: Fiddler on the Roof at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Tradition is what keeps things together for some people but there are folks who thrive on change. Tradition and Change certainly make strange bedfellows and Third Wall Production‘s lates offering, the classic Fiddler on the Roof, Directed by Lance Bankerd, with Music Direction by Edward Berlett, Choreography by Kali Baklor, Set Design by Jordan Hollett and Costume Design by Sally Kahn, takes us back to the early part of the 20th century and gives us the tale of a poor, Russian milkman struggling with and trying to balance his traditions and radical, new ideas of a new era.
I have to admit, I had serious reservations when I walked into the theatre and realized Director Lance Bankerd is putting Fiddler on the Roof – a big show – in an intimate space and in the round! Well, as soon as the first number started, though it was a bit tight with such a massive cast, it actually worked and it worked quite well!
Set Designer Jordan Hollett manages to give the audience a full musical theatre experience with set pieces and backdrops rather than full sets and it seems less tedious and just as effective. The story is told with benches and tables with a few “fancy” pieces such as a spinning bed and required wedding canopy. Kudos toe Hollett for his inventive design and intelligent use of space. Also worth mentioning is the painting of the large backdrops by Artists Ann Pallank, Amy Rudai, and Emma Hawthorn, adding great value to the space and the production as a whole.
Sally Kahn’s Costume Design is on point and her choices for this ensemble fir the bill of a poor Eastern European village in the early 20th century. Her attention to detail is commendable as this piece is not only somewhat of a period piece but also a cultural piece dealing with rules and restrictions of the Jewish religion that Kahn seems to understand and wardrobes her actors as such.
Kali Baklor takes on double-duty as both Choreographer and tacking the whirlwind role of Fruma-Sarah, the dead wife of the town butcher. Balkor’s choreography work is impressive and befitting for the piece and her ensemble. The space is intimate so there isn’t a ton of room for her large cast, but she uses what space she does have wisely with minimal but interesting and entertaining choreography. Along with keeping the cast in step, her take on the loud, obnoxious Fruma-Sarah is high-energy, confident and quite admirable.
Music Director Edward Berlett has this ensemble sounding beautiful in each number and his work with actors in the featured numbers is apparent as they run smoothly and sound splendid. I do regret the orchestra has no recognition in the program because they sound absolutely phenomenal. Taking up almost a third of the space, they were not overwhelming and blended in nicely with the ensemble making for a very pleasant sound. Featured musician, violinist Jonathan Goram is a gem in this impressive orchestra as he didn’t falter once during his solos making for an sensational performance. Kudos to the pit orchestra for a job well done and, hopefully, you’ll all get an insert in the program before the production is over!
Direction by Lance Bankerd is innovative and well-thought out, presenting this traditional musical in an nontraditional space. The space is tight, and the attempt of audience immersion from some of the cast is a little much, but some people enjoy that sort of thing and, overall, it was a joyous experience. There are a few curious casting choices, in appearance only, such as some characters who are younger than others actually looking older, but, all in all, it’s a very well put-together production. Fiddler on the Roof is A LOT of show and Bankerd has managed to keep the action moving and his cast kept the pace nicely. Major kudos to Lance Bankerd on a superb job with this piece.
Emma Hawthorn takes a turn as Yente, the matchmaker and pulls off the part nicely. This role is more of a comic relief and has a lot of the funny lines, but Hawthorn’s timing is a bit off on some of the jokes that could have been gold. Overall, however, she gives a fine performance and she understands the important role (after all, there’s an entire song in her honor!). She leads the attempt to bring the audience into the action with asides and interactions and seems successful in her attempts.
Michelle Hosier tackles the supernatural role of Grandma Tzeitel, who Tevye claims comes to him in a dream and she is delightful. She has a beautiful, strong soprano that is featured in “The Dream” and she’s comfortable and confident in the role.
Michael Zellhofer takes on the role of Lazar Wolf and his performance is top notch. He has a strong stage presence and makes this role his own and plays it confidently with a balance of drama and brilliant comedic timing.
Taking on the roles of eldest daughter Tzeitel and her unintended beau, Motel, the tailor are Lauren DeSha and Daniel Plante. From the moment DeSha steps onto the stage, she is a joy to watch. She gives a natural, comfortable performance, both in the portrayal of her character and vocally, and she has great chemistry with her fellow cast mates, espeically with Plante, her character’s love interest. The two give a believable performance and though Plante may not give the strongest vocal performance, but he is certainly giving 100% effort making for a commendable and confident performance.
Next up, Mea C. Holloway tackles the role of Hodel, the second eldest daughter and Joe Weinhoffer as portrays her counterpart, Perchik, the Student from Kiev. Aside from looking a bit older than the actress playing her older sister, Holloway gives a brilliant performance, vocally, but her portrayal of Hodel, though admirable, fell just a little flat. Weinhoffer’s interpretation of Perchik is spot on and his confidence and charisma shines through in his performance. Though he sounds a bit scripted, at times, his a clear, smooth, resonating voice fits the character near perfectly.
Alex Clasing who plays Chava, the third eldest daughter, is a definite standout in this production and her performance is a pleasure to watch. Vocally, she has a strong, clear voice that makes one take notice, even in the group numbers like “Matchmaker” and her acting chops are on point. Clasing portrays Chava naturally and authenticly and works easily with her cast mates. Her performance is one to watch in this piece and I’m looking forward to seeing more from this young actor.
Jenifer Grundy-Hollett as Golde is a treat and she gives this role 100%. Her comedic timing is spot on and she really grasps her character, making wise choices and making Golde a realistic mother and wife.  Her lovely soprano shines through, vocally, especially in numbers like “Do You Love Me?” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” She does play the part with a heavy hint of New York City in both accent and attitude but she still pulls the part off authentically and works well with all her cast mates.
Baltimore theatre veteran Roger Schulman as Tevye is the highlight of this production and he leads this ensemble with ease. Tevye is a traditional, yet jovial character and Schulman embodies these attributes superbly. His performance of Tevye’s signature “If I Were a Rich Man” is a joy to watch and Schulman refreshingly makes it his own. His overall delivery is natural and he makes the audience feel welcome and at home. He presents the subtle transition of his character seamlessly but with certainty and his presentation of Tevye’s evolution and growth is what knocks this performance out of the ball park.
Final thought…Fiddler on the Roof is usually a show that people love or hate. Rarely is there an in between but this production at Third Wall Productions is a creative, innovative presentation of this classic Broadway show. I had my reservations with it being in-the-round, at first, but this production did not disappoint. The intimate space was a bit cramped for the large cast and the attempt of audience immersion was a bit much, but overall, Third Wall Productions can chalk this one up as a bona fide success. The gifted ensemble and orchestra is a joy to watch and hear and the outstanding performances of these talented players should not be missed.
This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Fiddler on the Roof… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Fiddler on the Roof will play through February 26 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-838-4064 or purchase them online.
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