Review: Side Show at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours a 15-minute intermission

Lindsey Litka, Ana Lane, and Peter N. Crews. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper

What is a freak? Does it have to do with physicality? Does it have to do with a lifestyle? Who knows? We’re all different in our own ways and some people have something a little extra or special that makes them “freaks.” It’s almost hard to believe, but not too long ago, you could pay anywhere between 10 cents and 25 cents to just take a peek at these different folks to appease your darkest curiosities. Dundalk Community Theatre’s latest offering, Side Show, with Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell and Music by Henry Krieger, and Directed by Robert W. Oppel, with Music Direction by Rebecca Rossello and Choreography by Vincent Musgrave, gives us a glimpse into the lives of two of the most famous freaks, the Siamese twins known as The Hilton Sisters.

In a nutshell, Side Show concerns itself with the Hilton Sisters, a Siamese twin act that garnered some success in the 1930s. It goes through their trying life from birth through one of their last great performances and profiles the people and legal guardians used them and felt as they “owned” them because of their disability. It comments on the fact that the “freaks”, offstage, are just people trying to make it in a world that doesn’t understand them and the sisters realize though they are lonely, they are never alone.

Marc W. Smith does it, once again, with his phenomenal Set Design, Lighting Design, and Sound Design. I don’t think anyone knows this space better than Smith, and his work on this production confirms this assumption. Smith decides to go with a unit set with various levels that takes up the entire stage and serves for various locations for the story. It fits perfectly with the theme of the production, overall, and his attention to detail is second to none. His light and sound design are appropriate as they are subtle and blend in with the action to not take away attention which makes for an intelligent design.

Josh Schoff, Ryan Wagner, Ana Lane, and Lindsey Litka. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper

This production can be challenging to a Costume Designer, but Deanna Brill has steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park. With costuming being such an important aspect of this piece and with so many unique and varied characters including The Dog Boy (Dorian Smith), The Albino Woman (Tammy Oppel), Lizard Man (Seth Saunders), and Half Man/Half Woman (Vincent Musgrave), it had to be precise and Brill has managed to gather a wardrobe that rivals professional productions. Her attention to detail is apparent and she brings each character to life carefully and beautifully. Not only are the freaks costumes amazing, but she has brilliantly costumed the Hilton Sisters from dowdy and frumpy dresses, to flashy stage costumes, to elegant gowns to help progress their story. Brill’s hard work is evident and kudos to her for a job very well done.

Side Show doesn’t call for a ton of dancing, but there are certainly show-within-a-show numbers sprinkled throughout and Choreographer Vincent Musgrave has created energized and engaging routines that are a delight to watch, particularly the organized tangling of “Stuck With You” and the rousting “Ready to Play.”

Music Direction by Rebecca Rossello is on point and under her direction, this cast sounds absolutely beautiful. Rossello has a good grasp on this material and presents it commendably and her work with the featured vocalists is top notch. Unfortunately, the orchestra members are not listed in the program, but it’s worth mentioning these folks are spot on, as well. This unnamed orchestra performs this sweeping score effortlessly and all should be proud and applauded for their hard work and efforts.

Lindsey Litka and Ana Lane. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper

Robert W. Oppel takes the reigns of Direction of this piece and his work is to be applauded and praised. Oppel has a great comprehension of this material and presents it superbly. He understands the message of acceptance and family and guides this company to tell a clear and polished story. His staging is precise with transitions that are seamless making for a smooth flow. His casting couldn’t be better and he has managed to create a world for the audience to step into and apart of making for a thoughtful and charming evening at the theatre. He gives a praiseworthy effort and is to be commended for his work.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth mentioning the entire ensemble gives 100% and does his or her part to create a successful production. Dorian Smith is charming as the soft and caring Houdini and Rowena Winkler is impressive as the energized and mystical  Fortune Teller, to name a couple. The chemistry is solid with this ensemble and together they create a loving family of “different” folks or “freaks” who care for and help each other.

As Sir, the sleazy, selfish legal guardian of the Hilton Sisters, Peter N. Crews gives an admirable performance. Vocally, he’s not a powerhouse, which makes the opening number “Come Look at the Freaks” a little lackluster but what he lacks in vocals he makes up for in character. His portrayal of this vile man is on point and he has you stirred up from the get. He works well with and off of his cast mantes and has a strong presence and is comfortable on stage making for a worthy performance, overall.

(l-r) Lindsey Litka, Ana Lane, Troy Haines-Hopper, and Josh Schoff. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper

Ryan Wagner portrays Terry Conner and Josh Schoff takes on the role of Buddy Foster, the “love” interests for the Hilton Sisters. Schoff does well with his part but, overall, his performance falls a little flat for me. He seems to be just going through motions and is scripted and a little stiff through most of the performance. He has a lovely voice and does well, vocally, as well as with the choreography as in such numbers as “Stuck with You” and “One Plus One Equals Three.” Overall, he is comfortable on stage and gives a confident, decent performance. The stronger performer is Ryan Wagner who performs Terry Conner authentically with a steady, natural delivery of the lines and smooth, booming voice that resonates throughout the theatre. He embodies this character and portrays his conflict of wanting what’s best for himself and what’s best for the woman he might love. Wagner gives a strong showing in this role and is to be commended for his efforts.

A highlight of this production is Troy Haines-Hopper, who tackles the role of Jake, a fellow former side show exhibit with the Hilton Sisters, and their protector. Haines-Hopper completely embodies this character and pulls him off naturally and with purpose. He’s comfortable in the role and it shows with his ease with the delivery of the dialogue and his chemistry with his cast mates. Vocally, Haines-Hopper gives an excellent performance, especially in his featured numbers, the upbeat, gospel-inspired “The Devil You Know” and the poignant, heart-wrenching “You Should Be Loved.”

The definite standouts of this piece are Ana Lane as Violet and Lindsey Litka as Daisy, the Hilton Sisters themselves. If you’re familiar with the piece, you’ll know these are tricky roles and you have to work very closely with your co-star… physically and figuratively. This doesn’t seem to intimidate these two able and apt actresses, in the least. These two actresses give phenomenal performances of two very unique characters. Lane’s portrayal of the more conservative, subdued sister, Violet, is flawless and she seems to have a good understanding of this character and her motivations while Litka’s portrayal of the more outgoing, overbearing sister is on point and authentic in every way with a vocal belt that is extraordinary. Both Lane and Litka have voices I could listen to for days and they’re strong and confident as their smooth, velvet voices ring throughout the theatre in such numbers as the touching “Who Will Love Me as I Am?” and the heart-felt, driving “I Will Never Leave You,” touching the hearts of every audience member. Lane and Litka are ones to watch in this production and you don’t want to miss them performing these roles.

Final thought…Side Show is a poignant story about two people who were used and abused by just about everyone with whom they crossed paths, but still prevailed. It’s a story of survival and the love of two sisters who depended on and helped each other with the cards they were dealt in life. This is a rarely produced show and Dundalk Community Theatre gives us a polished, engaging, and well put-together production with a splendid talent that not only gives a glimpse into a real-life story, but entertains as well. There’s only one weekend left and this is not a show you want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!

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

Side Show will run through March 18 at Dundalk Community Theatre, CCBC Dundalk Campus, College Community Center, John E. Ravekes Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Review: Disney’s The Little Mermaid at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

By TJ Lukacsina

Run Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission

Under the Sea with Sebastian (Derek Cooper). Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

Sebastian is certainly onto something when he tells Airel that “the human world is a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there.” Especially if he’s referring to Cockpit in Court’s latest production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glen Slater. This production is Directed by Jillian Bauersfeld, with Music Direction by Andrew Worthington, and Choreography by Karli Burnham. Originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, this adaptation from Disney’s 1989 film has a book by Doug Wright which has had some unfortunate rewrites since the show closed on Broadway in 2009. I’ll be upfront in saying that the majority of my qualms for this production stem from these poor rewrites and cuts that Disney made before allowing it to be licensed to local theatre groups. In general the writing is watered down and presentational on a basic, at times insulting, level and makes you feel as if you’re watching the Wikipedia Summary instead of the show. Thankfully, Jillian Bauersfeld’s handling of the show not only makes it palatable but also an enjoyable experience for all ages.

Briefly, The Little Mermaid is about Ariel, King Triton’s youngest daughter, who wishes to pursue the human Prince Eric in the world above. She bargains with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to trade her tail for legs by giving up her voice. But the bargain is not what it seems, and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends, Flounder the fish, Scuttle the seagull and Sebastian the crab to restore order under the sea. (www.mtishows.com)

Under the Direction of Jillian Bauersfeld, Music Direction of Andrew Worthington and Stage Management of Robert W. Oppel, this production is highly entertaining and manages to allow the audience to drift from scene to scene without any pull from the undertow. The audience feeds off the energy flowing from the stage and one can’t help but enjoy being slightly distracted from little kids singing along to some of their favorite songs. That’s when you know you have tapped into the Disney magic and are encouraging future theatre lovers.

Allison Comotto as Ariel. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

Walking into the theatre you are treated with a projection of a beach and the sounds of waves and seagulls to help take you away from the pouring rain outside. Creating their magical world, Set Designer Michael Rasinski should be proud of the scene shop’s execution. These beautiful set pieces are large enough to maintain their presence while the cast dances on and around them. Corals in Ariel’s grotto and individual wood planks on Eric’s ship are the kinds of details that help transport you and are much appreciated. But even with the details, a little more attention to the destruction of the grotto would have helped the audience grieve with Ariel instead of wonder why she was so upset that her thingamabobs were moved a few feet away from her whatchamacallits. However, all of these set pieces would go unnoticed if it weren’t for Thomas Gardner’s Lighting Design. Overall, the lighting is aesthetically pleasing and appropriate. The heavy use of haze allowed the lighting to be seen to help fill the full stage space but allowed the lights to become distracting during the scenes on the apron where they obscured the projection heavily. Use of moving lights helped to create the underwater effect and while effective, would occasionally get lost due to similarities in the color pallette . Mr. Gardner certainly has an eye for key moments in songs and certainly knows when and how to highlight them for maximum effect.

Deanna Brill’s Costume Design walked the line between expectation and invention. I applaud the bold choice to tastefully show so much beautiful skin and the design of the mer-tales that were as practical as they were visually delightful. The ensemble were dressed vividly while the classic looks from the movie were still alluded to, from Prince Eric’s classic outfit to even the puffy sleeves on the wedding dress. From the fish, eels and even the birds, the costumes allowed the actor’s characters to come to life.  Although the designer is not listed in the program, make-up design was detailed and really helped to establish these characters as otherworldly. My main makeup concern was actually a lack of a certain makeup: the decision to not conceal actor’s tattoos. While appropriate in some shows, I found them to be a minor distraction for this production.

Gary Dieter as Scuttle. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

For a show that has a focus on story and is aided occasionally with dance, Karli Burnham’s Choreography helped to showcase the wonderful talent in the cast. With a working knowledge of the costumes, the choreography wasn’t limited to just foot movement but body and arm movements which allowed for a fluid movement from the actors. Some of the large ensemble numbers while portraying water felt repetitive and tedious in their attempt to fill the musical space. However, her work really shines with the small tap ensemble as well as the evolution of dance Eric teaches Ariel in “One Step Closer” was storytelling through dance.

The heavy lifting of Alan Menken’s score is in the capable hands of Andrew Worthington. The cast was well prepared and knowledgeable enough of their parts to make them their own and not rely on mimicking the original cast recordings. All voice parts were balanced and easily heard along with the pit thanks to the constant vigilance by sound designer Brent Tomchik. Following Mr. Worthington’s conducting was a competent orchestra consisting of established musicians in the area: Stephen Deninger, William Zellhofer, Christopher Rose, Stacey Antoine, Joseph Pipkin, William Georg, and Gregory Troy Bell. While proficient and accurate, the orchestra only suffered from a lack of actual brass and additional woodwinds. Even though those parts were covered in the keyboards, I found the patches were inconsistent among themselves and rarely compensates for the timbre from the actual instrument.

All these designers were able to achieve on a level which produced a thorough and consistent vision from Director Jillian Bauersfeld. With the aid of Assistant Director Jake Stuart, the cast is able to portray these fantasy characters with heart, believability and a recognizable humanity. While working under the shadow of a Disney title, it’s difficult to produce a show that allows artistic freedom with a vision while still giving the audience a dose of their expectations from the movie which kicked off the Disney animated renaissance. Ms. Bauersfeld was able to give us a cast worth watching and set up a show that ran smoothly. Small decisions to have the sea characters constantly moving arms or allowing several acting choices that were inconsistent to their characters are minor annoyances and never hurt the overall enjoyment. The true art of directing is assembling the right team to find the right cast and crew and allow everyone to do what they do while pushing them for more. Congrats to Ms. Bauersfeld on your ability to inspire everyone to give their best!

(l-r) Josh Schoff as Flostom, Holly Gibbs as Ursula, and Jonah Wolf as Jetsam. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

I have always felt that some of the hardest working actors seem to get lost in the ensemble. When asked to play several different characters, help shift set pieces, and often run off stage only to completely change costumes and makeup and run back on stage for two minutes of a three minute song, it’s hard to remember what is next let alone your name. Major kudos to Nicole Arrison, Olivia Aubele, Amy Bell, Lanoree Blake, Katelyn Blomquist, Karli Burnham, Kelsey Feeny, Shani Goloskov, Aaron Hancock, Mark Johnson Jr, Dorian Smith, Ian Smith and Jose Teneza for your energy, talent and being consistently in character. These actors jumped from the sailors steering the ship and winding the rope, to King Triton’s court, to the seagull ensemble, chefs and Ariel’s attendants in the castle and were always able to help establish the mood of the scene.

Featuring Ellen Manuel (Aquata), Elisabeth Johnson (Andrina), Malarie Zeeks (Arista), Kaitlyn Jones (Atina), Emily Caplan (Adella) and Hannah Bartlett (Allana), Ariel’s mer-sisters were a wonderful balance to Ariel’s positive and dreamy attitude. Using different hair styles and different shells while porting vastly different personalities and physical traits, each sister managed to be her own while presenting a unified front in their featured numbers “Daughters of Triton” and “She’s in Love.” Pulling double duty, they are a delight to see on land competing for Eric’s love in the vocal contest that plays up the fantastically poor vocals of these characters.

Brian Jacobs as Chef Louis. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

In supporting yet memorable roles, Brian Jacobs revels in playing Chef Louis during “Les Poissons” while Nicholas Pepersack’s dignified and proper Grimsby was always moving with purpose on stage. Mr. Jacobs clearly enjoys his song and slashes into his character to the breaking point of the cleaver. A fun cameo for sure that was able to get the giggles and laughs from the audience. Grimsby’s conversation with King Triton really gives Mr. Pepersack a moment to have a heartfelt moment and show how proud he is of Prince Eric.

My scene-stealing award goes to Gary Dieter who simply was Scuttle from the moment he flew in to his flawless tap dance in “Positoovity.” Scuttle was over the top and as endearingly annoying as I remember from the movie. It was hard not to smile when he was visible. Sharing the stage with him most of the time and impressively holding his own ground was Adrien Amrhein as Flounder. With sweet dance moves and a solid voice, this kid will secure more roles on stage and we will benefit from seeing him. Dutifully performing a poorly written character, his choices to not emphasize being friend-zoned and play up the best friend were appreciated.

Slithering onto the stage on their matching scooters were Josh Schoff as Flotsam and Jonah Wolf as Jetsam. The choice of scooters to maneuver them around stage was inventive and paid off in execution. Both actors were able to skillfully incorporate them in their character and not rely on them as a crutch. They were perfect henchmen to Holly Gibbs’ Ursula. Having arguably both the best and worst songs in the show, Ms. Gibb was able to make the most of her voice and complemented with acting ability that emanated from all eight limbs.

As ruler of the sea, Mark Lloyd’s King Triton managed to capture the softer side and showcased his mourning for his deceased wife and inability to properly communicate with Ariel. “If Only” is a great song to show that Triton is more than just a fierce ruler who banished his sister to a small part of the ocean but is also a parent who is sometimes unsure how to parent. He relies on Sebastian, played by Derek Cooper, to spy on Ariel and win her trust. With a clever costume and sublime vocals, Mr. Cooper is able to bring Sebastian into our lives with his own lovely interpretation. “Under the Sea” is his time to shine and when out in front singing he earns your attention with powerful falsettos and fantastic facial expressions.

The Daughters of Triton. Credit: Trent Haines-Hooper

Our leading man, Jim Baxter hits the stage as Prince Eric while taking charge of his ship. Mr. Baxter certainly looks every bit of what you’d expect from the cartoon and captures his love for adventure when on the ship and when courting Ariel in the second act. When beginning “Her Voice” he was oddly out of breath but managed to salvage some and really drive the second half of his number home with gusto and emotion. Not to be out-done by her new fiance, Allison Comotto’s Ariel is exactly what you could want from a Disney princess. Ms. Comotto is able to capture Ariel’s longing and desire to escape all while dealing with difficult family members. Allison really comes to life in Act two when her curiosity and excitement can only be communicated through her facial expressions. The joy Ariel finds in the new world is brilliantly shown during “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” where she sings her inner monologue to us. But however fantastic she is, she is at her prime when singing “Part of Your World.” Congratulations on your fairytale engagement and for inspiring a cast to follow your lead.

Disney’s Little Mermaid is a local theatre production that is able to rely on the community of actors, crew, musicians and artistic staff to bring its own magic to the stage. They should be proud of the work that they have poured into this show. The perfect escape from the summer heat, bring the family to see Cockpit in Court’s production where “it’s better down where it’s wetter.”

Disney’s The Little Mermaid will run through Auguest 5 at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre, CCBC Essex, Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center, F. Scott Black Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Review: Avenue Q at Cockpit in Court

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

If you’re looking for some good old fashioned educational television that teaches kids how to count to 12 or has a word of the day presented by a green frog… you won’t find any of that here at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre’s first offering of the season, Avenue Q by Jeff Whitty and Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Directed by Todd Starkey with Music Direction by R. Chris Rose and Choreography by Elise Starkey. This is a stretch for Cockpit in Court, compared to their previous showings and I, for one, am glad they took the leap. It’s a funny, in-your-face show that leans more toward adult humor that will have you laughing and nodding your head about things you often think of but don’t say because you’re too courteous to do so.

The Cast of Avenue Q at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Avenue Q tells a tale about a college graduate, Princeton, trying to find his “purpose” in life. It is set in NYC, all the way out on Avenue Q (because Princeton couldn’t afford anything more). While he is struggling to find his purpose, he meets friends, finds love, loses love, and finds it again. Loosely inspired by the famous Sesame Street, this puppet-filled world reflects the crazy, sometimes filthy, adult realities of the world around us. We learn that real life isn’t really as simple as we dreamed it would be when we were kids, but this show hints that, even though it’s not like the dreams we had, life is still colorful and worthwhile.

Bob Denton’s Set Design is simple, yet superb. His design treats us to a set of detailed row homes and shop fronts that have been seemingly turned into apartments and his choice of drab, dull colors and use of second story levels adds a distinct realism to the piece. His attention to detail is fantastic and he uses his space wisely, creating a unit set with set pieces that enter and exit to express more specific spaces. Overall, Denton is to be applauded for his work.

Costume Design by Eva Grove is spot on as the characters come to life in their individual attire. Though most of the puppets probably came in their own garb, Grove’s work is still evident in the “human” characters in this piece and her choice of costumes enhanced the characters. For instance, the unkempt look of Brian, the slacker, and the more put together but traditional Asian fashions for Christmas Eve really took these characters to the next level. Kudos to Grove for a job well done.

Elise Starkey took on the task of Choreographing this piece and creates engaging movement that is a delight to watch. She seems to know and understand her cast and their abilities and her choreography enhances their abilities and makes for fun, upbeat numbers that the cast obviously enjoys performing. This production doesn’t require huge dance numbers but Starkey has created choreography that is simple enough to fit perfectly into the production but intricate enough to stay interesting and entertaining.

Veteran Music Director R. Chris Rose has guided this ensemble beautifully keeping them in harmony and on key. Many of the ensemble members are singing in character voices, but Rose has not skipped the musicality in spite of that challenge. He has a tight grasp on this material and it’s apparent through the performances of the apt ensemble. It’s absolutely worth mentioning the stellar and on point pit orchestra he’s assembled though it is unfortunate that the program (both hard copy and online) does not list the players as it wouldn’t be a musical without music and this pit orchestra should be applauded for their efforts.

The Cast of Avenue Q at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Todd Starkey takes the helm of this production and is no-holds-barred, which is just the kind of kick in the rear that Cockpit in Court needs. He takes the script, in full, and presents it with a clear vision and fearless attitude. Now, this type of show could be considered tame in some theatres in town, but this is actually a big step for Cockpit in Court and I’m very excited they’re taking it. Starkey’s casting is superb and it’s clear he has a great comprehension of the text and the message that being an adult just plain sucks sometimes, but life goes on and we figure things out as we go. Kudos to Mr. Starkey for a job very well done on this production.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production of Avenue Q, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the hard work this ensemble put into the performance of this production. It must be a major challenge working with puppets but these actors seem to have mastered this task. In some cases, two people are needed to operate one puppet and those teams are flawless. The audience may even forget these characters are puppets because the actors are doing such a great job in their operation and portrayals.

As the human characters, Tigga Smaller as Gary Coleman, Stanton Zacker as Brian, and Suzanne Zacker as Christmas Eve give terrific performances and hold their own against the novelty of puppet characters. Smaller, though a bit scripted and stiff in her dialogue is a powerhouse when it comes to vocal stylings and Stanton Zacker and Suzanne Stacker’s characters are spot on with great chemistry and timing that is necessary for this piece.

Lauren Stuart, who is no stranger to the Baltimore stages, takes on the character of Lucy, the promiscuous and slutty puppet and she pulls off this character near flawlessly. Her featured number, “Special” is impressive and she certainly makes a splash.

Josh Schoff as Princeton. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Josh Schoff takes on Princeton, our “hero” and his character work is notable had one really feels for this character throughout the show. Vocally, he pulls off his numbers nicely, but his strengths lie in the character which he portrays authentically and with confidence giving a great showing.

Will Meister as Trekkie Monster (with Tate Erickson) may be one of my favorite characters as it seems Trekkie Monster has lost all give-a-f***. Meister’s portrayal, with the help Erickson (he’s a big monster so, he needs two puppeteers to manage), makes this character both crude and lovable. His featured number “The Internet is for Porn” is definitely funny and the tinge of truth it has makes on think. The teamwork between Meister and Erickson is top-notch and they are to be commended for their portrayal as Meister is to be commended for the character study he’s put into it.

A highlight in this piece is Clare Kneebone as Kate Monster, the sweet “girl-next-door” who, like Princeton, has aspirations but doesn’t quite know how to achieve them. Kneebone plays her sweetl,y but real and rough around the edges, which makes this character so authentic. She understands this character and the material and even though she is using a character voice, the realism comes through because of that comprehension. Vocally, Kneebone does not disappoint with a clear, booming voice that resonates throughout the theatre as it does in her featured, poignant number, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.” She’s certainly one to watch.

Amanda Poxon and Will Poxon as Nicky and Josh Starkey as Rod. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Definite standouts in this production are Josh Starkey as Rod and Will Poxon (with Amanda Poxon) as Nicky. These actors take their performances to the hilt and completely embody these characters. Starkey, as Rod, skillfully uses a character voice that fits perfectly (and is reminiscent of Bert from Sesame Street fame) and an uptight attitude to match. He brings this character to life easily and through the character voice, vocally, he is spot on, especially in his cute and tender featured number, “Fantasies Come True.” A perfect match for Starkey’s Rod is Will Poxon’s Nicky, who he operates with Amanda Poxon). If any of these characters are perfect, it would be Nicky. Will Poxon’s character voice couldn’t be more perfect (which, of course, is an homage to Ernie from Sesame Street) and it takes his performance to the next level. It’s worth mentioning, too, that Amanda Poxon, though silent, gives a stellar performance with just her face and gestures that help this performance rise to the top. In his featured and hilarious number, “If You Were Gay” will have you in stitches and he doesn’t falter once, vocally. Kudos and congratulations to Starkey and Poxon for impeccable performances.

Final thought…Avenue Q is a fun and quirky look at the adult side of puppetry and no-holds-barred look at life from the point of view of someone just starting out in the real world. The production value is phenomenal, the performances are top-notch, the puppetry and character work are stellar, and the story/script, though not suited for all, is engaging and good in the way that it is not trying to be more than what it is… a comedy that makes people laugh (sometimes nervously) and says the things we are all sometimes thinking but are too polite to say. The music is modern with some catchy tune and makes for a delightful evening well spent. Don’t let this one pass you by this season. Get your tickets!

This is what I thought of Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre’s production of Avenue Q… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

(Puppets Constructed by Character Translations, Inc. for Music Theatre International. Avenue Q has not been authorized or approved by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, which have no responsibility for its content.)

Avenue Q will run through July 1 at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre, CCBC Essex, Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center, F. Scott Black Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Review: Oklahoma! at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

If you dream of a place where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain and the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain, well… you can traverse to the great state of Oklahoma, or you needn’t go any further than Artistic Synergy of Baltimore to experience their latest offering, Oklahoma! by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Directed by H. Ray Lawson, with Music Direction by Jeff Baker and Choreography by Suzanne Zacker. This well-known classic is reincarnated to give us a glimpse into a simpler time and happier endings.

The Cast of Oklahoma! Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Briefly, Oklahoma! takes place in a territory (not yet a state) not long after the turn of the century when there was a spirited rivalry between cowboys and farmers. Curly, a cowboy, and Laurey, a farm girl are quite in love and the story mainly revolves around these two characters. Laurey is pursued by the sullen, dark farm hand, Jud Fry and threatens her budding romance with Curly. Throw in a spunky Aunt Eller, a whippersnapper of a cowboy, Will Parker, and a curious and spirited young woman, Ado Annie, who likes when men talk “purdy” to her, and you have the makings of a good, old-fashioned, feet stamping musical.

Music Direction by Jeff Baker is superb as this strong ensemble sings through this soaring Rodgers and Hammerstein score with ease. The use of canned music takes away from the energy of the piece, but that’s not to say it’s not energized and upbeat as the cast gives a good showing of this familiar music.

Austin Barnes and Suzy Zacker. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Choreographer Suzanne Zacker seems to know her cast well and has created interesting and engaging choreography that is performed well by the ensemble. It’s worth mentioning that Zacker is a highlight in this piece, taking on the role of Dream Laurey, during the “Dream Ballet” number. Her grace and elegant movement during this number is impeccable and is certainly a praiseworthy performance that keeps you enthralled and entertained.

Ray Lawson takes the reigns of this production and he should be applauded for his Direction, presenting this piece with a balance of the familiar and freshness. It’s always challenging to produce a tried and true story but Lawson wisely sticks with the traditional staging and seems to have a good comprehension of this material. The pacing is on point and the two and a half hour run time is no more or no less than what is needed to present this piece and still be entertaining for the audience. The ending of the show is a little lackluster, ending on a whimper rather than a bang, but I’m chalking that up to using recorded music, and I’m sure the cast will improve this ending with each performance. Overall, his vision is clear and it is a well thought-out, well-rehearsed production.

Austin Barnes as Curly and Josh Schoff as Jud Fry. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, Josh Schoff  takes on the complex and meaty role Jud Fry but, unfortunately, is a little weak in presentation. He certainly does not bomb in this role and he seems to have a good grasp of the character but also seems to be just going through the motions. His eyes dart all over the place and he rarely makes eye contact with his cast mates which loses that connection he must have to make his character work. This may seem like a knit-picky flaw but eye contact and that connection is essential for this role. Vocally, he’s a little shaky but emotes adequate emotion needed in songs such as “Poor Jud is Daid” and “Lonely Room” which redeems his performance a bit. With that being said, he looks near perfect for the role and is comfortable onstage and with a little more effort, could take this character to the hilt.

Donna Zubrowski as Aunt Eller. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Tackling the role of the feisty and spunky Aunt Eller is Donna Zubrowski and she is perfectly cast in this role. Zubrowski brings a certain authenticity to the part and her choices are befitting of such an endearing character. She has a great chemistry with the ensemble and is comfortable in the role making for a delightful performance. To go along with the more comedic characters, Lou Otero gives a humorous take on the role of Ali Hackim, the traveling salesman who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the site hairs of a couple of young women of the territory. Otero has a good comprehension of his character, even if his accent is a little wonky, and he has good comedic timing.

Joe Weinhoffer as Will Parker and Kristin Miller as Ado Annie. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The young, optimistic couple Ado Annie and Will Paker are portrayed by Kristin Miller and Joe Weinhoffer, respectively, and both play these roles splendidly with an absolute believable performance and great chemistry. Miller embodies the giddy, immature, but yearning Ado Annie and, gives a terrific vocal performances as in her featured (and well-known) number “I Cain’t Say No.” Weinhoffer is brilliant as the lovelorn Will Parker and effectively and poignantly portrays the love his character has for Ado Annie. Vocally, he gives a commendable performance, especially in his featured number “Kansas City” where he also gets to show off his movement skills along with the rest of the male ensemble.

Mea Holloway as Laurey and Austin Barnes as Curly. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Leading this ensemble are Austin Barnes, as the loveable and upstanding Curly, and Mea Holloway, as Laurey, the simple, independent farm girl. These two actors definitely know their characters and have a firm grasp on the material making for a strong leading duo. Barnes has a booming, smooth voice and is a powerhouse, making the audience take notice from the get with his rendition of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.” He fully embodies this character and gives a  jovial flair to Curly, as it should be. He has as great presence on stage, giving a strong performance. Holloway is suited nicely for her role but seems a bit subdued and stiff at times It seems she lights up when she has lines and interaction but falls flat in between those instances and the character is not consistent in that aspect, drawing away from her obvious skill and talent. Her voice is absolutely appropriate and beautiful for this score and she gives a stellar vocal performance, shining in her featured numbers such as “Many a New Day,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and “Out of My Dreams.” Overall, the two work well with each other and, though a little forced at times, the chemistry is there and makes for a good showing.

Final thought…Oklahoma! at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is a well put-together production that does this classic, familiar piece justice. The pacing is good (for a show that could easily seem to go on forever), and the ensemble is strong, overall, and seem to enjoy working with each and off of each other. The traditional staging still holds its own in our modern age and the tunes are still delightful and will have you tapping your toes or drawn in to their poignancy. They just don’t write ‘em like this anymore! It’s definitely a fluffy, feel-good piece of theatre that works well for community theatres like Artistic Synergy of Baltimore and it’s a wise choice to produce the classics to remember where our modern shows came from and to introduce them to a new, younger audience. This production of Oklahoma! is definitely one you want to check out.

This is what I thought of Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s production of Oklahoma!… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Oklahoma! will play through March 18 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road, Baltimore, 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: Shrek the Musical at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Peter N. Crews as Lord Farquaad. Credit: DCT


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

Gary Dieter as Donkey. Credit: DCT


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

Dickie Mahoney as Shrek. Credit: DCT


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

Sherry Benedek as Fiona. Credit: DCT


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

Gingy and Lord Farquaad. Credit: DCT


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

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

godspell_logo

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission

There are many shows out there that are community and small theatre staples and Godspell, based on the Gospel of Saint Matthew with Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Book by John-Michael Tabelak is certainly one of them. It had its off-Broadway debut in 1971 and multiple revivals including the most recent Broadway incarnation in 2011 as well as various professional touring and international productions going strong today. With Broadway standards like “Day by Day” and “On the Willows,” Godspell has the potential to pack playhouses all across the land.

On any given weekend, a production of Godspell is popping up in small theatres in little hamlets and larger theatres in in bigger cities all across this great nation of ours and lucky for us, we have our own local production at Cockpit in Court, directed and choreographed by Baltimore theatre veteran James Hunnicutt with music direction by Nathan Scavilla and co-choreography by Danielle Sten-Guillermo.

The first impression of this production is a pleasant one. As I entered the theatre, I was greeted by a very simple, but artistic set design by Jason Randolph that perfectly fit this show. Reminiscent of a black-box theatre, there are no bells and whistles with this set and it’s brilliant with its two staircases ascending to a second story platform that sits over the main entrance and exit to the stage though sliding doors. One highlight of the set was the recreation of “The Voice” spinning chair that also added an updated flair to the production. Lighting Design by Helen Garcia-Alton was subdued but appropriate though, at times, a little dark, but good, overall.

Rounding out the technical aspect of the production was Sound Design by Jacob Urtes and though it was minimal with no major sound effects it was adequate but had its challenges as there were many times throughout the show I could barely hear what the actors were saying and/or singing and the pit band was too loud and at other times the pit band was too soft. Hopefully, the balance between the band and the actors will be rectified before the end of the run. Also, this production utilized projections (as many productions are utilizing these days) but, I felt the projection choices were at two different ends of the spectrum and either didn’t add anything to the show or were taking attention away from the live action on the stage. I also noticed the projections were few and far in between and, frankly, could have been cut altogether.

Now, onto the performance aspect. I’d like to make it clear that, though this production had its difficulties, it was a very good show, overall. Godspell is a perfect show for small and community theatres and is a fan favorite. Hunnicutt, a revered director in Baltimore community theatre, has done a fine job bringing this production to the stage and all involved should be commended for their efforts.

Godspell is a show that can be very flexible when it comes to a theme and a director can be as creative or traditional as he or she sees fit and though Hunnicutt’s vision seemed fun and upbeat, it was hard for me to see a cohesive vision. I can’t blame Hunnicutt alone as the script is 40+ years old and a lot on the hokey side, which makes the entire picture seem jumbled. The attempts to update and modernize the piece, whether scripted or ad-libbed, seemed thrown in and out of place but there are a few good zingers that managed a laugh from the rather subdued audience but I like my comedy with a bit more edge and reaching for the line of offensive and that’s almost impossible with Godspell.

Another curious choice made by Hunnicutt was to break the 4th wall and have the characters recite the parables of the Gospel of Saint Matthew to the audience instead of to each other. The book for Godspell is already a bit preachy for my tastes and this aspect of the performance just drove that home for me. At times, I felt I was in the congregation of a church listening to a homily rather than in an audience of a show, however, the actors did a great job presenting those parables.

A large part of any successful musical is its choreography and Hunnicutt and Sten-Guillermo give us very entertaining, upbeat numbers. In an effort to update the piece, I saw hints of hip-hop elements but, either because some of the numbers were a little disheveled or the hip-hop elements were very subtle, it was hard to be certain. The dancing was definitely appropriate and thought-out, but the styles seemed to be all over the place and seemed as though the cast would have benefited from a few more dance rehearsals.

One point I must make is that I could definitely tell the small cast gave 100% every step of the way. Even though the pacing seemed to trudge along at times and energy seemed down, that could have had something to do with the unbalanced sound or the script itself. Either way, this very talented cast was totally into what they were presenting. That having been said, with the religious theme of this musical, it seemed the cast was simply reading the script and going through the motions rather than understanding what the text meant. Some of the book seemed to be glazed over just to move the action forward but, I think, if more time had been taken comprehending the text, it would have added a bit more to the performances. I’d like to get this cast together to hang out outside of this production so they can get to know each other a little more because one of the challenges for this cast is that the chemistry between these folks seemed strained. Sure, they were comfortable hugging and patting each other on the back and whatnot, but there was a deeper connection that seemed to be missing but they still put on very good performances.

The opening number, “Tower of Babble,” was a bit lackluster but I could tell from the get that this cast was chock full of AMAZING voices! There were harmony issues, but, individually, this cast is top notch when it comes to singing! This ensemble piece is led by Ryan Slattery as Jesus and Jake Zeranko as John the Baptist/Judas. Zeranko makes his entrance from the back of the auditorium with the traditional conch shell and he gives a very nice rendition of “Prepare Ye” with a very nice voice that I found myself wishing were a little louder at times. Though he was having mic problems, I would liked to have had him project a little more than he was. Zeranko also has the honor of performing one of the prettiest songs in musical theatre, “On the Willows” along a female duo and though he does a fantastic job, I was hoping for a little more emotion as the song is supposed to be happening during the final hours before Jesus’ arrest. He does have a good stage presence, but seems a bit stiff throughout but still gives a very admirable performance.

Slattery, as Jesus, has an absolutely beautiful voice and it is a perfect fit for the role with his gentle and soft manner. He has some very good moments with the cast and the audience, namely “Beautiful City” which is a simple, moving arrangement of just vocals and piano. He was one of the actors who seemed to understand the text and presented it nicely and clearly. “Alas for You” a very emotional, intense song is a highlight for the character of Jesus but Slattery seems to have chosen a more subtle take on the number, losing some of intensity of the song. Though it is an ensemble piece, I would have liked him, as Jesus, to have had a bit more charisma and energy instead of blending in completely with the rest of the cast, but, still, he gives a brilliant performance.

The duo of Slattery and Zeranko gives us “All for the Best” one of the better known songs in Godspell but since the chemsitry was nil to n
one between the two actors, the number, though entertaining and fun, it kind of fell flat, but the ensemble seemed to have fun with the stylistic number.

Comprising the women’s ensemble are Alyssa Bell, Nicole Smith, Allie McLoughlin, Anna Steuerman, Samantha Ross, and Erin Sullivan and everyone one of these ladies is a power house!

Alyssa Bell does a brilliant job with “Bless the Lord” with her well placed trills and ornamentation showing off her vocal skills, but, whether a sound issue or otherwise, I would have loved for her to have a stronger belt.

Nicole Smith gives a flawless performance, even playing the ukelele in the beginning of her number, “Learn Your Lessons Well.” She has a great belt and wonderful stage presence as she moves comfortably about the stage.

Allie McLoughlin give a very sweet vocal rendition of the uber-famous and well known “Day By Day” but, for all that is good and holy, someone needs to come up with another presentation than the traditional (overused) sign-language rendition. Thankfully, this did not take away from McLoughlin’s talent.

Anna Steuerman give us a haunting rendition of “By My Side” with a very unique, trained voice that sounds like it would totally rock an opera or classical aria and reminds me of someone like Audra McDonald who brings that classical, trained sound to Broadway musicals.

Samantha Ross is indeed a standout in this ensemble with her fun, sexy version of “Turn Back O Man”. She has a beautiful voice and is very confident on stage. She moved beautifully and was one of the actors who kept my attention throughout her entire number. She’s certainly one to watch!

Erin Sullivan gives us “Light of the World”, ending Act I and her rendition is absolutely delightful. She’s got some strong pipes and is comfortable moving around on the stage and has a great presence.

Rounding out the cast is the male ensemble made up of Kevin James Logan and Josh Schoff. These gentlemen, in a sea of ladies, do a fantastic job of holding their own with two of my favorite numbers in Godspell. Logan gives us “All Good Gifts” a soft but soulful song toward the end of Act I. Logan does a great job with this song giving it a good amount of ornamentation and feeling but, I’ve always thought this song was more than just about hitting the notes. Logan hits all the notes in this song flawlessly but falls just short of the feeling this song needs to be 100% successful. Now, I’m not saying he did a bad job because he most certainly did not! He performed this challenging song quite successfully and it was pleasant to watch and listen to him do this thing!

Schoff gives us a very fun rendition of the upbeat 11:00 number, “We Beseech Thee,” which is another one of my favorite songs from this show, and he pulls it off nicely and the cast seems to have a great time with the number as well, though the choreography could be cleaned up just a tad. Overall, Schoff gives a very good performance.

So, even with all its challenges, Cockpit in Court’s Godspell is certainly a very good show and is comprised of a very talented, committed cast giving all they’ve got to this production. It’s a classic musical with familiar tunes and a good message so if you’ve got an hour or two this weekend, go check it out!

This is what I thought of this production of Godspell… what do you think?

Godspell will play Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through June 26th at CCBC, Essex Campus, Community Center. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.