All is Preferable in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

There certain phrases or words we hear that we’ll equate with a celebrity or someone of the like and when I hear the word blonde, my mind immediately goes to Miss Marilyn Monroe (even though she wasn’t a natural blonde), and the films she starred in during her short time on this planet. One of her most popular was and is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), but some may not know it was a best-selling novel by Anita Loos in 1925 and brought to the Broadway stage in 1949 with Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Leo Robin, and Book by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields. Today, it’s on the Heritage Players stage in concert, Directed by Tommy Malel, with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler, and Choreography by Tommy Malek and Loiri-Struss-Weatherly. It’s a step back into a time when anything goes and ladies did what they could to get by, without batting an eyelash.

Ensemble of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert at Heritage Players. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

In a nutshell, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert concerns itself with Loreli Lee and Dorothy Shaw, two carefree young women sailing across the Atlantic to Paris while running into various men who might be able to help them along the way, including an old noblemen, a zipper king, a Philadelphia society type, and a button manufacturer with a big heart and short temper, who is hot on the tails of Miss Loreli Lee.

Though no name is given for Set Design, it’s worth mentioning the effective and appropriate unit design and the use of set pieces to create various locations help move the story along without clunky scene changes and over the top gaudiness. Whomever is responsible for this design is to be commended. In tandem, Sound Design by Stuart Kazanow and Lighting Design by Atticus Boidy are both spot on. This is probably the clearest sound design I’ve heard outside of an equity house and every performer was crystal clear, even over the 30+ piece orchestra, kudos to Kazaow for a job quite well done. Lighting was inconsistent, at times, but not enough to deter from the production as a whole, Heritage Players stage is a lot of space to light and at points, it gets a little too dim, but overall, Boidy creates a splendid design.

Tommy Malek gives us a superb costume design that is authentic and detailed and completely takes us back to this decadent era in our history. His attention to the details in style is second to none with fringe and sequins and low waists – it’s all flawless. His Wig Design is pure magic, transforming these performers into their characters, it’s like wrapping the already well put together package up in a nice silk bow. Malek is to be commended on his exquisite Costume and Wig designs.

(l-r) Matt Wetzel, Beth Cohen, Justin Moe, Jeremy Goldman, and Maddie Bohrer. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

One of the other hats Tommy Malek puts on in this production, along with Lori Struss-Weatherly, is that of Choreographer. While taking care of the major tap number in the second act (“Maimie is Mimi”), Struss-Weatherly’s choreography is hands down remarkable. She has managed to keep this crew in step and looking good and has certainly given the audience a number to watch out for and enjoy. Malek has this ensemble moving graciously and efficiently with his choreography and every step works for this production making for a great showing.

Music Direction by Rachel Sander is on point and her work with the entire ensemble is tight and pristine. Sandler certainly knows her way around a score and it shows in this production. There are a few warbles within the choir, but overall, her work is to be commended. In the same vein, David Zajic’s work in conducting this amazing orchestra is superb.

The final hat Tommy Malek puts on is the hat of Director and he certainly has a good grasp on this material and his vision is clear. Directing a concert version of any how is a challenge, but Malek manages to make this production his own effortlessly. He keeps his staging engaging and the transitions are seamless making for a great pacing. It was an interesting choice to keep in the instrumental bits where absolutely nothing is happening on the stage and dim lighting, but, since it’s a concert version, one really can’t cut out the music, right? Well, maybe a few cuts would have helped this one an only criticism I have of this otherwise outstanding and polished production. Malek is to be applauded for his work and efforts.

Maddie Bohrer. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Moving to the performance aspect of this production, the ensemble work is wonderful and the chemistry between them is authentic and charming and each and every performer on the stage is giving 100% making for a stellar ensemble.

Heather Moe and Justin Moe. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Featured are Maddie Bohrer as Loreli Lee and Heather Moe as Dorothy Shaw and both of these performers are cast exactly as they should be. Both have a strong, confident presence that is required to lead this ensemble. Bohrer embodies her character and seems to have a tight grasp on her mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Vocally both are powerhouses as shown in the famous “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” performed by Bohrer and Moe is a standout in her renditions of “It’s High Time,” that sets the bar high for the rest of the production and “I Love What I’m Doing” is a sensation.

Matt Wetzel and Beth Cohen. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Justin Moe as Henry Spofford, Matt Wetzel as Josephus Gage, the Zipper King, and Jeremy Goldman as Gus Semond, Jr. and Adam Abruzzo as Pierre and Robert (pronounced Ro-bear) are stellar in their individual roles and fill out this ensemble nicely. Moe portrays just the right temperament, and has a beautiful vocal tone as shown in his featured numbers such as “Just a Kiss Apart” while Goldman does a splendid portrayal of his short tempered and knee-jerk reactor character, but also contrasts that with a soft side with a smooth rendition of “Bye, Bye Baby.” The definite comedians of this bunch are Wetzel and Abruzzo who both have impeccable comedic timing and Wetzel shines vocally as in his featured number “I’m A’Tingle, I’m A’Glow.”

Rick Robertson and Maddie Bohrer. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Rounding out the featured ensemble is Beth Cohen as Mrs. Ella Spofford, Rick Roberston as Sir Beekman, and Robyn Bloom as Lady Beekman. Beth Cohen pulls off a flawless Philadelphia socialite who like to have a drink more often than not and her delivery of the dialogue is spot on. Likewise, Rick Robertson is hilarious as Sir Beekman and he has this character down pat that is apparent in his performance of the funny “It’s Delightful Down in Chile.” Bloom gives a solid showing as the prudish, dominating Lady Beekman and the chemistry between her and Roberston is delightful.

Final Thought… Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert is a fun, raucous jaunt through a bygone era where everyone was simply out to have a good time and it shows this ensemble is having a blast. With a phenomenal orchestra, able players, concise and well placed choreography, this production is polished and raring to go. It feels like it runs a little long, but you’ll be engaged and entertained every minute. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Heritage Players’ production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert  will play through March 1 at Heritage Players at The Thomas Rice Auditorium of the Spring Grove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

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Review: Harry Connick Jr.'s The Happy Elf at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Running Time: 90 minutes with one 10-minute intermission

Tis the season for joy and merry making and the latest offering from Red Branch Theatre Company, Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf with Music & Lyrics by Harry Connick, Jr. and Book by Lauren Gunderson & Andrew Fishman, with Direction by Laura Greffen, Music Direction by Dustin Merrell, Choreography by Rick Westerkamp, Scenic Design by Gary Grabau, Costume Design by Andrew Malone, and Lighting Design by Stephanie Lynn Williams and Amy Williamson has all this and more. Grab the kids, nieces, nephews, or any young person in your life and check out this fun story of never giving up and discovering one of the true meanings of Christmas.

The cast of Harry Connick Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The cast of Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Scenic Design by Gary Grabau is simple yet innovative for this production and the clever use of levels keeps the set interesting as well as the use of revolving flats to create the various settings and getting the cast on and off quickly and quietly. The painted scenes of the North Pole with snow covered hillsides and Evergreen trees are cute and serve their purpose but might be a little plain for such a fun show. However, overall, the scenic design is bright and very fitting for this piece. It’s worth mentioning the inventive, working conveyer belts in Santa’s workshop add great value to this production making for a well-thought out set.

To set the mood, Lighting Design by Stephanie Lynn Williams and Amy Williamson use the lighting wisely to show contrast between the bright and busy North Pole to the downtrodden and dark Bluesville. Lighting is appropriate and does not take away from the production but blends in making for smooth transitions and gives the correct cues to what feeling each scene has.

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Veteran Costume Designer Andrew Malone never disappoints and this production is no different. Malone hits the nail on the head with this fanciful wardrobe for elves and dear old Santa Clause and citizens of Bluesville alike. Each elf costume is individual and adds to the characters and all the costumes are traditional, yet they all have a contemporary flair and Mr. Malone is to commended for his work on this production.

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

As this is a show with music by the incomparable Harry Connick, Jr., it goes without saying there is a lot of music and it is, after all, a musical. So, with lots of music comes lots of dancing and Choreographer Rick Westerkamp has taken on this challenge with ease and has this ensemble dancing and gliding across the stage in each number accompanied by this fun and jazzy score. The choreography is well thought-out and is a great match for Connicks music.

Speaking of Connick’s music, Music Direction by Dustin Merrell is superb. Though there is no live orchestra, the consolation prize is hearing the smooth, jazzy recorded voice of Harry Connick, Jr. himself tell the story of The Happy Elf in between the scenes. Merrell has a strong vocal ensemble and has them sounding fantastic in each number. These aren’t the old fashioned Christmas Pageant songs you’ll hear throughout the season, but new jazzy holiday show tunes and Merrell has the cast singing in harmony that rings throughout the theatre.

The Cast of Harry Connick, Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The Cast of Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf is certainly a children’s show, meaning it is a show for children and directing this type of show can be tricky. However, Director Laura Greffen has taken on this challenge and has produced an unqualified success. Her vision is apparent and she understands the humor geared for a young audience, but also understands that parents and adults may be in the audience, as well, and she finds a happy medium to entertain everyone. She keeps the action moving and precise to stay within the 90 minutes, including the intermission and that’s perfect for any children’s show. Overall, Greffen gives us a well put-together and smooth running production.

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, Todd Hochkoppel takes on the role of Mayor and though his is confident and comfortable in this role, his performance fell a little flat for me. However, that’s not to say he didn’t do a good job, because he certainly, like all of the ensemble, gave 100% to his character and understood what his character was about making for a good performance in general.

Adeline K. Sutter takes on the role of an unconventional, modern, slinkier Mrs. Clause that we’re used to, but she pulls it off nicely. Likened mo
re to an old time gangster moll, her acting chops weren’t stretched completely as her only expression was one of irritation and contempt, but she pulled them off very nicely. Sutter takes on double duty and portrays Coppa, an agent in “Gnomeland Security” and a nemesis of our hero, Eubie the Elf. Her talents are much better portrayed in this role and her performance is strong and entertaining.

Santa, the big man himself, is played masterfully by Dean Allen Davis and I’ve got to say, he’s a pretty spot on Santa Clause with a big, resonating speaking voice that booms throughout the theatre. However, his singing voice isn’t as strong, but he still makes a good showing as the joyful old man that has a tummy like a bowlful of jelly.

Dean Allen Davis, Adeline K. Sutter, and Seth Fallon. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Dean Allen Davis, Adeline K. Sutter, and Seth Fallon. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Seth Fallon takes on the role of Norbert, the curmudgeon head honcho Elf in the North Pole who isn’t a big fan of our hero and is by the book and waiting for our hero to falter. Fallon does a fantastic job as the stuffy, sour elf trying to ruin everything the hero is trying to accomplish and he makes the role his own. As good a job he does with the character, he does carry around an “assistant” that is a hand puppet and I’m still scratching my head as to the purpose of said puppet other than children always appreciate a funny looking puppet because it did not seem to move the story forward or have any importance at all. Regardless, Fallong gives a strong, confident performance.

Katie Ganem. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Katie Ganem. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Molly and Curtis, the bad kids from Bluesville are played by Katie Ganem and Sarah Luckadoo, respectively. These two characters, mainly Molly, are the two kids Eubie the Elf is supposed to help see the light and the true meaning of Christmas. Both Ganen and Luckadoo do outstanding jobs portraying bratty kids running amuck in the town, causing trouble and not caring much about anything and Ganen as Molly, gets the point across that she is a neglected child, probably just acting out to get attention. Luckadoo is perfect as the “sidekick” and willing participant in the brattiness going on. The two actors have a great chemistry with each other and the rest of the cast making for wonderful performances.

Megan Henderson takes on the role of Gilda, the sweet, shy elf who has a thing for our hero, Eubie, and Courtney Branch tackles the role of Hamm, the mechanic elf, who spends more time under a sleigh than inside of it. Both of these actresses were confident and comfortable in their respective roles and gave strong performances. Megan Anderson gives off an air of feminine cuteness that the character requires while she tries to get the attentions of Eubie and, most of the time failing, but for no fault of her own. On the other end of the spectrum, Courtney Branch, as Hamm, is very likeable and believable as the more tom-boyish character that just wants to help her friends. Both actors seem to understand the individuality of their characters and plays them accordingly making them a joy to watch.

Cheryl Campo. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Cheryl Campo. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

A definite highlight of this production is Cheryl Campo who plays Gurt, the wife of the Mayor of Bluesville. Aside from being very expressive and totally giving 100% to her role, this lady has a set of pipes on her! Though her solo number is a bit short, it’s easy to hear the strong vocals and they certainly shine through in the ensemble numbers, as well. Campo commands the stage quite well and is an absolute joy to watch. I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.

Justin Moe. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Justin Moe. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Finally, we get to our hero, Eubie the Happy Elf, played skillfully by Justin Moe. Simply going on looks, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role other than Justin Moe but, look aside, he had me sold from the start. He was able to keep the energy up the entire 90 minutes and is absolutely believable as this character, giving his all and taking the role seriously enough to bring the audience into the story. He obviously understands his character’s objective and each choice he makes moves his character toward that goal of making sure Christmas is enjoyed by everyone, even a dark, salty town like Bluesville. Moe is a pleasure to watch with his strong vocal performance, and assured performance that makes him a distinct standout in this production.

Final though… Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf at Red Branch Theatre Company is a fun, feel-good holiday story that is a good break from the hustle and bustle of this season and it’s perfect for the family as a whole. The kids will adore it and the story is endearing for adults as well, reminding us what Christmas is all about. Take a break from the aforementioned hustle and bustle and take a trip down to Red Branch Theatre Company to join in on their merry making!

That’s what I thought about Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf, playing at Red Branch Theatre Company… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf will play through December 18 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 220-6517 or purchase them online.