Fells Point Corner Theatre Rises with She Stoops to Conquer

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

In today’s climate, the empowerment of women is of the utmost importance (along with the empowerment of many other under-represented communities), but we mustn’t forget that folks have been talking and writing about this sort of thing for centuries. In Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest offering, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, Directed by Lance Bankerd and Barbara Madison Hauck, we are reminded of the struggles and ingenuity of woman through the ages.

Briefly, in She Stoops to Conquer, Mr. Hardcastle wishes for his daughter, Kate, to marry Sir Charles Marlow, a shy but attractive young man. Marlow and his friend Hastings travel from London, but are tricked by Tony Lumpkin, Hardcastle’s step-son, that Hardcastle’s home is an inn. Hastings is involved with Constance, who is being pushed by her aunt, Mrs. Hardcastle to marry Tony, whom she is not keen on. While thinking Hardcastle’s home is an inn, Marlow and Hastings behave badly, but when Marlow meets Kate, he is shy and awkward. Kate disguises herself as a barmaid to see how Marlow really acts and he’s the complete opposite. When he learns her true identity, he is embarrassed. Eventually, after some slapstick and farce, the confusion is cleared up with a happy ending. Make sense?

I didn’t know much about this piece aside from recognizing the title, but have come to the conclusion it’s not my cup of tea, so to speak. The attempts to update this piece seem only to do with costuming which didn’t make much sense, at best. I wasn’t sure where Costume Designer Rache Austin was trying to go. It was a mix between 80s punk, 70s glam, and a dash of the Roaring 20s that was all over the place. The bold colors are nice to look at, and, in general, it’s a creative, bold, and consistent design, but since the dialogue stays pretty much in tack, this particular design doesn’t seem beneficial to the piece as a whole. It’s not a bad design (and I can tell Austin knows the craft well) just a bit ill-fitting for this production.

Set Design by David Shoemaker is spot on and he is to be commended for his use of the space. Being a farce, multiple entrances and exits are required and Shoemaker has managed to give us as many as we needed, no more, no less, and his base design helps move the piece along nicely adding and subtracting appropriate set pieces, when needed. Kudos to Shoemaker for a well thought out design.

Ari Juno and Corey Hennessey. Photo: Shaelyn Jae Photography

Taking the helm of this production are veteran Director Lance Bankerd and novice Director Barbara Madison Hauck. Now, Directing a period piece can be a challenge and updating a piece can be even more of a challenge and must be handled delicately. Overall, this production is a good production and everyone involved is giving 100% effort, but, with that said, it doesn’t seem to live up to its full potential. The staging is suitable and the pacing is on point, but the characters aren’t always fleshed out and believable, on the whole, save a few. Technically, Bankerd and Hauck do give a phenomenal showing with tight staging, but the character work is lacking. It seems these actors are simply reciting the dialogue without knowing exactly what it means. This could be an actor problem, but in the end, the Director(s) should be watching closely and guiding these actors. Regardless of these criticisms, the production value is terrific and Bankerd and Hauck should be proud of their efforts and they should be commended for tackling such a challenging piece and Hauck is to be applauded for her Directorial debut. I’m looking forward to seeing more from both of these fine Directors.

Moving on to the performance aspect, as stated, the entire ensemble gives a valiant and concerted effort and all are to be commended for their commitment to their roles. Gareth Kelly, Ari Juno, Christian O’Neill, and Thomas Peter work well in their supporting roles and help move the action along nicely with impeccable comedic timing and understanding of the quick entrances and exits of farce. They all work well with and off of each other and it’s easy to see they are enjoying every minute. All are to be commended for their work on this production.

Corey Hennnessey takes on the role of the impish, childish Tony Lumpkin who starts all the trouble with his mischief and though Hennessey has a tight grasp on his character, he plays him a little too nonchalantly with grand gestures and flamboyancy that, at times, can be a bit much for the intimate space. That being said, he does have a great presence on the stage and is absolutely dedicated to this role giving a strong, confident showing.

Elizabeth Norman tackles the role of the strong-willed, intelligent Kate Hardcastle and though she seems to understand the character, in her delivery of the dialogue, I must admit I’m not convinced she has a tight grasp of the text. Much of her performance seems to be simply reciting the text rather than a full understanding of what she’s saying and the connection and authenticity is lost. However, she does have a solid presence and is confident on stage making for a delightful performance.

Taking on the role of Constance, a ward of the Hardcastle’s who doesn’t seem to have say in what happens in her life, is Hannah Folger and she portrays this character beautifully. Her delivery is natural, and her comprehension of this character is clear. Folger knows her way around the stage and is comfortable in this role making for a robust and charming performance.

Elizabeth Norman and Ian Charles. Photo: Shaelyn Jae Photography

A couple of highlights in this production are Richard Peck and Lindsey Schott as Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle and these two actors shine in these roles. Peck plays Mr. Hardcastle as the straight man in this piece and he plays him seriously enough that it enhances the comedy and his chemistry with his cast mates is impeccable. He knows this character and plays him splendidly with subtle but spot on reactions and mannerisms. In the same vein, Schott is hilarious as Mrs. Hardcastle, a woman who is trying to stay on top of things and in control. She takes the role and makes it her own and balances Mrs. Hardcastle’s deviousness and tenderness nicely. Schott knows this character well and gives a durable and entertaining performance, overall.

The standouts in this production are, hands down, Albert Lolu Collins as George Hastings and Ian Charles as Young Marlow. From the moment these two step onto the stage, it’s clear they are believable and committed to their roles. Collins is a bit hard to understand at times in his British accent, but he plays this character in a way that makes him likable from the start, and his understanding of his character, his presence and assurance makes for a strong performance.

Ian Charles is exquisite in his portrayal of Young Marlow and he is to be applauded for his efforts. His comprehension of the role, comedy, and farce are spot on and he seems to embody this character. He does quite well with the staging and every movement has purpose and that, in tandem with a natural, easy delivery of the dialogue make for an outstanding performance.

Final thought… She Stoops to Conquer is a piece of theatre that should be experienced by all theater makers and lovers at one time or another. I’m glad I’ve finally been able to experience it myself and the story is well put together. For being over 200 years old, it still makes a point and holds its own. This particular production has its flaws, but, overall, is a tight production with a dedicated cast and production team. The language (or use of language) may be unfamiliar at first, but still easy to follow if you pay attention. This is an important show that seemed to be ahead of its time concerning women empowerment, but it’s still relevant and makes sense for today’s audience. Through comedy and farce, this piece shows that, after 200 years, some things never change. If you want a fun, delightful evening of theatre, you’ll want to check out She Stoops to Conquer at Fells Point Corner Theatre.

This is what I thought of this production of She Stoops to Conquer at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

She Stoops to Conquer will play through December 15 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

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Destiny Calls and Third Wall Productions Goes with Man of La Mancha

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

We all need an escape sometimes. Life isn’t fair and can be quite hard to deal with, so, we all have our own little defense mechanisms to help us get through. Sometimes, folks actually get lost in their escape and it’s hard to come back to reality. However, who has it worse? The person lost in his or her escape or the people out here in the real, hard world? In Third Wall Production’s latest offering, Man of La Mancha by Dale Wasserman, with Music by Mitch Leigh and Lyrics by Joe Darion, we are able to take a peek into one man’s madness and/or bliss, whichever you want to all it, as he imagines a world much better than the one he’s actually living in. His dreams aren’t his escape… they’re his reality. This production is Directed by Mike Zellhofer, with Music Direction by William Zellofer, and Choreography by Timoth David Copney-Welton.

In a nutshell, in case you’ve never heard of Man of La Mancha (which might be impossible), it is inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century novel, Don Quixote, but only inspired by. Man of La Mancha is a play within a play where Cervantes himself, as well as other prisoners who are awaiting the Spanish Inquisition, perform the story of the “mad” knight, Don Quixote, who is actually an old, dying man refusing to let go of his ideals and passions.

Lance Bankerd as Don Quixote. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

The Scenic Design by Jordan Hollett and Pat & Amy Rudai is impeccable. The creativity and attention to detail is wonderful and, though it’s a unit set, allows itself to fit into every scene with the addition of small set pieces. It’s practical yet pleasing on the eye, making for a great combination. The motorized door/ramp is quite impressive and adds value to the production as a whole. Kudos to this team for their innovative and charming design.

Lighting and Sound Design go hand in hand and Jim Shomo (Lighing Design) and Charles Hirsch (Sound Design) hit the nail on the head with this production. Both Shomo and Hirsch are masters of their crafts and both Lighting and Sound Design helped move this production along subtly, without hindering or taking attention away from the action. Shomo has a distinct knack for mood lighting and setting the mood for each scene beautifully, while Hirsch adds just the correct amount of effects without overloading and keeps the balance just right. Both Shomo and Hirsch are to be commended for their efforts.

Maggie Flanigan takes on Costume Design and it is on point. Flanigan has a great comprehension of this piece and wardrobes the ensemble to the nines. Each character whether ensemble or featured is appropriately and splendidly dressed, adding to the authenticity and fanciful nature of the show. She’s done her research and has created a wonderful design that is to be applauded.

Timoth David Copney-Welton, a Baltimore theatre fixture, takes on Chorographer duties in this production and he knows his ensemble and helps them shine. Though not heavy choreography, it is entertaining and helps tell this classic story. Innovative and creative, the choreography is a joy to watch and every single ensemble member seems to be having a blast performing it. Along the same lines, Music Direction by William Zellhofer is top notch. With such familiar music and songs, Zellhofer has this cast in tight harmonies and the featured performers are well-rehearsed and spot on. Copney-Welton and Zellhofer both give great showings in their admirable work on this production.

Mike Zellhofer takes the helm of this production and it’s clear he has a tight grasp on the material. His staging of this piece is engaging and keeps the audience interested. The transitions are smooth and simple keeping the pace balanced. The characters come to life and his vision is apparent in every move and scene. It’s always challenging to take on Direction of such a popular, classic piece, but Zellhofer faces it head on and creates an enjoyable, clean, and polished piece that makes for a delightful evening of theatre.

Jessica Preactor as Aldonza. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, it’s worth noting that every ensemble member, whether featured or not, is giving the utmost effort in their roles. They all work quite well together and each has a hand in helping move the story along nicely.

To name a few, Timoth David Copney-Welton as Padre and Annmarie Pallanck as Sancho both have a great understanding of their characters and their objectives. They are charming as a quirky priest and a fiercely loyal servant. Copney-Welton plays Padre with just enough sincerity to make the role funny and he seems to embody this character. His rendition of “To Each His Dulcinea” rings throughout the theatre and is a joy to experience. Pallanck is, at times, a little stiff and scripted, but still oozes the charm and giddiness of the character that makes her likeable from the get. Her performance of “I Really Like Him” is both funny and sincere at the same time making for a beautiful moment. Both give strong, admirable performances in this production.

A highlight of this production is Jessica Preactor, who takes on the role of Aldonza/Dulcinea, the young woman to whom Don Quixote takes a shine, and she hits the ground running. Vocally, she’s a powerhouse with a strong, clear voice that resonates and her performances of her featured numbers such as “It’s All the Same,” “What Does He Want of Me,” and “Aldonza” are picture perfect, just as her character work is, really getting to the nitty-gritty of the character and presenting her beautifully.

The standout in this piece is definitely Lance Bankerd, who tackles the role of Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote. Bankerd’s character work is second to none. He becomes this character in both manner and look with ease. Watching him, he seems to actually transform from Lance Bankerd into Don Quixote and it’s awesome to watch. One thing I really admire about Bankerd is his ability to act out a song. His vocals are marvelous, indeed, but he’s not worried about a perfect vocal performance and that’s what makes a good actor great. His renditions of the standard “The Impossible Dream” is outstanding, strong, and heartfelt. This performance is almost worth the price of admission! He knows what he’s singing about and exudes it with every word and note, same with his other featured numbers, including the lovelorn “Dulcinea.” Major kudos to Bankerd for his fine work in this production.

This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Man of La Mancha… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Man of La Mancha will play through November 17 at Third Wall ProductionsSt. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 1108 Providence Road in Towson, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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Between the Lines with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. If you’re familiar with Shakespearian tragedies, you’ll recognize these two characters as supporting players in Hamlet and their unfortunate demise. Fells Point Corner Theatre’s latest production, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, Directed by Lance Bankerd, takes a peek between the lines of the Shakespeare classic to gives us a theoretical peek into what these two ill-fated characters were up to in the background while our friend Hamlet was going crazy.

Matt Wetzel, Bethany Mayo, Rory Kennison, Michael Panzarotto. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

I’m usually a big fan of stories that include telling more in depth, parallel stories about minor or supporting characters of established stories. It’s always interesting to see and hear what’s going on in the background of other stories, and they are usually quite creative and imaginative. So, not knowing much about this title, but being familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I was excited to see what could transpire. I was excited. Then I realized this is Absurdist theatre. Admittedly, I am not a fan of Absurdist theatre and, after five minutes of rambling dialogue about probabilities and odds, I was turned off. The actors were doing a magnificent job, but the dialogue left me cold. The text is ostentatious and the fast pace of dialogue seems to me that the author is trying to create a character who’s mind works so fast he or she has to get out all the words before the next bright idea comes along. Ugh. Also, this doesn’t seem to be a stand-alone piece (as other titles are, this isn’t the only one) and one must have a familiarity with Hamlet before seeing this piece. There is an attempt to keep the audience up to pace with the introduction of certain characters and light explanations, but it’s half-hearted, at best. However, Stoppard does keeps true to the action of Hamlet, but when it comes to these two characters (and company), you can keep ‘em… but that’s just me.

No matter my feelings of the script, there’s absolutely no denying the fabulous production value Fells Point Corner Theatre gives us. Lance Bankerd, who takes the helm of this production, has a clear vision and tells the story straight-forward, with simple staging but superb character work. He seems to have a tight grasp on the tedious material and presents it in a laidback, easy-to-follow way making for a delightful showing. Also, it’s worth mentioning the creative Costume Design by Deana Fisher Brill and Maggie Flanigan who have managed to find and gather more denim in one place than I’ve seen since house party in the 90s. Their design compliments the piece and is consistent which makes it a praise-worthy design.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the effort and dedication this entire ensemble puts into this production and their work pays off, nicely.

(l-r) Thom Sinn and Dominic Gladden. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Though most of the ensemble seemed like fillers, all gave beautiful performances such as Elizabeth Ung as Ophelia, who didn’t have much stage time, but made the most of what she had and Michael Panzarotto and Rory Kennison, who took on the roles of The Tragedians Horatio and Alfred, respectively. Panzarotto and Kennison didn’t have many lines, but they certainly played their characters to the hilt, physically, with appropriate gestures, mannerisms, and impeccable reactions to the other happenings on the stage.

Dominic Gladden takes on the role of Hamlet, who actually isn’t the main character in this particular story, but Gladden played the role effortlessly. It’s hard to make out his dialogue, at times, through a heavy dialect, but he has a good comprehension of the twisted character and plays him with confidence giving a strong performance. In step with the freaky family, Tom Piccin tackled the role of Claudius, the conniving uncle to Hamlet, and Kay-Megan Washington portrays Gertrude, the award-winner for Worst Mother of the Year. Both Piccin and Washington know these characters well and they have a good chemistry to play well off of and with each other. Both are quite able actors and they shine through the supporting roles to give brilliant performances.

There are certainly highlights in this production, including Bethany Mayo as The Player, the leader of a passing troupe of actors, and a little bit of a con artist. She has this role down pat and her comedic timing, as well as understanding of dramatics is crystal clear. She is comfortable in the role and plays it with ease, making for a solid and robust portrayal.

Thom Sinn as Polonius, the hapless, disheveled advisor to Claudius, is also a highlight mainly because of his comedic timing. His take on this character is spot on. Playing Polonius as more of a bumbling assistant, Sinn makes this character likeable and you start rooting for him, but you don’t why, you just know you want everything to work out for this poor fool. His delivery is a bit mushed at first, but that could be what Sinn is going for as it would fit with the character, but otherwise, his performance is strong and confident, making for a charming character.

(l-r) Logan Davidson and Matt Wetzel. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper/THsquared Photography

Rounding out the cast is the truly remarkable Logan Davidson as Rosencrantz and Matt Wetzel as Guildenstern, who are the standouts in this production and they are working their asses off on that stage. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in the Shakespeare play, are friends of Hamlet, but are assigned by Claudius to take Hamlet to England with a letter to the King of England asking him to kill Hamlet, unbeknownst to the duo. Hamlet finds out, and, well… let’s just say things don’t turn out so well for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. You read the title already.

Davidson and Wetzel have a fantastic chemistry and work well off of each other, and, a little birdy told me they learned this hefty script in a little over a month, which is impressive with the amount of dialogue these two have to deliver throughout the show. They’re physical work is also spot on and they keep the audience engaged and entertained. Wetzel has a natural flair in his delivery and precise mannerisms that make him a joy to watch. Davidson, too, has a knack for the physical and portrays her role (whether it be Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, depending on what’s happening on stage at the time) with confidence and ease. Both of these actors have a tight grasp on their characters and play them solidly. Their effort is apparent, and they deserve the utmost kudos for their work on this production. They are certainly ones to watch.

Final thought… Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, is a polished, beautifully performed, well-thought out production but it’s not one I’d be running to see if it comes around again. Many folks love this kind of stuff, but absurdist theatre is just not my cup of tea, as it were, and the script is a little too pretentious for my tastes. However, Tom Stoppard’s pretentious “look-how-smart-I-am” script and dialogue aside, this is a splendid production. The ensemble is giving 100% effort in their superb performances and Bankerd’s staging is spot on, creating a smooth flow that keeps it engaging and entertaining. It’s definitely a praise-worthy production that deserves checking out.

This is what I thought of this production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at Fells Point Corner Theatre.… what do you think?

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead will play through May 5 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S Ann Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. For tickets, call 410-276-7837 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: Thank You, Dad at Rapid Lemon Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

On November 18, 1978, tragedy struck in a little stretch of land in Guyana, in South America, where some 900 people lost their lives because of on crazed man. News hit hard in the United States because most of these folks were lost, disenchanted Americans, including a United States Senator. Some of you might know this story and the story of Jonestown, led by the Reverend Jim Jones and the final act of revolutionary suicide that occurred over four decades ago and Rapid Lemon Prouctions‘ latest offering, Thank You, Dad by Aladrian C. Wetzel and Directed by Donna Ibale, gives us insight into the man behind the tragedy, Jim Jones. Through Three acts, we learn of his beginnings, his ministry with The People’s Temple, and then ultimate insanity that took the lives of the people who followed him.

Lance Bankerd as Jim Jones. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Hands down, author Aladrian C. Wetzel has crafted an intelligent, thoughtful piece of theatre. It’s apparent she has done her research and has gathered together three important phases of Jim Jones’ life to present in this work. As one who has always been macabrely fascinated by this tragedy, I’ve spent hours online watching videos and films about Jim Jones and Jonestown, and Wetzel has hit the nail on the head in her presentation. The script is well put-together and engaging and it offers facts with an artistic license that doesn’t hinder the information. Jim Jones is a complicated man, obviously, but Wetzel has managed to tell his story, through his point of view, while showing the madness that was just under the surface that some people saw directly, while others saw only a savior. The dialogue is easy to follow and helps us understand Jones as a regular man, a self-proclaimed prophet, and madman. Whether you’re familiar with this sad story or not, you will walk away learning a little more about this complex man and the massacre of Jonestown. Wetzel is to be commended and applauded for her work and efforts.

Lance Bankerd as Jim Jones. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Set and Property Design by Max Garner and Projection Design by Chris Uehlinger blend perfectly into this production and add great value as a whole. Set pieces and digital images and video are chosen wisely and help move the story along as we take this journey with Jones. The full back wall projections and simple setting do not take away from the storytelling of this piece and give just enough to put the audience in the scene to better understand what they are watching. The Baltimore Theatre Project is such a great venue and the perfect space for this production that was used wisely by Garner and Uehlinger.

Lance Bankerd as Jim Jones. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Director Donna Ibale (with Justin Johnson, Chara Bauer, and Lee Conderacci) do a splendid job realizing their visions on the stage. Ibale has wisely chosen to use a blank stage with simple set pieces that does not get in the way of the telling of the story, but adds to it. Ibale seems to have a good grasp on who this tragic person was and the history leading up to his ultimate dastardly deed. The only drawback is the recorded voices filling in as followers and such as they sound too rigid and scripted to be folks talking from the heart or giving spontaneous responses. However, the text that is spoken does move the story along and gives Jones something with which the actor portraying Jones can work. Each act is presented as a sermon, of sorts, and we are forced to pay attention, making the experience all the more immersive. Simple sets, simple staging, but fantastic storytelling. Kudos to Ibale and company for their efforts.

Lance Bankerd as Jim Jones. Credit: Rapid Lemon Productions

Taking on a character in a one-man show is daunting and taking on the persona of a real person can be downright trying but Lance Bankerd, a veteran of Baltimore theatre, as the The Reverend Him Jones shows no signs of difficulty whatsoever. Bankerd effortlessly embodies the role of Jim Jones and, just like the man himself, keeps the audience enthralled. He completely transforms himself to create this character, inside and out. From the younger monkey selling Jones until the whacked-out Jones giving the death speech, he doesn’t falter once and keeps his performance consistent. It’s easy to see he has a magnificent comprehension of the character, the story, and the text and his delivery is natural and engaging. Hands down, it’s a tour-de-force for Bankerd and this is not a performance to be missed.

Final thought…  Thank You, Dad from Rapid Lemon Production is a fresh look at a story that has fascinated us for over four decades. It’s such a poignant story about lost, disenfranchised souls and the man who led them to death. How could this not be great fodder for a stage play? Wetzel takes all the facts and weaves a brilliant script, wisely keeping it simple as a one-man show. Ibale and company’s Direction and Bankerd’s performance are top-notch and the production, as a whole, is to be commended. You seriously do not want to miss this kick off production of the new Rapid Lemon Productions season. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Rapid Lemon Productions‘ production of Thank You, Dad… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Thank You, Dad will play through January 20 at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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Review: Fiddler on the Roof at Third Wall Productions

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