Footloose and Fancy Free at Suburban Players

By Jennifer Gusso

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with 25-minute intermission

Walking into Saint Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church for The Suburban Players of St. Demetrios‘ production of Footloose with music by Tom Snow (among others), the lyrics by Dean Pitchford (with additional lyrics by Kenny Loggins), and the book by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, it is clear that you are stepping into a well-oiled machine Directed by Lauren Spencer-Harris, with Music Direction by Steven Soltow, and Choreography by Amie Bell. Ambience takes center stage during the lovely dinner portion of the evening, complete with exceptional service and a wide variety of food and drink selections. The food and atmosphere are definitely comparable to any of the professional dinner theaters in the area. Things only get better once those familiar opening strains of “Footloose” fill the room, as the audience is transported into a production filled with energy, fun, and a lot of heart.

The live orchestra is becoming more of a rarity in the age of digital tracks, and it was refreshing to hear an excellent live orchestra under the direction of Musical Director/Conductor Steven Soltow. Soltow’s skill as a leader of music was clear throughout the entire production. Often times, harmonies in musicals fall to the wayside when the cast becomes preoccupied with dance moves and other concerns, but, in this production, the harmonies were strong and often the star of the large musical numbers. Better yet, the top-notch focus on vocal competency didn’t slow the cast for a second in their synchronized delivery of the energetic and exciting choreography of Amie Bell. While sometimes in a musical, the acting scenes can see like the things to “get through,” it is clear that Director Lauren Spencer-Harris spent time with actors on timing, pace, and emotional delivery in those scenes. Spencer-Harris also makes a wise decision to keep the momentum moving at all times. The scene changes are quick and seamless, and there is always some action going on during the change to keep the audience engaged in the moment.  Even with a large and diverse ensemble, the production team has everyone knowing what they are doing and living each moment of the show with passionate engagement.

Footloose is the story of teenager Ren McCormack (Eric Bray Jr.), whose mother (Caitlyn Soltow) packs him up and moves him from a big city to a small town. Bray is perfectly suited to be the heart of the production with his natural charisma and believability on stage. Bray always seems to live in the moment of the performance with natural reactions to everything that is happening around him. Bray’s beautiful and consistent vocal performance sells the emotional center of the piece. Soltow possess similar strengths, and there is a lovely moment towards the end of the show when Ethel encourages Ren to keep fighting.

What Ren is fighting is a law in town that prohibits dancing. That law was enacted and is held onto fiercely by the town’s preacher, Reverend Shaw Moore (Perry Alexion). Alexion is sometimes inconsistent in his performance. He focuses too much on what and how he is singing without allowing himself to connect with the message behind the words. However, when Alexion allows himself to be in the moment – especially in his final, explosive scene with Ren – he has a powerful presence that can move the audience to tears. As his wife Vi, Tammy Oppel is also similarly inconsistent; however, it sounded as if she may have been fighting illness during this particular performance.

As the reverend’s daughter Ariel, Marina Yiannouris is enchanting. She mixes sweet and mischievous with a perfect balance and carefully plays the subtext between her lines. Yiannouris has a gorgeous and powerful voice. She blends well with Bray, both musically and in their scene work. They have a very easy and natural chemistry on stage.

When Yiannouris joins with Ariel’s three friends – Rusty (Mia Coulbourne), Urleen (Jamie White), and Wendy Jo (Katie Pendergast) – for “Holding Out for a Hero,” it is sheer magic. All four young women are excellent vocalists with commanding stage presence. Throughout the show, the trio of friends brings great moments of hilarity as well as powerful moments of intensity. “Somebody’s Eyes” is several minutes of sheer perfection with their vocal prowess, Bray’s relatable acting, and an intricate blend of staging and choreography. Even within this group of talented actresses, Coulbourne is able to really stand out with one of the most perfect performances ever. Everything she does comes across effortless and exceptional. Her comedic delivery flows off the tongue, and her voice is beyond incredible.

Coulbourne’s counterpart, Willard (Jordan Baumiller) is another role to watch for. Willard is one of those characters written to steal a show, and Baumiller milks that opportunity for all of its potential. He creates a loveable character. His realistic delivery of the lines makes them hilarious. Both Coulbourne and Baumiller effortless avoid the pitfall of overplaying the silliness of their characters. The raw realism is what makes the characters funny, and they both clearly understand that. Baumiller also shines in his rendition of “Mamma Says,” getting a chance to show off his beautiful and powerful classical musical theater sound.

The only slight concerns with this production were technical. There seemed to be some issues with the microphones at first, although the worst of the issues seemed to get fixed after the first few numbers. So, hopefully, they figured out the problem and have it resolved now. The other issue was the lighting at the end of “Almost Paradise.” There were bright flashing lights at the top of the stage, so close to the performances on the platform and so bright, that I actually had to look away during the end section of that number because it was hurting my eyes. Other than that, the lighting was effective throughout.

If you don’t have your tickets yet, you should get them quickly. Because it is a dinner theater, tickets are not sold at the door for most performances. If you are looking for a fun time and a fantastic meal, Saint Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church is the place to be this weekend. The Suburban Players and their Footloose will not disappoint.

This is what I thought of Footloose the Musical at Suburban Players… what did you think? Feel free to drop a comment!

Footloose will play through February 23 at The Suburban Players of St. Demetrios, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 2504 Cub HIll Road, Parkville, MD 21234. For tickets, contact Eleni Libertini at 443-390-2981 (text/voicemail) or via email at

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Review: Grey Gardens at Stillpointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Looking on the bright side isn’t something everyone can do. Not everyone can find joy in the face of adversity but in Stillpointe Theatre’s latest offering, Grey Gardens with Music & Lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie and Book by Doug Wright, shows us there are folks who can. Directed by Danielle Robinette and Ryan Haase, with Music Direction by Ben Shaver, Choreography by Lauren Spencer-Harris, Set Design by Ryan Haase, Costume Design by Kit Crescenzo, and Lighting Design by Adrienne Gieszl, Grey Gardens shows that there are people who can see the light at the end of a dark tunnel and survive even when the world has forgotten them.

The cast of Grey Gardens at Stillepoint Theatre. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

The cast of Grey Gardens at Stillepoint Theatre. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Some are very familiar with the Beale women and the documentary about an Easthampton mansion named Grey Gardens and some have never heard of such a place or this piece of Long Island history. I was introduced to the Beales a few years back when a very good friend described a 1970s documentary that I just had to watch about these two oddball recluses who lived in a dilapidated 28-room garbage and critter filled mansion with barely any utilities and engulfed in overgrown foliage in Easthampton among the well-maintained houses and lawns of the well-to-do and… I’ve been in love with these two oddballs ever since!
Co-Directors Danielle Robinette and Ryan Haase really captured the essence of this piece, which is survival and self-preservation, treating it dignity and respect. The relationship between this mother/daughter duo was so complex, they managed to touch on all the nuances such as the co-dependency and even jealousy these women had for each other. Their casting is on point and the experiment of using two spaces to represent to different times is a bona fide success. There is such a vast difference between the settings and time of Act I and Act II, it totally makes sense to use two separate spaces.
Speaking of spaces, Ryan Haase’s Set Design is, in a word, impeccable. He never ceases to amaze me with his original designs and this production is no different. Aside from being in two different spaces, the contrast between Act I and Act II is absolute and really compliments the story of these two women, not to mention, the attention to detail in Act II which adds tremendous value to this already superb production.
Another impressive aspect of this production is the phenomenal musicians in the orchestra. this orchestra is spot on in every number and has a very polished, well-rehearsed sound. Music Diretor Ben Shaver not only did a splendid job with the onstage ensemble, he managed to get together a top notch band including himself on Piano, Joe Pipkin on Drums, Stacey Antoine on Reeds, Billy Scaletta on Keyboards, and Andrea Gibeck on Violin. Kudos to each every one of them for a job well done.
Christine Demuth as Little Edie and Bobby Libby as Joe Kennedy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Christine Demuth as Little Edie and Bobby Libby as Joe Kennedy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

I can’t overlook the Costume Design by Kit Crescenzo as they are spot on and authentic, adding realism to this production, especially in Act II where the costumes are near perfect matches to the wardrobe the women wore in the Maysles Brothers documentary.
Working in such unique spaces, Adrienne Gieszl has to be clever with her Lighting Design and it is absolutely appropriate and befitting to the piece, setting the mood for each scene and number subtly but surely.
The ensemble for this production is dedicated and gives a brilliant showing. Bobby Libby makes a great showing as Joe Kennedy with his booming, smooth voice and good grasp of the character while Barney Rinaldi has a great command of the stage and gives a confident performance as the Bouvier patriarch, Major Bouvier. Jon Kevin Lazarus tackles the role of Jerry and his interpretation of this character is absolutely endearing and just made me want to give him a big ol’ hug. Rounding out the ensemble is Terrance Flemming as Brooks and Brooks Jr. and Anne Murphy or Kate Kilner-Pontone as young Jackie Bouvier and Avagail Hulbert or Compton Little as young Lee Bouvier, all who give commendable performances. Also, I’d like to comment on the Choreography by Lauren Spencer-Harris that was absolutely appropriate for the piece adding great value to the piece as a whole.
Gould (Adam Cooley) at the piano and Big Edie (Zoe Kanter) signing as Jackie and Lee look on. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Gould (Adam Cooley) at the piano and Big Edie (Zoe Kanter) signing as Jackie and Lee look on. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Three actresses lead this exquisite ensemble in this journey through space and time and Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale is played flawlessly by Zoe Kanter (in Act I as a younger Big Edie) and Danielle Robinette (in Act II as the older Big Edie that was immortalized in the documentary). Both of these actresses seem to really have a grasp on this character as Kanter plays her as whispy and carefree who values family above all, regardless of if it’s falling apart or not, and desperately trying to hold on to her only remaining child so she won’t be alone. And though Kanter is a bit stiff in her performance at times, almost as if she’s thinking too hard, she belts out her songs with a resonating and beautiful belt and she gives a fantastic showing. It’s also worth mentioning the great chemistry with Adam Cooley, who plays Gould, Big Edie’s ever-faithful accompanist, confidant, and friend and gives an admirable performance with a flamboyancy and flair I imagine the real George “Gould” Strong would have been.
Playing the role of older Big Edie in Act II, Danielle Robinette, couldn’t have played it better. With a brilliant make up job aging her to fit her character and her slouched posture and limping that was consistent through her entire performance made for a believable showing. Vocally, Robinette gives an outstanding performance, especially with the touching and tender “Jerry Likes My Corn.” Playing a somewhat iconic character can be daunting but Robinette takes this role and makes it her own.
Christine Demuth as Little Edie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Christine Demuth as Little Edie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Last but certainly not least, there’s Christine Demuth who is the absolute highlight of this production. She embodies both a young Little Edie and the iconic older Little Edie from the iconic documentary, all the while, bringing her own interpretation into the character. Not only does she give an outstanding vocal performance, her acting chops are superb. The subtle but definite change in her character from Act I to Act II is seamless and she plays it to the hilt. The real Little Edie had a very distinctive accent (New England, for sure) and Demuth is on point. From the moment she steps onstage until the emotional “Winter in a Summer Town,” she had me hooked. Kudos to Miss Demuth on a stellar performance and I can’t wait to see more from her.
Final thought…Grey Gardens is poignant and compassionate look into the lives of two women time and everyone else seemed to have forgotten but who had the gumption to survive. Whether or not you are familiar with the original Maysles Brothers documentary, Grey Gardens, you will not be disappointed with this production. Stillpointe Theatre has managed to bring a fresh look and feel to this piece and is not only able to express the absolute quirkiness of the Beales with brilliant casting and set designs, but also the tenderness and tragedy of this overlooked piece of Americana. This is NOT an experience you want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!
This is what I thought of Stillpointe Theatre’s production of Grey Gardens… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Grey Gardens will play through February 4 at Stillpointe Theatre, 1825 N Charles Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to for more information or purchase them online.
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