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: First Date at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: Approx. 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission
Most of us have been there. A well-meaning friend or family member wants to set us up with someone who will be “perfect” for us. So, we give in (usually after relentless nudging) and find ourselves in a coffee shop or restaurant, waiting anxiously to meet our possible future lifelong mate. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it’s a total disaster, but every time, we learn something about ourselves and that can be a good thing or a bad thing. In Spotlighters Theatre‘s latest offering, First Date with a Book by Austin Winsberg and Music and Lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weine, Directed by Fuzz Roark, with Music Direction by Michael W. Tan, and Choreography by Emily Frank, gives us a glimpse, from a safe distance, into one of these first dates and all the feelings, anxieties, and emotions that go into the whole messy affair.
In a nutshell, First Date tells the story of, well, a first date between Aaron and Casey, who have been set up by Aaron’s best friend and Casey’s sister. Aaron has no experience with blind dates and Casey is what one would call a serial dater, having a lot of experiences, with first dates, anyway. Throughout the show, we are given a glimpse into the thoughts that go through Aaron and Casey’s heads as these thoughts materialize in front of us in the form of friends, family, ex-girlfriends, etc. We are shown the insecurities, anxieties, and fears of these two young people as they discover themselves, in the process.

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The Company of First Date. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography


Alan Zemla’s Set Design is clever for this space, that he knows so well. He has managed to create a cozy setting using the entire theatre, making the audience feel as though they are sitting in the same small restaurant where the action is unfolding. The use of easy to move set pieces and detailed set decorations make for an authentic, immersive design that works quite well for this piece.
Choreography by Emily Frank is high-energy and fun and the ensemble seems to be having a blast performing it. She seems to know her cast well, and has created moves that her cast can perform effortlessly. With it’s contemporary style, it works well with Michael W. Tan’s focused, and well-rehearsed Music Direction. Together, Frank’s Choreography and Tan’s Music Direction add great value to this production and make for a delightful evening of theatre.
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Matt Wetzel and Adam Abruzzo. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography


Fuzz Roark takes the helm of this production and his vision for this modern piece is clear in his Direction. This may be billed as a one act, but pacing is a bit dragging and this piece can easily be broken up into two acts, if just to let the audience run to the restroom or stretch our legs a bit. Not even a decade old, it can be tricky to make a piece like this look authentic, but Roark does just that. With so many modern day references such as cell phones, Facebook, dating apps, and the like, dialogue could be very scripted, but with Roark’s splendid casting, he has managed to guide this ensemble to portraying an impressive realism. The transitions are smooth and the piece flows nicely (aside from the minor pacing issue) making for a charming and enjoyable production.
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Reed DeLisle as Aaron and Lindsay Litka as Casey. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography


First Date has quite a few characters with a small ensemble taking on various roles and this strong ensemble takes on the task with gusto and dedication. Aside from the actors portraying the main characters, Aaron and Casey, the other five actors impressively take on all of the other characters in this piece and their hard work pays off.
Matt Wetzel and Marela Kay Minosa take on the supporting roles of Man 2 and Woman 2, two other patrons in the restaurant, as well as other important characters such as Allison, Aaron’s chilly ex-girlfriend, and Reggie, Casey’s flamboyant best friend who leaves messages on her voicemail throughout the evening. According to Roark, Minosa is making her stage debut and she gives a very good first showing. She is committed to her roles and seems to understand how they move the story along, especially the role of Allison. Though a bit subdued in her performance, she gives the character an icy and snooty overtone that is required of this character and should be applauded for her first time treading the boards.
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Lindsay Litka and Reed DeLisle. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography


It’s clear to see that Wetzel is giging 100% to all his characters and he shines with his praise-worthy performance as Aaron’s Future Son as he easily raps his way through the number “The Girl for You.” He also gives a very strong, humorous performance as a British Rocker, with a spot on British accent and good comedic timing in another featured number “That’s Why You Love Me.” His energy is consistent and it’s easy to see he’s enjoying performing his roles but in such an intimate space as Spotlighters, it may be a bit too much at times. He’s very expressive and, on a larger stage, it works perfectly, but when the audience is inches away, it comes off as unnatural. For instance, though some may find his portrayal as Reggie, the over-the-top friend of Casey amusing, I find it to be stereotypical and a bit mocking, though the audience seems to get a kick out of it. However, that being said, he has a good comprehension of his characters’ roles in this story and has has a good command of the stage making for a strong, entertaining performance.
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(l-r) Marela Kay Minosa, Reed DeLisle, and Adam Abruzzo. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography


Adam Abruzzo and Alyssa Bell take on the role of Man 1 and Woman 1, but also take on other, important roles such as Gabe and Lauren, the best friend of Aaron and sister of Casey, the architects of this first date. Both of these actors are able and make all of the characters they portray individuals. Abruzzo, as Gabe, is comfortable playing this aggressive, in-your-face character, making him quite the lovable asshole, who really just wants what’s best for his best bud. He also carries his own, vocally, along side Wetzel in his featured number, “That’s Why You Love Me,” as well as his part in the rap (again, along with Wetzel) in “The Girl for You.”
Bell is cast well in her roles, especially as Lauren, Casey’s over-bearing sister and Aaron’s Mother. Her performance is authentic and varied, giving each character their own space and, vocally, she shines with a sweet tone as in number such as the emotional “The Things I Never Said.” Also, she’s hilarious portraying Aaron’s very Jewish grandmother with a good grasp on comedic timing and character.
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(l-r) Adam Abruzzo, Alyssa Bell, Jim Gross, and Marela Kay Minosa. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography


Jim Gross, as Waiter, the love-lorn observer, who has seen more than his fair share of first dates, gives a commendable showing. With a big presence and command of the stage, he certainly makes one stand up and take notice, but, like Wetzel, seems to be a bit too big for Spotlighters intimate setting. He knows his character and is dedicated to his performance, but it seems a bit scripted, but probably would not be on a larger stage. In his featured number, “I’d Order Love,” his booming voice easily fills the theatre and he completely understands the humor of this number and performs it nicely.
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Reed DeLisle and Lindsay Litka. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography


Reed DeLisle as Aaron and Lindsey Litka as Casey are the definite highlights of his production. Both of these actors have an uncanny chemistry and a completely natural delivery of dialogue that makes one forget these two are reading from a script. They are comfortable with their characters and with each other making for impeccable performances. They both have a strong presence and easily command the stage. Both are superb actors but, vocally, Litka is the stronger singe. That’s not to say DeLisle can’t hold his own, because he certainly can, as he exhibits in the poignant “The Things I Never Said.” Litka is an absolute powerhouse with every note she sings and her flawless performance of “Safer” will downright give you chills.
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Lindsay Litka as Casey. Photo: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography


Final thought… First Date at Spotlighters Theatre is a fun, thoughtful piece that you do not want to miss this season. The story is deep and poignant with an important message of not only self-discovery but discovery of the people who surround you and the interactions involved in first meetings. With high energy choreography, and a great cast with impeccable chemistry and two leads who have a natural delivery and ability to portray these insecure characters, you’ll be able to relate, if not about first dates, about how anxieties and self-doubt occasionally creep into our everyday lives. It’s also a story of how we can overcome those doubts to find our happiness, when we really need it. Get your tickets now!
This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre’s production of First Date… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
First Date will play through January 21 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.
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