Things Are Getting Wild at Greenbelt Arts Center with The Wild Party

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

It certainly was a different time, the 1920s. Before social media, before computers, before logging on, people had to find other ways of connecting and connect they did. People had planned parties and sometimes the connection was good, sometimes it was bad, but it was a personal connection. People talked face to face and sometimes even danced in a living room of a small one bedroom apartment. We get a little glimpse of this bygone era in Greenbelt Arts Center’s latest offering, The Wild Party (Book, Music, & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa) with Direction by Jeffery Lesniak, Music Direction by Elizabeth Alfort, and Choreography by Rikki Howie Lacewell.

The Ensemble of The Wild Party. Credit: Kris Northrup

In a nutshell, The Wild Party concerns itself with Queenie and Burrs, two volatile lovers who throw the party of parties in their Manhattan apartment. The guest list is diverse with many living on the fringes of society and Queenie takes a fancy to a newcomer, Mr. Black. Burrs’ jealousy is tested and his rage overcomes him and those around him. The booze is flowing, the music is hot, steamrolling us towards an intense conflict where guns are a-blazing, but… who’s been shot?

I must say, The Wild Party, though revered and loved by many, is really not my cup of tea. I don’t hate it per say, or even dislike it, but I certainly have to be in the mood for it. However, this particular production kept me engaged and entertained the entire time. It’s a heavy piece of theatre, raw, raunchy, and dark, but this production hit the nail on the head in its presentation. The actors know their characters and objectives and are able to take us through the story seamlessly making for an intensely entertaining evening of theatre.

Lindsey Litka. Credit: Kris Northrup

A Set Designer is not mentioned, but it’s worth saying whomever is responsible for this design knows this intimate space well and has managed to create a small apartment with suggestions of different rooms with simple furniture pieces and levels. It’s neutral and homey and is just right for this production. Kudos, whoever you are, on a splendid Set Design.

Costuming a period piece, and this is definitely a period piece, can be daunting, but Costume Design by Rikki Lacewell and Shemika Berry show no signs of an issue. Each character, especially the ladies, are dressed to the nines in 1920s fashions and each look is natural and authentic. Even the gentlemen, who can usually just find a nice suit and tie to wear has an air of the 1920s style and the entire plot works fabulously adding great value to the production. Kudos to Lacewell and Berry for jobs very well done.

Lindsey Litka and Brian Dauglash. Credit: Kris Northrup

Rikki Howie Lacewell takes on double duty as Costume Designer and Choreographer and, if I had any slight criticism, it would be in the choreography. Now, this isn’t the sole fault of Lacewell as the space is a floor level thrust with quite a few obstruction points, albeit small obstructions. This is quite a challenge for any production, and, I can imagine, quite challenging for any choreographer. With dance being such a large part of the culture of the 20s (we weren’t chained to our smart phones or TV, so we had to find something to do!) there are many high points in the choreography, but, most of it lays a little flat for me. A lot of unison group movement, pockets of dancing, but nothing really caught my attention. Now, that’s not to say there weren’t some great numbers. For example, “Raise the Roof” and “A Wild, Wild Party” are two numbers that stick out simply because of the energy and variety in the choreography so, overall, the movement is entertaining and Lacewell is to be commended for her work on this production.

Matty Montes and Lindsey Litka. Credit: Kris Northrup

Most of this music is of the time and jazz was king so, just like Choreography, music can be tricky. However, Music Direction by Elizabeth Alford is absolutely on point. She takes this score and presents it beautifully with this cast and orchestra completely nailing the style of this jazzy score. There’s not a lot of fluff in this score and Alford takes the reigns and keeps it in check. Alford should be applauded and commended for her work with this challenging piece.

A special shout out to the orchestra for their efforts as well! This orchestra consists of Elizabeth Alford (Piano/Conductor); David Booth, Phil Cannon, Stan Potter (Reeds); Earl Smith (Trumpet); Tyler Golsen (Guitar); Chip Racster (Bass); and Larissa Hannon (Drums). Job well done ladies and gentlemen!

Jessie Duggan and Judah Canizares. Credit: Kris Northrup

Continuing with the challenging material, Direction by Jeffery Lesniak is spot on and there’s no other way to state it. His vision is clear and his staging is brave, raw, and his instincts are honed for this piece. There is a disclaimer of partial nudity and other adult themes and, boy, they ain’t kidding! But I’m glad that Lesniak and Greenbelt Arts Center have not watered this piece down because I don’t think it would have worked as well. The Wild Party needs the girt and dirt. It needs the raunch and rage, and Lesniak has left it in to flourish. He has a tight grasp of this material and what it means and he keeps it chaotically controlled with his superb staging making for an absolutely wonderful piece of theatre. A special mention should be made Intimacy Consultant Stephanie Davis as she had her work cut out for her with this one. However, each intimate scene comes off without a hitch and is not forced but natural and in sync.

Moving to the performance aspect of this production, it’s worth saying this entire ensemble puts 100% effort into their work. It’s a nice sized cast and everyone is working in tandem and knows his or her character. Special nod to Judah Canizares and Jessie Duggan who portray odd coupled Eddie and Mae, as their characters, for the most part, break up the drama with a bit of comedy and they are charming in their featured number “Two of a Kind,” which they perform confidently and beautifully.

Melanie Kurstin. Credit: Kris Northrup

To mention a few featured performers, along side this stupendous ensemble we have Brian Dauglash who takes on the role of Black and Melanie Kurstin, who tackles the complex role of Kate. Both of these apt and able actors embody these characters and take them to the next level. Dauglash pulls off the suave, but caring Black in a way that you are rooting for him the entire time while you can’t help but feel pity and sorrow for Kate in the way Kurstin portrays her. Vocally, both of these performers are dynamos and make one stand up and take notice. Dauglash has a smooth baritone that resonates throughout the theatre and he shines is such featured numbers as “Poor Child,” “Of All the Luck,” and the poignant, “I’ll Be Here.” Likewise, Kurstin knocks it out of the park with her renditions of featured numbers like the upbeat, energized “Look At Me Now” and second act opener, “Life of the Party.” Dauglash and Kurstin know these characters well and have a deep understanding of their roles making them absolute highlights in this production.

Matty Montes. Credit: Kris Northrup

Rounding out this ensemble are standouts Matty Montes as Burrs and Lindsey Litka as Queenie. I can confidently say, it seems these two were born to play these parts.

Montes, who becomes this character, Burrs, uses just the right amount of sleaziness and rage to portray this troubled, unstable character. His intensity is instinctive and every movement is calculated but natural and, vocally, this man is a powerhouse with an impressive range. He effortlessly vocalized through his featured numbers such as “What is it About Her?” and “Let Me Drown.” He’s comfortable in this multifaceted role and this makes this character easier to swallow. His ability to bring high emotion to every song is impeccable and his consistency with his character makes for a strong, confident performance that is not to be missed.

Lindsey Litka. Credit: Kris Northrup

Watching Litka’s performance is worth the price of admission. She delves deep to get to the nitty-gritty of this character, and it pays off in her portrayal. From the moment she walks onto the stage, she is Queenie and her character is consistent throughout. She comfortable with this part and though the role requires a cracked moral code, Litka seems to bring out the innocence and delicacy of this hard woman. She gives a brave, no nonsense performance that makes her a standout. Vocally, Litka gives a solid, powerful showing with a stunning voice that fills the theatre. Her stylings of high energy “Raise the Roof,” the somber, “Maybe I Like it This Way,” and the heartbreaking “How Did It Come to This” show her range and ability to not only sing, but act out a song that makes for a smashing performance overall.

Final thought…  The Wild Party at Greenbelt Arts Center is not a show you want to miss this season. For a show that I have to be in the mood for, this production has changed my  tune. I was able to see nuances I missed before and I appreciate it even more than I did in the past and that’s what impressed me so much. The staging is on point, the vocals are superb, and the story is thought provoking. I admit, I’m all about the song-and-dance, fluffy, happy-ending shows and this show doesn’t have much of that, BUT… it is engaging and intense which and I’m glad for the experience. Get your tickets now. Seriously.

This is what I thought of Greenbelt Arts Center’s The Wild Party… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Wild Party will play through September 15 at Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, Maryland. For tickets, call the box office at 301-441-8770 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: What’s the Buzz at the The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore?

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Growing up is difficult – there is no way around it, and it’s even more difficult for kids who realize they have something special about them, when their peers don’t. A lot of kids who compete in spelling bees across the nation probably feel this way. Some of us have a knack for spelling while others have a more, shall we say, challenging time, and sometimes, kids who are able to spell well are looked at differently by their contemporaries. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s (ASoB) latest production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, with Music & Lyrics by William Finn, and a Book by Rachel Sheinkin from a story conceived by Rebecca Feldman, gives us a peek into this world of spelling bees with a humorous, but poignant and authentic presentation to which we can relate in some way or another. This production is Directed and Choreographed by Atticus Boidy with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler.

In a nutshell, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee concerns itself with the trials and tribulations of 6 kids who happen to be great spellers, a former champion who revels in the bee, an unexpected comfort counselor out on parole, and a high-strung, odd vice-principal who all learn a little about themselves in the duration of an afternoon at a spelling bee.

The Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore.

The first thing you’ll notice in this production are the A-MAZING voices of this ensemble. Under the direction of Rachel Sandler, who has done a splendid job with this production, this ensemble is strong, tight in their harmonies and most give unforgettable performances. Even with recorded music instead of a live band, it’s easy to forget because of the phenomenal vocal work going on up on the stage.

Set Design by Atticus Cooper Boidy has got to be the cleanest, and most well thought-out design I’ve seen at ASoB. The space is intimate but Boidy has managed to use it wisely and transport the audience to an elementary school gymnasium without going overboard. It’s simple, precise, and appropriate for this piece.

Direction, also by Atticus Cooper Boidy, is interesting. He’s decided to change the look of the characters up a bit, which is refreshing, but in a way takes away from the original feel of the piece. His staging is a little clunky, which is a challenge when actors are playing more than one character, but because the actors are so apt, the staging that is slightly off, is pulled off nicely by them. Along with staging, Boidy puts on the hat of Choreographer, but, it seems he may have been spreading himself too thin and it’s the choreography that suffers the most. It’s a bit uninspiring, but this show isn’t about the choreography, it’d definitely not a show in which the choreography has to be stellar, but in this particular production, there are problems. It just seems haphazard, as if it were thrown together last minute, but again, the ensemble comes to the rescue with their performance and are bale to muddle through with what they have to work with and make it look good.

I’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint any standout performance in this production as they were all brilliant! There are a couple of performances that could have used some work, however, including Scott Sanders who takes on the role of Vice-Principal Douglas Panch. Sanders’ portrayal is a bit dry and stiff, but he pulls off the role nicely, though his comedic timing could use some work. The actor taking on this character has to be top-notch as it’s an acting role with no featured musical number to back it up. Again, Sanders does well, and I’m thinking he’ll grow into his character throughout the run of the production.

Ashley Gerhardt is on point with her portrayal of Rona Lisa Peretti and casting couldn’t have been better. Her vocal prowess is splendid and her character work is superb. Her renditions of “My Favorite Moment of the Bee” and the poignant “The I Love You Song” (in which she takes on the role of a spellers mother) are absolutely beautiful and makes for a strong performance all-round.

Mitch Mahoney, the out-on-parole Comfort Counselor is played by Jim Gerhardt, who takes this role and makes it his own. He has a good grasp on this character and plays him with the right amount of toughness and under-the-surface compassion – a blend that makes for a great character to play. Vocally, Gerhardt is in top form and his performance of “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” is inspiring.

When it comes to the kids in the bee (played by adults, of course, adding to the hilarity), all of these actors are spot on. Max Wolfe, being the youngest actor in the ensemble is a little scripted and unnatural in his role as Chip Tolentino, the Boy Scout who was last year’s champion, and he seems to be trying too hard to portray a child. Vocally, he seems to understand his songs like the hilarious “My Unfortunate Erection (Chip’s Lament)” but he pushes a bit hard to get the tune that might be a little out of his range out and it looks like he’s uncomfortable with the song, but… he does give it 100% and gives a good showing, keeps up nicely with the more experienced ensemble members.

Amy Haynes Rapnicki takes on the role of the uptight, youngest contestant, Logainne Schwartzandgrunenierre, and Matt Wetzel, an impressive character actor, tackles the role of the gentle, slightly-off Leaf Coneybear. Rapnicki is a trip as this character and she has a very good comprehension of this character and plays her appropriately. Using an over-exaggerated lisp for the character, she still manages to get her lines out clearly and her delivery is spot on. Vocally, Rapnicki is a powerhouse and not only belts out her featured number “Woe is Me,” but also knows how to act the song making for a delightful performance. Along with Rapnicki, Wetzel takes on a character that requires delicate handling and he does it flawlessly. His portrayal of a young man who has to wear a helmet, for reasons unknown to us, is warm and charming. He knows this character and embodies him and all his gentleness and innocence. His featured number, the funny and pleasant “I’m Not That Smart” is a joy to experience.

Olive Ostrovsky, the quiet, abandoned little girl, is played by Caitlin Grant and the straight-forward, obnoxious William Barfee is played by Tommy Malek. Both of these actors couldn’t have been casted better. Their chemistry is effortless and their portrayal of these characters are near perfect. Grant understands the turmoil of her character and her relationship with her absent parents and, though Olive is more the “straight-man” in this comedy, she plays the role well, holding her own against the comedy. Her vocal performance is notable, especially of the sad, haunting “The I Love You Song” and her impressive rendition of “My Friend, the Dictionary,” which kind of explains this character and why she does what she does. Malek, plays William Barfee just right. This character could be easy to over-play, and I’ve seen a few actors do it, but Malek keeps it natural while not losing the comedy of this character, which is a feat in itself. His vocal renditions of “Magic Foot” is humorous, but precise and his take on “Second” is controlled and direct making for an all-round strong and confident performance.

Lindsey Litka, who takes on the role of the stead-fast, monotone Marcy Park, is one to watch in this production. Litka’s look for this character is a bit different, but it doesn’t affect her performance in the least. She seems to have a deep comprehension of this character and she plays her to the hilt. Without much emoting of feelings, Litka is impressively able to portray this character in a way that we, the audience, feel the chaos that’s just under the surface. Vocally, Litka is a definite power-house and there are no-holds-barred when she belts out a tune that makes the entire theatre take notice. Her performance of “I Speak Six Languages” is phenomenal (all while dancing and running around across the stage), and she is even noticeable in the ensemble numbers, but not so much that it takes away from any number.

Final thought…The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is one of the best, if not the best production I’ve seen at this company. The cast is top-notch and filled with new folks not regularly seen on the ASoB stage which adds to the freshness of the experience. The set is precise and appropriate, using the space wisely, and the staging is engaging making for an all-round great theatrical experience. The story alone is a great story but this ensemble really takes this material and performs it exquisitely making the characters their own and breathing new life into an often produced show. You really don’t want to miss this production. Get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will play through March 17 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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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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