Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland

By Jennifer Gusso

Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes with one intermission

From the moment Millie Dillmount (Rachel Miller) appears on stage, bright-eyed and full of hope, in front of a New York City skyline and starts to sing, there is no doubt that the audience is in for a treat. From beginning to end, the cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland, Directed by Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, with Music Direction by Charlotte Evans, and Choreography by Amanda Poxon, never fails to delight and to demonstrate that young people are incredibly capable of stunning vocals, intricate dance routines, and nuanced, mature acting performances. The entire ensemble of young people does an amazing job of bringing this fun and funny musical to life.

The ensemble of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. Credit: CPM, Inc. Facebook Page

Setting the stage (literally) for their success are Diane Smith’s set design and Laura Miller’s scenic art. A combination of projection and cleverly-designed set pieces lead to seamless transition between a variety of locations. Coupled with a beautiful light design at the hands of Ed Lake, the audience is transported to the various locations, including a window ledge over the city. The total transformation of the actors to another place and time is completed with careful costume design by Sharon Byrd.

Of course, all of the set and costumes truly sizzle to life due to the brilliant direction of the creative team. Hunnicutt, Evans, and Poxon don’t back away from challenging the young performers to push themselves and have clearly prepared them well to be ready for the leap. The scenes shows careful comedic timing and character work; the music comes to life with solid and consistent harmonies; and the dance is just “WOW.” Poxon clearly has a gift. From flappers to tappers, every big dance number is unique and creative and the entire cast falls into lockstep with each other. These three ladies truly provided the foundation that allows these young performers to shine.

Rachel Miller as Millie Dillmount and Matthew Trulli as Trevor Graydon. Credit: CPM, Inc. Facebook Page

From small roles to large, shine is exactly what they do. From the very first dance number, the ensemble makes their mark. Front and center in that first number and standing out with her boundless energy and infectious smile is Evelyn Acerno. The ensemble continues to impress in a variety of roles as stenographers, boarding house residents, and other New Yorkers. Two other young ladies that really stand out in every ensemble scene and number are Ava Corelli and Angela Boeren. At every moment, they are selling the choreography and reacting appropriately in character.

Speaking of characters, this show is full of them! Sophia Possidente (Miss Flannery) is an absolute hoot. She creates a zany character who still comes across as real. Her comic reactions to the lines of others are also well-timed and sophisticated. Also showing just the right mix of crazy and restrained are the hilarious performances of Matthew Byrd and Allison Naglieri as Ching Ho and Bun Foo. Byrd was especially endearing in his quest for love. The pair also had excellent comic banter with Mrs. Meers (Emily Ricci). Ricci has a commanding presence on stage and delivered a stellar performance.

In the role of Miss Dorothy, Heidi Thiessen was the perfect ingénue. She exudes natural innocence. Will Foohey (Jimmy Smith) and Matthew Trulli (Trevor Graydon) both brought a warmth and natural likeability to the two male leads. Trulli was especially entertaining in the scene after being stood up at a restaurant, and Foohey did a solid job of showing Jimmy’s growth throughout the show. That trio especially excelled when they were singing. Each of them had a beautiful tone quality and evident vocal training. Those three voices, combined with that of Millie herself, in “I Turned a Corner” created an especially touching musical moment.

Rachel Miller as Millie Dillmount. Credit: CPM, Inc. Facebook Page

As wonderful as every aspect of this production was, it would be nothing without the perfect Millie – and that’s exactly what they had in Rachel Miller. Miller was the perfect balance of sweet and stubborn. She created a character who came alive in the cracks between her contradictions. A clearly capable dancer, she led and commanded the big dance scenes. Miller also has a beautiful belt but also this throaty quality to her voice that makes it both reminiscent of other famous stage belts and yet also uniquely her own. She wore the vocal score and the role like a glove, as if it had been written especially for her.

This production proves yet again that there is nothing “just” about children’s theatre. Everything about this production was delightful, and it could easily compete with any adult production in the area. Go see Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland, and you will not be disappointed!

This is what I thought of Children’s Playhouse of Maryland’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. will play through December 16 at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland, at The Community College of Baltimore County, Administration Building, 7201 Rossville Boulevard, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call 410-443-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Review: The Gazebo at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Gazebo-logo-PROGRAM
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Murder mysteries are a staple of community theatre, especially summer community theatre and and one can always count on Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre to successfully present at least one, if not more each summer. C&Cs latest offering, The Gazebo by Alec Coppel, based on a story by Myra Coppel and Alec Coppel and Directed by Baltimore theatre veteran Linda Chambers is a little different, but in a good way.
The Gazebo isn’t your run of the mill “whodunit” but a farcical display where the TV-writer-husband is trying to secretly get rid of a house in the suburbs to move back to the city and the soap-opera-actress wife falls in love with a European gazebo that she has delivered to N.Y. piece by piece, as a present for her husband, and the audience already knows who the killer is but the question is… who’s the victim? The script moves along nicely and the characters are likeable and the twist toward the end makes it a very enjoyable production.
At first glance, I could tell this was a top notch production as the set, which is in a round, is absolutely beautiful. The stage is just about on the same level as the audience, but Set Designer Moe Conn does a brilliant job expressing the elegance of an early 60s Long Island, N.Y. home from the gold wall art to the intricate fireplace and bookshelf display. Conn does a great job of matching the room with appropriate furniture and everything blended very well together.
Conn also took on the duties of Light Designer and though with a straight play lighting is minimal, but Conn does a very nice job setting the mood and contrasting between bright scenes and dark scenes very appropriately. Though the dark scenes are supposed to be… well… dark, it may have been a tad too dark, but it was still appropriate and set the mood nicely.

(l-r back) Albert J. Boeren, Richard Ahlstrom, Tom Wyatt, Christopher D. Cahill, Anna Steuerman (l-r front) Regina Rose, Thom Peters, Liz Boyer Hunnicutt. Photo Credit: Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

(l-r back) Albert J. Boeren, Richard Ahlstrom, Tom Wyatt, Christopher D. Cahill, Anna Steuerman (l-r front) Regina Rose, Thom Peters, Liz Boyer Hunnicutt. Photo Credit: Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre


The show actually starts with a bang and you’ve now been warned! A real stage gun is used, so… be aware! Thank goodness the audience is warned ahead of time or I would have probably been hanging from the rafters! However, I like the “go big or go home” attitude and Director Linda Chambers did a fantastic job moving the story of The Gazebo along. I’ve stated before and I’ll state it again, directing in the round is difficult work, but Chambers does it flawlessly. She moves her actors around the stage fluidly and naturally and gives attention to all four sides of the audience and she uses her space very wisely. The pacing is a bit slower than it should be for a comical farce, but still moves along nicely (though the blackouts between scenes could pick up the pace a bit, as well). Chambers vision is apparent and her casting is on point.
According to the program, the time of this piece was the “Early 60s” and Costume Designer Eva Grove does a fine job costuming the cast in the garb reminiscent of that ear. I say reminiscent because I wouldn’t say the look was exactly from the 60s but with the loud prints and saddle shoes, it had hints of the ear. That being said, the costumes were absolutely wonderful and appropriate. Grove’s actors were comfortable, which is very important, and were dressed as I imagined their characters would be dressed being from upper class Long Island.
Thom Peters and Liz Boyer Hunnicutt as Elliott and Nell Nash. Photo Credit: Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

Thom Peters and Liz Boyer Hunnicutt as Elliott and Nell Nash. Photo Credit: Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre


Heading up the small cast of The Gazebo, Thom Peters takes on the role of Elliott Nash, the TV writer who is stuck in the suburbs of Long Island because his wife loves the house they live in but longs to be back in the New York City, living in the Algonquin Hotel with their outstanding room service. Peters does outstanding work portraying this role when things are going well for Elliott Nash but when things start getting a little frantic, Peters seems to have a hard time keeping up. A farce is very fast-paced with many things happening at the same time and when the pacing in the script picked up, Peters performance became exasperated facial expressions, a high-pitched voice, and flailing arms. However, that’s not to say his performance wasn’t good, just a bit much and a drastic change from when things were running more smoothly in the script. Overall, his performance is very good, indeed, and he is comfortable and confident on stage and seems to understand his character and the troubles his character has to endure.
Tom Wyatt, known in Baltimore theatre, takes on the role of Harlow Edison, the next-door neighbor and friend who happens to be a District Attorney, is a highlight in this production. From his first appearance on stage, his has a very good command of the stage and has a great presence. He’s very natural and comfortable and glides effortlessly through his performance. He’s a joy to watch in this production.
Tom Wyatt and Liz Boyer Hunnicutt as Harlow Edison and Nell Nash.

Tom Wyatt and Liz Boyer Hunnicutt as Harlow Edison and Nell Nash.


As the leading lady in this production, Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, a Baltimore theatre regular, is the standout as Nell Nash. She really seems to know her character and couldn’t be more natural in this role and she is quite comfortable and confident on stage with a commanding presence that doesn’t overpower but makes one take note. Her comedic timing is spot on and she really seemed to get the nuances of her character, the actress-wife who only wants her husband to be happy and will stick by him through thick and thin, whatever that may be. Hunnicutt’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
In a more minor but very important role, Christopher D. Cahill tackles the character of Charlie Thorpe, the contractor who lays the foundation for the titular gazebo (of which he humorously pronounces “Gaze-boh”). Cahill’s character acting hits the nail on the head and is a highlight in this production making Charlie Thorpe a very likable character who reminds me of that favorite uncle with the down-to-earth charm that makes you smile when he comes around. Cahill also takes on the role of a British tough-guy called The Dook, which is a complete flip from the down-to-earth Charlie Thorpe and he pulls this role off brilliantly, as well. Two completely different characters performed flawlessly by one actor.
Tom Wyatt, Anna Steuerman, and Thom Peters as Harlow Edison, Matilda, and Elliott Nash. Photo Credit: Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre

Tom Wyatt, Anna Steuerman, and Thom Peters as Harlow Edison, Matilda, and Elliott Nash. Photo Credit: Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre


Rounding out the cast are Regina Rose as Mrs. Chandler, the motivated real estate agent secretly working with Elliott Nash, Anna Steuerman as Matilda, the unimpressed maid of the Nashes, Richard Ahlstrom as Louie, the bumbling assistant thug to The Dook, and Albert J. Boeren as Detective Jenkins, the no-nonsense officer of the law just trying to get down to the bottom of things.
Final thought… The Gazebo is a light mystery-farce that moves along quickly and has some magnificent performances. Not the usual “whodunit” but very enjoyable and is appropriate for the space and all audiences. If you’re looking for something fun to do the next couple of weekends, check out this show! Bring your friends and see if you can figure out who the victim might be!
This is what I thought of this production of The Gazebo.… what do you think?
The Gazebo will play through July 31, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm at CCBC, Essex Campus, Community Center. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.
 

Review: MULAN JR. at Cockpit in Court

by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

mulan jr

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

It’s that time of year and school’s out for the summer! If you have little ones running around all day (yours or otherwise), you might want to consider what Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre Court Jesters Young People’s Theatre has to offer. This year, the children’s troupe of Cockpit in Court is presenting Disney’s Mulan, Jr. with Music & Lyrics by a plethora of folks including Matthew Wilder, David Zipple, Jeanine Tesori, Alexa Junge, and even Stephen Schwartz, Additional Music & Lyrics by Bryan Louiselle and Book by Patricia Cotter. This stage production is based on, of course, the 1998 Disney film Mulan, and the story of “Fa Mulan” by Robert D. San Souci. This production is brilliantly directed by Baltimore theatre veteran Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, Choreographed by Rachel Miller, with Music Direction by Patty DeLisle.

Seriously, even if you don’t have children of whom you’re responsible, you really should check out this production of Mulan, Jr. I’m an adult and not a huge fan of what one would call children’s theatre, but I have got to admit… I was thoroughly and pleasantly impressed by what these kids and production team did with this show! From the moment I walked into the theatre and saw the set, I knew I was in for something notable. Scenic Artist Laura Miller created absolutely beautiful real life backdrops of Chinese countrysides and pink blossoms that was a refreshing break from the current trend of using projections (which I think is here to stay, like it or not). Miller hand painted each backdrop and that made it all the more impressive. Actually, the set design by Diane M. Smith was perfect and beautiful but it didn’t take away from the performance but seamlessly blended in, giving the audience a very pleasant aesthetic experience.

It takes a special kind of person to direct a show with about 40 people in the cast but it takes an extra-special person to direct a show with about 40 kids (and a few teenagers) and Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, somehow or another, managed to pull it off flawlessly… I repeat… flawlessly! Hunnicutt does have experience being the resident director of another children’s theatre that shares the space so, this was old hat for her, but still, her direction was superb. As children’s theatre goes, things can get a little hokey and silly, and Mulan Jr. had it’s share of all that, but it still kept me interested because the pace of this show did not falter once. Hunnicutt’s blocking of this huge cast was fluid and she managed to get everyone on and off the stage easily and with no major mishaps. Watching this particular production and its fluidity, I can think back on a few shows I’ve been in that were comprised of mostly or all adults and could have used the help of Hunnicutt’s guidance!

Music Director Patty DeLisle is to be commened and applauded for her work in getting this cast to sound amazing! Let’s face it, working with children and teens can be difficult at times but DeLisle managed to get these kids and teens to sound great. Of course, the cast is to be commended, as well and it seems they may not have been as difficult to work with as other casts may have been, but it seems DeLisle took her time to teach these numbers and harmonies (which can be hard even with adults) and got these kids to understand what they were singing making the performance shine.

When there’s music and singing, dancing isn’t far behind and Choreographer Rachel Miller, who doubles as Mulan, the show’s namesake and main character, seemed to know her cast and what they were capable of and every single choreographed number was pulled off brilliantly and flawlessly. Each number was tight and very well rehearsed. This production even had a very brave number where a stage full of kids were dancing and swinging bamboo sticks and, though I may not have been brave enough to attempt it, the cast pulled it off without a hitch and it was a very entertaining number!

To round out the production side, Costume Design by Sharon Byrd was very appropriate and beautifully done, managing to bring together the Asian theme of the show with flowing silk (or silk-esque) robes and matching soldier outfits that all looked like it took time to conceive and execute. Kudos goes to Byrd for her work.

Now, I’ve already stated this was a show that was enjoyable and entertaining and these kids did a bang up job of bringing the story of Mulan to life, which is no small feat being it was a successful Disney film, but these kids manage to do it brilliantly!

We first meet the Ancestors, Hong (Destiny), Laozi (Honor), Lin (Loyalty), Yun (Love), and Zhang (Strength) played by Emily Ricci, Colleen Beyer, Sophie Claudio, Olivia Lockett, and Katheryn Schudel, respectively. These young ladies start this show off with a bang and set the tempo which was absolutely perfect. Each actress said her lines with confidence and with a very mature articulation that set the tone for the entire show and it was an appropriate and started the show off with a bang.

Let me take a moment to discuss comedy. Comedy, in my opinion, is much harder to pull off than drama as I’ve always found it more difficult to make someone laugh than to make someone cry and there is a certain amount of natural, raw talent to get the timing of jokes (hokey or not) and to execute them. Athena Claudio, who plays Mushu, is one of those naturally talented people who can read a joke in the script and has that perfect amount of timing and understanding to make a joke work and throw the audience into a fit of laughter. Claudio is an absolute standout in this production and I see this young lady going very far in the theatre world! She strikes me as a triple threat as she danced, sang, and acted her way throughout the show with a maturity and natural flair. When she took the lead on the song “Keep ‘Em Guessin’, this reviewer definitely took notice.

Rachel Miller, who, as stated before, took on double duty as Choreographer, was the perfect choice to play the title role of Mulan. From her first appearance, she had a strong presence and command of the stage and a clear confident voice that belted out songs such as her torch song, “Reflection.”

Charlie Holt, as Shang, Mulan’s love interest, did a fine job as the leader of the Chinese Army (it helped that he was about a head taller than the rest of the cast) and he was comfortable in his role having a strong presence on the stage.

This review wouldn’t be complete for this particular production if I didn’t mention Dylan Morrison, Jules Einhorn, and Zachary Byrd who masterfully took on the roles of Ling, Quin-Po, and Yao respectively. These three young actors were a joy to watch and their comedic timing was on point! They had the audience in stiches, especially during their own bit of cross-dressing, but you’ll have to check out the show to see how that comes about. Notably, Zachary Byrd has a talent rare for young performers in that he is able to take a joke and run with it, regardless of whether the audience is laughing with him or at him, but I’m venturing to guess the audience is laughing with him because this young man has a confidence that allows him to act a fool on stage without hesitation and that is sometimes difficult for veteran actors and makes Byrd a standout in this production.

Though the title of this show is Mulan Jr. this is indeed an ensemble piece and each and every member gives 100% to this production. From Sarah Moscoso, who played a very intimidating and hard-nosed villain, Shan Yu to Kiara Burke who brilliantly took on the role of the old, wise Emperor, the chemistry was great and I could see that everyone was having a great time, which is so very important when it comes to community theatre. I’m looking forward to seeing the work of many of these young performers in the
future!

If you don’t have kids of your own, grab your nieces or nephews, or your friend’s kids, or your neighbor’s kids and get to this show! You will not be disappointed and, who knows, you might even be opening the door for a budding performer or a budding theatre lover.

Final thought… this show is not to be missed!

This is what I thought of this production of Mulan, Jr.… what do you think?

Mulan Jr. will play July 10 at 1:00pm, July 12-14 at 11:00am, July 15 at 7:00pm, July 16 at 1:00 & 4:00pm, and July 17 at 1:00pm at CCBC, Essex Campus, Administration Building. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.