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

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

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

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

Lance Bankerd as Don Quixote. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Preactor as Aldonza. Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Disney’s Newsies at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

In the spring of 1992 a young Christian Bale was starring in this little Disney motion picture called Newsies and, for being a Disney production, it didn’t get much fanfare or response. However, there were quite a number of die-hard Disney fans who loved it making it a success… not a blockbuster hit, but a success none the less. Fast-forward 20 years to 2012, almost exactly 20 years later, to the date (give or take a month) Disney’s Newsies with Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman, and Book by Harvey Fierstein opens on Broadway and is an instant success with a hefty run of 1004 performances. Disney’s Newsies closed it’s Broadway run in August of 2014 but, fear not, Baltimore! Third Wall Productions have picked up the torch and are presenting it as their latest offering, Directed by Henry Cyr, with Music Direction by W. William Zellhofer and Choreoraphed by Mother-Daughter team Cecelia DeBaugh, Lucy DeBaugh, and Maia DeBaugh, and it’s a quite enjoyable evening of theatre.

The Cast of Disney’s Newsies at Third Wall Productions. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Briefly, Disney’s Newsies concerns itself with the “newsies” or newspaper sellers on the streets of New York City near the turn of the 20th century. Work conditions are horrible (not only for newsies, but for children all over the city) and the newsies have to buy the papers they sell. When Mr. Pulizter, owner of most of the newspapers in the city, decide to raise prices for the newsies, with the help of an unbeknownst highly placed friend, they newsies decide to go on strike, making the front page and practically crippling the entire city when other children from other professions decide to join.

This production takes place in a sanctuary of a church, but with the splendid Set Design by Pat Rudai and Jordan Hollett, the audience is transported back to the summer of 1899 in New York City. The design is a clean unit set with levels and balconies that keep the staging interesting and moving nicely. Simple set pieces are brought in to represent various locations and this design is a good example of less is more. A special shout out has to go to the full-sized, moving printing press that I found out was created from scraps, a found broken wheelchair, and a broken recliner, showing this design team knows how to use their resources.

Andy Collins and Jamie Williams. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

It’s worth mentioning Costume Design by Amy Rudia that also takes us back to 1899 New York. This design is hands down perfect for this production and Rudai’s attention to detail is superb and her ability to wardrobe such a large cast is commendable. A round of applause should go to Rudai for her work and authenticity in design.

Henry Cyr takes the helm of this production and his Direction is exemplary. The pacing is on point and Cyr has a tight grasp on this material. For such a large cast, his staging is near flawless, getting folks on and off stage smoothly, as well as near-seamless transitions that are quick, keeping up with the pace of the entire show. Kudos to Cyr for a job well done.

Commenting on the performance of this piece, I’d love to mention every ensemble member, but with it being an extraordinarily large ensemble, you’d be here reading all night, however… I’d like to mention that this is a tight ensemble and every single member held his or her own making for a terrific performance, overall. They kept up nicely with ballet-heavy choreography by Cecelia, Lucy, and Maia DeBaugh which is intense and energized and absolutely required for this piece. Bottom line – the DeBaughs have hit the nail directly on the head with this production.

The Cast of Disney’s Newsies at Third Wall Productions. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Along with the choreography and staging, Music Director W. William Zellhofer is outstanding. Honestly, this is some of the best vocalization I’ve heard on the Third Wall Productions stage to date. He has familiarized himself with this score and has his cast sounding phenomenal, especially in group numbers such as the fun “King of New York,” and the inspiring “Seize the Day.” Zellhoffer should be applauded for his work and efforts.

Speaking of music, a special mention must be made for the musical stylings of the superb orchestra consisting of Andrew Zile (Conductor), Ed Berlett (Piano), W. William Zellhofer (Keyboard), Jonathan Goren (Violin), Alice Brown and Sharon Aldouby (Cello), Kevin Jones (Bass), Winfield Clasing (Drum Set), merrell Weiss and Matt Elky (Reeds), Matt Elky and Dan Longo (Clarinet), Liam Slowey (Percussion), Richard Sigwald (Trumpet), and tony Settineri (Trombone). Congratulations to this entire orchestra for a job very well done.

Andy Collins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

To mention a few, there are definite “adult” and “child” characters, Joel Signor takes on the role of Pulizter, the villain in this particular piece, and though he gives a good portrayal, he seems a bit stiff and, vocally, he could use a little more umph, but a good performance, overall. His cronies, including H. Ray Lawson as Seitz, Kirsten Mackin as Hannah, and Forest Deal as Bunsen, are adequate, but seem a little lackluster in their performances as a group. Their featured number “The Bottom Line” left a little to the imagination, but they seemed to know their roles and are comfortable in them.

Lizzy Jackson Fleischmann. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Lizzy Jackson Fleishmann is charming as Miss Medda Larkin, one of the only adult characters who cares for the newsies, and she shines in her performance of “That’s Rich.” Her comprehension of this character shows in her portrayal of this kind-hearted character.

Logan Snyder takes on the role of Davey and Bailey Gomes portrays his little brother, Les. Snyder’s portrayal is spot on and he gives a solid, confident performance. Gomes, too, gives an admirable performance as the “cute little brother” with a lot of one-liners that are hit with good comedic timing for an actor so young.

Taking on the role of Jack Kelly, the hero, is Andy Collins and his performance is near perfect. He knows this character and keeps him consistent throughout. Vocally, Collins stays strong, but does seem to lose some steam by Act II. Regardless, his character work and vocal skills are showcased and delightful to experience, especially his renditions of the popular “Santa Fe” and the poignant “Something to Believe In,” a duet with Jamie Williams, who takes on the role of the staunch, but caring Katherine. Williams is well suited for this role and plays the role well, though it seems a bit stiff in some scenes. Vocally, Williams holds her own quite nicely, but her belt is exceptional and makes up for any minor issues she may have with, otherwise, when a belt is not required. Both Collins and Williams have great chemistry that makes it easy to believe these characters and their relationship and makes their performances highlights of this production.

Sarah Mackin. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

A standout in this presentation is Sarah Mackin, who takes on the role of Crutchie. The audience is supposed to feel for this poor character and Mackin seems to be able to get this reaction naturally. Her delivery of the dialogue is fantastic, carrying a stero-typical New York accent consistent throughout and her physical work, though minimal, is brilliant and consistent, as well. In her featured number “Letter from the Refuge” is emotion-filled with bits of humor, and her performance is top-notch. Vocally, Mackin is strong and her voice rings out throughout the theatre making the audience take notice. Her interaction with the rest of the cast, especially Andy Collins, is authentic and she gives a solid and assured performance. I’m looking forward to seeing more from this young actress.

Final thought…  Disney’s Newsies is a fun, high-energy production that is full of great music and fine performances. Though it’s a lesser known Disney feature, as compared to most, it’s got quite a following and the musical version is a definite recent theatrical hit and Third Wall Productions has taken on the daunting cast of presenting such a popular piece, but they make good… strike that… very good on their successful attempt. The entire ensemble gives 100% effort and the staging keeps the audience engaged. It’s polished and well-put together production that is not to be missed!

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

Disney’s Newsies will play through February 17 at Third Wall Productions, St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 1108 Providence Road in Towson, MD. For tickets, you can purchase them at the door or online.

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Review: My Fair Lady at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

Having been born and raised in Baltimore as well as having had the opportunity to do some traveling, I’ve heard “You can take the boy out of Baltimore, but you can’t take Baltimore out of the boy,” and I couldn’t agree more. Is it possible to transform someone by just changing the outside? My Fair Lady, with Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and Music by Frederick Lowe, Directed by Thomas Rendulic and Music Direction by Daniel Plante, concerns itself with this very sentiment and through memorable, now standard tunes, tries to answer the question.

The cast of My Fair Lady at Third Wall Productions. Credit: Amy Rudai

Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady tells the story of Miss Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl in the East End of London who grew up poor and stayed there. By a chance encounter, Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, is intrigued by her heavy cockney accent. He bets his new friend, Colonel Pickering, a linguist himself, that he could turn a lowly, cockney flower girl into a lady, or at least pass her off as one, through improving her speech and appearance. Through the process, Eliza comes into her own and realizes she has what she needs to rise above her station and, by a strange twist of fate, might be able to find love as well.

Pat Rudai’s and Jordan Hollett’s Set Design is fitting, if not a bit too much for this space. The attention to detail is on point and transport the audience into the scene nicely, but its flaw is that it does make for some clunky scene changes that could be fixed with a simpler design that would make a different, but equivalent impact. This design is perfect for a static set, but since there are a number of scene changes, it causes some problems. This isn’t to say it doesn’t look good, because it most decidedly does, but because of the amount of set, it hindered the pacing and flow of the piece.

Lighting Design by Jim Shomo and Sound Design by Charles Hirsch are simple but effective in setting the mood for each scene. Shomo doesn’t give us flashy light shows but wisely keeps it subtle with small shifts of lights and levels and seamless transitions.

The cast of My Fair Lady at Third Wall Productions. Credit: Amy Rudai

Amy Rudai’s Costume Design is impeccable. This is a classic piece, as mentioned, and these older shows require a lot of specific costuming and Rudai has shown she is up to the task. The contrast between the upper crust and the lower class is clear and Eliza Doolittle’s transition from low class to upper crust is beautifully presented. Each character’s costume is individualized and the ensemble is comfortable and seems at ease which makes for a very good design. Kudos to Amy Rudai for a job well done.

Daniel Plante is to be applauded for his Music Direction of this production. Though some of the featured numbers could have been presented better, Plante can’t be blamed for the performance of a song. The score, however, needs to be snipped up a bit. These older shows tend to run long, which is fine, but with today’s general audience, it be a bit daunting, do-able, but daunting. As Music Director, he has a say in what is to be cut, if anything, and what is to be kept in place. The scene change music went way too long (thought they needed it because of the tedious set changes, so, they get a pass for this… kind of) and the overture and entr’acte could have been trimmed down to save a few minutes, at least. Overall, the harmonies are very tight and the ensemble is very well-rehearsed and are absolute joy to hear.

I’d also like to take a moment to give a hearty shout out to an amazing orchestra consisting of: Andrew Zile – Condutor; Susan Marie Beck, Katie Davis, Patricia Dick, and Heather Keller – Violin; David Vinson – Viola; Alice Brown and Sharon Aldouby – Cello; Ruth Vadi – Bass; Merrell Weiss – Flute; Matt Elky and Dan Longo – Clarinett; Mary Haaser and David Silberber – Oboe/French Horn; Dick McClure and Gordon Uchenick – Bassoon; Joe Beddard, Pete Lawson, and Steve Mantegna – Trumpet; Beryl Flynn – Horn; Mike Allman and Tony Settineri – Trombone; Danny Eldred – Tuba; and Ed Berlett – Piano. Well done, ladies and gentlemen… well done, indeed!

Jessica Preactor as Eliza Doolittle. Credit: Emma Thompson

Thomas Rendulic takes the reigns of this production and though, overall, it is a polished, nicely-presented production, it does have its weaknesses. It seems Rendulic has a good comprehension of this piece and his staging is very good with very little fault (such as a lot of what I call “Stand and Bark” where an actor performs a song front and center with little to no movement or direction), but the character development doesn’t seem completely apparent. For instance, Alfred P. Doolittle is arguably the funniest character in this piece but, unfortunately, most of his character and comedic parts are lost. The comedy, overall, does seem to be lacking in this piece and this is because it’s either lost on Rendulic or the actors were not given enough explanation and/or direction. Some very humorous sections of this piece were skimmed over or not emphasized enough, for my liking, and it had to do with timing which is of the utmost importance when dealing with comedy. However, directing a well-known, older piece such as My Fair Lady is quite a responsibility and no small feat and Rendulic has definitely stood up to the task. Breathing new life into a familiar piece is quite difficult, I realize that, but it certainly can be done. This particular production is a bit stale being presented as-is and traditional, instead of a new and fresh presentation. Of course, the familiar and traditional sits well with lots of theatre goers so, if that’s what Rendulic is going for, kudos!

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece I’d like to mention that the entire Ensemble gives 100% effort and is energized. As mentioned before, the harmonies are tight and all give confident, strong performances, especially the Male Quartet consisting of Michael Mullis, James Rittner, Frederick Frey, and B Ever Hanna.

To mention a few, I’ll begin with Forest Deal, who takes on the role of Alfred Doolittle. Deal looks great in the part but, though his performance is consistent, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. The aforementioned comedy just falls flat and this character is usually a riot. This is a fast-talking, high energy character, but Deal’s portrayal doesn’t quite match. Again, he’s consistent and gets his lines out but there doesn’t seem to be any “oomph” behind them. Vocally, he can carry the tune nicely, as in “A Little Bit of Luck,” but, again, that energy and urgency isn’t there. That’s not to say he does a horrible job, though. He seems to have a good grasp on the character and is comfortable on stage and he does make the character endearing and likeable.

A couple of other supporting but very important characters in this piece are Colonel Pickering, played by Patrick Martyn and Freddy Eynsford-Hill, portrayed by Kevin James Logan. Martyn, as Colonel Pickering is well cast and understands his character quite well and portrays him as the kind, gentle man he is while holding his own, vocally, as in featured number such as “You Did It” and “A Hymn to Him.” Logan, is perfectly cast in his role as Freddy. He works well with his cast mates and has a good comprehension of his character’s “uptown” life. Though when he’s singing, it seems he can’t make a complete connection with the audience as if he’s concentrating to hard, but his vocals are top-notch. In his featured number, the now-standard “On the Street Where You Live,” his smooth voice soars throughout the theatre making one stand up and take notice. Overall, both Martyn and Logan are strong and confident performers making for delightful performances.

Jason Eisner takes on the hefty role of the serious, straight-forward Henry Higgins, professor of phonetics and he gives a very decent portrayal. This character is ridged, but quirky and is a loveable character you love to hate, if that makes any sense. He gets on your nerves, but he is endearing and this is not an easy character to take on as an actor. Eisner does so for the most part, but the pretentiousness is lacking in this performance. His understanding of Henry Higgins is clear but at times he seems a bit scripted and forced. Vocally, he gives an admirable showing as in such featured numbers as “Why Can’t the English Speak English,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” and his chemistry with his cast mates is quite good, especially with Jessica Preactor (Eliza Doolittle), and the scenes with her are superb. Overall, Eisner is to be commended for his portrayal of this well-known character.

This brings us to the stand out in this production who is, Jessica Preactor as Eliza Doolittle. Preactor seemed to have been born for this role. She definitely carries the entire show and her performance is near as flawless as one can get. She embodies this character of Eliza Doolittle and every movement and delivery of dialogue is done with authenticity and purpose. She’s a strong stage presence and vocally, she is a powerhouse. It seems effortless on her part as she sings through such well-known numbers as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “Just You Wait.” She knows her character and portrays her with just the right amount of poignancy and spitfire as required. This actress is one to watch out for and I’m looking forward to seeing her work in the future.

Final thought…  If you ask anyone who knows me or my tastes in musical theatre, they’ll confirm that I most certainly love the classics. Give me a good, old-fashioned song-and-dance any day of the week and I’ll be pleased as punch. Of course, I enjoy the modern pieces, as well, but sometimes, I just want to be entertained. My Fair Lady at Third Wall Productions is not without its flaws but is a well put-together production. Most of the voices are spectacular (with a lot of them featured in the ensemble) and the traditional setting might be unexciting, but it is on point. It’s a lengthy show, but, dare I say it, with a few cuts to the score, it could take the run time down, but the orchestra is very good so that almost makes up for the immense amount of music that you find in this classic piece. There are some questionable casting choices and transition issues but, overall, the production comes together nicely, and Third Wall Productions gives a good showing in presenting this familiar, classic piece that’s worth checking out.

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

My Fair Lady will play through November 18 at Third Wall ProductionsSt. Thomas Episcopal Church, 1108 Providence Road, Baltimore, MD 21286. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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