Review: All Aboard! Anything Goes Sails into Silhouette Stages

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

People do crazy things for love, especially young people, even if it means crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a luxury cruise ship, without a ticket and luggage, and bunking with a wanted criminal. In Silhouette Stages latest production, Anything Goes, with Music & Lyrics by the legendary Cole Porter and an Original Book by P.D. Wodehouse & Guy Crouse, and a New Book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman, we get a look at how that kind of story turns out. This production, the 1987 revival version, is Directed by Conni Ross with Music Direction by William Georg and Choreography by Tina Marie DeSimone.

(l-r) Triana McCorkle, Maddie Bohrer and Abby McDonough. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Anything Goes, in a nutshell, takes place aboard the S.S. American and brash Reno Sweeny, famous nightclub singer and evangelist, is on her way to England. Billy Crocker, an old friend has stowed away because he wants to be near his love interest, Hope Harcourt, how happens to be engaged to a wealthy and elderly gentleman, Evelyn Oakleigh. Throw in a loveable Public Enemy #13, a case of mistaken identity, and a handful of showgirls called Angels, and you have a triste worthy of witty and brash songs of Cole Porter.

The setting is a character of its own and when one mentions Anything Goes, usually, the first thought is “That show that takes place on the ship.” Set Design by Alex Porter is admirable with the distinct levels that make this setting interesting but other than the levels, the set seemed a bit sparse. It could be all the whitewashed walls/flats with very little color but other than being a little boring in the aesthetics, the design is classic and well-built. This is a good showing for Porter and he and his team are to be commended for their efforts.

Taps, taps, taps! That’s another thing one thinks of if one is familiar with Anything Goes and taps we have! Choreography by Tina De Simone is high energy and engaging… for the big, popular numbers, namely “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” The other numbers seem to be afterthoughts such as poor Bonnie’s featured numbers, “Heaven Hop” and “Let’s Step Out.” The savior of those numbers are the vocals and brilliant presentation of Bonnie by Maddie Bohrer, but we’ll get more into that later in this review. Looking to the bright side, DeSimone’s work shines and is precise and outstanding in the aforementioned “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” The energy is high and the ensemble is on point. DeSimone really gets these numbers and style and has created a fresh look that is a joy to watch.

(l-r) Miranda Snder, Abby McDonough, Robyn Bloom, Marcie Prince, Maggie Mellott and Lisa Rigsby. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Vocally, this ensemble is phenomenal. With the help of Sound Design by Alex Porter, this ensemble is spot on and kudos must go to William Georg for his Music Direction. Many of these songs are well-known, so any flaws are easily noticeable, but, there weren’t many to speak of. The music is canned (recorded), but this cast is well rehearsed and they have this score down pat making for an enjoyable and toe-tapping experience.

This production is helmed by Director Conni Ross and she gives us a charming presentation of this beloved piece and her staging is smooth but it loses momentum at times which effects the comedic timing. Overall, Ross has done a splendid job with this production – you work with the material you got, so, she has given us a strong showing. The presentation isn’t necessarily fresh and innovative, but it keeps the more traditional, old-fashioned presentation in-tact, and that’s always a good thing. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? My only issues with Ross’ work is her curious casting choices. Now, in community theatre, you work, first and foremost (or are supposed to) with the folks who come out for auditions and may the best man/woman land the role. I get that. But this cast seemed quilted together. Age ranges seem to be all over the place and there are actors who look to be playing characters younger or older than they actually are which throws off the entire feel of the production, for me. Regardless, Ross has given us a pleasant show that makes for a wonderful evening of theatre.

Jim Gross and Todd Hochkeppel. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Moving toward the performance aspect of this production, we have Jim Gross as Billy Crocker and Rebecca Hanauer as Hope Harcourt, the young lovebirds of this story. Gross seems to have a good grasp of this character, but I question his casting in this role. Again, he gets this character, knows his objectives, and follows staging nicely but… I didn’t buy it. His delivery of the material is good, if slightly scripted at times, and, occasionally, his comedic timing is a little off. Vocally, Gross can hold his own but he just doesn’t fully capture the energy and urgency the character requires. However, that being said, he’s comfortable in the role and gives a confident performance. Along the same vein, Hanauer seems a bit miscast, as well. She, too, understands her character well and goes through the motions, but I just didn’t buy it. Vocally, Hanauer has a beautiful soprano and performs her featured songs quite well, such as “De-Lovely” and “All Through the Night.” I think one of the main issues is the chemistry between Gross and Hanauer. It’s easy to see their great friends, but it would be a stretch to think they were anything more than that. In general, both give good performances and are consistent throughout the show.

Todd Hochkeppel, Ryan Geiger and Robyn Bloom. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Though this is a musical comedy in which all characters have a certain comedic value, Ryan Geiger as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh and Todd Hochkeppel as Moonface Martin have got the comedy down pat. These two are a pleasure to watch and their portrayals of these characters is top notch. Geiger embodies the role Evelyn Oakleigh and pulls off the pompousness mixed with charm that endears him to the audience. His comedic timing is spot on and he plays the character seriously enough to not take him over the top which makes for a solid, hilarious performance. Also, Hochkeppel seems to have been born for this role. His understanding of this character is clear and the way he portrays the loveable, but wanting-to-be-bad Moonface is quite enjoyable. There’s a tendency for actors to take this role over the top, but Hochkeppel keeps him reigned in just enough to be farcical but still charming and non-obnoxious. Kudos to both of Geiger and Hochkeppel for their efforts.

Lawrence Custis, Robyn Bloom and Doug Thomas. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

Playing the role of Reno Sweeney, an actor has some pretty big shoes to fill but Robyn Bloom take the reigns and makes the role her own. Seemingly channeling the spirt of Mae West, Bloom is comfortable and confident in this role and it shows. She gives an assured performance and makes the character likeable from the moment she steps onto the stage. Her Angels (Lisa Rigsby, Marcie Prince, Maggie Mellott, Tirana McCorkle, Abby McDonough, and Miranda Snyder) impressively keep up as well, displaying their apt dance and tap skills throughout. Her delivery is natural and her timing is fantastic. She has a clear, smooth voice that resonates throughout the theatre, especially in her featured numbers such as the highly energized title song, “Anything Goes” and the hand-clapping-foot-tapping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” Though she doesn’t have the usual “belt” actresses who play this character have, her performances of the songs and her dance abilities are a joy to watch making for a superb performance, overall.

Jim Gross, Becca Hanauer and Ryan Geiger. Credit: Russell Wooldridge

The standout in this particular production is Maddie Bohrer as Bonnie (remember, I mentioned her earlier in this review). Now, Bonnie is more of a supporting character, but Bohrer has put her front and center in every scene she’s in. She knows this character well and portrays her as a street-wise, but caring girl who does what she can to help her friends. Bohrer has the perfect look for the character and her delivery of the dialogue is clear and authentic. The thing that sets her apart is that she is so expressive, and one can’t help but notice her even when the entire ensemble is on the stage. She keeps her performance consistent throughout the entire production and is an absolute joy to watch. Her renditions of “Heaven Hop” and “Let’s Step Out” have you wanting more from her character and she’s one to watch. Hats off to Bohrer for an outstanding showing.

Final thought… Anything Goes exists mainly to highlight the songs of Cole Porter. There’s not much to the Book and, it seems very haphazardly thrown together to work around the music. Production-wise, there are a few interesting casting choices, the Set Design is appropriate, but a bit flat, and the choreography seems more concentrated in the more popular numbers, which leaves the other dancing a little lackluster throughout. However, the vocal work of the entire ensemble is quite admirable and makes up for the minor flaws in this production. Overall, it is a good, solid production and the ensemble is giving 100% effort and, it is a favorite classic to which the audience responds well. If you’re in it for a good fluffy, entertaining show, this one’s for you and you will have a delightful evening of theatre.

This is what I thought of Silhouette Stages’ production of Anything Goes… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Anything Goes will play through March 24 at Silhouette Stages, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

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Review: Sweet Charity at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Most of us just want to be loved, right? I say “most” because there are some folks out there who are content and happy (or claim they are) without the love of others. However, this is not the case with the title character of Heritage Players latest offering Sweet Charity, with a Book by Neil Simon and Music and Lyrics by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, respectively. This production is Directed and Choreographed by Timoth David Copney with Music Direction by Mari Hill.

Briefly, Sweet Charity concerns itself with the romantic goings on of Charity Hope Valentine, a taxi dancer (a profession that teeters precariously on the line of prostitution) in a seedy dance hall in New York City. Her surroundings may be drab but Charity’s optimism, romanticism, and upbeat attitude seem to get her through tough times. She’s been dumped, robbed, and insulted by lovers and boyfriends but she still sees a better life for herself. She meets Oscar, a neurotic, shy fellow, is it possible she has found true love at last… or is the other shoe just waiting to drop?

Bailey Wolf as Ursula, Daniel Douek as Vittorio Vidal, and Katherine Sheldon as Charity, and Kamryn Polastre Scott as Doorman. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Set Design by Ryan Geiger is minimal but absolutely appropriate, using moving set pieces to represent various locations on a simple black stage. I don’t mind the black stage, but the stage is a bit unkempt with the use of sheets or curtains of different shades of black and different, ununiformed lengths which is a bit of a distraction. Overall, however, the set worked for this piece as there is heavy choreography and you don’t want a bulky set in the way of that. Geiger used his space wisely and the unkemptness may very well be a part of the design as a lot of the action takes place in the seedier-looking parts of New York City.

Andrew Malone’s and Lanoree Blake’s Costume Design is on point for this period, 1960s piece. Every stich of clothing on this ensemble is well thought-out and authentic to the time. The bright color palate, the styles and crazy prints, the hair… everything just oozed the mid to late 60s and I love it. Kudos to Malone and Blake for their efforts and superb design.

Mari Hill’s Music Direction is concise and she has this cast and orchestra sounding tight. Since quite a few of these songs are standards, it’s a good chance most or at least some of the audience will at least be familiar with the tunes but Hill doesn’t let that deter her and she has guided this ensemble to perform these songs well and true to the original compositions. The orchestra that has convened for this production is led by the able and well-apt Patty DeLisle, who doubles as both Conductor and Keyboards, sounds sweet and strong. The orchestra consists of: Will Zellhofer on Keyboards, Mari Hill, Matt Elky, Dan Longo, Katie Marcotte, and David Booth on Reeds, Erica Bright and Jon Bright on Trombone, Randy Whittenberger, Kevin Shields, and Allyson Wessley on Trumpet, Billy Georg on Percussion, Maxwell Kazanow on Guitar, and Thomas Jackson on Bass Guitar.

“I’m a Brass Band” with Katherine Sheldon as Charity and the Cast of Sweet Charity. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

It’s worth mentioning that Sweet Charity was given a successful 1969 film adaptation (depending on who you talk to) staring Shirley McClain and Chita Rivera (not to mention Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ricardo Montalbán) and directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse. That being said it, it can be a challenge to recreate a well-known piece and present it in a fresh light. Timoth David Copney stepped up and took on this challenge not only as Director but doubling as Choreographer and his efforts are not in vain. Copney presented this piece in a more traditional setting, as written, and didn’t mess much with the original script/score. His choreography is impeccable and is prominent in moving the story along. For “Rich Man’s Frug,” it’s clear he makes an homage to the film adaptation with near exact chorography. On a side note, Libby Burgess (Lead Frug Dancer) tears up the stage with concise and tight movement that adds great value to this intricate dance number. He knows his cast and has created movement that makes them shine rather than hinder their performances. That being said, it seems Copney concentrated mainly on choreography (because it really is brilliant) and less on blocking and scene work. The pacing is a bit lagging, especially in lengthy scenes with most of the ensemble onstage, but still, the story is so cleverly written, the dialogue helps with the pacing. Handmade signs between scenes poking out of the side of the stage are a bit hokey and barely legible if you are more than three rows back, but, thankfully, their not too, too important to the production. Overall, Copney’s efforts are commendable are and are to be applauded as it seems he has a good comprehension of both the text and the story as a whole making for a good showing.

“The Richman’s Frug” with the Cast of Sweet Charity, featuring Libby Burgess. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, I’d be amiss not to mention that the entire ensemble of this piece gives 100% effort and is dedicated to this piece and all should be commended for their efforts, including Apollo, the beautiful and well-behaved canine who makes a couple of cameos and is an absolute natural!

Taking on role of Vittorio Vidal, the Italian movie star with whom Charity has a chance encounter, is Daniel Douek, and he fully embodies this suave, yet tender character very nicely and exudes that beautiful balance of debonair playboy and lovelorn schoolboy giving an authentic and thoughtful performance, especially in his featured number, “Too Many Tomorrows.” Oscar, Charity’s main love interest, is played by Adam Abruzzo who plays this neurotic, shy character near perfectly. Abruzzo may not be the strongest, vocally, but his portrayal is delightful and his comedic timing is spot on making for a charming performance.

Anwar Thomas takes on the challenging role of Daddy Brubeck, the charismatic leader of the cult-ish religion of the Rhythm of Life, but he pulls it off quite well. His performance is confident as he tackles the facets of this kooky character and though, vocally, he could be stronger, especially in his featured number, the high-energy “The Rhythm of Life,” what he lacks in vocalese, he absolutely makes up for and shines in his dancing. This man is no joke when it comes to a dance number and he makes each move look effortless making for a strong performance, overall.

Katherine Sheldon as Charity Hope valentine. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Katherine Sheldon takes on the title role of Sweet Charity, otherwise known as Charity Hope Valentine, our upbeat, hopeful heroine. Sheldon seems to have a tight grasp of this character and plays her to the hilt. She portrays a good blend of optimistic innocence and a lifetime of broken hearts very well and it’s that perfect blend that makes this character work. It’s easy to see she’s worked hard for this role and her solo dancing and comedic timing is on point. She gives a good showing, vocally, in such numbers as the standard “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “Where Am I Going?”, but struggles a bit with the higher notes. However, that could very well be the result of her intense concentration on choreography, which she nails. Overall, Sheldon is confident and dedicating, making for a strong performance.

One highlight of this production is Jim Gerhardt, who takes on the role of Herman, the proprietor of the seedy dance hall ii which Charity works. This character certainly has a rough exterior, but deep down, is a big softy who cares about the girls who work at the hall and Gerhardt knocks it out of the ballpark with his portrayal giving us that perfect character in his mannerisms, stereo-typical “New Yorker” dialect, and his authenticity. Vocally, he shines, both while speaking and his featured musical number, “I Love to Cry at Weddings.” Gerhardt is certainly one to watch in this show.

Megan Mostow as Helene, Ashley Gerhardt as Niki, and Katherine Sheldon as Charity. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Last but certainly not least, we have our hands down standouts Megan Mostow as Helene and Ashley Gerhardt as Nickie. These two ladies are superb in their roles and they work well off of each other making for a heartfelt and true performance that makes you want to be friends with both of them because you feel as though they’ll always have your back and that’s what makes a great portrayal. Mostow moves naturally onstage and embodies this character of Helene completely. Her delivery of the material is on point and it’s she’s comfortable with the character and has a strong presence making for a brilliant performance. Gerhardt, too, is confident and comfortable with and impeccable portrayal of this rough-around-the-edges character who has a heart of gold. Her dialect work is near perfect and she really has a good grasp on her character and her wants and needs.

Vocally, both actresses are powerhouses and their performances in numbers such as “There’s Got to Be Something Better Than This” and their featured parts in the popular and well-known “Big Spender” will make you stand up and take notice while the poignant “Baby Dream Your Dream” will have you near tears with their touching performance. Overall, Mostow and Gerhardt are two who bring this production to the apex and their dedication to their characters and the production as a whole is quite apparent. Kudos to both for jobs very well done.

Final thought…Sweet Charity is a fun romp through a colorful, jazzy bygone era of what seems like a simpler time with interesting fashion choices. The story is cute, but not extremely deep, but it’s witty and funny with a book by Neil Simon, so, you can’t go wrong! The music is damn catchy and a few of these tunes are recognizable standards and this production doesn’t skimp nor cut corners with the dancing. Most of the characters are relatable and it’s a piece with which anyone who has a love of theatre should be acquainted. I recommend checking it out! You won’t be sorry you did!

This is what I thought of Heritage Players production of Sweet Charity… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Sweet Charity will run through April 29 at Heritage Players in the Thomas-Rice Auditorium on the Spring Gove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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Review: Into the Woods at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Title
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Fairy tales are probably some of the best fodder for stage adaptations because, after all, they’re entire stories that are already written and told. It’s up to the author and, if a musical, the lyricist and composer of that stage adaptation to put the story together with a script and songs. In the case of Heritage Players latest offering, Into the Woods with Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Book by James Lapine, Directed by TJ Lukacsina, with Music Direction by Chris Pinder and Choreography by Rikki Howie does something refreshingly different. By intertwining a bunch of different stories into one big story, we get a delightful, interesting spin on what happens in the life of these popular characters outside of the stories we all know and love.
Briefly, Into the Woods gathers together the title characters of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a few other popular tales and throws them together in a story of trying to our happy-ever-after in life, regardless of what it throws at you, and learning that life, in fact, is not a fairy tale. Through aspects of each story, we learn a little more about these characters and realize all is not always what it seems.
Set Design by Ryan Geiger, though simple, is fitting and quite effective. The unit set is good for different settings with a simple opening of a swinging panel and small props and set pieces. For a complex show like this, this set design is well-thought out and doesn’t hinder the action, but helps by not getting in the way. Kudos to Geiger for an inspiring design.
Andrew Malone, an established Costume Designer in the area, reveals his able talents in this production. Every character is fitted appropriately to character but unique enough that no one is the traditional image we know from the stories. This piece gives the costumer a chance to be fanciful as well as elegant and Malone hit the nail on the head in this production.
Sound Design by Brent Tomchick and Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina had some issues, but overall, the design worked for the prouduction. Whether it was a dependency on microphones or directorial neglect, there were many characters I couldn’t understand because I could not hear them. A few of the members of the ensemble didn’t project as they should and their lines were lost. Of course, the mics themselves had their own troubles of not being at the correct levels or even turned on at the correct times. Lighting Design is its own beast and can make or break a show. Now, Lukacsina’s design certainly did not break the show, but there were curious choices throughout. A favorite covering of light seems to represent some sort of light and shadows through leaves, as if in the woods, so, I get it, but it doesn’t do the ensemble any favors as most of them are lost in the shadows. It gets rather dark at times, as well. Yes, there are dark parts in this show… metaphorically, they don’t have to actually be IN the dark. Again, there were some technical issues with Sound and Lighting Design but, overall, it is suitable for this production and doesn’t take away from the story or the performance. In fact, it just might need a little tweaking or closer attention because for the most part, it works.
Choreography by Rikki Howie is minimal, at best. Not because Howie is lazy but the piece itself doesn’t call for a lot of dancing. There are a few moments when the cast gathers together to do what look like jazz squares (or box steps, depending on where you came up), and hand gestures but, that’s all that is required, really. Most of the songs simply need staging and not a lot of bouncing around. Howie does her best with the material she’s given and, all in all, the choreography is delightful. The cast is comfortable and that makes them look good, which is somewhat the point.
Chris Pinder tackles this piece as its Music Director and his work is to be applauded. Teaching and working on a Sondheim score is no easy feat and Pinder has succeeded. He seems to understand the music and its nuances and he has guided his cast to give a splendid performance. Not only does he have a strong ensemble, vocally, he has a phenomenal orchestra backing them up. Well-rehearsed, and spot on, the orchestra is near flawless with this score and adds great value to the production as a whole. Included in the orchestra are Chris Pinder, Conductor; David Booth, Flute; Matt Elky, Clarinet; Allyson Wessley, Horn; Kevin Shields, Trumpet; Lynn Graham, Piano; John Keister, Synthesizer; Zachary Sotelo, Percussion; Naomi Chang-Zajic and Susan Beck, Violins; David Zajic and Kyle Gilbert, Viola; Ina O’Ryan and Juliana Torres, Cello; and Joe Surkiewicz, Bass.
TJ Lukacsina takes the helm of this production as its Director and, as stated, taking on any Sondheim piece is a challenge but Lukacsina, with a few minor hiccups, seems to have stepped up to the challenge. Casting is superb and his staging is concise making for a good pace and tempo for a naturally long piece with smooth, quick transitions. Overall, the piece is focused with a clear vision from Lukacsina and it moves along nicely… in Act I. Act II in this production has its problems but it’s mainly in the staging of this fast-paced script. Actors seem to be coming and going haphazardly through the various entrances and exits on the stage and if one is not familiar with the piece already, it’s easy to see how one might get a little perplexed in Act II. With cleaner staging, Act II may run a bit more smoothly. Again, the hiccups are minor and, overall, Lukacsina seems to have a good comprehension of the piece and a good grasp on what the characters are about making for a well thought-out, delightful production.
Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, Todd Hochkeppel takes on the supporting role of the Narrator, the first character we encounter and Hochkeppel gives a respectable performance but, compared to the other characterizations, seems a bit over the top at times with grand, sweeping gestures that could be pulled back a bit. However, he has a great booming voice and fits well in the role.
A couple of other supporting but important roles that move the piece along are the Mysterious Man played by Richard Greenslit and the Steward to the royal family, played by Sean Miller. Both Greenslit and Miller give commendable performances and make the most of the stage time they have.
The princes, played by Josh Schoff (Rapunzel’s Prince) and John Carter (Cinderalla’s Prince), are well cast in the roles and give admirable performances but their rendition of “Agony” falls a little flat. This is one of the most well-known numbers in this piece and it’s a hilarious song. Schoff and Carter sing the song beautifully, but really just stood opposite each other and didn’t seem to capitalize on the physical humor and melodramatic presentation that makes this number so enjoyable. It’s as if they both took the roles too seriously. Though both give entertaining performances, the stronger of the two is John Carter whose interpretation of Cinderella’s Prince is absolutely befitting, if not a tad too soft spoken (which is a shame as his smooth, deep timber is perfect for the stage!), and his take on The Wolf is spot on.
Scott AuCoin tackles the role of the Baker, the unlikely hero of the piece and Mia Coulborne takes on the character of Red Riding Hood, the bratty little girl who has no choice but to grow up throughout the story. Both actors are confident and committed to their roles and with characters being so intricate to the plot, both carry the responsibility nicely. Vocally, both give superb performances as in Red Ridinghood’s number “I Know Things Now” and the Baker’s “No More” and both seem to have an easy go with the material. Their chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is believable and they give 100% to their parts. Their interpretations of the characters could use a little kick as the performances were a bit scripted and forced but, overall, they give an admirable showing.
Rapunzel (played by Kirsti Dixon), the hapless girl stuck in a tower by her “mother”, who happens to be a Witch (portrayed by Rowena Winkler), are a good match to play these complex characters who play a big part in the plotline. Dixon shines with her beautiful soprano and gives an authentic portrayal as the young girl who knows there’s more out in the world than what she knows of her small tower. Winkler gives a completely dedicated, high energy performance as the Witch and her transition from Act I to Act II is more subtle than it should be both in character and presentation, but it works for the most part. Vocally, she has a better go with her higher register rather than the lower, but, overall, she gives a praiseworthy performance.
Some of the most humorous bits of this production come from Cinderella’s stepmother (Traci Denhardt), and the Stepsisters Florinda (Jamie Pasquinelli) and  Lucinda (Danyelle Spaar). This trio of actresses understand the importance of these characters but don’t take the roles so seriously that they’re not having fun. Pasquinelli and Spaar have a stupendous chemistry and play their characters to the hilt making for delightful performances. Denhardt as the stern Stepmother is poised and elegant, as the character requires and all three performances are on point. Along with this trio, Jessa Sahl takes on the role of Cinderlla’s Mother, a guiding ghost in a tree in the woods, and she gives a strong showing, especially vocally, with a clear voice that resonates throughout the theatre.
Jack is portrayed by Atticus Boidy and Jacks’ Mother, played by Temple Forston are a befitting duo with a great chemistry that makes for a charming mother/son relationship. Boidy has a good grasp of his character and gives an impressive vocal performance, shining in his featured number “Giants in the Sky” while Forston is believable as the stern but loving mother who only wants what’s best for her son. She makes the role her own and, though her character’s demise could have been tweaked out a bit more, she gives a commendable, strong performance.
The absolute highlights of this production of Into the Woods are Sydney Phipps taking on the role of Cinderella and Alana Simone who tackles the role of The Baker’s Wife. These two powerhouses are the ones to watch. Phipps effortlessly sings through Cinderella’s numbers such as her bit in the opening of Act I and her featured number “On the Steps of the Palace.” Also, her portrayal of Cinderella is authentic and because of Phipps splendid portrayal, you feel for this girl and are rooting for her. She has a good comprehension of the character, has a good presence on stage, and gives a strong, confident performance.
Likewise, Alana Simone starts off strong and keeps up the energy and consistency throughout the production. She has a booming voice and good chemistry with her fellow ensemble members, especially with Scott AuCoin, who plays her character’s husband. Simone belts out her numbers such as “It Takes Two” (with AuCoin), and the poignant “Moments in the Woods” with just the right amount of intensity and gentleness that is required of each number. Major kudos to Phipps and Simone for jobs very well done.
Final thought…Into the Woods is a monumental feat for any theatre, especially community theatres. Heritage Players certainly gives it the old college try and though some aspects fall short, others absolutely thrive. The show is long, by nature, and though this production has terrific pacing with an energetic cast, plan on sticking around for near three hours. Most of the cast is absolutely able and committed making for some great performances but as the production moves along, it seems to lose a little steam. That’s not to say it is not a commendable performance, because it most certainly is. With an ensemble who works well together, a simple but effective set, an orchestra that is on point, and a few standout performances, it’s definitely worth checking out this interpretation of a Stephen Sondheim favorite.
This is what I thought of Heritage Players production of Into the Woods… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Into the Woods will run through November 19 at Heritage Players in the Thomas-Rice Auditorium on the Spring Gove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.
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Review: Legally Blonde at Silhouette Stages

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
It’s interesting how many incarnations a story can make. Usually a story will be created in a novel and then be turned into a film, then a stage production… or after the novel, the stage production will come and then the film. Either way, it’s usually a well-known story from the get and it can be challenging for a creative team (whether stage or film) to visually recreate or reimagine a beloved novel. However, some stories just lend well to a transfer from film to stage and Silhouette Stages latest production, Legally Blonde the Musical with Music & Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and Book by Heather Hach, and on the novel by Amanda Brown and the MGM Motion Picture, is a story that looks just as good on the stage as it does in the pages of a novel or on the silver screen. This latest production is Directed by TJ Lukacsina, with Music Direction by Nathan C. Scavilla and Michael Wolfe, and Choreography by Rikki Lacewell and is a joy to experience and should not be missed.

The cast of Legally Blonde; Photo by Silhouette Stages.


Briefly, Legally Blonde the Musical is about Elle Woods (Lindsey Landry), a pretty, blonde West Coast girl, from Malibu who follows her college boyfriend, Warner (Stephen Foreman), all the way to Harvard Law School to win him back and along the way, shows herself and those around her, such as teaching assistant Emmett Forrest (Matt Wezel) and Professor Callahan Ryan Geiger) that you can’t judge a book by its cover and that she is much more than what she looks like. She overcomes challenges and finds friendships places she least expected. It’s a story of discovering what is inside of a person is much more important that what we see on the outside. It’s a good message told with a balance of humor and poignancy that makes for a delightful evening of theatre.
Set Design by TJ Lukacsina is simple, yet appropriate for this production. More set pieces than a permanent set, each scene is insinuated but it is easy to see where everything is taking place and the clever use of set pieces makes it easier to create the many different locations needed for this piece. Aside from a few lackluster pieces that are supposed to represent simple doors but look a little untidy, the cast and crew are well-rehearsed on the changes and everything moves smoothly and quickly keeping up with the pace of the piece and not hindering it.
Andrew Malone has yet to disappoint with his Costume Design and this production is no different. As the nature of this piece goes, the look is just as important as the story and Malone has managed to capture that look beautifully. From the West Coast, haute couture look for Elle Woods (and there is no mistaking that pink is her signature color) to the darker, more conservative look of the East Coast, Malone has chosen a near perfect wardrobe for each character in this production. Kudos to Andrew Malone for a job well done.

Erica Loy as Kate; Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Kendall Nicole Sigman as Serena; Jennie Phelps as Margot; Nia Smith as Pilar; Photo by John Cholod.


Choreography by Rikki Lacewell is well on point. Definitely much more than dance squares and jazz hands, this choreography is well thought-out and befitting of this upbeat and modern piece. The fast-paced numbers such as “Omigod You Guys” (the opening number), “Positive,” “Whipped Into Shape,” and the infamous “Bend and Snap” are exciting and stimulating and Lacewell seems to know her cast and the varying abilities of each and wonderfully blends them all into all these numbers. There was an attempt at a hip-hop style of dancing during “Positive” that might have benefitted from a bit more rehearsal, but overall, the choreography is fitting, thought-out, and well executed adding great value to this production.
Music Direction by Nathan C. Scavilla and Michael Wolfe is superb with a strong, vocally stellar ensemble. The music is recorded, but that doesn’t damper the abilities of the cast as they in harmony and spot in in every number. Some performances are stronger than others but Scavilla and Wolfe have managed to get brilliant performances out of every member of the cast and this music is presented exquisitely and with gusto.
Along with Set Design, TJ Lukascsina has double duty and also takes on Director duties of this production and he’s risen to the challenge of bringing this popular and familiar story to the stage. He has a vision of his own and it’s apparent in this piece while still being faithful to the original to both the film and staged productions. His casting is impeccable and the characters really come to life and move the story along nicely. Lukascina has created a smooth pace but, because of the use of recorded music, the transitions into musical numbers seems a bit abrupt and it’s clear the actors are waiting for their music cues whereas with a live band, a little vamping goes a long way for seamless transitions. Overall, his work is to be commended and he gives us a fun, meaningful piece that is a joy to experience.
Moving into the performance aspect of this piece, I have to mention that the entire ensemble of Legally Blonde the Musical gives a strong, confident, and committed performance. With a large cast, it’s easy to blend in, but there were many good, worthy performances in this piece and all of the ensemble are to be commended and congratulated on a job well done!

Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Matt Wetzel as Emmett Forrest; the cast of Legally Blonde; Photo by John Cholod.


Though this piece seems like a female-character heavy piece, there are actually quite a few featured roles for males, as well, including Warner Huntington III, played by Stephen Foreman and Professor Callahan, played by Ryan Geiger. These gentlemen carry their own against the female driven script and give admirable performances. Ryan Geiger has as great look for Callahan and the way he carries himself as the character is spot on. He understands the antagonistic ways of his character and he’s comfortable in the role, giving a very confident performance. Playing the character of Warner Stephen Foreman made some curious choices in mannerism and delivery. Warner is supposed to be a “bro” per say, and not much on his mind besides old family money and when the next kegger is but Foreman’s performance seems a bit too forced and uncomfortable at times. Vocally, he does a fine job with his featured number “Serious” but I would like a more of a jerk-like confidence in this portrayal. However, that being said, Foreman does a good job and makes this role his own. He has great chemistry with his cast mates and it makes for a worthy performance, overall.

Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Stephen Foreman as Warner Huntington III; Photo by John Cholod.


Kendall Nichole Sigman as Serena, Jennie Phelps as Margot, and Nia Smith as Pilar take on the responsibilities of the “best friends” and Greek chorus of this piece and they hit the nail on the head. They are committed and stay upbeat (as required by their characters) throughout the entire production and are in step with every bit of choreography thrown at them. All three are assets to the ensemble and they are comfortable in these roles giving splendid performances.
Summer Hill gives a top notch performance as Brooke Wyndham, Elle Wood’s first client and fellow Delta Nu sorority sister. Portraying a fitness instructor has its own set of challenges but Hill steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the ball park with a high energy jump rope/aerobic number “Whipped Into Shape” that had my heart racing and I was just sitting in my seat. However, Hill didn’t miss a beat or a note and that, my friends, is quite impressive. She makes the entire thing look easy and she has a good understanding of her character and makes the role her own. It’s also worth mentioning, the ensemble members who join Hill in “Whipped Into Shape” also keep up with the high energy number, not missing a beat, and give a tight, well-rehearsed performance.

Parker Bailey Steven as Enid; Nia Smith as Pilar; Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Jennie Phelps as Margot; Allison Bradbury as Vivienne Kensington; Summer Hill as Brooke Wyndham; Ryan Geiger as Professor Callahan; Photo by John Cholod.


Allison Bradbury takes on the role of Vivienne Kensington, the uptight, snobby, and, well… bitchy, new girlfriend of Warner and, no offence intended, but Bradbury nails this part. She gives off just enough bitchiness to make you not like her, but also makes her transition toward the end of the piece all the more important and Bradbury gets this importance of that transition. She gives a hell of a vocal performance and, overall, gives a terrific performance.
Matt Wetzel as Emmett Forrest is quite likable and gives an admirable performance. He has great chemistry with Lindsay Landry making for a believable and authentic portrayal. His vocal stylings on his featured number such as “Chip on My Shoulder” and “Legally Blonde” are commendable and heartfelt and he really grasps the essence of his character making for an enjoyable performance.
I’d also like to mention the four-legged actors of this ensemble, who both did stupendous jobs in their roles: Biscuit Boo Bradbury who takes on the challenging role of Elle’s faithful friend Bruiser, and Olive Ann Landry who takes on the part of Rufus, the poor furry child in the middle of a custody dispute with Paulette and her ex. Note: If you put dogs in a production… you can’t go wrong with me. I. LOVE. DOGGIES. I’m just sayin’.

Matt Wetzel as Emmett Forrest; Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods; Photo by John Cholod.


Definite highlights of this production are Lindsey Landry as Elle Woods and Michele D. Vicino-Coleman as Paulette. Both of these actresses are a joy to watch and their performances are superb as they really comprehend their characters and their motivations and play the roles to the hilt.
Michele D. Vicino-Coleman plays a hilarious, down-to-earth, and street-wise Paulette, the local stylist who befriends Elle and supports her no matter what. Vicino-Coleman takes this role and gives it a fresh look and portrayal. She has a strong and beautiful belt and smashes her featured number “Ireland” not taking it too, too seriously and adding just enough comedy in to keep it funny, but still poignant. Her chemistry with the hunky Kyle (played brilliantly by a hunky Rob White) is fantastic and, importantly, she looks as though she’s having a blast playing this part which, in turn, makes for a fabulous performance.
Filling the cute, fashionable shoes of Elle Woods, Lindsey Landry is just about perfect casting for this role. It helps that her look is spot on for this character, but more importantly, her understanding of Elle Woods is quite apparent as her transition from the beginning of the show to the end is seamless but definitely noticeable. Her voice is absolutely beautiful as it fills the theatre during numbers such as “What You Want,” “So Much Better,” “Legally Blonde,” and the touching “Find My Way.” She gives an authentic portrayal and really connects with the audience to where you’re really rooting for her every step of the way. Landry gives an impeccable performance and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work in the future.
Final thought… Legally Blonde the Musical  at Silhouette Stages is a delightful, fun, well put-together production that should not be missed this season.  Having to contend with the successful film and book on which it is based, it could have gone horribly wrong or amazing well and, thank goodness, it’s the latter. This production is fresh while staying true to those previous incarnations and, if you’re looking for an enjoyable evening head on down to Columbia to see this production. With a clever script, uber-fun and catchy music, and a well-abled, dedicated cast that makes the show their own while staying true to the original characters, Silhouette Stages has a bona fide success on their hands.
This is what I thought of Silhouette Stages’ production of Legally Blonde the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Legally Blonde the Musical will play through May 28 at Silhouette Stages, Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD 21044. For tickets, call 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.
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Review: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Heritage Players

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission
It’s been repeated through the ages – being a kid isn’t easy! If you can remember (and most of us can), the world is a completely different place for a kid and Heritage Players latest offering The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Directed by Ryan Geiger, with Music Direction by TJ Lukacsina and Robin Trenner and Choreography by Jose Reyes Teneza, takes us right back to that crazy time when changes in body, mind, and viewpoints were happening and every day was a struggle… then the bastards throw something like a spelling bee in the mix to pit us against each other!

Chip Tolentino (Charlie Roberts) at the mic as the rest of the cast looks on. Credit: Heritage Players

Chip Tolentino (Charlie Roberts) at the mic as the rest of the cast looks on. Credit: Heritage Players


Walking into the Rice Auditorium at Spring Grove is a treat! It’s bright, neat, and clean and it’s a space that lends itself nicely to community theatre! Ryan Geiger, who takes on double duty as Director and Set Designer uses the traditional setting (a school gymnasium) for this production and, liking traditional theatre as I do, I thought it worked very nicely. It was a minimal set but Geiger’s attention to detail is on point and large printouts of a scoreboard and sports banners are clever and give the set a neat, precise look. This is a unit set show with movable set pieces and every piece had a purpose and helped tell the story.
Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina and Sound Design by Stuart Kazanow is appropriate and sets the mood for this quirky piece. Notably, there is a very neat effect concerning the Taj Mahal that is very clever and quite effective.
Sound is always a challenge for small theatres depending on the space and what the space is originally intended for. Kazanow’s Sound Design for this production is good, but seems a bit muted, slowing down the action onstage. Again, this could be because of venue and, overall, Lighting and Sound are respectable.
William Barfee explains his "Magic Foot" as the rest of the cast joins in. Credit: Heritage Players

William Barfee explains his “Magic Foot” as the rest of the cast joins in. Credit: Heritage Players


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is an eccentric kind of show where there’s a lot of music but it doesn’t call for a ton of choreography. However, Choreography by Jose Reyes Teneza fits in nicely. There are only a few big group numbers including “Magic Foot” and “Pandemonium” but the choreography is creative and tight and the cast seems to be having a great time with it.
Music Direction by TJ Lukacsina and Robin Trenner is impressive with great solo numbers and harmonic ensemble numbers that are on point and well-rehearsed. For being a fun, breezy show, Spelling Bee does, in fact, have some complex harmonies, but these were handled beautifully under the direction of Lukascsina and Trenner.
Going along with Music Direction, the orchestra is worth mentioning, giving a commendable performance with Robin Trenner on Piano, Ellie Whittenberger on Synthesizer, David Booth on Reeds, Ina O’Ryan and Juliana Torres on Cello, and Mykel Allison on Drums.
The spellers take center stage. Credit: Heritage Players

The spellers take center stage. Credit: Heritage Players


Taking on double duty as both a character in the production and Costume Designer, Stephen Foreman hit the nail on the head with these costumes. The costume design follows the original Broadway production’s scheme, for the most part, and his eye for detail is impressive. All of this actors seems comfortable in their wardrobe and the well though-out, meticulous costumes definitely add great value to this production.
Being a first time director has its own set of challenges but being a first time director for a musical is something entirely different. However, Director Ryan Geiger does a fantastic job with this piece, understanding its humor and its poignancy in a very balanced production. His casting is superb and his vision is clear, seeing life through the eyes of some very anxious, over-achieving kids in competition with each other and trying to discover themselves in the process. Kudos to Geiger for a job well done on his inaugural production as a director.
The cast. Credit: Heritage Players

The cast. Credit: Heritage Players


Moving into the performance aspect of this piece, I have to say the ensemble, as a whole, is outstanding. Audience participation is the name of the game for this show and the ensemble works with the participants brilliantly. The seemingly random audience members who are asked to participate in the bee seem to have a great time with this ensemble and the ensemble assures each audience member is at ease during the performance. The chemistry is crystal clear, the harmonies are flawless, and the dancing is tight and concise. Every one of these actors is giving 100% and seem to be having a blast onstage, which, in turn, brightens the mood of the audience.
Marcy Parks (Kristi Dixon) explains her many talents, backed up by the girls. Credit: Heritage Players

Marcy Parks (Kristi Dixon) explains her many talents, backed up by the girls. Credit: Heritage Players


Kirsti Dixon’s Macy Park is staunch and uptight, as the character calls and her number was upbeat and energetic. Though Dixon may have slight issues with the higher register of her number, “I Speak Six Languages,” her character is near perfect and she gives a strong, confident performance.
Matt Scheer tackles the role of Mitch Mahoney, the rough and tough, ex-con Comfort Counselor who’s job it is to give the kids a hug and juice box when they’ve been eliminated. Scheer plays the role as more of an 80s metal-head throwback rather than the original gruff, leather jacket and chains wearing character. Still, this character works nicely and he’s comfortable in the part and has a strong, booming voice for his number “Prayer for the Comfort Counselor” that is a fitting finale for the first act.
Logainne Schwartzandgrubinierre (Libby Burgess) tries to describe her strife as her dads discuss behind her. Credit: Heritage Players

Logainne Schwartzandgrubinierre (Libby Burgess) tries to describe her strife as her dads discuss behind her. Credit: Heritage Players


Logainne Schwartzangrubenierre, played by Libby Burgess, is an over-over-achiever pushed by parents who want what’s best for her, but might not see the burden it puts on her young, frail shoulders. Burgess tackles this role beautifully and her character is strong. The anxiousness and nervousness come out in her performance and she seems to really understand this poor kid. She’s comfortable on stage and has great chemistry with Zach Roth and Richard Greenslit, who play her two fathers.
Charlie Roberts takes on the role of Chip Tolentino, the “alpha male” of the group and the winner of last year’s Spelling Bee. Roberts certainly looks the part in his clean cut Boy Scouts uniform but his portrayal of Tolentino falls a bit flat. Overall, he did a fine job with his performance, choreography, and songs, but I want his character to be a little more forceful and less delicate. His featured numbers “Pandemonium” and “Chip’s Lament” was performed nicely, but may have been a little too high for his register. However, he’s confident and comfortable onstage and gives a commendable performance.
William Barfee, the obnoxious, know-it-all, and probably the keenest speller in the Bee, is played by Stephen Foreman who does a good job pulling this character together. His comedic timing is very good, though some of the jokes could be milked just a tad bit more as he tends to skim by them at times and, dare I say it, he could be just a bit more obnoxious as it’s what’s funny about this character. His number, “Magic Foot” is performed well and confidently and he seems comfortable and his look is spot on for this role.
Kristen Zwobot as Olive Ostrovsky. Credit: Heritage Players

Kristen Zwobot as Olive Ostrovsky. Credit: Heritage Players


Kristen Zwobot as Olive Ostrovsky is definitely reaching in for her inner child for this role. She’s believable in the role and captures the awkwardness of a young girl with separated parents who may be too smart for her own good. She seems to get this character and doesn’t play her with pity but with compassion. Her numbers, “My Friend the Dictionary” and “The I Love You Song” (a trio with Rachel Weir and Matt Scheer), are touching and she performs them well with a strong, confident voice.
Zach Roth as Leaf Coneybear. Credit: Heritage Players

Zach Roth as Leaf Coneybear. Credit: Heritage Players


Among the “child” characters, Zach Roth as Leaf Coneybear is definitely a highlight. His character is different from the other characters in that he’s really in it for the fun, not the competition. His innocence and naiveté makes you feel for him and root for him and he pulls the character off with ease. He’s comfortable in the role and his comedic timing is top-notch. He keeps his character interesting and makes a connection with the audience. Kudos to Roth for an admirable performance.
Rachel Weir portrays Rona Lisa Peretti, one of the three adult characters in this show and one of the moderators of the Bee as well as a former winner. Weir is also a highlight in this production in this role as she embodies this character heart and soul. It isn’t hard to believe this woman is a adamant fan of spelling and of spelling bees and that, deep down, she does care for this kids and wants them to succeed because she had been in their shoes at one time. Weir has an absolutely beautiful voice that resonates throughout the auditorium in songs such as her “Favorite Moment” songs throughout the production explaining how the bee actually works. She acts this character flawlessly and has a strong confident presence making her a joy to watch.
Richard Greenslit as Douglas Panch is the standout in this production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. As Douglas Panch, Greenslit has impeccable comedic timing and doesn’t take his character too seriously making for a phenomenal performance. He had me at stitches with his delivery of some of the definitions and sentences for some of the words in the bee. His chemistry with his cast mates is excellent and he seems to have a grasp on the purpose of this character which makes him quite believable in this role. He’s comfortable with a very strong stage presence and gives a performance that knocks it out of the park.
Matt Scheer as Mitch Mahoney and the Cast. Credit: Heritage Players

Matt Scheer as Mitch Mahoney and the Cast. Credit: Heritage Players


Final thought… The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Heritage Players is an entertaining and funny show to which mostly everyone can relate. We’ve all had that crazy time in life where changes were happening and things we don’t find so important today were life or death situations. It’s easy to relate to these characters and see a little of ourselves in each of them. If you want a fun show to check out, get your tickets now!
This is what I thought of Heritage Players 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 November 20 at The Heritage Players, Rice Auditorium at Spring Grove Hospital Center, 55 Wade Avenue, Catonsville, MD. For Tickets, email heritageplayerslive@gmail.com or purchase them online.