Go Go Go Just Off Broadway with Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

By Kara M. Bauer

Approx. Running Time: 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

*DISCLAIMERPlease note, one or more persons directly involved in this production are members of the staff of Backstage Baltimore. This individual or persons directly involved with the production did not write or participate in writing this review. The only editing performed on this piece was for grammar, punctuation, and organization. No content editing (adding, changing, or omitting words) were completed without the expressed permission of the author.*

In all my years in theatre I have seen countless theatre companies produce Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I myself have been involved in numerous productions of Joseph and each time I am amazed at the creativity that directors and actors bring to the stage. Each production that I have seen and  been a part of has attempted to spruce up the familiar tunes, scenes, and characters, usually without success. Fortunately for us, Just Off Broadway’s production, Directed by Tammy Oppel, with Music Direction by Patty Delisle and Choreography by Katie Gerstmyer, brought something new that I have never seen before.

When you attend the show, I encourage you to spot the absolutely hilarious props! See if you can find the cheeseburger beret and the razor scooter. The creative team really came together and provided the Baltimore theatre scene with a great production of Joseph. That being said, no show will ever be perfect– as a professional theatre teacher and director I know this. All we can do is ask that the actors put their everything into a role and hope that it works out. Despite some minor criticism, I would consider this production a success. This is definitely a production that you would not want to miss.

The moment I walked into the theatre, something felt different. I’ve been to several productions at Just Off Broadway and the first thing I noticed was that the pit had been moved. When the overture began, I immediately knew that the creative team had made the right call. Under the direction of Patty Delisle, the orchestra’s first notes brought back so many memories for me of waiting anxiously behind the curtain for an entrance. Andrew Vida is also to be commended for his creative light design. I can say with confidence that I have not met a more professional high school student (and I teach high school). He attends Calvert Hall College High School and hopes to pursue technical theatre once he graduates this coming year. Unfortunately, the issues with the microphones took me out of the performance at times. No theatre company is immune to technical difficulties. I recall a time when the microphones completely stopped working during a production that I was involved with. Due to the microphone issues, it was hard to hear every single line and note.

Unless you are familiar with the story of Joseph, it is somewhat hard to follow. The person I came with had never seen Joseph before and was constantly asking me to clarify what was happening on the stage. The chorus was too overpowering when a soloist was taking the lead and the orchestra volume was too intense during certain scenes. One thing that I enjoyed was the ability of the actors to blend their voices together. The harmonies during “Close Every Door” were perfect to the point of giving me goosebumps. I can look past the technical errors to a degree because the entire cast was not only vocally capable, but proved itself able to pull me back into the story with their intoxicating harmonies. While preserving the professionalism and style of the original work, Just Off Broadway has preserved its meaning as well. “Close Every Door”, while Joseph, played by Josh Schoff, is singing the famous lyrics of Tim Rice, “I do not matter. I’m only one person”, words that certainly resonate with anyone who has ever felt alone,  cast members turn their back to him, symbolizing his complete neglect and loneliness.

As the cast made their way onto the stage during the overture, it was easy to see which actors were genuinely invested in their role. Most of them were, but a few actors seemed distracted. One great challenge as an actor is to be completely immersed in their character. Jason Crawford Samios-Uy, Chris Thomas,  B. Ever Hanna, and Kate Forton were a few of my favorites throughout the performance. Their facial expressions, crisp clear vocals, ability to harmonize, and overall pizzazz on stage kept me engaged and entertained throughout the performance. I legitimately laughed out loud when Hanna and Forton were performing “One More Angel”, they are truly a dynamic duo. Also worth a “ention is the falsetto voice from Micah Rufsvold, which was used both for comedic relief as well as musical entertainment. There are lots of reasons to see this show, but the “One More Angel” number really takes the cake. It’s also worth mentioning and the effervescence of Elton Knupp as the Narrator, who skillfully and beautifully keeps the action moving on stage while telling the story with confidence and on point vocal ability.

One thing that confused me at first was the costume choices. There were hardly any costume changes and most actors were in street clothes the entire time. I have never seen that done before. My one criticism is that I would have loved to have seen a few more costume pieces used to help the audience understand when the brothers took on various roles like the Baker and Butler. This was also the first production of Joseph that I have seen where there were no set changes. Props and various benches were moved by the cast seamlessly and allowed the flow from one scene to the next without too much interruption.

Despite the small stage, the choreography was effective, creative, and enjoyable. Katie Gertsmeyer is to be commended for her fantastic skill as a choreographer. Each movement appeared natural for the characters, easy enough for all cast members to perform, and yet still appeared complex. The cast obviously worked extremely hard to pull off some of the choreography. One dancer in particular stands out in my mind. Samantha Jednorski, featured as Mrs. Potiphar, was one of the highlights of the performance. Jednorski has been involved in theatre for years; her expertise in the theatre realm shines through. Her facial expressions, reactions, and vibrant attitude was a true pleasure to witness. Speaking of cast members talent, I was extremely impressed by B’Jion Wright, Naphtali and the Butler, As someone who directs shows at a high school level, the first thought that ran through my mind when I saw her take the stage was, “Wow! This is a perfect example of an actress who has all the essential components to be successful! I wish my students could see her on stage!” Wright has the presence about her; total investment in her character and the skills to make it happen. I was also extremely impressed by Patrick Jay Golden’s performance as Pharaoh. Despite the simple costume, his characterization is what sold me on his solo. I even had the privilege of touching the hand of Ramessess *swoon* when he came into the audience to keep theatre goers on their toes.

I am very much looking forward to the Just Off Broadway’s 2020 Season. Their theme for the upcoming season is #RunningAway. I am very curious to see if they run away with their imagination or if they end up with their heads in the clouds. No matter what, I know the next shows they produce will be a real treat, just like Joseph.

This is what I thought of Just Off Broadway’s production of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will play through November 3 at Just Off Broadway at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 4301 Raspe Avenue, Baltimore, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

Review: Side Show at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours a 15-minute intermission

Lindsey Litka, Ana Lane, and Peter N. Crews. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper

What is a freak? Does it have to do with physicality? Does it have to do with a lifestyle? Who knows? We’re all different in our own ways and some people have something a little extra or special that makes them “freaks.” It’s almost hard to believe, but not too long ago, you could pay anywhere between 10 cents and 25 cents to just take a peek at these different folks to appease your darkest curiosities. Dundalk Community Theatre’s latest offering, Side Show, with Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell and Music by Henry Krieger, and Directed by Robert W. Oppel, with Music Direction by Rebecca Rossello and Choreography by Vincent Musgrave, gives us a glimpse into the lives of two of the most famous freaks, the Siamese twins known as The Hilton Sisters.

In a nutshell, Side Show concerns itself with the Hilton Sisters, a Siamese twin act that garnered some success in the 1930s. It goes through their trying life from birth through one of their last great performances and profiles the people and legal guardians used them and felt as they “owned” them because of their disability. It comments on the fact that the “freaks”, offstage, are just people trying to make it in a world that doesn’t understand them and the sisters realize though they are lonely, they are never alone.

Marc W. Smith does it, once again, with his phenomenal Set Design, Lighting Design, and Sound Design. I don’t think anyone knows this space better than Smith, and his work on this production confirms this assumption. Smith decides to go with a unit set with various levels that takes up the entire stage and serves for various locations for the story. It fits perfectly with the theme of the production, overall, and his attention to detail is second to none. His light and sound design are appropriate as they are subtle and blend in with the action to not take away attention which makes for an intelligent design.

Josh Schoff, Ryan Wagner, Ana Lane, and Lindsey Litka. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper

This production can be challenging to a Costume Designer, but Deanna Brill has steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park. With costuming being such an important aspect of this piece and with so many unique and varied characters including The Dog Boy (Dorian Smith), The Albino Woman (Tammy Oppel), Lizard Man (Seth Saunders), and Half Man/Half Woman (Vincent Musgrave), it had to be precise and Brill has managed to gather a wardrobe that rivals professional productions. Her attention to detail is apparent and she brings each character to life carefully and beautifully. Not only are the freaks costumes amazing, but she has brilliantly costumed the Hilton Sisters from dowdy and frumpy dresses, to flashy stage costumes, to elegant gowns to help progress their story. Brill’s hard work is evident and kudos to her for a job very well done.

Side Show doesn’t call for a ton of dancing, but there are certainly show-within-a-show numbers sprinkled throughout and Choreographer Vincent Musgrave has created energized and engaging routines that are a delight to watch, particularly the organized tangling of “Stuck With You” and the rousting “Ready to Play.”

Music Direction by Rebecca Rossello is on point and under her direction, this cast sounds absolutely beautiful. Rossello has a good grasp on this material and presents it commendably and her work with the featured vocalists is top notch. Unfortunately, the orchestra members are not listed in the program, but it’s worth mentioning these folks are spot on, as well. This unnamed orchestra performs this sweeping score effortlessly and all should be proud and applauded for their hard work and efforts.

Lindsey Litka and Ana Lane. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper

Robert W. Oppel takes the reigns of Direction of this piece and his work is to be applauded and praised. Oppel has a great comprehension of this material and presents it superbly. He understands the message of acceptance and family and guides this company to tell a clear and polished story. His staging is precise with transitions that are seamless making for a smooth flow. His casting couldn’t be better and he has managed to create a world for the audience to step into and apart of making for a thoughtful and charming evening at the theatre. He gives a praiseworthy effort and is to be commended for his work.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth mentioning the entire ensemble gives 100% and does his or her part to create a successful production. Dorian Smith is charming as the soft and caring Houdini and Rowena Winkler is impressive as the energized and mystical  Fortune Teller, to name a couple. The chemistry is solid with this ensemble and together they create a loving family of “different” folks or “freaks” who care for and help each other.

As Sir, the sleazy, selfish legal guardian of the Hilton Sisters, Peter N. Crews gives an admirable performance. Vocally, he’s not a powerhouse, which makes the opening number “Come Look at the Freaks” a little lackluster but what he lacks in vocals he makes up for in character. His portrayal of this vile man is on point and he has you stirred up from the get. He works well with and off of his cast mantes and has a strong presence and is comfortable on stage making for a worthy performance, overall.

(l-r) Lindsey Litka, Ana Lane, Troy Haines-Hopper, and Josh Schoff. Credit: Trent Haines-Hopper

Ryan Wagner portrays Terry Conner and Josh Schoff takes on the role of Buddy Foster, the “love” interests for the Hilton Sisters. Schoff does well with his part but, overall, his performance falls a little flat for me. He seems to be just going through motions and is scripted and a little stiff through most of the performance. He has a lovely voice and does well, vocally, as well as with the choreography as in such numbers as “Stuck with You” and “One Plus One Equals Three.” Overall, he is comfortable on stage and gives a confident, decent performance. The stronger performer is Ryan Wagner who performs Terry Conner authentically with a steady, natural delivery of the lines and smooth, booming voice that resonates throughout the theatre. He embodies this character and portrays his conflict of wanting what’s best for himself and what’s best for the woman he might love. Wagner gives a strong showing in this role and is to be commended for his efforts.

A highlight of this production is Troy Haines-Hopper, who tackles the role of Jake, a fellow former side show exhibit with the Hilton Sisters, and their protector. Haines-Hopper completely embodies this character and pulls him off naturally and with purpose. He’s comfortable in the role and it shows with his ease with the delivery of the dialogue and his chemistry with his cast mates. Vocally, Haines-Hopper gives an excellent performance, especially in his featured numbers, the upbeat, gospel-inspired “The Devil You Know” and the poignant, heart-wrenching “You Should Be Loved.”

The definite standouts of this piece are Ana Lane as Violet and Lindsey Litka as Daisy, the Hilton Sisters themselves. If you’re familiar with the piece, you’ll know these are tricky roles and you have to work very closely with your co-star… physically and figuratively. This doesn’t seem to intimidate these two able and apt actresses, in the least. These two actresses give phenomenal performances of two very unique characters. Lane’s portrayal of the more conservative, subdued sister, Violet, is flawless and she seems to have a good understanding of this character and her motivations while Litka’s portrayal of the more outgoing, overbearing sister is on point and authentic in every way with a vocal belt that is extraordinary. Both Lane and Litka have voices I could listen to for days and they’re strong and confident as their smooth, velvet voices ring throughout the theatre in such numbers as the touching “Who Will Love Me as I Am?” and the heart-felt, driving “I Will Never Leave You,” touching the hearts of every audience member. Lane and Litka are ones to watch in this production and you don’t want to miss them performing these roles.

Final thought…Side Show is a poignant story about two people who were used and abused by just about everyone with whom they crossed paths, but still prevailed. It’s a story of survival and the love of two sisters who depended on and helped each other with the cards they were dealt in life. This is a rarely produced show and Dundalk Community Theatre gives us a polished, engaging, and well put-together production with a splendid talent that not only gives a glimpse into a real-life story, but entertains as well. There’s only one weekend left and this is not a show you want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Dundalk Community Theatre’s production of Side Show… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Side Show will run through March 18 at Dundalk Community Theatre, CCBC Dundalk Campus, College Community Center, John E. Ravekes Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter (@BackstageBmore) and Instagram (BackstageBaltimore)