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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Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
Regardless how religious one is, many stories in the Bible are familiar because many of the stories have been the inspiration for countless artistic endeavors. Usually, one doesn’t even have to practice a faith or be spiritual to know the story of Jesus Christ, and whether one does believe or not, does not hinder the amazing storytelling the Bible offers. The latest offering from Third Wall Productions, the popular Jesus Christ Superstar, with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics by Tim Rice, Directed by Mike Zellhofer and Music Direction by Daniel Plante and Choreography by Kristen Rigsby reminds of those stories and how they can be presented in a modern, yet simple format making it extraordinarily entertaining while staying on message.
Jesus Christ Superstar, still going strong after more than 40 years, is loosely based on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and tells of the events during the last week of Jesus’ life while touching on his relationships with Judas Iscariot, Mary Magdalene, the Disciples, and the Romans, culminating with the Crucifixion and death of Jesus.

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Jesus and the Apostles at the Last Supper. Credit: Kristin Rigsby Facebook/Third Wall Productions


Taking place in the Sanctuary of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the overall design works quite well. With no actual set, lighting is mainly used to distinguish between scenes and Light Design by Jim Shomo connects the scenes smoothly, setting the mood for each. At times, the lights are overwhelming and a bit too flashy, contrasting with the minimal look of the entire production, but, in general, Shomo does an extraordinary job lighting this space – a type not often used for traditional theatre.
Costume Design by Amy Rudai is traditional and simple, fitting with the production very nicely. Rudai does elaborate on a few of the costumes such as those for Pilate, King Herod, and the Pharisees but not so much as they stood out so much they are a distraction, but gave the production a skillful balance and authentic look.
Choreography be Kristin Rigsby is on point for this production. She seems to really know her cast and her choreography accentuates their talents and abilities and keeps the production moving and exciting. Rigsby’s cast of able featured dancers (Jillian Arnold, Grace Volpe, Elizable Volpe, Grace Dillon, Andrea rudai, Maggie Flanigan, Clare Green, Kali Baklor, Brooklyn Ritter, and Jennifer Alexander) are definite highlights of this production and the choreography is well though-out, well rehearsed, varied, and fresh.
Music Director Daniel Plante is superb and he has this cast singing in harmony and with gusto. The ensemble of this piece is strong and adds great value to the production as a whole. With such a familiar score, it can be difficult not to imitate the many previous renditions but try to add a crazy spin on the material but Palante seems to understand that less is more and keeping it traditional isn’t such a bad thing sometimes. Under Plante, this ensemble is well rehearsed and does an extraordinary job with the material.
It’s worth mentioning that, once again, the Pit Orchestra is phenomenal and gives a splendid performance. Consisting of Conductor Andrew Zile, Marshall White on Trumpet, Alan White on Horn, Kevin Jones on Bass Guitar, David Kistler on Lead Guitar, W. William Zellhofer on Piano, David E. Booth, Jr. on Reeds, Winfield Clasing on Drum Set, and Daniel Plante on Percussion, this orchestra is one to be reckoned with. Kudos for a job well done!
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Jesus Christ Superstar. Credit: Kristin Rigsby Facebook/Third Wall Productions


Michael Zelhoffer takes the reigns of this production and kudos to for telling this timeless story in a way that is entertaining but not overwhelming for the senses. Hats off to Zelhoffer for a fantastic production. Many Andrew Lloyd Webber productions can be put in to the category of “Extravaganza” or even called spectacles (which I personally don’t mind), but Zelhoffer does it right with this piece. Though there are built in restrictions when your stage is the altar of a church, but Zelhoffer doesn’t worry about fancy sets and simply tells the story. That’s what it’s about and he hits the nail on the head with this piece. I appreciate he keeps it simple and let’s the actors and the score do what they are meant to do. He also takes a turn onstage as Pontius Pilate, the conflicted Roman in charge of saying “yay” or “nay” to the Crucifixion and he gives an admirable performance.
Moving onto the performance aspect of this piece, The Pharisees, the nemesis of Jesus of Nazareth are played nicely by Anthony Singer (Caiaphas), Harper Craven (Annas), and Brian Becker (Priest 3), who all exude a believable “holier than thou” persona making it easy for the audience to dislike them, in general, aside from a few lyric flubs from Singer, the trio has a great chemistry, look the parts, and give strong performances.
Mea Celeste Holloway, a Third Wall Productions regular, takes on the role of Mary Magdalene, and for being the only real featured female role in this piece, any actress in this part has the chance to shine amidst her male counterparts. The character herself is forlorn and apprehensive but Holloway just blends in with the rest of the ensemble, giving a subdued performance. Between her featured vocal numbers, Holloway seems to just be going through the motions and the character may have been more effective with a little more “oomph” than she gives. That being said, she gives absolutely lovely performances of her featured numbers such as the standard “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Everything’s All Right.”
Chip Willet as Simon and Andrew Pedrick as Peter, two of the featured Disciples, and they rock it out, as required, and give commendable, confident performances both character-wise and vocally. Willet is strong as Simon and takes command of the stage during his featured number “Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem” and Andrew Pedrick nails it with his portrayal of a man at odds with accepting his role in Christ’s mission or denying Christ to save his own skin and he gives superb performances of his featured numbers “Peter’s Denial” and “Could We Start Again, Please.”
Thomas Rendulic portraying King Herod is a delightful highlight of this production. One of the more humorous roles in this piece, Rendulic embodies this flamboyant character and Rudai’s costume design is spot on, all the way down to the gold gladiator sandals. His performance of the upbeat, ragtime “King Herod’s Song” is well done and entertaining, along with superb backup dancers.
Timoth Copney tackles the complex role of Judas Iscariot and his portrayal is quite worthy of the well-known character. Copney beautifully expresses the heavy emotion and turmoil of this trouble character and you can clearly see how he delves into the part. Vocally, Copney is powerhouse. Though some parts of some of the songs may have been a tiny bit out of his vocal range, he pulls off featured numbers such as “Heaven on Their Minds” and the title song, “Jesus Christ Superstar” confidently and passionately, making the role and the songs his own, commanding the stage and giving an exceptional performance.
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The Crucifixion. Credit: Kristin Rigsby Facebook/Third Wall Productions


Having performed the role numerous times, James Fitzpatrick as Jesus of Nazareth is glorious. His voice is a perfect fit for this role and he gives a 100% commitment, giving an authentic, passionate performance that commands attention. Aside from a few obligatory high pitched screams that seem out of place, Fitzpatrick’s performance is near perfect and on point both in character and vocally as revealed in his poignant rendition of “Gethsemane,” Jesus’ only solo piece. Overall, Fitzpatrick seems to really understand who he’s portraying and embodies him wholly.
Final thought… Jesus Christ Superstar at Third Wall Productions is a well thought-out and well put-together production that doesn’t slap you in the face with overdone sets or costumes but lets the actors and score tell the timeless story of Jesus Christ’s last days on earth. The familiar score is kept intact and the performers really seen to understand the story they’re telling. Minimal, but entertaining and committed, get your tickets now for this limited run!
This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Jesus Christ Superstar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Jesus Christ Superstar will play through July 8 at Third Wall Productions, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 1108 Providence Road, Baltimore, MD 21286. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.
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Review: Little Women the Musical at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission

Cast of Little Women the Musical. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd


This season, I’ve seen more Victorian age stories brought to the stage than I’ve seen in my entire life (only about three, but still) and, I’m not a huge fan of this era with its stuffy clothes and attention to the particulars of etiquette and all that jazz but, I have to say, aside from the style (with which all the Costume Designers did impeccable work), I actually enjoyed to the stories being told. Thus is the case with Third Wall Productions’ latest production, Little Women the Musical with Book by Allan Knee, Music by Jason Howland, and Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, based on the novel by Lousia May Alcott. This production is Directed by Christine Thomas with Music Direction by Eliza van Kan, Set Design by Jordan Hollett, and Costume Design by Lisa Ann Dickinson and makes for a charming evening of relatable and enjoyable musical theatre.
Set Design by regular Third Wall Productions designer Jordan Hollet is massive, to say the least. Well, for the space at Third Wall Productions, it’s massive. With essentially four different scene settings, an outdoor garden, a living room, an attic, and a small parlor room, Hollet has managed to cleverly fit all of this in the space provided him. The one level design works quite well, with an elevated attic area, but there are spots in the audience where the action is not easily seen. However, that being said, it’s really the nature of the beast with spaces like this and of no real fault to the designer. Just note that the phrase, “Not a bad seat in the house” does not apply here as there are a few seats that aren’t ideal. Overall, the set design is innovative and creative and helps the story along very nicely and keeps the action interesting.

Grace Dillon, Mea Holloway, Lizzy Jackson, Maggie Flanigan, and J. Purnell Hargrove. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd


Lisa Ann Dickson, with the help of House of Bankerd gives us an on point Costume Design for this piece. As stated, this is a Victorian era story and the wardrobe may be just as important as the story itself and Dickson knocks it out of the ballpark with this one. The attention to detail and style are exquisite and seem to be tailor made for each performer. Dickinson and House of Bankerd are to be commended for the fantastic Costume Design of this piece.
I admit I was expecting a different type of score walking into this as I had never experienced Little Women the Musical before but I was pleasantly surprised. The music for this piece is quite contemporary and entertaining and is allowed to shine under Music Direction by Eliza van Kan. The ensemble has a very good, strong sound and seems to make easy work of this score. It’s worth mentioning the pit orchestra for this piece gives a polished, accomplished performance as well. Though the orchestra may have drowned out the cast, at times, and weren’t as tight as they usually are (here and there), they still give a very good showing in this production.
Christine Thomas not only plays Marmee March in this production, but she also takes the helm of it and her vision for this piece is apparent as she brings the story of the March girls to the stage. She keeps the action moving and seems to really grasp the story of these ladies – some who are traditional for their time and some who are forward thinkers. She understands the relationship between these sisters and the different stories going on in this piece and presents them beautifully though, the link between the characters is a little weak and the chemistry is there, but at times seems as though the actors are just going through the motions. Regardless, the entire ensemble works well together and creates Thomas’ vision nicely and the solo moments are absolutely lovely. As Marmee March, she is a vocal powerhouse. She has a strong, clean vocal style and commands the stage with every note in her solos “Here Alone” and “Days of Plenty.” Her portrayal as the matriarch of four daughters is admirable and she seems quite comfortable in the role.
Producer Mike Zellhoffer steps onto the stage as the seemingly curmudgeon neighbor, Mr. Laurence, and Patricia Brunker takes on the role of the actual curmudgeon Aunt March. Both Zellhoffer and Brunker give commendable, authentic performances complimenting the story and the other characters while helping move the story forward. Brunker gives a terrific vocal performance and totally embodies the character of Aunt March and all her stuffiness, while Zellhoffer transitions nicely from stern to kind in his wonderful character work.

Grace Dillon, Mea Holloway, Lizzy Jackson, Maggie Flanigan, and J. Purnell Hargrove. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd


Purnell Hargrove takes on the role of the amiable Laurie Laurence, quite literally the boy next door and close friend to the March sisters. Hargrove gives a committed and confident performance and has good chemistry with his cast mates. He looks like he’s having a blast up on the stage and, in his featured numbers “Take a Chance on Me” and “Five Forever,” he seems to be pushing his upper range, vocally, but still gives a commendable showing.
Taking on the role of the youngest sister, Amy March, Lizzy Jackson has a good comprehension of this character and plays her well, though, at times, is a bit scripted in her delivery. However, that being said, she nails the demeanor and personality of this character and plays the transition of Amy March beautifully.
Maggie Flanigan tackles the role of the eldest sister, Meg March, and does so with gusto. She works well with her fellow actresses and her portrayal of Meg makes her a likeable character who’s just trying to find her own way in life with Mr. John Brooke, played by Andrew Pedrick. According to his bio, Pedrick is making his way back to the stage after a decade or so and though he’s quite natural, the character gets lost, sometimes, and I see Andrew Pedrick onstage rather than John Brooke. However, as soon as Pedrick opens his mouth to sing as in his featured number “More Than I Am,” a duet with the able Maggie Flanigan, it’s pure art. He has a smooth, resonating tone and I found myself putting down my pen just to listen to him.

Patricia Brunker and Grace Dillon. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd


Daniel Plante takes on the role of Professor Bhaer, the serious and stern fellow boarder to Jo March at a New York City boarding house. Plante’s interpretation is spot on and authentic and though he decided not to use an accent (the character is German), it doesn’t hinder his performance in the least. Vocally, Plante has a unique sound and, technically, gives a superb performance of “How I Am” making for a strong performance overall.
Regular, Mea Holloway takes on the role of the gentle Beth March, the other middle sister who has a sweetness and saintliness about her that the other sisters don’t seem to have. Holloway plays this part to the hilt and impressively portrays the sweet nature of this character consistently throughout. She impeccably interprets her featured songs, “Off to Massachusetts” and the poignant “Some Things are Meant to Be” and she embodies this character wholly.

Grace Dillon as Jo March. Credit: Karen Osborn, House of Bankerd


Grace Dillon as Jo March couldn’t have been cast more perfectly. Dillon takes this role and runs with it, making it her own while sticking to the basics of this character of the exuberant, exciting, forward thinking, middle sister, Jo March. With high energy and a seemingly complete grasp of this character and her objectives, Dillon is authentic and confident in this part. She has a great command of the stage and, aside from her acting abilities, gives an outstanding vocal performance as well. As the evening progresses, she seems to pull back, but still gives powerful performances in songs such as “Astonishing” and “The Fire Within Me”. Kudos to Dillon for a job well done.
Final thought… Little Women the Musical at Third Wall Productions is an enjoyable and stimulating piece that this company executes wonderfully. The story is entertaining and relevant, concerning itself with the struggle of woman and the different choices different women make each day, even if they are cut from the same cloth. With strong female characters, the message of finding one’s own way and overcoming any obstacle is clear and apparent. With a fun score and a clever script, the story is easy to understand and the performances are top notch. Whether you’re familiar with the story or seeing it for the first time, Little Women the Musical will delight and entertain and is a production well worth its price of admission.
This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Little Women the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Little Women the Musical will play through May 21 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD 21206. For tickets, call 443-838-4064 or purchase them online.
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Review: Fiddler on the Roof at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Tradition is what keeps things together for some people but there are folks who thrive on change. Tradition and Change certainly make strange bedfellows and Third Wall Production‘s lates offering, the classic Fiddler on the Roof, Directed by Lance Bankerd, with Music Direction by Edward Berlett, Choreography by Kali Baklor, Set Design by Jordan Hollett and Costume Design by Sally Kahn, takes us back to the early part of the 20th century and gives us the tale of a poor, Russian milkman struggling with and trying to balance his traditions and radical, new ideas of a new era.
I have to admit, I had serious reservations when I walked into the theatre and realized Director Lance Bankerd is putting Fiddler on the Roof – a big show – in an intimate space and in the round! Well, as soon as the first number started, though it was a bit tight with such a massive cast, it actually worked and it worked quite well!
Set Designer Jordan Hollett manages to give the audience a full musical theatre experience with set pieces and backdrops rather than full sets and it seems less tedious and just as effective. The story is told with benches and tables with a few “fancy” pieces such as a spinning bed and required wedding canopy. Kudos toe Hollett for his inventive design and intelligent use of space. Also worth mentioning is the painting of the large backdrops by Artists Ann Pallank, Amy Rudai, and Emma Hawthorn, adding great value to the space and the production as a whole.
Sally Kahn’s Costume Design is on point and her choices for this ensemble fir the bill of a poor Eastern European village in the early 20th century. Her attention to detail is commendable as this piece is not only somewhat of a period piece but also a cultural piece dealing with rules and restrictions of the Jewish religion that Kahn seems to understand and wardrobes her actors as such.
Kali Baklor takes on double-duty as both Choreographer and tacking the whirlwind role of Fruma-Sarah, the dead wife of the town butcher. Balkor’s choreography work is impressive and befitting for the piece and her ensemble. The space is intimate so there isn’t a ton of room for her large cast, but she uses what space she does have wisely with minimal but interesting and entertaining choreography. Along with keeping the cast in step, her take on the loud, obnoxious Fruma-Sarah is high-energy, confident and quite admirable.
Music Director Edward Berlett has this ensemble sounding beautiful in each number and his work with actors in the featured numbers is apparent as they run smoothly and sound splendid. I do regret the orchestra has no recognition in the program because they sound absolutely phenomenal. Taking up almost a third of the space, they were not overwhelming and blended in nicely with the ensemble making for a very pleasant sound. Featured musician, violinist Jonathan Goram is a gem in this impressive orchestra as he didn’t falter once during his solos making for an sensational performance. Kudos to the pit orchestra for a job well done and, hopefully, you’ll all get an insert in the program before the production is over!
Direction by Lance Bankerd is innovative and well-thought out, presenting this traditional musical in an nontraditional space. The space is tight, and the attempt of audience immersion from some of the cast is a little much, but some people enjoy that sort of thing and, overall, it was a joyous experience. There are a few curious casting choices, in appearance only, such as some characters who are younger than others actually looking older, but, all in all, it’s a very well put-together production. Fiddler on the Roof is A LOT of show and Bankerd has managed to keep the action moving and his cast kept the pace nicely. Major kudos to Lance Bankerd on a superb job with this piece.
Emma Hawthorn takes a turn as Yente, the matchmaker and pulls off the part nicely. This role is more of a comic relief and has a lot of the funny lines, but Hawthorn’s timing is a bit off on some of the jokes that could have been gold. Overall, however, she gives a fine performance and she understands the important role (after all, there’s an entire song in her honor!). She leads the attempt to bring the audience into the action with asides and interactions and seems successful in her attempts.
Michelle Hosier tackles the supernatural role of Grandma Tzeitel, who Tevye claims comes to him in a dream and she is delightful. She has a beautiful, strong soprano that is featured in “The Dream” and she’s comfortable and confident in the role.
Michael Zellhofer takes on the role of Lazar Wolf and his performance is top notch. He has a strong stage presence and makes this role his own and plays it confidently with a balance of drama and brilliant comedic timing.
Taking on the roles of eldest daughter Tzeitel and her unintended beau, Motel, the tailor are Lauren DeSha and Daniel Plante. From the moment DeSha steps onto the stage, she is a joy to watch. She gives a natural, comfortable performance, both in the portrayal of her character and vocally, and she has great chemistry with her fellow cast mates, espeically with Plante, her character’s love interest. The two give a believable performance and though Plante may not give the strongest vocal performance, but he is certainly giving 100% effort making for a commendable and confident performance.
Next up, Mea C. Holloway tackles the role of Hodel, the second eldest daughter and Joe Weinhoffer as portrays her counterpart, Perchik, the Student from Kiev. Aside from looking a bit older than the actress playing her older sister, Holloway gives a brilliant performance, vocally, but her portrayal of Hodel, though admirable, fell just a little flat. Weinhoffer’s interpretation of Perchik is spot on and his confidence and charisma shines through in his performance. Though he sounds a bit scripted, at times, his a clear, smooth, resonating voice fits the character near perfectly.
Alex Clasing who plays Chava, the third eldest daughter, is a definite standout in this production and her performance is a pleasure to watch. Vocally, she has a strong, clear voice that makes one take notice, even in the group numbers like “Matchmaker” and her acting chops are on point. Clasing portrays Chava naturally and authenticly and works easily with her cast mates. Her performance is one to watch in this piece and I’m looking forward to seeing more from this young actor.
Jenifer Grundy-Hollett as Golde is a treat and she gives this role 100%. Her comedic timing is spot on and she really grasps her character, making wise choices and making Golde a realistic mother and wife.  Her lovely soprano shines through, vocally, especially in numbers like “Do You Love Me?” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” She does play the part with a heavy hint of New York City in both accent and attitude but she still pulls the part off authentically and works well with all her cast mates.
Baltimore theatre veteran Roger Schulman as Tevye is the highlight of this production and he leads this ensemble with ease. Tevye is a traditional, yet jovial character and Schulman embodies these attributes superbly. His performance of Tevye’s signature “If I Were a Rich Man” is a joy to watch and Schulman refreshingly makes it his own. His overall delivery is natural and he makes the audience feel welcome and at home. He presents the subtle transition of his character seamlessly but with certainty and his presentation of Tevye’s evolution and growth is what knocks this performance out of the ball park.
Final thought…Fiddler on the Roof is usually a show that people love or hate. Rarely is there an in between but this production at Third Wall Productions is a creative, innovative presentation of this classic Broadway show. I had my reservations with it being in-the-round, at first, but this production did not disappoint. The intimate space was a bit cramped for the large cast and the attempt of audience immersion was a bit much, but overall, Third Wall Productions can chalk this one up as a bona fide success. The gifted ensemble and orchestra is a joy to watch and hear and the outstanding performances of these talented players should not be missed.
This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Fiddler on the Roof… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Fiddler on the Roof will play through February 26 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-838-4064 or purchase them online.
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Review: Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with one 10 minute intermission

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Ed Higgins and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


In these crazy times since the election and recent swearing in of the new President of the United States, whether we want to admit it or not, there are definite divisions between races, political though, and fundamental beliefs. That being said, Third Wall Productions latest offer, Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, Directed by Grant Myers with Set Design by Jordan Hollett, Light and Sound Design by Jim Shomo, and Costume Design by Grant Myers, gives us a story of how people from different walks of life and beliefs can actually grow to understand each other and get along even though those differences are still present.
Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography

Michael Zollhofer, J. Purnell Hargrove, and Tracy Grimes. Stasia Steuart Photography


Superior Donuts, a local donut shop in downtown Chicago, isn’t much to look at but it is a respectable business owned by Arthur Przybyszewski (played by Ed Higgins) and is frequented by two beat cops (Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove), a bag lady (Emma Hawthorn), and the Russian businessman, Max) who runs the DVD shop next door (Michael Zellhofer). These characters, all from different walks of life, make up a delightful and diverse group of people who seem to care about Superior Donuts more than its proprietor until Franco Wicks (played by Isaiah Evans) enters, looking for a job. The older, white Arthur and younger African-American Franco have their differences, of course, but find common ground with the donut shop and actually grow to care about each other. The subplot of Franco’s past is intriguing and puts Arthur’s friendship to the test, which he passes with flying colors. The show doesn’t provide a lot of laughs or the happiest of endings (but I wouldn’t say it was a sad ending either), but it tells an important story.
Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Bill Brisbee and Isaiah Evans. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


Among the talented ensemble, there are a few standout performances such as Isaiah Evans, as Franco, who gives a confident, authentic performance that makes his character very likable. His moves about with purpose and connects with his fellow actors and the audience making for a stellar performance.
Adding the only comedy to the piece are Michael Zellhofer and Emma Hawthorn who play their characters to the hilt. Zellhofer’s performance as Max Tarasov is commanding and believable and his skill in playing the character straight without working to hard for the laughs his character garners is brilliant. Emma Hawthorn as Lady, the friendly neighborhood bag lady, is outstanding in her role playing it with both humor and a touch of poignancy that really makes you feel for her.
Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn and Ed Higgins. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


Ed Higgins tackles the role of Superior Donuts sole proprietor Arthur Pryzbyszewski and through he gives an admirable performance, it’s a bit shaky and unsure, at times. He has great chemistry with the rest of the ensemble, especially Isaiah Evans, and he carries the character well, albeit a bit monotone, notably during the out-of-nowhere monologues directed toward the audience. Aside from those minor observations, overall, he gives a commendable performance.
Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

Emma Hawthorn as Lady. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


The rest of the talented ensemble hold their own and add value to this production. Tracy Grimes and J. Purnell Hargrove as Officers Randy Osteen and James Bailey, respectively, are charming as the beat cops and friends of Arthur, adding a bit of romance with Officer Randy and old Arthur. Bill Brisbee as Luther Flynn, the tough bookie could play the part a bit more intimidating but he has Chip Willett as Kevin Magee, Flynn’s goon, to pick up the gruff slack. Even William Zellhofer’s Russian is impressive in his brief appearance.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quaint set that was absolutely stellar and very befitting of this piece. Simple, yet detailed, Jordan Hollet’s design is authentic and well thought-out, putting the audience right smack dab in the middle of an old fashioned donut shop, adding an immersive feel to the entire production. Going along with the Set Design, Jim Shomo’s Light and Sound Design is minimal, at best, but to no real fault of Shomo. There really isn’t a lot going on with lights or sound but, then again, when it comes to plays, sometimes minimal is best. There’s not really a need for any fancy light show or sound so, in a way, it fits nicely. It’s interesting to note that it was decided to not use any music for this production, as well, but the use of music might have set the mood better for the scenes and helped with smoother transitions, which were a bit bungled.
The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography

The Cast of Superior Donuts. Credit: Stasia Steuart Photography


Director Grant Myers made some curious choices while taking the helm of this production. The transitions were a little unkempt, the frequent breaking of the fourth wall from one of the main characters seemed to come out of nowhere, and a certain fight scene was difficult in such an intimate space, but, overall, despite a some other minor issues, the piece is charming and, as a whole, is very good and well put together. It gets the point across that, with a little trying, anybody can get along, despite their differences. The ensemble gives a commendable performance and they all have great chemistry and work well together.
Final thought…in this time of uncertain race relations and division in current events, Superior Donuts at Third Wall Productions is a light but through-provoking piece expressing how different generations and races can come together in friendship and love. There’s an old adage that “it takes all kinds” and this production demonstrates this very well with its beautifully diverse ensemble who works well together to tell this important story.
This is what I thought of Third Wall Productions’ production of Superior DonutsWhat did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Superior Donuts will play through January 29 at Third Wall Productions, 5801 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to thirdwall.org for information or purchase them online.
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