Review: ‘Night, Mother at The Strand Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

The relationship between a mother and her child is a complex one, not to understate it. Mom is the only person in this world who has really known us our entire life, and then some! As we grow, we may stray away from each other, but the bond is always there, no matter what – whether we like it or not. Mom is that one person we can never explain to anyone else and we are the only one who sees her in a particular way. Vice versa, Mom can only see us in a certain way unlike anyone else. The Strand Theatre’s latest production, ‘Night, Mother by Marsha Norman, Directed by Anne Hammontree, peeks behind the curtain into one strained and intricate relationship between an “it-is-what-it-is” kind of mother and a daughter who has managed to find herself in a deep, dark place with only one seemingly way out. It’s a 90-minute snapshot in the lives of two women that is chillingly, but poignantly real.

Briefly, ‘Night, Mother concerns itself with Jessie, the daughter, and Thelma, the mother as they go about a regular Saturday night with one twist… Jessie has announced that she has decided to commit suicide within the next hour or so. Through the dialogue, we discover more about these characters and Jessie’s reasoning for making such a decision, as well as a little family history and feelings that had not been discussed before. As Thelma tries to convince Jessie that she can’t go through with her plan, it’s clear that Jessie has thought it through and might not be convinced.

I’d seen the 1986 film version of ‘Night, Mother, starring Sissy Spacek and Ann Bancroft (which I highly recommend) but this stage production of this piece is my first venture to Strand Theatre (and I don’t know why I waited so long!) and the space is unique but absolutely charming. Set Design by TJ Lukasina is, without a doubt, superb. The details from the working sink in the kitchen, to the lit lamps, to the grandfather clock that actually chimes on the hour are impeccable and give an authentic feel to the piece. This design puts the audience right into the action and makes one feel as though he or she is sitting at the kitchen table with these two ladies which keeps the entire production appealing throughout. The interestingly shaped space was not match for Lukasina as he transforms it into a living space that is cozy and real that adds great value to this production.

Kathryn Falcone as Thelma Cates and Andrea Bush as Jessie Cates. Credit: Shealyn Jae

Anne Hammontree takes the reigns of this production of ‘Night, Mother, and it’s clear she has a great comprehension of this piece, overall, and the thoughtful dialogue. Her staging is on point and though this piece could very well be two people sitting at a table talking all evening, she keeps the action going and engaging for the audience. It’s a challenging piece, but her casting is spot on and the presentation is clear and concise making this a delightful and thoughtful evening of theatre.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, Kathryn Falconetakes on the role of Thelma (Mama) Cates and Andrea Bush tackles the role of Jessie Cates. Both of these actress give strong, confident performances and their chemistry is incredible. From time to time, I completely forget these are two actresses performing roles in a play rather than a mother and daughter on a regular Saturday night – that’s how good they work with and off of each other.

From the moment she steps onto the stage, Kathryn Falcone completely embodies this character. Her delivery of the text is natural and she’s quite comfortable in this role with a strong presence and purpose. Falcone’s understanding of this character is clear and the audience can feel her urgency throughout the production. Overall, a job well done and Falcone should be commended for her splendid performance.

As Jessie Cates, the totally capable and able Andrea Bush could not be better suited for this role. It’s clear that Bush pulls from a very deep place to pull out this interpretation of this character. She becomes this character from the moment we see her walking onto the stage carrying bath and beach towels. Her instincts are correct and her compassion for this character guides her hand. She has a good grasp of what her character is going through and presents it authentically and clearly with a confident presence with a delicate handling. Kudos to Bush for an outstanding performance.

Final thought… ‘Night Mother is a heart-wrenching look at strained mother-daughter relationship full of resentment and regrets, but with a deep love for each other. It’s also a redemption, of sorts, with new connections and positive self-realizations. It’s an emotional roller-coaster that brings out the best and worst in family relationships, especially between mothers and daughters, when they are seem to be so similar but are actually vastly different. This one hit home hard for me. TRIGGER WARNING: this piece deals with suicide. However, it presents this story exceedingly well with poignancy as well as with a pinch of humor, giving a well-blended mix of ups and downs that make for a good drama. The performances are authentic and natural, and the characters are extremely relatable. The staging and pacing is on point making for an impeccable evening of theatre. Do yourself a favor – grab your tissues and get out to experience this show! It’s not one you want to miss this season.

This is what I thought of The Strand Theatre’s production of ‘Night Mother… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

‘Night Mother will play through October 14 at The Strand Theatre, 5426 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 443-874-4917 or you can purchase them online.

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Review: Always, Patsy Cline at Free Range Humans

By Andrea Bush

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 10 minute intermission

Patsy Cline, a shooting star on the country music scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was the first woman to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Even if you aren’t a country music fan, you likely have at least a passing familiarity with some of her hits, such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” (notably, one of the first songs to crossover within the Country and Pop music charts). Free Range Humans‘ latest offering, Always…Patsy Cline, created by Ted Swindley and Directed by Elizabeth Lucas, with Music Direction by Marci Shegogue, is based on the true, but debated, story of Cline’s unlikely friendship with Louise Seger, a fan from Houston. The pair met in 1961 at a Texas honky-tonk where Cline was performing, became fast friends literally overnight, and maintained a correspondence until Patsy Cline’s death in 1963. A jukebox musical, Always…Patsy Cline includes 27 songs, combining Patsy’s unmistakable contralto with Louise’s somewhat wacky storytelling to send a love letter through time, both to and from Patsy Cline.

Christine Mosere as Louise Seger and Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

I may not recall the first time I heard Patsy Cline’s voice as vividly as Louise did, but her music is at the heart of some of my favorite memories of my dad. So I packed my nostalgia and love for all things Patsy, along with my absolute awe at Free Range Human’s inaugural production (a near-flawless Murder Ballad), in the car and made the trek from Baltimore to Frederick. My expectations were high and I was excited to check out the show at Sky Stage, an interesting outdoor theatre space.

Unfortunately, my expectations took a hit immediately upon my arrival as I got out of the car and peered into the empty Sky Stage. Alas, Mother Nature had other plans and heavy rain throughout the afternoon had rendered the venue unfit for the performance. A sign board out front confirmed that the performance had been moved to McClintock Distilling, so I headed down the road and pointed the way for a couple of wandering patrons (note to whomever made the signage: a right arrow would be a helpful addition to clarify “just over the bridge”).

I arrived at McClintock Distilling with just under 20 minutes to show time and things were a bit turbulent, to say the least. It was very clear that this production does not have a Producer on the team whose focus is the big-picture anticipation of Plans B-Z (Director Elizabeth Lucas pulls double-duty as Producer – this happens a lot in small theatre and this is the perfect example of why it shouldn’t). I have to applaud the perseverance of the production team with the last-minute move, getting the show underway with only about a 15-minute delay.

From a production-value perspective, I have to say the show was somewhat less than I expected from the same team that put together the stellar production of Murder Ballad in June. While some of the issues certainly stem from the venue change, some seem inherent to the production.

The staging of the show at the distillery faced challenges, as the actors and audience were on the same level, which I know is not the case at Sky Stage. They did their best to mitigate the problem with a simple set including a small platform, high pub tables, and bar stools.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

I enjoyed the use of period-appropriate pieces that served as both props and set dressing. Louise’s “kitchen table” was set with a radio, kettle, and coffee mugs that may well have come straight out of my grandmother’s house and Patsy’s dressing area was set simply with an appropriate stand mirror. My only qualm with the props was the metal water bottles used by both actors throughout the production where a simple carafe and water glass would have been more appropriate (if breakage was a concern, clear plastic would still have the right look). It may seem trivial, but it took me right out of the story every time.

Costume design by Heather C. Jackson was effective overall and she did a great job of capturing Patsy Cline’s look, especially the Western outfits that Cline’s mother made for her early appearances. I’d have liked to have seen a better-fitted costume on Louise, particularly given the several mentions in the script of her clothes fitting like a glove, but her denim-on-denim look was appropriate.

I commend Lighting Designer/Technical Director TJ Lukacsina for rigging up a couple of lighting instruments in the distillery to augment the existing lighting when others might have made do with just the ambient light in the time they had to set up. I know Lukacsina and his work well and I would have liked to have seen his actual design for the show at Sky Stage. While I can’t say that his work at the distillery was a lighting design, per se, I appreciate his effort to elevate the production as best he could given the constraints of time and space.

Sound design by Logan Waters was plagued with issues of balance between the actors and musicians. According to Waters’ bio, his background is in design for a concert setting. I am hopeful that Waters will continue to learn and grow as a theatre technician, but, for this production, I missed almost every bit of underscored dialogue, as well as much of the vocals sung in a lower register (hugely problematic in a show about a famous contralto).

Music Director Marci Shegogue has assembled an excellent music team for the production and Walter “Bobby” McCoy did a great job subbing in as conductor and keys the night I attended. McCoy and the rest of the band – Jimi Cupino (Guitar), Buddy Griffin (Pedal Steel), Justin Thomas (Drums), Andrew Nixon (Fiddle), and Ben Rikhoff (Bass) – were largely enjoyable throughout.

Christine Mosere as Louise Seger and Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

Always…Patsy Cline is a 2-woman show and is distinctly challenging in that both of the “characters” were real people – one of whom had one of the most recognizable voices in music history. It takes time for an actor to find a character and even more time to embody a real, recognizable person. It takes time to build relationships between actors and enable them to portray an immediate connection and enduring friendship on stage. It takes time to know a story well enough to break the fourth wall and tell it directly to an audience as if it’s your own. The Free Range Human’s model of an almost impossibly short rehearsal period may have worked against them this time around.

As Louise Seger, Christine Mosere becomes the narrator of the story when she should be the storyteller – a subtle distinction, but an important one. Nearly the entire plot, as it were, of the play consists of Mosere telling the audience perhaps the biggest story of Louise’s life: the night she met and befriended Patsy Cline. This is a story that Louise probably told to anyone who would listen until the words came as easily as breathing. While Mosere is funny and larger than life as Louise, much of her storytelling feels awkward and forced and she doesn’t seem quite settled into the material. Honestly, it’s a bit difficult to critique because, if she had been doing a one-woman show or a standup routine, I probably would have loved her. But in the context of this show, her performance made it difficult for me to believe the story and, therefore, believe the connection between the two women.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

Shelly Lynn Walsh was vocally on point as Patsy Cline. Despite false starts on a couple of numbers, Walsh captured Cline’s unique voice and style to a tee and powered through a remarkable 27 songs. I appreciate that she embodied Cline’s vocal stylings without coming off as an impersonator – although I equally appreciate the attention to detail on the more well-known songs, especially Crazy. For all the crowd-pleasing numbers in the show, I have to say that my absolute favorite was If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child), offered as a prayer from a homesick Cline. I don’t tend to like when jukebox musicals shoehorn songs into the plot, but I actually preferred Walsh’s performance during those moments over the numbers where Patsy was performing on stage, television, or radio, as Walsh seemed more invested in those scenes. For as fantastic as Walsh’s musical performance was, the storytelling was lacking for her, as well, particularly in relation to Mosere’s Louise. I simply did not believe the connection and friendship between the two, which is the heart of the entire show.

Taken individually, the performances in Free Range Human’s production of Always…Patsy Cline are each enjoyable in their own right. Christine Mosere is sassy and funny as Louise Seger. Shelly Lynn Walsh is a musical knockout as Patsy Cline. This is, overall, a decent production – it’s just not a complete one and it’s not the level I expected from this team. I am hopeful that the actors will settle in and find a connection as the run continues, and that the production team will work out the few snags they had. Free Range Humans is definitely a company to keep your eye on and I truly can’t wait to see what they do next.

Always… Patsy Cline (a Free Range Humans production) will play through September 2 at Sky Stage, 59 S. Carrol Street, Frederick, MD. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online.
Additional performances will be held September 13-16 at the BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown, MD. tickets may be purchased at the door or online.

Review: Big Fish at Silhouette Stages

By Yosef Kuperman

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one Intermission.

If you’ve ever wanted to be someone you’re not or wanted to do things you think you can’t do, usually, you make up big beautiful stories in your head, to help you, to get you by, or just to take yourself away for just awhile. In Silhouette Stages latest offering, Big Fish, with Book by John August and Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa, Directed by TJ Lukacsina, with Music Direction by Michael Tan, and Choreography by Rikki Lacewell – this is exactly the case. This 2013 Broadway musical adaptation of a 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace and 2003 film of the same name.

Don’t be put off by this being an adaption. You don’t need to know the Big Fish movie or novel to get this show and still enjoy it. I think I saw the movie once, but can’t remember anything besides the name. I hadn’t realized a book existed until I Googled it, but that didn’t matter. John August and Andrew Lippa did their job so well that you don’t need to be familiar with the source material.

(l-r) Christa Kronser, Missy Spangler, Samuel Greenslit, John Machovec, Luis Matty Montes, Drew Sharpe, Emily Machovec, Emily Alvarado, Emily Mudd. Credit: JOhn Cholod

Briefly, Big Fish concerns itself with Edward Bloom, who is a dying old man who tells improbable self-aggrandizing comical stories to his son, Will Bloom. Will finds this habit aggravating as his is a reporter interested in the historic truth and what actually happened. He responds to his father’s fatal diagnosis by digging into his father’s past, looking for historic truth amid the lies. He eventually discovers his dad has anti-skeletons in his closet including the fact he helped his neighbors rebuild after a flood. This leads him to accept his dad’s use of exaggeration and story telling to avoid talking about painful subjects.

This story is a good drama. You feel the conflict between father and son, the bitterness it causes, and the catharsis.

Emily Mudd, Luis Matty Montes. Credit: John Cholod

Putting it on the table, I’m a brand new reviewer, trying something new. I just see a lot of shows so I figured I’d try my hand at reviewing. I don’t play an instrument, build sets, or act. I just watch lots of plays. So umm… The Set Design by Alex Porter looked cool and the live orchestra and cast sounded great. The performers sang and moved well, including Luis Montes as Edward Bloom, Michael Nugent as Will Bloom, and Emily Mudd as Sandra Bloom, the little dysfunctional family. Nothing broke, the lights came on when they were supposed to, so, when all is said and done, the production value is top notch, but I love theater for the story telling, so I’ll focus on that.

Big Fish balances between being funny and being serious and, in the process, it tells a story about the power and purpose of the stories people tell about themselves.

(l-r) Luis Matty Montes, Samuel Greenslit. Credit: John Cholod

As the story of Big Fish progresses, Will finds a series of stories Edward tells about himself. These are exaggerated tall tales are funny, nonsensical, and increasingly fictional and are presented to the audience in scenes and musical numbers. For instance, Edward says he learns of his demise from a Witch (Emily Alvarado), takes up with a giant named Karl (Nick Rose), learns how to swim from a mermaid (Emily Mahovec), discovers his circus boss, Amos (Richard Greenslit) is a werewolf, and gets shot out of a cannon, among other situations.

These stories are good comedy. They’re feel good, funny, and well delivered and they blend in smoothly with the frame story’s heavier material.

For its conclusion, Big Fish ties the stories together and, finally, Will discovers the truth. His father is hiding a disappointed former sweetheart, Jenny Hill (Christa Kronser). He makes peace with his father’s casual approach to historic fact. We assume the tall tales are false. Then Karl the Giant shows up at the funeral. So what if anything was true?

Big Fish asks, “Who cares what the actual truth is?” Big Fish asks. The now enlightened Will embraces exaggeration, tall tales, and myth as modes of communication. The historic truth is no longer the only truth he cares about.

(l-r) Emily Machovec, Christa Kronser, Emily Alvarado, Luis Matty Montes, Grace La Count. Credit: John Cholod

However, there’s another story that Silhouette Stages could have told and didn’t – a dark reflection of the cheerful and upbeat production they actually staged. One might also see Big Fish as a story about the alluring power of fake news. Here’s another equally true reading:

Edward Bloom has a reckless disregard for historic facts. He tells so many tall tales that maybe he doesn’t know or remember the “real truth”. He definitely doesn’t care and he just tells the story that matters to him. His son, a reporter, finds this infuriating. When Edward gets his fatal diagnosis, Will’s investigative reporting leads him to a witness, Jenny Hill, Edward’s allegedly jilted high school sweetheart. Jenny tells Will about how awesome his lying father really is.

Well… does Jenny tell the son the historic truth? Her story sounds like fake news. Did Edward really buy his high school sweetheart a house to sooth her broken heart? Oh, come on! Will suspects an affair and that sounds way more probable than the Jenny’s version. She even suggests she doesn’t want to ruin Will’s image of his father before telling him a transparent whopper.

(l-r) Michael Nugent, Missy Spangler, Emily Mudd, Luis Matty Montes. Credit: John Cholod

But Will accepts the tall-tale about how his dad magically moved a town without anyone posting it on the internet (Will’s smartphone actually gets used a few times as a prop and he’s got Google installed). Why? Because Will realizes that the lies let everyone get along better. He could confront his dying father and his grieving mother with the affair. But why? The truth will make everyone miserable, not free. So he says nothing and humors his dying father, like a normal well-adjusted human. The story then shows us that Edward Bloom really had a very big friend named Karl. Fact and fiction have blended and the audience can no longer tell the true story from the tall tales,  or fact from fiction. In the final scene, we see the reporter son has abandoned his dream of teaching his son to crave and search for truth and instead embraces telling tall tales to keep people happy. That’s #2018 for you.

(l-r) Richard Greenslit, Emily Machovec, Emily Mudd, Grace La Count. Credit: John Cholod

Now, Silhouette Stages and TJ Lukacsina didn’t go there and, considering the production’s superb, I’ll write that down as a good call! But you can see this darker story peaking out over the wooden stage fencing around the live orchestra’s box on stage.

Regardless of how you see this story, if you’re familiar with it or not, Silhouette Stages has put together an entertaining, well produced production that shouldn’t be missed this season! You won’t be disappointed!

Big Fish will run through May 27 at Silhouette Stages, Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call 410-637-5289 or purchase them 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.