The Baltimore Theatre Collective is Spooking it up with the Creepy-Kooky Cabaret!

TWO NIGHTS ONLY!

Tonight, November 14 and tomorrow, November 15, The Baltimore Theatre Collective (previously known as The Purple Light Theatre Company) opens its season with The Creepy-Kooky Cabaret, featuring local talent performing frightfully fun songs that just give us a little reminder that the spooky season is still upon us!

Creepy-Kooky Cabaret performers. Photo: Rachel Sandler

The Creepy-Kooky Cabaret will feature Caitlin Grant, Lindsey Litka, Heather Moe, Jim Baxter, Zach Husak, & Tommy Malek with music direction by Rachel Sandler and accompanied by a live band. Selections will include numbers from Beetlejuice the Musical, Young Frankenstein, The Toxic Avenger, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Rocky Horror Show… plus many more.

Tickets are available online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4429978.

There are two ticketing options: $18.00 General and $28.00 General + Libations (includes TWO complimentary adult beverages – house red or white wine and beer)

The Creepy-Kooky Cabaret will play at Genesis Arts, LLC, 9194 Red Branch Road, Columbia MD. The show begins at 8:00 PM.

For more information, drop by The Baltimore Theatre Collective’s Facebook page here!

Life is a Cabaret at Silhouette Stages with Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret!

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

What good is sitting alone in your room? Come here the music play… at Silhouette Stages for their latest offering, Cabaret with a book by Joe Masteroff, Music by John Kander, and Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Directed by Stephen Foreman, with Music Direction by Michael Tan, and Choreography by Amie Bell. Whether your familiar with the original theatrical treatment or the film (which is way different), you’ll enjoy your time with these crazy but deep characters as they find their way through the beginnings of the Nazi regime in 1930s Berlin.

Tommy Malek as The Emcee with the Kit Kat Boys and Girls (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Cabaret, in short, concerns itself with Cliff Bradshaw, a young American man trying to find his footing in the world and has traveled to write. Questioning his sexuality and finding himself in a world of sketchy nightclubs and meetups, he finds himself sharing a room with Sally Bowles, a young, eccentric club performer originally from England. While he represents the ordinary, she represents the extraordinary and through song and dance, along with the mysterious Emcee of the Kit Kat club, they work their way through issues of antisemitism, sexuality, and living in the moment that is quite relevant in the world we live in today.

Stephen Foreman and Alex Porter have opted for a minimal Set Design, which works well with this production. The pit orchestra is incorporated into the set high above the action and two simple platforms and three doors make up the rest of the set and it’s a fantastic, practical design. The attention to detail is on point and the audience is transported to the different locations with various set pieces and props that are well chosen and bring the scenes together. My one (and only) complaint, if it can be called that, because it’s not a big deal, is the original German spelling of “Kabarett.” Thought I appreciate the authenticity and the idea, someone on the design team must think they’re very clever and it’s a bit high-brow for my tastes. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple. That aside, however, the overall Set Design is quite appropriate and well-fitting of this production and I give major kudos to Foreman and Porter for their efforts.

Tommy Malek as The Emcee (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina and Sound Design by Ben Kinder blend in nicely and add to rather than hinder the action going on up on the stage. Lukacsina separates the dark, seething nightclub scenes from the bright, daytime scenes nicely, giving us a great contrast in location and mood. There are no major sound issues, so Kinder has done his job in amplifying the cast and adding in the appropriate sound effects when needed. Both Lukacsina and Kinder are to be commended for their work on this production.

Period pieces are always challenging for wardrobe but Costume Design by Clare Kneebone and Tommy Malek knock it out of the park. They are spot on with their design, transporting us back to the 1930s with the fashions and styles of the era matched to a tee. From the day-wear to the slinky bustiers and heels, this Costume Design is spot on.

Megan Mostow as Sally Bowles with the Kit Kat Boys and Girls (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Cabaret is one of those shows where not only the songs are well-known, but there’s a certain amount of importance put on the dancing, and this, too, can be challenging. Though Choreography by Amie Bell is pleasant to watch and works well with the production as a whole, it seems a little uninspiring, at times. That’s not to say it’s not good, because it is very good, but in certain points, just doesn’t have the “oomph” I’d like to see. Now, this very well could be on the ensemble and not Bell’s choreography, but it all has to go hand in hand. I reiterate, it is good choreography. It’s tight and well-rehearsed, so, not all is lost. Bell has a tight comprehension on what the numbers are about and the movement is appropriate

Linda Roby as Fraulein Kost (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

making for a wonderful showing on her part.

Music Direction by Michael Tan is absolutely on point. All of the numbers are well sung and emote the feelings of each song. He has a good grasp of the material and has directed this ensemble to fun, poignant, and strong performances. The small orchestra consisting of Michael Tan (conductor/keyboard), Tina James (Reed 1), Mari Hill (Reed 2), Tony Neenan (Trumpet), Mike Allman (Trombone), Jeff Eckert (Bass), and Billy Georg (Drums) rocks the house and are well-rehearsed, sounding as clear and polished as a recording. I tip my hat to this stellar pit ensemble.

Direction by Stephen Foreman has put together a polished, meaningful production and certainly has a strong comprehension of the text. His casting is superb and his staging is smooth making the action and dialogue easy to follow. Pacing at the performance I saw was dragging a little, but it didn’t stop the exquisite performances. His characters are fleshed out and his vision is clear making for a brilliant production, overall.

Pamela Northrup as Fraulein Schneider (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

It’s worth mentioning that it’s clear to this reviewer that the ensemble are a tight bunch. They work well with and off of each other making for authentic and precise performances. The Kit Kat Girls and Boys, consisting of Felicia Howard, Briana Arielle Downs, Katie Jones, Miranda Austin Tharp, Linda Michele, Lauren Romano, Angel Duque, Chris Weaver, Rew Garner and Nick Carter, all give strong and natural performances, taking this production to the next level. I’ve always believed if you have a strong ensemble, aside from the main characters, you have a strong show, and this production proves my point with this amazing, dedicated ensemble.

Megan Mostow as Sally Bowles and Seth Fallon as Clifford Bradshaw (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

To mention a few main characters, Pamela Northrup as Fraulein Schneider and Christopher Kabara as Herr Schultz, Linda Michele as Fraulein Kost make up the owner and a couple residents of the boarding house in which some of the story takes place. Northup fits well into her character and her portrayal is heart-felt and she emotes the exhaustion and worry of this character, as well as her softer side. Vocally, Northup may not be the strongest performer, but she carries her songs well, such as “So What?” and “It Couldn’t Please Me More.” Kabara, too, portrays his character quite well, though, he struck me as someone more modern rather than a 1930s fruit seller, he still manages to play this character well and seems to understand the trials and tribulations this character is going through at the time. He shines in his featured vocal numbers like “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married.” Michele, playing double duty as a Kit Kat Girl, also manages to portray a believable young German girl trying to get by in 1930s Germany, using what she’s got (her body) to make a living. Michele has great chemistry with her fellow cast mates and knows her character well giving a strong, confident performance.

Seth Fallon takes on the role of Clifford Bradshaw, the young American writer, and Brad Davis portrays Ernst Ludwig, a loyal German who shows initial kindness to Cliff. Davis plays his role beautifully even though it’s a darker character. Davis’ courage to play such a character in this uber-politically correct theatre landscape these days is commendable and he plays this supporting character well. Seth Fallon has an absolutely beautiful, soothing bari-tenor voice that saturates the theatre in the small singing parts his character has, and it makes me want to hear more. His portrayal of Cliff, however, falls a little flat. He seems to have a good grasp of this character and what he’s going through, but his performance is a bit scripted and unnatural at times. He just needs to loosen up a bit and he’ll hit the nail on the head! His chemistry with his cast mates is very good, but could be a bit more, especially with Megan Mostow, who plays the fun-loving and free Sally Bowels. Overall, he gives a good, confident performance and is, for the most part, confident in the character.

Megan Mostow as Sally Bowles (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Speaking of Megan Mostow as Sally Bowles, let’s get into the highlights of this production. She  and Tommy Malek as the Emcee are the hands-down standouts in this production. Starting with Malek, though I’m not 100% onboard with his take on the Emcee (which very well could have been a directorial choice, it’s hard to tell sometimes) I still enjoyed his performance. I envision the Emcee to be an asexual, slithering, lurking character, who’s always in the shadows in the background, but I didn’t get that with this character. Not to say that it was wrong, because there is no denying Malek gave 100% effort and plays this character to the hilt. Though I like my Emcee to be different, that’s not to say I was not entertained and invested in Malek’s take. He took this role and hit the ground running. He has a great comprehension of this sleazy night club entertainer, who might have a big heart underneath all the makeup and sleaze, and he embodies him fully. He’s comfortable in the role and it helps to bring him to life. Vocally, Malek gives an impressive performance, especially in his featured numbers such as “Wilkommen,” which opens the entire show and sets the mood nicely, the high-energy, pulsating “The Money Song,” and the cute, “If You Could See Her,” all come off nicely with a tight performance from Malek. Overall, he gives a strong, praise-worthy performance that isn’t to missed.

Finally, we get to the iridescent Mostow, who has a deep and clear understanding of her character and, oh brother, does it show. She completely embodies this character and makes it her own. Vocally, Mostow is a powerhouse. She’s not belting and screeching through her songs, but using her amazing lower register and seemingly effortlessly sings through each other featured numbers as I get lost in her tone. She plays the fun and flirty “Don’t Tell Mama” with just as much feeling and enthusiasm as “Maybe This Time” down to the stellar performance of the ever popular “Cabaret”. Mostow truly becomes this character showing she’s done her homework and knows who this character I giving a strong, confident performance. Hats off and a heartfelt kudos to Mostow for a job very well done. You don’t want to miss her in this role.

Final thought… Cabaret is not a production you want to miss this season. It’s well put-together and each and every ensemble member gives 100% dedication and effort. The musical numbers are tight and engaging, performed by a top-notch cast. Whether you’re familiar with the piece or not, you will be entertained and maybe even learn a little something about compassion and acceptance along the way. It’s relevant to today’s goings on and it’s a relatable story to get into. Get your tickets now and come to the Cabaret, old chum! Life is a cabaret!

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

Cabaret will play through March 24 at Silhouette Stages10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: What’s the Buzz at the The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore?

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission

Growing up is difficult – there is no way around it, and it’s even more difficult for kids who realize they have something special about them, when their peers don’t. A lot of kids who compete in spelling bees across the nation probably feel this way. Some of us have a knack for spelling while others have a more, shall we say, challenging time, and sometimes, kids who are able to spell well are looked at differently by their contemporaries. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s (ASoB) latest production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, with Music & Lyrics by William Finn, and a Book by Rachel Sheinkin from a story conceived by Rebecca Feldman, gives us a peek into this world of spelling bees with a humorous, but poignant and authentic presentation to which we can relate in some way or another. This production is Directed and Choreographed by Atticus Boidy with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler.

In a nutshell, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee concerns itself with the trials and tribulations of 6 kids who happen to be great spellers, a former champion who revels in the bee, an unexpected comfort counselor out on parole, and a high-strung, odd vice-principal who all learn a little about themselves in the duration of an afternoon at a spelling bee.

The Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore.

The first thing you’ll notice in this production are the A-MAZING voices of this ensemble. Under the direction of Rachel Sandler, who has done a splendid job with this production, this ensemble is strong, tight in their harmonies and most give unforgettable performances. Even with recorded music instead of a live band, it’s easy to forget because of the phenomenal vocal work going on up on the stage.

Set Design by Atticus Cooper Boidy has got to be the cleanest, and most well thought-out design I’ve seen at ASoB. The space is intimate but Boidy has managed to use it wisely and transport the audience to an elementary school gymnasium without going overboard. It’s simple, precise, and appropriate for this piece.

Direction, also by Atticus Cooper Boidy, is interesting. He’s decided to change the look of the characters up a bit, which is refreshing, but in a way takes away from the original feel of the piece. His staging is a little clunky, which is a challenge when actors are playing more than one character, but because the actors are so apt, the staging that is slightly off, is pulled off nicely by them. Along with staging, Boidy puts on the hat of Choreographer, but, it seems he may have been spreading himself too thin and it’s the choreography that suffers the most. It’s a bit uninspiring, but this show isn’t about the choreography, it’d definitely not a show in which the choreography has to be stellar, but in this particular production, there are problems. It just seems haphazard, as if it were thrown together last minute, but again, the ensemble comes to the rescue with their performance and are bale to muddle through with what they have to work with and make it look good.

I’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint any standout performance in this production as they were all brilliant! There are a couple of performances that could have used some work, however, including Scott Sanders who takes on the role of Vice-Principal Douglas Panch. Sanders’ portrayal is a bit dry and stiff, but he pulls off the role nicely, though his comedic timing could use some work. The actor taking on this character has to be top-notch as it’s an acting role with no featured musical number to back it up. Again, Sanders does well, and I’m thinking he’ll grow into his character throughout the run of the production.

Ashley Gerhardt is on point with her portrayal of Rona Lisa Peretti and casting couldn’t have been better. Her vocal prowess is splendid and her character work is superb. Her renditions of “My Favorite Moment of the Bee” and the poignant “The I Love You Song” (in which she takes on the role of a spellers mother) are absolutely beautiful and makes for a strong performance all-round.

Mitch Mahoney, the out-on-parole Comfort Counselor is played by Jim Gerhardt, who takes this role and makes it his own. He has a good grasp on this character and plays him with the right amount of toughness and under-the-surface compassion – a blend that makes for a great character to play. Vocally, Gerhardt is in top form and his performance of “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” is inspiring.

When it comes to the kids in the bee (played by adults, of course, adding to the hilarity), all of these actors are spot on. Max Wolfe, being the youngest actor in the ensemble is a little scripted and unnatural in his role as Chip Tolentino, the Boy Scout who was last year’s champion, and he seems to be trying too hard to portray a child. Vocally, he seems to understand his songs like the hilarious “My Unfortunate Erection (Chip’s Lament)” but he pushes a bit hard to get the tune that might be a little out of his range out and it looks like he’s uncomfortable with the song, but… he does give it 100% and gives a good showing, keeps up nicely with the more experienced ensemble members.

Amy Haynes Rapnicki takes on the role of the uptight, youngest contestant, Logainne Schwartzandgrunenierre, and Matt Wetzel, an impressive character actor, tackles the role of the gentle, slightly-off Leaf Coneybear. Rapnicki is a trip as this character and she has a very good comprehension of this character and plays her appropriately. Using an over-exaggerated lisp for the character, she still manages to get her lines out clearly and her delivery is spot on. Vocally, Rapnicki is a powerhouse and not only belts out her featured number “Woe is Me,” but also knows how to act the song making for a delightful performance. Along with Rapnicki, Wetzel takes on a character that requires delicate handling and he does it flawlessly. His portrayal of a young man who has to wear a helmet, for reasons unknown to us, is warm and charming. He knows this character and embodies him and all his gentleness and innocence. His featured number, the funny and pleasant “I’m Not That Smart” is a joy to experience.

Olive Ostrovsky, the quiet, abandoned little girl, is played by Caitlin Grant and the straight-forward, obnoxious William Barfee is played by Tommy Malek. Both of these actors couldn’t have been casted better. Their chemistry is effortless and their portrayal of these characters are near perfect. Grant understands the turmoil of her character and her relationship with her absent parents and, though Olive is more the “straight-man” in this comedy, she plays the role well, holding her own against the comedy. Her vocal performance is notable, especially of the sad, haunting “The I Love You Song” and her impressive rendition of “My Friend, the Dictionary,” which kind of explains this character and why she does what she does. Malek, plays William Barfee just right. This character could be easy to over-play, and I’ve seen a few actors do it, but Malek keeps it natural while not losing the comedy of this character, which is a feat in itself. His vocal renditions of “Magic Foot” is humorous, but precise and his take on “Second” is controlled and direct making for an all-round strong and confident performance.

Lindsey Litka, who takes on the role of the stead-fast, monotone Marcy Park, is one to watch in this production. Litka’s look for this character is a bit different, but it doesn’t affect her performance in the least. She seems to have a deep comprehension of this character and she plays her to the hilt. Without much emoting of feelings, Litka is impressively able to portray this character in a way that we, the audience, feel the chaos that’s just under the surface. Vocally, Litka is a definite power-house and there are no-holds-barred when she belts out a tune that makes the entire theatre take notice. Her performance of “I Speak Six Languages” is phenomenal (all while dancing and running around across the stage), and she is even noticeable in the ensemble numbers, but not so much that it takes away from any number.

Final thought…The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is one of the best, if not the best production I’ve seen at this company. The cast is top-notch and filled with new folks not regularly seen on the ASoB stage which adds to the freshness of the experience. The set is precise and appropriate, using the space wisely, and the staging is engaging making for an all-round great theatrical experience. The story alone is a great story but this ensemble really takes this material and performs it exquisitely making the characters their own and breathing new life into an often produced show. You really don’t want to miss this production. Get your tickets now.

This is what I thought of Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s 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 March 17 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: The Addams Family at Silhouette Stages

By Yosef Kuperman

Approx. Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

The cast of The Addams Family. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

The Addams Family is a 2010 musical adaption by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elise, and Andrew Lippa of the venerable media property of the same name. As Silhouette Stages latest offering, Directed and Choreographed by Tommy Malek, with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler, it pays enough homage to the original to please the many fans snapping along with the theme song, but also remains open enough for the uninitiated to enjoy.

Expect the trappings of the modern musical genre: fast music, energetic choreography, one-liners interspersed into the dialogue, predictable crescendos in the songs, and some cracks in the fourth wall. But also expect an authentic entry in the Addams Family universe. I’m only loosely familiar with the characters, but I didn’t need a score card to recognize anyone.

(l-r) Heather Moe as Wednesday, Caitlin Grant as Grandma Addams, Vincent Musgrave as Gomez, Michael M. Crooke as Fester, and Santina Maiolatesi as Morticia. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

Silhouette Stage’s production values are up to snuff. Set Coordinator Becca Hanauer and Scenic Artist Jessie Krupkin have built a two-level stage that doubles (with different dressings) as the family crypt and the front room of the Adams house. These set changes don’t delay the show because they create scenes set outside those areas in front of the curtain, allowing seamless (at least from the audience perspective) transitions. (Central Park, for example, is outside the curtain.) The two levels allow the performers (including a ten-person ensemble dance team done up as Addams family ghosts) the space to create the show’s dance numbers.

Heather Moe as Wednesday Addams. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

All of the actors gave superb performances. Heather Moe’s Wednesday captures her character’s introversion and expressive-nonexpressiveness. Vincent Musgrave’s Gomez appears genuinely caught between his daughter and his wife. Sammy Greenslit, the kid who played Pugsley on opening night, not only captured his character’s fear of losing his sister but also carried his songs beautifully. I could go on, but with such a large ensemble and featured characters, I’d just like to make it clear that every actor on the stage gave 100% effort and added great value to the production, as a whole. Kudos to the entire cast!

Okay. Now the fun part… the script/story, itself.

I can imagine a lot of stories you could tell in The Addams Family. The writers chose to tell a romantic comedy. By scene 2, I expected a meet-the-parents romcom that turns on a scandalous/unacceptable/unexpected romantic partner. Fester (Michael Crook) literally enters in Scene 2, breaks the fourth wall, and explains the plot directly to the audience, thereby setting expectations.) But this isn’t a normal romcom. Instead of focusing on the people getting married, the play’s main character is Gomez. He’s a middle-aged father seeing his daughter Wednesday growing up and keeping his marriage with Morticia (Santina Maiolatesi) alive. The show then (in a super meta twist) closes with a conventional romcom ending. Everyone leaves happy in a world famous for embracing the macabre and depressing.

Michael M. Crooke as Fester and Ensemble. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

The Addams Family argues that the root of its character’s problem is their futile attempts to be normal, attempts that fail because nobody is really normal. The Addams refer to themselves as “crazy” and Wednesday’s fiancé Lucas’s (Drew Sharpe) family as “normal.” Lucas’s family is “normal” because they’re from the “real America.” (“Real America” is apparently not in New York City but rather in Ohio…) The two families spend the first act trying to convince the other family that they’re totally 100% normal Americans. But neither family is actually normal in any conventional sense of the word. Lucas in fact spends as much time trying to get his family to pretend to be “normal” as Wednesday spends lobbying hers.

In this universe of oddballs, normality becomes a shared illusion. Everyone knows the basic script and tries to perform it. Both Lucas and Wednesday make their families pretend to be normal. They think everything will go smoothly if they can just fool the other side for an evening. Neither side succeeds. But this mutual attempt at deception generates conflict only resolved by the characters embracing the unique “crazy” in each of them. The conformist desire for normality in fact caused the problems the characters thought their quest for normality would solve.

Drew Sharpe as Lucas, Ashley Gerhardt as Alice, and Richard Greenslit as Mal. Credit: Jeremy Goldman

Is this script perfect? I thought the plot suffers from a lack of focus. This show has four romantic plots running through it, plus other Addams family dynamics. This leaves some plot decisions rushed. There’s so much story that the show does not have time to develop everything as much as I would’ve liked but I’d like to make it clear this is not a production problem, just a script problem.

Like a few other modern Broadway shows, the Addams family has multiple versions. Silhouette Stages is producing the revised “Touring” version and, judging by my research, there are significant change from the original cast album. The original apparently included an assignation with a giant squid. (I am unclear on how that could even fit into the plot and a little scared to ask.) You can hear the original sound track on (at least) Google Play and decide based on that. Overall, however, this is a polished, well put-together production that you don’t want to miss!

This is what I thought of Silhouette Stage’s production of The Addams Family… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Addams Family will run through October 28 at Silhouette Stages, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Silhouette Stages

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Most folks love a good comedy, especially when there’s something familiar and something peculiar and with Silhouette Stages‘ latest offering, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with a Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart and Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, there’s something for everyone! This latest venture is Directed by Conni Ross, with Music Direction by William George and Choreography by Tina deSimone.

Rich Greenslit (Miles Gloriosus) and Bob Gudauskas (Pseudolus). Credit: Russell Woodridge

In a nutshell, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is formatted much in the same way as the ancient Roman farce and, tells the humorous tale of Pseudolus, a slave, and his cunning plans to win his freedom by helping his young and in love master, Hero, get the girl next door, who happens to be a virgin prostitute (or the ancient Roman version of one). Throughout the story we are presented with classic elements of farce with puns, doors slamming, and mistaken identity, of course, as well as a social commentary on social class. Throw a complex but bouncy score by Sondheim and you have a nice satirical evening of theatre.

Alex Porter’s stellar Scenic Design and Set Decoration by Jessie Krupkin and Bill Pond is large and in charge, taking up the entire stage and adding great value to this production. He is wise to choose a unit set, making it easier to move the action along smoothly. Though farce calls for a lot of slamming doors, you won’t find any doors on this set, but it’s okay because, sans doors, the quick entrances and exits are easily made, keeping the momentum up. The Set Decoration and Dressing by Krupkin and Pond is spot on bringing a whimsical feel to the piece, as required. Porter has managed to give us two story structures, as well, which can be tricky when it comes to smaller, community theatres, but the structures seem strong and sturdy and make for a great setting, overall. Krupkin and Pond have a great eye for detail and have created a near perfect comedic rendition of an ancient Roman street including two life-sized Roman sculptures that add great value to the overall design. Porter, Krupkin, and Pond should definitely be applauded for their scenic efforts and execution for this production.

(l-r) Jeff Dunne (Lycus), Matt Scheer (Hysterium), Robert Gudauskas (Pseudolus), and Don Patterson (Senex). Credit: Russell Woodridge

Costume Design by Linda Swann is impeccable and fitting for this production presenting the ancient roman setting but also blending in the modern and humor of each character. Swann uses her modern day resources (t-shirts and sunglasses) and mixes them with the more traditional garb of Roman soldiers and citizens to make for a delightful design. When need be, each character is an individual, as well, and all seem comfortable in his or her wardrobe which adds great value to the production.

Tina deSimone takes on the responsibility of Choreographer for this piece and though the choreography is a bit elementary and basic, it’s still entertaining and the cast seems to have a great time performing it. It’s fitting for the piece and deSimone is obviously familiar with her casts varied movement experience and manages to create numbers that are easily performed by all.

As Music Director, William Georg already had a lot to work with going in because, vocally, this ensemble is quite strong. The use of canned music is a bit offsetting as it seems to bring down the energy, but the cast knows their stuff and Georg has done his job superbly. His cast is in harmony and in tempo in each number and any Sondheim score is a challenge but Georg has definitely risen to this challenge for our listening and toe tapping pleasure.

Conni Trump Ross takes the helm of this production and does a commendable job bringing this story to the stage. There are built in challenges with this piece, one being it’s not only a comedy, but also has many farcical aspects and this is a challenge for any cast and director. The story is presented nicely in a traditional setting and the pacing is fantastic but when it comes to the farce, it falls a little flat. One has to have a strong comprehension of farce to direct it and it needs to be flawless to be effective. The speed in which a farce is supposed to happen, like rapid fire, just isn’t as strong in this production as it could be, but that’s not to say the production isn’t quick and funny, because it certainly was. The casting is spot on and the piece is well rehearsed and Ross seems to have a good grasp of the material and how to present it, making for a very good showing.

(l-r) Bob Gudauskas (Pesudolus) and Todd Hochkeppel (Erronius). Credit: Russell Woodridge

Moving on the to performance aspect of this production, it’s worth mentioning that this ensemble is top notch as a whole, they are well rehearsed and really get the humor in this material. For instance, Todd Hochkeppel takes on the role of Erronius, the poor elderly neighbor who is searching for his kidnapped children through most of the show and makes what really can only be called cameos throughout, but… he makes the most of his short time on stage and is absolutely hilarious as the goofy, seeking old man with brilliant comedic timing and a great presence for this character.

Bob Gudauskas (Pesudolus) and Rich Greenslit (Miles Gloriosus). Credit: Russell Woodridge

Tommy Malek tackles the role of Hero, the lovelorn boy next door to Rachel Sandler’s Philia, the virginal, naïve prostitute next door. Both of these actors have a good understanding of his or her character and though Malek comes off a little lackluster in his scene work in which he is a little too stiff and scripted, he has a booming, smooth vocal performance that is enthralling, especially in his featured numbers such as “Love, I Hear,” “Lovely,” and “Impossible.” Sandler, an accomplished music director in her own right, is a delight as the ditzy, beautiful blond and she plays the role to the hilt with good comedic timing and a lovely voice that rings out throughout the theatre.

Don Patterson portrays Senex, the henpecked, hormone raged patriarch of the House of Senex, and Ande Kolp plays his wife, Domina, the take charge mistress with a strong libido. Patterson does well with this role and portrays Senex appropriately giving him a good blend of obedience to his wife and a wild streak when he sees a young lady he fancies. He has a good sense of comedy but his farce is a little too slow for my liking. However, he starts off one of the funniest numbers in the entire show, “Everybody Ought to have a Maid” and he completely gets and presents the humor of this number beautifully. Vocally, he can hold his own and, through his scene work and chemistry with the rest of the ensemble, makes the character quite lovable.

Kolp, as Domina, has this character down pat and her presence is impressive. She too, gets the humor, taking her character serious enough to present the humor of her. She works well and off of her fellow cast mates and gives admirable and racy (but funny) rendition of “That Dirty Old Man.”

Bob Gudauskas (Pseudolus) with Courtesans Allie Press and Kelly Nguyen. Credit: Russell Woodridge

Bob Gudauskas tackles the quick and fast paced role of Pseudolus and Mat Scheer Matt Scheer takes on the role of Hysterium, the two slaves who, somehow, have to keep everything together throughout the production. Though Scheer gives a good technical performance, there doesn’t seem to be much urgency behind his character, physically. The character’s name alone, Hysterium, puts pictures of a hysterical, on edge, jumpy character in the minds of the audience but I simply don’t get this from Scheer. He plays him a little too subdued making his featured number, “I’m Calm,” a little forced and out of place. However, he does have a great presence onstage, understands the material quite well, and he works well with and off of his fellow actors making for a worthy performance.

As Pseudolus, Gudauskas is supposed to guide the audience through the story and he does his superbly. He has a fantastic presence and does well vocally, but he too is a bit subdued for the role with no urgency. Also, he seems to understand the shtick and farce, but, as mentioned, it is a bit hokey and Gudauskas seems a bit forced and scripted at times. With that being said, vocally, he’s got a strong voice and is confident in his vocal performances, as in the opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” that gets the ball rolling. Overall, he gives a solid, charming performance making him a very likable character.

The definite highlights of this production are Richard Greenslit as Miles Gloriosus and Jeff Dunne as Lycus (is it just me of could these two almost be twins?). They are both hilarious in their respective roles and their comedic timing is on point. Dunne gives an impeccable performance as the sly, greasy, friendly flesh peddler next door and his facial expressions are second to none. His expressive eyes and gestures add great value to this character and to the production as a whole. He seems fearless of making a fool of himself and that’s one of the best characteristics a good comedian can have. He has a good grasp of his character and plays him in a way that is sleazy, but yet, still likable which is tricky, but of no challenge to Dunne. He’s a stronger actor than he is a singer, but he certainly holds his own and shines in his featured numbers like “The House of Lycus,” and “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.” Overall, he gives an outstanding performance and will have you in stitches.

Greenslit, as the manly, egotistical captain in the Roman army plays his part to the hilt and has a large presence with great facial expressions and gestures. Vocally, he’s a powerhouse with a booming baritone that resonates throughout the theatre, especially in his featured numbers such as “”Bring Me My Bride” and “Funeral Sequence.” Funny, confident, and giving a solid comedic performance, Greenslit is certainly one to watch.

(l-r) Bob Gudauskas (Pseudolus) and Rich Greenslit (Miles Gloriosus). Credit: Russell Woodridge

Final thought… A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a fun romp through ancient Rome with catchy Sondheim tunes performed by an able cast of crazy characters. Though the pacing is a bit off at times, especially when it comes to the farce, and some of the humor may be hoky and vaudevillian, but the zany story holds up nicely and is well thought-out. It’s clear that the ensemble gives 100% effort and each actor takes his or her role serious enough to emote the humor and absurdity of each character. It’s fluffy, it’s light, but it takes a certain discipline to pull off a comedy effectively (especially when a Sondheim score is involved) and, for the most part, this production is quite successful and makes for an enjoyable evening of theatre.

This is what I thought of Silhouette Stages’ production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum will play through March 25 at Silhouette Stages, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

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Review: Young Frankenstein at Silhouette Stages – A Monster Hit

By Mark Briner
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In the 2001 Tony season, Mel Brooks made history and swept the evening with a (then) record number of fifteen nominations and a (standing) record of twelve wins including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Direction, and 3 of the four Best Performance awards (only because there was no leading actress role to nominate) with his musical adaptation of his early hit movie The Producers. What better way to follow up the momentum but to announce that Brooks’ next project would be adapting what he considered his personal best movie for the musical stage? Silhouette Stages latest offering, Young Frankenstein, with a Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks, Directed and Choreographed by Tommy Malek, and Musical Direction by Nathan C. Scavilla, couldn’t be anything but a monster hit!
The transition of Young Frankenstein seemed to be problematic in ways his inaugural attempt wasn’t. The project seemed to suffer under the weight of the movie’s success. The Producers was a story about deliberately writing a bad musical for illicit financial gains, and Brooks’ original score of schlocky, borscht belt inspired ditties worked perfectly and added an extra layer of goofy parody onto the material. However in Young Frankenstein, he had to overcome the shadow of an ideal screenplay (inspired by and co-authored with star collaborator Gene Wilder), a virtual perfect scene by scene parody of the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein screen classics, and arguably the most definitive and iconic casting ever achieved in a single film.

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“Life, Life” Credit: Mort Shuman Photography


His movie wasn’t just a success, or merely a film with huge cult following, it stands as one of the most flawless comic experiences ever filmed. Subsequently his 2007 premiere of the musical met with the antithesis of his previous critical glorification. First, a musical should elevate its core material by the addition of music to justify its incarnation. Brooks and Wilder’s original screenplay is already razor sharp in its streamlined execution of both broad and subtle jokes, and a flawless parody of its subject. His music in most instances just slows the plot to a halt. The actors in the movie make maximum efficiency of their screen time with exquisite and unique comic timing, setting up and dropping rapid fire, nonstop jokes with sharpshooter precision, then move onto the next one. Their counterparts in the musical, by contrast nail a punchline, then stop the narrative to sing about it for three minutes.
Secondly, there’s the issue of the music itself. Brooks’ amateurish compositions actually added to the humor of The Producers. But in Young Frankenstein, while there are some numbers that land well like “Together Again (for the First Time)” a comic vaudevillian duet between Frederick Frankenstein and new assistant Igor, and “Transylvania Mania”, a hilarious first act finale number led by Igor to hide the existence of the Monster from the townsfolk who haven’t forgotten history, most stand out (or more accurately, don’t stand out) as what would be considered throwaway numbers in other shows and last minute grabs from the trunk of The Producers‘ leftovers (the New York Post referred to it as a “ho-hummable” score). But the major prohibitive factor facing any production is the fact that if ever a movie was full of definitive performances, this cast with Brooks comic veterans Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Chloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, Gene Hackman, and the incomparable Madeline Kahn define the term “definitive performances”. Every actor in every production sets foot on stage with a Herculean handicap of merely not being their predecessors.
Jeremy Goldman as Dr. Frankenstein and Students. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Jeremy Goldman as Dr. Frankenstein and Students. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography


However, time has been kinder to the piece since 2007.  It no longer lumbers under the umbrella of The Producers, which has not aged well, showing it owes much if its success to its own stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. There is also (stab this reviewer in the neck immediately) a new generation that has not seen the movie and grown theatre kids that know the musical better. And with its original panning and some pretty bad excuses of musicals gracing the New York stage in the last decade, audiences can release their expectations and enjoy the many hilarious moments Brooks provides saluting his film triumph. Fortunately, this distance allows Silhouette Stages audiences to appreciate every entertaining aspect of their valentine to Brooks legacy.
It would normally be unfair and unethical to compare local actors to counterparts from a classic movie, but every audience member who has seen the movie will be doing just that subconsciously, so it is in this case relevant. For those who haven’t (if this pertains to you and you’re still reading–go, watch the movie! NOW!), well those people should be ashamed of themselves and don’t really add anything to this discussion, so, proceeding. Up front, full disclosure, this reviewer is one who counts the movie as one of his all-time favorites, and pretty perfect, with no room for variation and personal interpretation.  It’s Brooks way or fail. Fortunately, the cast and team at Silhouette stage seem to understand this mindset completely and have provided a thoroughly entertaining, full color 3-D fleshed out tribute to all that is sacred in Brooks’ broad comic universe.
Director/choreographer Tommy Malek understands the film and its techniques completely. The movie being a spoof of the original 1930’s Universal classics, he provides preshow ambience by screening movie trailers of films of that era. A slick and unexpected touch is his addition over Brooks’ long and completely unnecessary overture (believe this reviewer, the score is no Gypsy) of a series of filmed still credits for his production, the stars and production team billed in painstakingly perfect sendups of the film credit style of the day, in one stroke transforming the overture from lackluster to highlight. It is obvious early on that Malek has a thorough grasp on not only his original source material, but on how to adapt in into another medium theatrically. The performers are great and game for his hijinks, but for the gullible audience member who thinks that good actors jump on the stage and just bring the performance you see, know full well every performer in this show owes at least half of their success to Malek’s masterful hand saluting physical comedy, vaudevillian shtick, clowning double takes, over the top excess, and the power of the perfect comic pause. He pays ultimate tribute to the style and influence of Brooks at his best, but without imitating. Rather he filters his Brooks-ian homage through a cast of well-tuned instruments and, like the titular Dr. Frankenstein, bestows new energy and life into this potential monster of a show.
Jeremy Goldman, Lindsay Landry, and Matt Wetzel. Credit: Mort Shuman Phogography

Jeremy Goldman, Lindsay Landry, and Matt Wetzel. Credit: Mort Shuman Phogography


And what well-tuned instruments he has at his disposal to create his comic virtuoso symphony. Led by Jeremy Goldman as Frederick, the cast delivers nonstop energy and fully embraces Malek’s comic vision. Goldman, operating under the weight that we have just lost his beloved counterpart Wilder, brings just the right touch of Wilder’s wacky straight man to the table, balancing deadpan pauses with instances of mania. He has the ability to be superior on the brink of arrogant one instant, madly frantic the next, and gently sympathetic the following. He is a perfect foil for all his comic costars to bounce off, while maintaining definite leading man charisma throughout. He generously gives to his fellow performers allowing them to outshine whenever the script calls for it, realizing that in the process, he comes out a stronger lead.
Matt Wetzel as Igor. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Matt Wetzel as Igor. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography


In the story, blundering but endearing assistant Igor steals an abnormal brain, but in the vehicle of Matt Wetzel, he also steals virtually every scene in which he appears. He and Goldman share a breezy stage chemistry rivaling Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. Wetzel has a tight rein on exactly how far to go with the physical bits (to Pittsburgh seems about right), grasping how to shine without outshining. He gives credit to Marty Feldman‘s classic delivery when required (and without Feldman’s built in rubbery facial advantages) but also is capable of displaying his own personal strengths. Provided the bulk of Brooks’ physical comedy, Wetzel (quite literally) throws himself into those moments with relish and endearing flair. He also benefits from being handed the two best songs of the show, his clever faux Vaudevillian duet with Goldman, “Together Again (for the First Time)”, and the first act show stopper “Transylvania Mania” wherein he leads the company in a rousing Charleston attempting, with hilarious vocal riffs, to cover the newly roused Monsters guttural moans. He embraces both as golden opportunities to show his comic strong suit in moments where he is not hampered by Feldman’s shadow.
Lindsay Landry as Inga and Jeremy Goldman as Dr. Frankenstein. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Lindsay Landry as Inga and Jeremy Goldman as Dr. Frankenstein. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography


Lindsay Landry embodies the role of Brook’s stock fantasy Bavarian blonde shiksa goddess, in this case laboratory assistant Inga. Miss Landry makes an impressive entrance in the back of a hay cart and shows off her vocal and comedic skills in a hilariously staged “Roll in the Hay”, a visual Brooks-style ode to her physical attributes, complete with mocked up choreographed horses. The number also gives her a chance to display mad yodeling skills, an opportunity not offered by many modern musicals. Some may consider Brooks handling of his ubiquitous blonde goddesses on the border of sexism these days, but Miss Landry gamely plays with the image and delivers an adept comic sweetness. At some points during her love duet with Frederick, “Listen to Your Heart”, she tends to come on a bit too aggressively (Brooks’ lustful “ingénues” tend to possess a very easy European open sexuality, so healthily ingrained in them that they effortlessly exude sex appeal as freely as they exhale, his standard sleep away camp fantasy of the unassuming blonde shiksa bombshell), but overall she instills Inga with Terri Garr‘s requisite comic grace.
Jean Berard as Frau Brucher. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Jean Berard as Frau Brucher. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography


Jean Berard’s ghoulish housekeeper, Frau Blücher is a physically intimidating spiritual vacuum. Somber, stoic, and eerily devoid of any detectible human emotions, her cohorts (and the audience) share a little of the horses’ uneasiness in her presence. While she starts off slightly over-animated, allowing her voice to show a few too many vocal inflections, by the time delivers her introductory torch song, “He Vas My Boyfriend”, a mock Kurt Weill-ian ode to her unrequited love for Frederick’s grandfather Victor, she delivers it with the physical aplomb of an Amazonian Lotte Lenya. In this number she vocally settles into the rhythms of the character, understanding that Blücher (neigh), like Cloris Leachman‘s interpretation, registers best when delivered vocally deadpan in a Bea Arthur-esque baritone. Fortunately, Berard retains these qualities for the remainder of the show.
Michael Crook as Inspector Kemp and Villagers. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Michael Crook as Inspector Kemp and Villagers. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography


Written by Brooks in the musical to be a dual role, Kenneth Mars‘ resident heavy Inspector Kemp and Gene Hackman‘s sympathetic Blind Hermit were designed to be played by the same actor. Malek makes a decision to cast the roles separately, which fortunately allows Don Patterson a cameo scene to shine as the Hermit. After pleading in song “Please Send Me Someone”, his prayers are answered in the unseen form of the lumbering Monster that he mistakes for a mute. Patterson makes the best of all Brooks’ stock comic bits and instills the Hermit with an appealing humility. Michael M. Crook as Kemp delivers Brook’s stock neo-Nazi antagonist with all the crisp wooden blocking/choreography the physical humor calls for with his missing limbs.
Christopher Kabra as The Monster. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Christopher Kabra as The Monster. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography


As the new Dr. Frankenstein’s latest Monster, Christopher Kabara gets the ultimate anticipatory lead entrance, being introduced just before his break out moment at intermission, and Kabara is worth the wait. Alternately scary and sweet, he lands big laughs as a creature of few words, but several hundred perfectly timed grunts, moans, and wails. Terrifying to the townspeople yet endearing in his quiet scene with the gentle blind man, he scores highest when asked to deliver an unlikely production number in the movie’s ultimate set piece, wisely secured by Brooks to keep intact for the musical, Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. Kabara tap dances (stomps?) and uses his impressive physical stature to the max as we watch him exude momentary childlike exuberance finding the joy of musical theatre, and, like predecessor Peter Boyle, his vocal mangling of the song’s lyrics never get old. He also adeptly turns the table when the story gives him a final twist that displays another side of Kabara’s acting prowess. The only critique of Kabara’s performance is a technical one. His green hued makeup as the Monster is expertly applied and enhances every one of his facial expressions. But the color stops at his jawline and, in lower collared shirts, his human flesh colored neck, a critical anatomical feature in a creature known for bolts and scars there, is visible, as are his pink hands both of which break the illusion he is so perfectly creating. Simply blending the facial color down his neck and under the costume line, as well as a thin tint on the backs of his hands up under the cuffs, would complete the illusion instead of visually distracting from it. Again, this was a final dress rehearsal, and perhaps his time was rushed and this will be easily corrected by opening night.
Ashley Gerhardt as Elizabeth. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Ashley Gerhardt as Elizabeth. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography


The biggest impediment any production of Young Frankenstein faces, including its Broadway incarnation, is the burden placed on any actress to operate in the broad and all-encompassing shadow of the inimitable Madeline Kahn, who defined the role even better than it was written. What does any production do when the legendary Miss Kahn (still sadly missed in the entertainment world) is not available? Fortunately for Malek, he turns to veteran Ashley Gerhardt. Miss Gerhardt wisely avoids imitating Miss Kahn (because no one can ever live up to that), but strikes a perfect delicate balance of interpreting Miss Kahn’s performance through her own unique comic styling. The book also does her character no favors by slowing up her ace comic timing with redundant songs that stall her efforts. However, Miss Gerhardt delivers one after the other with relish and power, especially her final torch song ode to “Deep Love” (yes, it’s Brooks which means it’s as Freudian as it sounds). Miss Gerhardt understands all the comic depths available to her vast resources in the role, and plumbs every last one of them, in the process, like Kahn, walking off with the show under her own comic terms.
A slight disappointment of note to this reviewer, after an exhilarating performance, Miss Gerhardt was denied the crowning moment of her efforts. The character of Elizabeth undergoes a ridiculous journey that inversely parallels that of the Monster, starting out as a spoiled society maven and transforming by story’s end into the literal Bride of Frankenstein (that’s not a spoiler; if you haven’t watched the movie by now it’s your own fault). Brooks, due to the amount of time he had to sacrifice to music added into his book, rushes to an ending, obliterating the movie’s wedding night scenes. Miss Gerhardt was sadly not provided the wig for the final transformation that every fan of the movie is waiting for, and thus does not receive the opportunity to deliver the ultimate joke of her, and the show’s, diligent efforts. However, as stated, this was a final dress rehearsal so, hopefully, that slight has been rectified for everyone’s benefit to give everyone – Miss Gerhardt, Mr. Malek, the show, and the audience – the final comic resolution they all deserve. If it’s a budgetary thing, a very real consideration in community theatre, this reviewer suggests the cast chip in for the director’s gift and, instead of a poster or a T-shirt, purchase the Bride’s wig for everyone’s best interest. It would be the best cast money spent ever.
Jean Berard, Jeremy Goldman, and Lindsay Landry. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography

Jean Berard, Jeremy Goldman, and Lindsay Landry. Credit: Mort Shuman Photography


Technically, the show overall succeeds in producing a mammoth show on a community budget. Costume designer Caroline Jurney assembles a nice variety of period appropriate attire from two continents, with the necessary nod to the iconic looks of the film. Lighting designer Jeremy Mayo conservatively delivers all the appropriate mood lighting with a palette limited by the space. Set and sound designer Alex Porter makes wise use of his space and budget, reserving the bulk of the set for the doctor’s laboratory, with many bells, whistles, switches, and old fashioned lights that provide all the necessary atmosphere. Porter does an admirable job of recreating the essence of it in critical pieces. For all other scenes, he wisely selects a representative piece of scenery–a door, a boarding dock, the requisite trick bookcase–and effectively allows his talented performers to conjure up the negative space. Special note should be paid to the sound.
This production uses studio tracks instead of a live orchestra which is usually a dicey choice, resulting in a flat and uniform sound with no dynamics. But Silhouette Stages is blessed with an apparently superior sound system because the resulting stereo sound features multiple layers, audio positioning, and richness that has been heretofore unheard of in local productions, where sound is virtually always a liability these days.
But amidst all praise, let it be reiterated that despite all the stellar talent gracing the stage, the true star of this show is director Malek. He approaches this piece with the necessary reverence for his source, instills it with a clear vision, and collaborates with talented and willing actors who are game to trust him in coordinating their performances into a successful and loving tribute to one of the most iconic comedies ever filmed.
Young Frankenstein will play through October 30 at Silhouette Stages, Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Ln, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.