Review: Judy and the General at Spotlighters Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Kay-Megan Washington and Kellie Podsednik. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

It seems no matter what time or era, women have always been underestimated, especially in biblical times. Women were supposed to act a certain way, be accepting of everything men threw at them, and docile and obedient. However… there were a few “rouge” women who weren’t having it, whatsoever. One of those women is Judith from the biblical Book of Judith which we don’t hear much about (I wonder why?) but is a great story of strength, faith, and love. Spolighters Theatre latest offering, the World Premiere of Judy and the General, by Baltimore playwright Rosemary Frisino Toohey, Directed and Musically Directed by Michael Tan, presents this epic story in an accessible, humorous telling of this intriguing and important story.

Kellie Podsednik as Judy. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

As stated, we don’t hear much about Judith today but there are representations in paintings, monuments, and song all over the world. Briefly, Judy and the General tells the story of Judith, a young girl who lives in a small farming village with her father and they seem to be on the verge of bankruptcy. She meets the very rich and very tender Manasseh and the two fall madly in love. With her newfound riches, Judith becomes quite a pill for others, especially her maid. Unfortunately, Manasseh keels over soon after and Judith is left alone. Meanwhile, a neighboring Assyrian king wants to take over the land in which the village sits and sends his best general, Holofernes. All the while, Judith has put herself in solitary confinement and has seen the light and wants to be a better person by helping others. The Assyrians and the villagers are at a standoff and Judith realizes she can use her feminine wiles on Holofernes to help her village and be a better, more pious person.

Richard Greenslit as Soldier. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Alan Zemla’s Set Design is minimal but, as always, on point. The space at Spotlighters is intimate and in the round and Zemla knows it like the back of his hand. His use of the entire theatre is wise and opens up the production more than what the stage has to offer. His scenic art work is brilliant and he puts the audience smack dab in the middle of the ancient village and dwellings. Simple set pieces are used to represent locations and allow for smooth transitions. Kudos to Zemla for adding great value to the production.

Wayne Ivusich, Kellie Podsednik, and Rob Wall. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Putting new work out can be frightening, but, someone has to do it and I’m glad those “someones” do. Rosemary Frisino Toohey has given us a strong piece to mull over. Her script is spot on in all aspects including dialogue, structure, and timing. It’s witty, engaging, and tells this epic story in an accessible, witty way that is entertaining and keeps the attention of the audience. My criticism is with the music aspect. It is a musical, so, music is half the deal, but with this particular production, the music just seemed to fall flat. Don’t get me wrong, the songs are simple and sing-able, but you won’t find yourself tapping your foot or humming any of the tunes when you walk out of the theatre. Some might, but most probably won’t. That being said, the music is appropriate for the piece and it yields some cute melodies, but overall, it doesn’t make a deep impression. Toohey’s lyrics may be the biggest problem. At times they are elementary and predictable and might work better as simple dialogue than in a song. Again, that’s not to say the music aspect of this piece is bad, but it’s the weakest, especially up against a strong, intelligent script.

Wayne Ivusich, Rob Wall, and Richard Greenslit. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Michael Tan takes the reigns of both Direction and Music Direction of this piece and he pulls it off flawlessly. His staging works well for the space and the pacing is near perfect. He seems to have a good comprehension of these characters and this story and has presented it clearly to an audience. Directing the first full production of any piece can be daunting, but Tan has stepped up nicely. His Music Direction, too, is top-notch keeping the cast in harmony and in tune while playing along as the lone musician! Tan is to be applauded for his efforts in this well put-together production.

Richard Greenslit as Servant. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, Wayne Ivusich and Richard Greenslit, who play multiple roles are quite an act together. Ivusich gives off such a jovial air, no matter which character he’s playing, making him a delight to watch and it works for all of his characters, including Dad, King, Head Man, and Captain. He has a good grasp on the material and presents it beautifully. Now, Greenslit… I could watch him onstage all day. He could have two lines or ten monologues in a row, it doesn’t matter because of his expressive face, it’s all a joy to watch. He’s a master of the subtle glances and side pantomimes as well as comedic timing which is required for his roles as Workman, Servant, Soldier, and Advisor. Vocally, both of these gentlemen are confident and not only sing their featured numbers, such as “The Guy in Charge” and “The Servent’s Lament, Why Can’t We Switch,” nicely, they also act them out which adds so much to the performance.

Rob Wall as General Holofernes. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Rob Wall takes on the roles of Manasseh and Hologernes; two completely different characters – one being tender, one being hard as nails, and he portrays them both superbly.  His switch between the characters is effortless and he plays them like night and day, which is required, and he does it without a hitch. Vocally, Wall is a pro with a rich, smooth voice that resonates and is filled with emotion making for a strong, confident performance all around, especially in his featured numbers sucha s “April” and “Plunder Pillage, and Loot.”

Tackling the role of Judith (rather, Judy) is a highlight of this production, Kellie Podsednik. She is on point in her portrayal of this complex, driven woman and her gradual change from poor farm girl to pain-in-the-ass rich girl, to the pious woman she ends up being is unbroken. Because of her skill, her character at the end of the piece is completely contrasting with the character at the beginning of the piece which makes her one to watch in this production. Her high, delicate soprano is a perfect fit for this role and she knocks it out of the park, vocally, as in her featured numbers, “Closer to My Heart” and the poignant “Gone Now.”

Kay-Megan Washington as Maid (Narrator). Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

The standout in this piece is Kay-Megan Washington, who portrays Maid (Narrator), though she is called Fallacia, it may not be her actual name, but that’s how it goes when you’re a servant in biblical times, right? Washington gives a confident, effortless performance and is absolutely natural on the stage and with the delivery of her dialogue. She has a deep understanding of this story and her character and it shows in her portrayal. Her vocal skills are strong and makes one take notice, especially in the opening number, “Tale to Tell” and her humorous “A Prayer”. She’s comfortable on stage and gives a strong, confident showing.

Kellie Podsednik as Judy. Credit: Spotlighters Theatre / Shaelyn Jae Photography

Final thought… Judy and the General at Spotlighters Theatre is a fun, lighthearted take on an epic biblical story that is not well known, but should be. The subject matter is relevant and serious but Rosemary Frisino Toohey manages to make it accessible with a witty, humorous, and well-structured script. The score, on the other hand (or beginnings of the score as this is the world premiere), is quaint and, at times, lackluster, but appropriate for this piece. Production value for this particular production is top-notch with well thought-out staging and Music Direction, a minimal but clever Set Design, and superb performances from every member of this small 5-person ensemble. Premieres can be challenging and World Premieres can be downright difficult, but Spotlighters Theatre and everyone involved in this production should be applauded for their efforts and this is certainly a production you want to check out this season.

This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre’s production of Judy and the General… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Judy and the General will play through July 29 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225 or purchase them online.

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Review: Titanic the Musical at Scottfield Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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

Throughout our human history, many tragedies have struck us unawares but some stand out more than others and become legendary. This is just the case with the RMS Titanic in April of 1912. In 1997, the tragedy was brought back to the forefront of the world psyche with James Cameron’s film, Titanic, that mixed history, historical speculation, and fiction to produce one of the bestselling US films to date earning fourteen Academy Awards and garnering eleven of them. Some may know that same year, about 8 months prior, Broadway opened its own version of the story that swept the Tony Awards, earning five Tony nominations and winning all of them! Titanic the Musical with Music & Lyrics by Maury Yeston and Story and Book by Peter Stone is Scottfield Theatre Company’s latest offering. This production is Directed by Al Herlinger with Music Direction by Niki Tart and Rick Hauf and Choreography by Becky Titelman.

Credit: Scottfield Theatre Company

This version of the story of the ill-fated Titanic is also a mix of historical fact and fiction with many subplots of created characters mixed in with portrayals of actual people who were sailing on the ship. Cameos of the most famous and influential people pop up throughout the production including J.J. Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Captain Smith and Crew, and White Star Lines associates Thomas Andrews and J. Bruce Ismay. Curiously, my favorite passenger is omitted from this piece and the notably brash and unsinkable Margaret “Molly’ Brown is nowhere to be found, but I suppose that’s another show in itself. But I digress… sometimes a story can look good on the screen but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work on the stage and Titanic the Musical might fall in that category. It certainly has its flaws such as the music and lyrics tending to get hokey at times and there are too many subplots going on in a couple of hours, but, if carefully presented, the pros outweigh the cons and this is a show that can turn into a commendable production. The story progresses through the maiden voyage of the ship and the goings on throughout each deck, concentrating on class which, for some, was all the difference between life and death in this tale set toward the end of the Gilded Age and entering the Progressive Age.

Scenic Design by Bob Denton is minimal, but this is a wise choice as there’s only so much one can do with a ship setting, but he does use moving flats cleverly and the opening scene, a sunken Titanic that transforms into a brand new ship on her maiden voyage is impressive.

Picking up Costume Design duties is Elizabeth Marion and her design is impeccable. Her attention to detail is impressive as there is a certain distinction between the classes on board and each character is individual which is no small feat when it comes to a period piece of theatre. Marion is to be commended on her Costume Design efforts.

The Cast of Titanic the Musical. Credit: Scottfield Theatre Company

Choreography by Becky Titelman, a co-founder of the company, is minimal as well, but that’s only because this is a ballad driven show with only a few chances for any complex choreography, but in those few moments, Titelman’s choreography is admirable and energized. She seems to know her cast and instead of hindering their talents, her choreography allows them to shine.

This is a music heavy show where the score takes the lead and Music Direction by Niki Tart and Rick Haugh is praiseworthy. I will say some of the songs are trite with hokey lyrics, having the cast sing through scenes that probably work better as a dramatic scene rather than a musical number, but Tart and Hauf have the cast harmonizing and have handled this heavy score quite well. The orchestra, Directed by Hauf, consists of members Enid McClure, Margaret McClure, Andrew McClure, Keiko Myers, Maddie Clifton, and Dan Vaughan and bring the notes on the page to life in a full, lush sound that accompanies this ensemble beautifully.

Pamela Provins and Wayne Ivusich as Isador and Ida Strauss, and Gabe Ward as Bellboy. Credit: Scottfield Theatre Company

Allan Herlinger, a co-founder of Scottfield Theatre Company, stands at the helm of this production and his comprehension of the material is clear and the first act is a series of vignettes concerning the different characters on board and Herlinger emphasizes this to a slight fault, presenting each vignette almost separately breaking up the flow and pacing of the piece. Instead of melding one scene into the next, there are slight breaks and slow the production down a bit. That’s not to say the pacing is off, because it certainly is not. The production still moves along nicely, but could move along better without the slight breaks between the scenes. SPOILER ALERT (if you don’t know the story of the Titanic already) One flaw that stood out for me is the portrayal of the moment the Titanic encounters the ice berg that would seal its fate. Jess Hutchinson, as Frederick Fleet does an admirable job throughout playing various characters, but in this fateful moment, the iconic words, “Ice berg, right ahead!” falls completely flat and the urgency and energy is lost as the second act moves on. Herlinger’s vision seems to get lost along the way, as well, throughout the second act. However, this being said, his efforts are to be applauded as it is always a challenge to take on a piece about a famous, historical event and give it a fresh presentation for a current audience, but Herlinger has done a fine job in doing so.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth stating that this ensemble gives 100% effort and they all work well together. As an ensemble, they bring this poignant, tragic story together superbly and all should be commended for their work.

The Cast of Titanic the Musical. Credit: Scottfield Theatre Company

Some of the characters are important crew members including Sam Ranocchia as Henry Etches, a 1st class valet. Ranocchia is confident in his role but there were times when he seems to take it over the top and the performance becomes stiff. He’s doesn’t give the strongest vocal performance, but he does portray the character quite well. He seems to embody this 1st class valet and makes the most of this time on stage. Two characters that actually keep the ship running are 1st Officer William Murdoch, played by Scott Kukuck and Frederick Barrett, a stoker in the bowels of the ship, played by Charlie Johnson. These two gentlemen have a good comprehension of their character but, unfortunately, their performances fall a little flat. They do an admirable job, but they are both missing a subtle energy that is required of these characters. Johnson takes a “plant and sing” style of portrayal and there are times when Kukuch’s performance seems forced and unnatural, especially the moment his character is at the wheel of Titanci during the collision. Vocally, Charlie Johnson is a powerhouse with a strong tenor that rings throughout the theater and that does make up for the lack of enthusiasm in his portrayal. Along those lines, Scott Kukuch has a confident presence on the stage and is comfortable in his role.

Jesse Hutchinson as Frederick Fleet. Credit: Scottfield Theatre Company

Wireless operator Harold Bride is portrayed by Matthew Tulli and he does an impressive job working with what looks like an actual wireless machine and his featured number “The Proposal/The Night Was Alive,” is performed well, with lots of emotion.

Lisa Rigsby and Donovan Murray tackle the roles of Caroline Neville and Charles Clarke, two secret lovers running away to a fresh start and their characters are important because, historically, many people started new lives in this way – traveling across the ocean and simply starting over. Rigsby and Murray give tender and authentic performances and embody the many folks who were on Titanic, heading for a better life for themselves. They’re poignant moment during “We’ll Meet Tomorrow” is memorable and tugs at the heart, which is exactly what it should do.

Taking on roles of the powers that be on Titanic, Phil Hansel portrays Captain Smith and Matthew Tart takes on the role of  J. Bruce Ismay, President of the White Star Line. Both of these gentlemen give superb performances as these two characters. Hansel not only resembles the real Captain Smith, but carries himself like a leader and gives a natural portrayal. Playing J. Bruce Ismay is a challenge for any actor as this character is seen as the antagonist or villain, whether it’s warranted or not, but Tart plays this character as walking a very fine line between progress and the safety of the passengers. He’s absolutely believable as this character and gives a strong performance.

Elizabeth Marion and Brian Ruff as Alice and Edgar Beane. Credit: Scottfield Theatre Company

A couple of highlights in this particular production are Wayne Ivusich and Pamela Provins as Isador and Ida Strauss. Their story is famous as witnesses state that Ida Strauss wouldn’t leave her husband’s side even though she was repeatedly offered a seat on a lifeboat. Their story is one of a lifetime love and Ivusich and Provins have a great chemistry that make their impressive portrayals authentic and natural and their duet “Still,” can easily bring a tear to your eye or cause your eyes to get watery, at least.

Two more highlights of this production are Brian Ruff and Elizabeth Marion as Edgar and Alice Beane, a second class married couple who are traveling mainly to ease the wanderlust of Mrs. Beane, who wants to see the world and hob-nob with the rich and famous. These two characters, who seem to be complete opposites, work well together and provide some comedy relief to a deep, heavy show. Ruff, who plays the straight man as Edgar Beane, portrays the overwhelmed but patient husband humorously but with realistic flair as he tries to reign in his wife and Marion gives an impeccable performance as the excited, yearning wife who wants more from life than any small town can give her. Marion has great comedic timing and plays the character silly enough to be funny, but serious enough to be moving. Vocally, she does a fantastic job with her featured numbers “The First Class Roster” and the poignant “I Have Danced” and both of these actors add great value to this production as a whole.

Sophia Williams, Isabela Bordner, and Jonathan Cicone. Credit: Scottfield Theatre Company

Two standouts in this production are Isabella Bordner as Kate McGowan and Rob Tucker as Thomas Andrews. Bordner, a senior at C. Miltion Wright High School, is quite impressive as the Irish immigrant, Kate McGowan, who is trying to make it to America to start anew and this young actress has her character and accent down pat. She has a strong, confident presence and is a joy to watch and I’m looking forward to seeing more stage work from this budding actress.

Rob Tucker as Thomas Andrews. Credit: Scottfield Theatre Company

Rob Tucker, who is no stranger to the area stages, takes on the important role of Thomas Andrews, architect of Titanic and the one man who knew every nook, cranny, and bolt on this massive ship. Tucker completely embodies this character and portrays his perpetual worry beautifully. Vocally, Tucker is a dynamo as he belts out his featured numbers, “The Largest Floating Object in the World” and the moving and intense “Mr. Andrews Vision” flawlessly. Both Bordner and Tucker are a joy to watch and are to be commended for their efforts.

Final thought… Titanic the Musical is a poignant telling of the well-known fate of the ship they called the “Ship of Dreams” and though the music is lovely and the performances are admirable, there’s something about this show that doesn’t work. Firstly, the writers are trying to make a horrible event beautiful and, secondly, they seem to try to pack as many stories as they can into a couple of hours, jumping around from sub-plot to sub-plot, affecting the flow of the piece as a whole. As stated, the music is lovely, but there are moments when it is a bit trite and elementary and those moments take away from the soaring harmonies and more complex melodies (that the cast accomplishes quite well) that make a great show. The performance and execution of the show is quite well-done and this ensemble gives 100% effort and I want to make it clear my dislike is with the writing and composition of the show, but… they made it to Broadway, so, what do I know? It is an audience favorite so it’s definitely worth checking out whether you’re a Titanic expert or someone just discovering this legendary ship and its ill-fated journey through the ages.

This is what I thought of Scottfield Theatre Company’s production of Titanic the Musial… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Titanic the Musial will run through April 15 at Scottfield Theatre Company, The Cultural Center at the Opera House, 121 N. Union Avenue, Havre de Grace, MD. For tickets, the box office is open one hour prior to performance but it is strongly encouraged to purchase tickets online.

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Review: Clue the Musical at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

 
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission
You may be familiar with the board game of who killed someone with what and where, or you may be familiar with the 1985 slapstick, farcical, star-studded comedy film with a script I can recite in my sleep. Either way, if you know either of these things, you’re familiar with something known as Clue! And if you’re not, you should be! You can start with Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s latest offering, Clue the Musical (Book by Peter De Pietro and Music by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker, and Vinnie Martucci, with Lyrics by Tom Chiodo), Directed by Nickolas Epps, with Music Direction by Jeff Baker, and Choreography by Temple Forston. It’s worth mentioning, if you are an uber-fan of the film, like I am, you will not see any of that here, but you will see the same zany characters and will be in for an amusing evening of an original story and music that may or may not help you solve this musical murder-mystery!

Hasheem Brin as Mr. Green. Credit: Artistic Synergy


Set Design by Nickolas Epps, Emma Hawthron, and Temple Forston is minimal but suits this production. A few chairs, a makeshift bar, a small desk, a rickety table that I think is supposed to represent a pool table, and a printed backdrop of the layout of the mansion is all that dons the stage and, though a little more effort could have been put into the design, it works well for this piece and the space.
Temple Forston takes on the duties of Choreographer and, this too is minimal. Some box steps and hand gestures make up the majority of the choreography and I’m wondering if the musical numbers would have been better suited to blocking rather than choreography. None of the choreography really stood out but, to her credit, Forston does give the actors simple, but appropriate moves and it blends well with the performance though it could be tightened up a bit.

Rick Long as Colonel Mustard. Credit: Artistic Synergy


Though a Costume Designer is not listed in the program, Epps states in his Director’s Note that along with having the opportunity to direct for the first time, this is also his hand in Costume Design. The costumes, I must say, are top notch and near perfect for each character. Each has his or her own, individual style and the costumes bring these characters to life. From Miss Scarlet’s slinky red dress to Mrs. White’s authentic, traditional maid outfit the costumes are impressive and kudos to Epps for his handy-work.

Wayne Ivusich as Professor Plumb. Credit: Artistic Synergy


Music Director Jeff Baker, a veteran of the Baltimore theatre scene who does great work did seem to have his challenges in this production. First, this production uses canned (recorded) music and it only features the piano. Running through the sound system, it sounds “tinny” at times but the cast does a fantastic job following along. Vocally, the cast does an admirable job with the songs given to them, even if the songs are a bit blasé and elementary (the songs themselves, not the performances of the songs). Harmonies come and go and energy is a bit low but, again, it’s mainly the material and not the performances. Aside from a few missed lyrics, the cast get through the score and Baker did the best he could with the material given to him.

Stacey Cosden as The Detective. Credit: Artistic Synergy


Director Nickolas Epps takes the reigns of this production of Clue the Musical and as a first time director, Epps does a commendable showing and the missteps taken will be ironed out with experience. This particular show doesn’t call for a ton of blocking but there seems to be nil to none in this production. Actors enter, they stand center stage (or elsewhere), recite their lines, and exit. Though one has to pay attention to the dialogue, the scenes fell a bit flat because of lack of movement to make it interesting. The individual character work is good and each actor found his or her own twist on these well-known characters. Transitions were a little messy and the comedic timing is a bit off but those are things that can be fixed as the run moves along. Casting is near perfect and each actor fit nicely and believably into his or her character. I respect Epps for taking on a full-fledged musical as his first foray into directing and I understand it can be overwhelming. However, Epps, with the minor first-time Director stumbles, seems to have handled it well.

Olivia Winter as Miss Scarlet. Credit: Artistic Synergy


It’s always difficult to portray such well-known characters and the characters of Clue the Musical are quite well-known. This is mostly because of the 1987 film and not necessarily the board game, and this makes it even more difficult for an actor. However, the ensemble for this piece is a small one and each and every one of them give 100% to their performances. They are a dedicated bunch and make the most of their characters giving some strong portrayals.
Hasheem Brin takes on the role of the conniving Mr. Green and though he is scripted and seems a little uncomfortable and scripted at times, he gives a respectable performance and Olivia Winter, as Miss Scarlet, definitely has the look and mannerisms down pat. Meanwhile, Stacy Cosden takes on the role of the no-nonsense Detective (a rather new character to the Clue universe), who shows up toward the end of Act I. Cosden is confident and seems to understand her character, giving a commendable performance.
Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum are portrayed by Rick Long and Wayne Ivusich, respectably. These two gentlemen are well cast and completely embody these characters. Long, as Col. Mustard, is committed and rigid, as the character should be and has a great look for the role. Ivusich, as Professor Plumb, wholly becomes this scheming, pretentious gentlemen and his British accent is spot on. Both give delightful performances.

Ashley Gerhardt as Mrs. Peacock. Credit: Artistic Synergy


As the promiscuous Miss Scarlet, Olivia Winter is a perfect match for this character and she gives a strength and confidence to this role. With her slinky red dress, she doesn’t over-do the promiscuity and actually portrays Miss Scarlet with a certain amount of vulnerability making for a lovely portrayal. Ashly Gerhardt tackles the portrayal of my favorite character, Mrs. Peacock. Gerhardt takes this role and runs with it. She’s not trying to be a carbon-copy of the film version of Mrs. Peacock and she adds her own flair which makes for a superb performance. Vocally, Gerhardt is stunning and gives a kick to the rather uninteresting songs as in her featured number, “Once a Widow.”

Ciahna Heck as Mrs. White. Credit: Artistic Synergy


Rounding out the cast is James Gilbert as Mr. Boddy and Ciahna Heck as Mrs. White, two highlights of this production. Gilbert has a great command of the stage and gives a confident and authentic performance as the character who helps the audience along throughout. He could cut some of the adlibbing and asides that break his character and become somewhat annoying, but he has a great grasp of his character and is believable. Vocally, Gilbert has a smooth bass/baritone that resonates throughout the theatre and makes one take notice as in numbers like “The Game” and “The Murder.”

James Gilbert as Mr. Boddy. Credit: Artistic Synergy


Ciahna Heck knocks it out of the ballpark as Mrs. White. Her British/cockney accent is on point and one can tell she’s giving her all for this role. She has a stupendous command of the stage and is very natural making for a superior performance. Along with her character, Heck is a standout, vocally, with a strong soprano (and singing in accent) that is well fitting in her featured song “Life is a Bowl of Pits.”
Overall, the entire ensemble has a good chemistry, allowing them to work well off of each other and with each other making for a pleasing evening of comedy-murder-mystery theatre.
Final thought… Clue the Musical is NOT my favorite show of the season but not because of the performers or performances… just the show itself! It is a humorous and nostalgic presentation of a familiar board game I spent hours playing as a child. However, if you are a fan of the 1985 film (of which I DEFINITELY am), you’ll see the characters have the same names, but you won’t see any of those rib-tickling one liners or crazy characters that made the film a cult classic. Clue the Musical takes these sinister characters and gives them a comical turn with upbeat songs and convoluted situations that leaves the audience scratching their heads until the ultimate reveal at the end of the evening. The script is a bit trite, the canned music is traditional and a bit uninspiring, but the performances are dedicated and quite admirable. I wonder… will you be able to figure out whodunit?
This is what I thought of Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s production of Clue the Musical… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Clue the Musical will play through September 17 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.
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Review: Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

The cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore


There are quite a few shows that are staples in small and community theatre and you will see them pop up weekly in small hamlets and big cities across this great country. Some shows are just so good they never get old and some, well… let’s just say they’re familiar and comfortable. Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s latest offering, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics by Tim Rice, is definitely in the category of never getting old, having been a continued success for nearly five decades. This production, Directed by Mike Zellhofer, with Music Direction by Edward Berlett, Choreogrpahy by Temple Fortson, Set Design by Jordan Hollett, Lighing Design by Jim Shomo, Sound Design by Charles Hirsch, and Costume Design by Lorelei Kahn, shows the ingenuity of a small theatre and manages to put on a well-crafted, fresh production of an old favorite.
The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore


Set Design by Jordan Hollett is far from extravagant and is quite subdued, but a simpler design works for this piece because a Director and Set Designer can create a traditional setting or more whimsical and it will still work. Depending on the theatre and the space, the Set Design for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat can be a spectacle, but Hollet has decided against this and has gone with a couple of panels on either side of the stage with crudely painted Egyptian and desert scenes and a large, blank white canvas that stretches across the back of the stage reflecting the very colorful light show that happens throughout the production. His set pieces such as a very cartoon-y camel (that looked fabulous, but had some technical trouble the day I saw this production) and a bulky “chariot of gold” work well with this production and do not take away from the story but add to it. Overall, Hollett’s work is minimal, but compliments the piece very nicely.
Lighting and Sound Design go hand in hand with this piece and where the set may be simply, Lighting Design by Jim Shomo is nothing short of a spectacle, in a good way. Shomo uses all the colors of the rainbow (at least all the colors mentioned in song) and lights the entire stage up like NYC’s famed night club Studio 54 in its hey-day. With what looked like state of the art equipment, the lighting is top notch. It’s worth mentioning there are a few heavy strobe effects that aren’t mentioned in the program or in the curtain speech, so, consider this a heads up! In general, Shomo has created a well thought-out design that adds great value to this piece.
Sound is always a challenge for a small theatre (especially in unique places such as church basements) but Charles Hirsch tackles this challenge with the resources he has at his disposal. The space at Artistic Synergy is intimate, not small, but intimate and when you throw a full orchestra right next to the audience, there are going to be some balancing issues. However, there weren’t as many as there could have been and the actors who had featured roles had microphones that made their performances easy to hear, so, Hirsch was able to find that balance to make for an enjoyable performance. One thing I will say is that this is a loud show. I mean more so than the usual loud of a live performance with a live orchestra. There are parts of this show that are downright rock-concert loud and in this space, they might want to pull back just a tad, but, overall, it’s a very nice balance.
Wayne Ivusich and Jim Gerhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Wayne Ivusich and Jim Gerhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore


Costume Design Lorelei Kahn is very fitting for this piece and many of the costumes are more of a suggestion of the setting rather than full blown costumes. The design is modern and traditional mixed and all of the actors seem very comfortable and everyone is uniform, which adds to the precise look of the piece. In a hometown homage, Jacob proudly displays his Baltimore Ravens jersey which went over very well with the audience in attendance. Joseph’s 11 brothers have a base costume of jeans, sandals, and different colored button down shirts and it’s a smart move because, for each scene, a costume piece is added or taken away depending on what is going on in the scene. The more traditional costumes, such as Egyptian guards, harem wives, and servants are all simple, but very effective and Kahn’s design is attentive and fitting for this production.
The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Cast of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore


Choreography by Temple Fortson is tight and precise, for the most part, and the cast seems to be comfortable in every dance and, more importantly, they seem to be having a blast, thus, leading to the audience having a blast right along with them. The dances aren’t too complicated that the cast of varying experience can’t handle, but not too simple that they’re simply doing jazz squares in every number. Fortson’s choreography is high energy and full of variety, keeping the story interesting for both the ensemble and the audience, alike. Kudos to Fortson for her work on this piece.
Music Direction by Edward Berlett is superb as this ensemble and featured performers sounded well-rehearsed and confident in each number. The harmonies were present and the performances were tight, in general, and easy to understand. If you are familiar with the piece, you’ll be singing along (in your head, hopefully), and if you are not familiar, you will easily understand the vocals to follow along with the old biblical story. I must also mention the talent and impeccable sound of the live orchestra that took this production to a new level. I wish the names of the orchestra members were listed in the program (there could at least be an insert, these guys and gals are great!) because, just like Berlett is to be commended for his Music Direction, the orchestra deserves many kudos for their near flawless performance.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a sung-through show, meaning it’s all music, singing, and dancing with little to no script so, one could argue this type of show only needs a Music Director and Choreographer but there still needs to be a vision and Director Mike Zellhofer gives us a new look at this classic. Presenting an overall traditional staging, Zellhofer makes it fun for both the cast and the audience, and not taking the piece too seriously, but getting the story across smoothly with action that is easy to follow and not taking too much liberty and making it hokey, which is a danger when it comes to shows like this. Zellhofer seems to keep everything under control and crafts a very well-though out production that is a joy to watch.
The Brothers. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

The Brothers. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore


Switching to the performance aspect of this production, I want to mention that the entire ensemble does a fantastic job moving this story along and it’s easy to see each cast member is fully dedicated to this piece and is giving his or her all making for a very successful production. The voices are strong, the choreography is tight, and the chemistry is great as everyone looks as they are having a stellar and fun time with each other which, in turn, makes it fun for the audience.
The roles of Jacob and Potiphar are taken on by Wayne Ivusich who seems to have a very good time with these roles and is comfortable and confident with his performance. He has a good command of the stage and, vocally, is fitting for these roles. He understands the humor in these characters and runs with it making for a strong performance.
Amy Rudai and Lisa Rigsby take on the roles of the Baker and Butler, respectively and they give very good showings as these characters. Traditionally, these characters are doubled and played by two of the brothers, but it was refreshing to see the gender-blind casting for these roles and these ladies pulled them off very nicely. Vocally, they could have been a little stronger, but overall, they gave admirable performances, holding their own against the “guys” and they seems to have a blast with these roles.
Of Joseph’s 11 brothers, there are a few featured roles with and Rueben, the eldest of the Children of Israel, played by Nick Ruth, is one of them. He performs the featured number “One More Angel in Heaven,” a fun country-western style song with a built in hoe-down in which the entire ensemble is dancing and singing about the demise of poor Joseph. Ruth does a commendable job with this number and though it is traditionally sung with a southern twang, his “Baltimore accent” is prominent, but it adds a certain charm to the performance. With a good command of the stage, Ruth gives a good showing and the number itself, is fun going from a slow and steady tempo to a high energy, upbeat tempo making for an pleasant performance.
Asher, portrayed by Bill Bisbee, is another brother who has a featured number called “Those Canaan Days,” in the style of a traditional french ballad. Bisbee does a fine job with the french accent and the other brothers give him fitting backup. Though a slower paced song, the ensemble does a great job keeping it interesting and funny. Vocally, Bisbee gives a strong performance and he’s confident and performs with ease.
Jim Fitzpatrick and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Jim Fitzpatrick and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore


Baltimore theatre veteran Jim Fitzpatrick tackles the role of the Elvis Presley impersonating Pharaoh and he tackles it with gusto. More than just a suggestion of the King of Rock and Roll, Fitzpatrick dons an entire Elvis Presley costume from the pompadour wig and large sunglasses down to the bell-bottomed jumpsuit and gives 100% to this role. His vocals are spot on and his performance is high-energy and he makes a superb showing.
Featured brother Zebulon is played by Joe Weinhoffer and though, usually performed by the brother playing Judah, Weinhoffer performs the featured Caribbean themed 11:00 number, “Benjamin’s Calypso,” with the purpose of defending a wrongly accused little brother, Benjamin. It’s easy to see Weinhoffer is having a delightful time performing this number and the ensemble enthusiastically backs him up. Vocally, he is strong and comfortably holds his own against the ensemble with a very good presence on the stage.
Joe Weinhoffer. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Joe Weinhoffer. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore


The Narrator is traditionally one of the only featured female roles and for this production at Artistic Synergy of baltimore, this role is split between Mea Holloway and Melissa Broy Fortson. At this particular performance, Mea Holloway takes on the role and though she does quite well, her performance isn’t without a few minor issues including lyrics and timing/cues. Also, at first appearance, with her darker makeup and frequent scowl, she’s a bit harsh looking for the usually jovial Narrator making her seem irritated and preoccupied and it affects her performance. At one point, because of the positioning of a speaker she became a headless storyteller as she was spotlighted from the neck down but her head disappeared behind the shadow of the said speaker – a simple blocking issue any experienced actor would have fixed immediately. Regardless of the minor issues, she has a strong, beautiful voice and, aside from the aforementioned timing/cue problems, she gives an admirable showing in this piece.
Joe Weinhoffer and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore

Joe Weinhoffer and Jim Gearhardt. Credit: Artistic Synergy of Baltimore


The titular role of Joseph, the lucky and favorite son of Jacob is portrayed nicely by Jim Gerhardt and he gives a strong, confident presentation. He makes the role his own and has a strong, clear voice to back up his performance. Though it is every actors responsibility and prerogative to make a role or song his or her own, occasionally, it’s wise to keep songs simple. In my experience in musical theatre, tenors love their money notes. How can they not? They feel good and they’re fun to sing. However, it is important to understand that every last note of every song does not have to be taken up an octave or harmonized to a higher note and, in this case, Gerhardt frequently toys with the melody and it loses that special something when it’s overdone. With that being said, his performance is absolutely commendable and he gives a fresh look at the character. His performance of “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door” (money note included) are very good and he is comfortable with this character and gives a strong, enjoyable performance.
Final though… Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore is community and small theatre at its finest. With familiar nods to our charming little town of Baltimore and some very talented folks, it’s definitely worth checking out. The ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% to the performance and everyone is having a great time on stage and with each other, making for a fun, upbeat, feel-good show that can be enjoyed by all.
That’s what I thought about Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, playing at Artisti Synergy of Baltimore… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will play through December 18 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Road, Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available at the door (cash, check, or credit card) or purchase them online.